| Played on a custom-built PC by CLX Gaming |
The time has arrived to defend Sanctuary against the evils of Hell. I was fortunate enough to take part on the pre-release build of Diablo IV – showcasing a level of confidence I was hoping for in a game as enormous as this. Being as this is one of my most anticipated games this year, especially after sinking thousands of hours into Diablo 3 across multiple platforms – I was eager to jump into the madness. After 35hrs of eviscerating demons in the campaign, exploring different regions, world/side activities, clearing dungeons and earning some really cool looking loot through endgame, I am left with immense anticipation for what’s to come. There are some downsides in this installment for sure, ones that left me a bit disjointed at times, but the overall experience was more than I hoped for.
The Mother of Sanctuary
I won’t dive into the deepest elements of Diablo IV, but rather what’s interesting and not so interesting. The story takes place about 60 years after the events of Reaper of Souls where the people of Sanctuary lived through an era of respite. The Horadrim order is no more, and with humanity having no other place to turn, they seek guidance from The Cathedral of Light – lead by Inarius, an Angel of the Heavens and one of the creators of Sanctuary. Most of you may know this as Act 1 remains the same as the Server Slam; you as a Wanderer stumble upon a town with an evil presence. You decide to do a good deed only to be rewarded with a tampered drink and forced to consume a pedal of blood for a ritual sacrificing. Luckily, you’re saved by a priest named Josef who was in search of another priest that missed their tithing to the church. You defend yourself against a town of crazed peasants only to find out that you are having visions of Lilith, the Mother of Demons. This catapults you to an adventure that is filled with sacrifice and deceit.
Diablo would normally rely on its story telling through audio logs and spared CGI cutscenes. This time around, things has been ramped up to 11 with immersive in-game cinematics, character animation you would normally see in story driven games and a great variety of voice acting. There is an abundance throughout Diablo IV which makes trekking Sanctuary all the more endearing. I couldn’t believe the sheer level of effort placed into Diablo IV, especially given its MMO-direction. It helps eliminate the notion that Blizzard made D4 with MMO in mind, when in fact it’s the opposite. The story is rich in telling its world and one that will keep you hooked to the very end of the campaign and throughout the endgame.
There are some caveats though. Despite its great effort in production value – the overarching story falls a bit flat during certain sections; It’ll definitely split the community a bit given the foundation the previous games laid for Diablo IV. It’s evident that its core focus was to basically tailor to the newcomers of the franchise with a bit of fan service; I can’t fault Blizzard because it’s a hard thing to balance. It’s not a bad story, I actually enjoyed the pacing and how it was told – just some elements were done questionably. Despite it all, what was left for us at the epilogue has some exciting prospect, that much I can assure. Blizzard did a great job in adapting a story structure to work through a live-service model – let’s just hope there are some well-cooked elements waiting for us in the coming month.
Through the Pits of Hell
Diablo IV comes in full force with a slew of major improvements regarding technology and gameplay structure. Hands down, Diablo IV is the best looking ARPG on the market, no question. Their new engine showcases Diablo in such a way we would only see in an RPG that’s designed to immerse you deeply with its rich atmosphere. D4 adopts that in spades with immaculate level design, unprecedented detail and absolutely wicked visual effects. The physical-based rendering brings its aesthetics to new heights, enriching the gothic theme of Diablo II and eliminating the animated style of Diablo III. The use of ambient occlusive shadows and lights deepens that fidelity, especially during intense gameplay moments when you’re activating your skills – making Diablo IV appear near CGI levels. Best of all, it performs great on pretty much any PC configuration; I played on my custom PC from CLX Gaming and it was a breeze with zero crashes – though I did notice some extremely minor streaming issues with assets, but nothing to worry about in the slightest. I’ll never be able to fathom the level of otherworldly talent Blizzard has working for them, they all deserve a damn raise.
Each region is engrossed with a great number of assets that makes the game feel much more grounded. You can destroy more structures than ever before with many more debris flying across the field. Additionally, there are more critters roaming around too – D4’s meshing system with grass and deformation of water/snow/sand really brings this game to life. I’m absolutely enamored by this engine. There’s one unfortunate side of this regarding regions however, Sanctuary has 2 enormous desert locals; aesthetically their biomes are different, but I felt it overstayed its welcome when moving from Act 3 to 4. But that doesn’t mean variety isn’t there – you will be trekking through swamplands alongside snowy mountains and molten landscapes. There are not as much hidden ruins as I would like in the open world, but most of the structures you will be exploring are within the 120+ dungeons anyway, so they get a pass on that. Additionally, world events, roaming mobs, side missions that populates as your Renown grows makes this game feel livelier than even the king of Live Service, Destiny 2. It helps that you can seamlessly traverse through Sanctuary with ease – the only time you will be loading into anything is dungeons and cellars as they are randomly generated.
And the horse – oh how I LOVE the horse. Diablo IV does what vanilla Destiny 1 did; you get your first mount very late into the game. Act 4 to be precise. I wasted so much time in Act 2 thinking I was getting my horse from an ally called Donan – don’t do that. Horse riding feels absolutely responsive, I especially like the turning animation and how it gradually slows when you let go of your movement control. There’s a stamina meter that is similar to Tears of the Kingdom’s horse as well as a fear meter that’ll fill up as you get surrounded by demons. Additionally, you have a dash button that allows you to ram through groups of enemies as well as an attack button that’ll send your Wanderer flying towards your foe. You can ride your horse in and out of town with ease as well – I just love everything about it. You can visit a stable to purchase different style horses and cosmetics or find them in the wild and tame them, which surprised me. The movement speed on your horse is significantly faster than your Wanderer’s overall speed, so use it often.
