Diablo 4’s dark history is reason enough to be excited
The Diablo series has gone through some incredible highs and more than a few lows.
Play as Diablo II: Resurrected received huge hype when it was first announced, but failed to win over fans when it came out. Diablo Immortal received ridicule from day one that didn’t stop after its release. However, Diablo 4 is another entry in the series with a lot of buzz, and the development team has an understanding of the pressures on it as well as the legacy it will have to live up to when it comes out on June 6, 2023.
After spending eight to ten hours playing Diablo 4 on Xbox Series X, I can confirm that the short time I spent with the game was downright disturbing – in a good way. The game’s “Return to Darkness” tagline is more than a marketing ploy. It heralds a return to the bleak, dark world of Diablo that has captivated players since the original’s debut back in 1997. At the time, having a game with a boss named Diablo was disturbing enough. In 2022, the envelope must be pushed a little more.
“When you look at how pop culture is in the industry, you have Game of Thrones, Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy,” said Rod Fergusson, general manager of Diablo. “These are very dark subjects and dark themes that are mainstream. We felt like this was an opportunity to kind of embrace Diablo’s roots and bring it to the forefront and make it mainstream as well.”
The main antagonist, Lilith, leads this darker tone. She is the daughter of Mephisto, one of the great evils, and is called the Mother of Sanctuary, the world where the Diablo series takes place. Unlike previous games where there was a slow build up to the big boss behind all the evil in the world, Blizzard put Lilith in front from the very first scene.
When it launches sometime in 2023, Diablo 4 will have five classes available to play: Barbarian, Rogue, Sorceress, Necromancer, and Druid. Since Necromancer wasn’t available, I went with Barbarian to get a feel for the melee and how dynamic it is. It’s also one of the classes I’ve played the most in the series.
The playable build starts at Fractured Peaks with the hero’s horse being killed, leaving him in a cave by himself for the night. From the caves came the first stop, Nevesk, a very small town where things are not as they seem. Lilith already had an impact on the few people here and her true power comes from people indulging their dark side. This was the first interaction my character had with other NPCs and it was pretty clear how the developers wanted to give the hero more of a role in the story by having his own dialogue and playing a role in the cutscenes.
It is in the city of Nevesk that Lilith’s effect on the people of Sanctuary is shown. There’s a lot more to her than just being evil, which makes her an interesting antagonist compared to the other Great Evils from previous Diablo titles. Although her ultimate plan is not obvious early on, Lilith’s presence is immediately felt and was made deliberate by the development team.
“By letting you unravel her story of what’s going on, her impact on the world, you get to hear her motivation,” said game director Joe Shely. “You’re going to understand what she’s trying to do and you’re going to relate to her more and maybe even have a little bit of ambiguity there where you’re like: watch Star Wars and go like maybe Vader was right. I think that notion of having more face time with the big bads means it’s a much more satisfying resolution as you play through the story, as you progress through it.”
Diablo 4 doesn’t deviate from the hack-and-slash action the series is known for, but movement feels more fluid and active thanks to the dodge move. First introduced in Diablo 3, the dodge button feels more integrated in the sequel. Certain enemies telegraph attacks, allowing the player to dash away in response. The developers say that as players level up, other dodging options, such as being able to pull off multiple dodges at once, can be unlocked.
The skill tree in Diablo 4 has also evolved. As someone who played all the Diablo games, it took some getting used to. The options available give players the freedom to customize for specific play styles, but won’t leave beginners feeling confused. As a barbarian, I could focus on two-swing weapons for faster attacks that deal more bleed damage or go with a two-handed slashing weapon to perform a spinning attack that allows me to slice through large groups of enemies. The tree looked like a buffet of attacks, but there was a logic to it all as there was in previous Diablo games.
As expected in a Diablo game, there are plenty of dungeons to clear in Diablo 4. but the game’s new open world adds a layer of complexity to the proceedings. I was surprised when I came across a cliff and there was an option to “climb down” which led to another part of the map.
While not a sprawling, huge open world like Elden Ring or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it was interesting to have a wider land to explore. Previous Diablo games had procedurally generated maps that were large, yet limited. While Fractured Peak was still limited, it didn’t feel like I was tied to a map. Horses are available to buy, but only after you complete a quest that is available later.
In my time playing the build, I found myself compelled by the story of Diablo 4 and how it played, which is not what I felt in Diablo 3, where it was the gameplay that kept me coming back, but the story was quickly forgotten. Combine that with an open world and I was even more enticed to explore while seeing how to build my barbarian. It’s that combination of story and gameplay that makes my playthrough of Diablo 4 so interesting and should be the same for fans when it comes out.
Diablo 4 will be released on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S.