There's no getting around the fact that the first Diablo game started a whole new genre of games when it came out in 1996. Since then, there have been a lot of games of the same ARPG type, which in one way or another have tried to tweak the recipe.
For many, however, the original series still stands as the pinnacle of pop when it comes to hack and slack loot grinding fantasy games.
Now we can look forward to the fourth chapter in the series, if we ignore the mobile version Diablo Immortal. I have had access to a pre-launch version of the game for a few weeks leading up to the launch and after several hours in that version along with my experiences during the two Beta weekends I am ready to give an initial verdict on the game which lands today .
However, I want to start by emphasizing just that part: introductory! I haven't had the time to throw myself 100% into the game as other tasks have also taken up my time. A large part of this review was written on the way to Computex in Taiwan, for example. It is therefore a very small part of the game that I have tried during my test period. Therefore, I cannot say how the other parts of the game behave.
If you just want the short version, my time in the company of Diablo IV has been fantastic!. Despite having played the opening Act I for three rounds now, I'm already looking forward to starting over again when I get time to dive into it again and get started with a character that I can take all the way through the story.
If you want a little more meat on my experiences, read on.
The story of Diablo IV is set 30 years after the events of Diablo III and the people of Santuary are still struggling through life in a world overrun with demons, undead horrors and monsters of all shades.
The demon Lilith makes her entrance into the story and immediately becomes the ultimate goal for our brave adventurer. She is, along with the archangel Inarius, the creator of the Santuary. Originally created as a sanctuary from the eternal conflict between heaven and hell, as we know, it ended up being a battleground in the battle between angels and demons.
Now Lilith is back and will claim the Sanctuary and the people in it. The opening part of the story is reasonably catchy and as a fantasy geek I was curious to get more details and follow the story. In essence, however, the story does not need to take up more than you want. You can easily throw yourself into Diablo IV without caring much about the story.
The core of Diablo IV is boiled down still the classic gameplay loop. Slaughter a horde of monsters to get XP and better gear so you can slaughter bigger monsters and get even better gear etc etc.
It sounds simple and on the surface boring, but history shows us, both in Diablo and other hack and slash or looter shooters, that it can be an even very catchy recipe if done right.
I'm normally into more narrative-driven games if I don't want to be bored, but based on my previous statement, I can admit that I've been hooked by Diablo IV. At least for now while I've been hammering away at Act I.
For me it works precisely because the story also underpins both a living world and a damn good atmosphere. At the same time, the story is also more open and not as linear as previous games in the series. The world we get in Diabli IV is more open than we have experienced before.
The graphic side
Diablo IV, Sanctuary and all the creatures in it look damn good. So in short it can be said. However, it is a dark world, so those people who think there was too much bang for the buck in Diablo III can breathe a sigh of relief.
The style is more Grimdark than the previous game, leaning more towards Diablo II than Diablo III. I've never had much of a problem with Diablo III like some of the fan base, but I definitely prefer the new darker style.
Both the world you move around in, and the people and monsters you meet in it, are beautifully done and detailed. They are beautifully supported by delicious environmental effects and especially when you venture into dungeons and caves, the play between light and shadow comes to lift things up.
At the same time, the design of the Sanctuary both above and below ground has added a depth that means the world feels more alive. In certain areas, you can look down into rock gorges to other areas, which you can find your way down to. In certain places it is supported by playable verticality, in the form of rocks or other terrain features that you can climb up or down to get to new areas.
Despite the beautiful appearance, Diablo IV is not super demanding and even on less beefy machines, you should have a reasonable experience. On that front, there is a bit of Blizzard graphical magic over the game.
I will also briefly touch on the sound, which deserves a gold star as well. Right from the background music, which draws threads back to the classic Diablo I theme, you are drawn into the game.
I have played on a combination of Gaming Headset and surround system and both experiences have been fantastic. Blizzard has always been good at sound design, and they hit the nail on the head here.
There's a nice weight to the sound that means they feel like my Barbarian's weapons are actually mashing through hordes of demons.
However, this does not come at the expense of the small details, such as the small "ping" when a monster drops a magic ring in the middle of the frantic battle.