I would never do a hardcore playthrough – but I did play on World Tier 2 solo most of the time which was a decent challenge. I wanted to play on a higher tier, but I needed to complete the campaign and a specific dungeon to unlock World Tier 3. Throughout my 35hr push, I was left with a mostly satisfying experience. I see what Blizzard is trying to do, and I’m totally ok with their approach.
The best part – Diablo IV feels absolutely sublime to play. Blizzard is once again unmatched when it comes to slaying hordes of demons, and still be able to read the screen with ease. Movement animation is responsive and smooth looking – it’s clear an insurmountable effort was poured into this area of gameplay. Thankfully, loot drops are matched with visceral gameplay. There’s an abundance that scales based on your level with higher quality. There are locked elements of course, like getting your first unique after you complete the final act and hitting lv50 but that’s to be expected in a game like Diablo and especially in a light MMO format. Much like you should do, save all your mats for higher levels, don’t waste on lower ones – it holds especially true in Diablo IV. You will scour the regions gathering resources ranging from herbal elements to ores. You won’t need a scythe or a pickaxe to gather, so there’s that. You as a player, especially casuals, will feel the progression – all of the games integral experience is designed to feel that way because the endgame is where the true hardcore will live.
To blend the casual and hardcore element into Diablo is an impossible task – one that I think Blizzard manage to do well here. You will never satisfy either side of the field, but the best you can do is try; Diablo IV’s build crafting system is relatively robust with several key factors within the skill tree alongside the returning Paragon system.
Skill Tree focuses on traits that branches off to 5 additional skills and passives. Most skills can be leveled 5 times over with the added function to further enhance them. There is a limited number of skill points to acquire, so be mindful on the build you decide on – a lot of great skills are further down the tree so, if you’re like me, I focused mainly on opening the skill tree to then choose what I wanted without allocating skill points to random ones I would otherwise not need. The ability to redo your skill points is there at the cost of gold, so experiment as much as you’d like.
These are the sections of the Skill Tree:
Basic: Your basic attacks that would help in refilling your secondary gauge
Core: Skills that would consume your secondary gauge which deals significantly more damage than basic ones.
Defensive: Skills that would otherwise overshield you in any element you desire with passive that would either freeze, burning, bleed, ect.
Class-Specific: Each class’s skill tree has 1 or 2 sections dedicated to them. in the case of a sorcerer, I had the Conjuration tree.
Master: An enhanced variant of Core Skills that would usually consume more of your secondary gauge with greater effect in the battlefield.
Ultimate: The strongest Skills in the tree with the longest cooldown and the most effective in battle.
Key Passives: A passive tree that is only allowed to choose one of, it would greatly alter your build.
As a sorcerer, I had Enchantment Slots – an ability unique to the class where others would be different. Much like Diablo 3, most of what forms your build comes from the luck of RNG within gear. Aspects makes a return that would alter your Skills exponentially. For example – I use Lightning Ball which shoots a large orb forward while dealing shock damage as it passes through. I can earn an Aspect that would instead have it orbit around me but weaken its damage output by a certain percentage. Aspects like this can be applied throughout the Skill Tree, so while the game isn’t as expansive as Path of Exile, there are a lot of potential regarding Aspect that can broaden build crafting. Aspects can only be earned by extracting from Legendary loot, however there are permanent Aspects you can earn by completing Dungeons. The stats within those Aspects scale base on your level and are costly so be mindful and only extract ones that are potent.
Speaking of cost – prepare to spend like you’re a billionaire because vendors are asking for hundreds of thousands of gold – even for white gear. It’s an odd thing that I hope the developer tune at some point. Thankfully, if you’re with a group, you’ll be racking up gold with relative ease, but evidently spend much faster.
Much like previous Diablo games, you have a Jeweler, Smiths, Curiosity vendors ect, with the addition of Stables. There’s a new currency called Murmuring Obols, which can be earned from public events and spent at Curiosity vendor within towns for a chance at a Legendary loot. I find that the only real purpose so far in buying from Curiosity vendors is to potentially help with equipment you’re lacking.
Diablo IV has sections of Sanctuary exclusive to PVP called Zones of Hatred. Inspired directly by The Division, it functions as a zone where players can fight each other for powerful loot. A Hatred currency also drops which can only be extrscted through Alters of Extraction – a timed event you would have to defend against. These can be used for extremely exclusive cosmetics. In this zone, elements like cooldown for potions are increased – an aspect I love dearly and where I believe the build craft balance is focused on – which I’m all for as long as it feels varied enough. I haven’t really tried it considering the nature of the pre-release build. Upon reaching endgame, a variety of new activities will open up such as Helltide, a pretty interesting event where sections of the map will have extremely powerful enemies roaming, similar to Rifts in Diablo 3, all for a chance to earn incredibly powerful loot – obviously the higher the world tier, the better the loot. Nightmare dungeons are much more difficult variants of dungeons with better loot potential and mechanics. World bosses are periodic events that happens randomly in the world that requires at least 10 players to conquer. There’s so much more, It’ll definitely keep you busy and with the promise of new story content every 3 months alongside a cosmetic battle pass system, it’s promising.
REVIEW SCORE: 9/10
I can’t say how Diablo IV will hold up in the coming months, but as it stands, there’s a ton to love – even if the story fell a bit short, it is still well told. It’s a delicious looking game with a slew of features to keep you immersed, but not overwhelmed. The gameplay feels absolutely sublime, coupled with a deep enough system that should satisfy both casuals and hardcore a like (even if the elite may find themselves discontent by its lack of PoE nature.) Blizzard, to me, has placed themselves to be great again, let’s hope they actually execute.