XP, Loot, crafting and everything else
A large part of the gameplay loop with Diablo games is of course loot, XP and the constant development of your character, so you can take on more and bigger monsters and twist them for even better loot.
The basic loot structure works immediately sensibly. Sanctuary is the world where untold amounts of gold, equipment, and magical items lie and flow in every corner. Just like in Diablo III, you can tear down quite a lot of the environment around you and find enough equipment to supply an army. If you combine that with all that the monsters and enemies you beat throw away, you have a lot of loot to sort through.
Not everything is interesting, but there is always a steady stream of new things that are exciting and you constantly feel that you are developing.
The loot system, in combination with the crafting system, is very flexible, and there are a lot of options for customizing your equipment. You can improve it at the blacksmith, add gems and even transfer properties from certain types of equipment to others. This means that further into the game you have a good opportunity to customize your equipment with precisely the characteristics that you aim for with your skills.
If you find equipment that might not suit your character, or that you want to save for later, you also have a stash. Here you can share equipment across several characters, as it is shared across your game account.
At the same time, you can also customize the equipment so that it can look just the way you want. You just as quietly open up new looks for your weapons or armour, by finding new types and swinging by the blacksmith. Here, by separating the equipment, you can partly get resources to upgrade other weapons, but also looks.
After this, you can switch between them as you like and then make your character more suitable to the style you prefer.
Blizzard has announced that it will be possible to buy cosmetics via a Game Store after the game is launched. However, they haven't revealed very many details there, and it wasn't part of the Pre Launch version that we had access to during our testing.
Impressively flexible skilltree
Diablo IV has an impressive skill tree, which means you can compose your character, and its abilities, in a multitude of different ways. This means that even if you end up playing with several of the same class in a group, they can still be very different.
You have the option of up to six active abilities at a time and they can be supplemented and boosted by a multitude of different passives. However, you can freely choose to put your points into as many different abilities as you want and then continuously switch out.
At the same time, there are also certain types of gear that unlock one or more skills. Overall, the large skill tree can seem a little overwhelming at first, but as you progress through the game, the possibilities and synergies become more apparent.
Fortunately, it's also made relatively easy to get all your skill points back and choose a brand new build for your character. There is a price in gold, but it is set at a fair level and it provides plenty of opportunities to experiment with your character and discover new variants.
Lots of endgame content awaits
Players who know previous Diablo games also know that the game in no way stops once you have gone through the story. On the one hand, we can certainly expect story expansions and other DLC content from Blizzard on an ongoing basis.
However, there is also plenty of other content to dive into once you have gone through the story. You can play through the story again but with new levels of difficulty.
However, there are also a host of other options. You can tackle Bounty Missions which are given by The Tree of Wispers, the Bounty missions can also give you Nightmare Dungeon Keys which are challenging versions of existing dungeons with different twists. At Level 50, Capstone Dungeons also begin to open up, which can be used partly to get a lot of new loot and, of course, XP. However, they also provide access to higher World Tiers.
If you play here, even more events and opportunities are opened up. It could be, for example, Helltide Events, which spawn a multitude of super beefy monsters that drop their own loot, but also give you access to special chests filled to the brim with super loot.
PvP is also part of the Endgame activities. It takes place in two dedicated zones where you partly fight the environment but also have to keep an eye on the back of your neck to see if there are other players who are looking for the gear and resources that you have collected.
All in all, it seems that Blizzard has done everything they can to keep the players even after the actual story in the game is done.
As I mentioned earlier, I didn't get very far in my test of the game. So I can't personally sign off on how well the endgame part works. However, I have gradually heard lots of good feedback about that part of the game as well.
Despite my otherwise limited time with Diablo IV, I'd say the game so far hits all the right points for me. It's not a game that redefines the genre, but it's still a game that I feel will set the bar for ARPG games for a long time to come.
It's at the same time a nice familiar experience with all the things we know and love about the Diablo series, but here also added new additions, improvements and tweaks that mean it's a real pleasure to be back and beat demons and monsters in a shower of loot and XP.
If you are a fan of the classic Action RPG gameplay loop, it is done so beautifully and well in Diablo IV that most fans of the genre will enjoy their time with Diablo IV.
We land with a final grade of 9 and a Great Product Award.