The Road to Hell…
HIGH That moment when rare gear drops into existence is as pleasing as ever.
LOW There’s way too much repetition in the enemy encounters, designs and events.
WTF The real money skins cost an absolute fortune for things players will barely be able to see.
Players stumble into the world of Diablo IV in dire straits. Freezing to death on an icy mountain trail after their horse is ripped to pieces, they hack their way through to something resembling safety — only to soon learn that Lilith, one of the most powerful demons in Diablo lore, is abroad in the land and stirring up mischief that could lead to the end of all mankind.
After involuntarily downing a gutful of blood, the protagonist is able to see echoes of Lilith’s past actions, and is thus tasked with finding out what her objectives are, and also ensuring that they don’t come to fruition — by equipping sweet loot and then bashing her head in, naturally.
There are five character classes available at launch, including the sturdy Barbarian who can soak up a boatload of damage while getting stuck into enemy groups, a nimble Rogue who flits in to unleash plentiful damage before slipping right back out again, a Druid that can change between various forms and call down spells, a Sorcerer who can frazzle enemies from afar with elemental properties and the Necromancer who raises armies of corpses to chase down the living.
Presented in the form of a third-person isometric adventure, each class also has a ton of variety in the way their skill trees evolve. a Sorcerer can lean into blasting enemies with lightning and teleporting out of danger, or perhaps ensure that a rock solid ice barrier will harass her attackers instead. Barbarians can sweep in as a whirling AOE of death which is great against crowds, but may take more effort to topple stronger bosses. Fortunately, it’s also easy to respec on the trot and try something new at the cost a small amount of gold.
This flexibility is important, as the world is a dangerous place. Set in a fairly large overworld with countless points of interest, players will sweep across the landscape to uncover various dungeons, cellars and strongholds, as well as sidequests in abundance and various towns stocked with fast-travel points and shops.
Perhaps controversially, most areas of the map automatically scale enemies to the player’s level — which is a great way to make them feel like their level gains are pointless. However, a character’s strengths in Diablo IV are usually based around their loot and character build more than just their level, so this isn’t as offputting as it sounds. A well-equipped and tweaked player will wreck enemies en masse, while others might struggle against similarly-leveled adversaries.
The combat balance is pretty straightforward. Normal enemies are weak and easily squashed, with more powerful ones often sprinkled into groups. At a basic level they usually have long windup animations that result in a stun, leading to death before the player can recover if it lands. Elites tend to be a stronger enemy with a better loot pool. The frequency, difficulty and potential value of said loot depends on the player’s chosen world tier (it’s like a global difficulty level) and finally there are bosses and world bosses which take a real beating before coughing up their rewards.
As in any game of this type, the gains from picking up loot spewing out of vanquished foes is a massive reason to keep hacking them to bits or frying them alive where they stand, and Diablo IV generally does an okay job in this regard. Blasting enemies into shinies is something I found enjoyable for the most part, and midway through the adventure my Barbarian came across a sweet piece of armor that allowed her whirlwind spinning attack to spawn actual whirlwinds that would break off and wreak havoc on nearby enemies. This felt awesome and led me to wonder what random effects I’d come across later on that could possibly top this discovery.
Spoiler — nothing did.
Everything else I discovered felt downright pedestrian by comparison, even into the endgame. I’m not saying there’s nothing else comparable waiting to be discovered, but I personally didn’t find anything that was anywhere near as exciting during the rest of the time I spent in Diablo IV. This lack of high points in the loot was somewhat echoed in the sense of repetition during the campaign.
For example, World Events are small instances that multiple players can take part in. Unfortunately, they’re recycled far too often, leading to fatigue when encountering them. At the beginning of the adventure, I stopped some cloven-hooved shamen attempting to summon a monstrosity. It kept cropping up over and over (with various enemies subbed in), resulting in a formulaic, recycled feeling. Limbless maggots performing the same ritual just struck me as insane.
Enemies also tend to have similar functions regardless of their type, with melee and ranged trash mobs feeling largely identical. Larger brute enemies likewise feel like clones, their main selling point being a stronger wind up attack that stuns the player for an irritating amount of time if it lands. Elites have additional health and a handful of bonuses such as vampirism to drain health, summoning in friendlies, plonking down beams of lighting that slowly rotate in place… it all becomes pretty boilerplate before long. Still, most of the enjoyment doesn’t come from battling them so much as perfecting a murderous build that simply splatters entire hordes of them like loot-spewing pinatas.
The other elephant in the room is Diablo IV‘s status as a live service game. It’s continuously going to be chopped, altered and rebalanced, and that pendulum of change could easily swing in its favor… or not. They’ve already proven to be utterly ruthless in patching so-called loot caves with higher than average drop rates, often going too far and crushing the joy out of them in the process.
Still, this live service approach could potentially lead to exciting new storylines, dungeons and loot being introduced at a regular clip, but on the other, trends in the industry have me worried and there will be seasonal Battle Passes — and nothing screams ‘worthwhile content’ louder than introducing constant deadlines into a title that’s already a fairly intensive grind for most people.
While the future of the game is anyone’s guess, at present Diablo IV is a solid, but strangely unambitious take that fails to bring much new to the table. By the end of my travels, I was more than willing to put it down and take a break — somewhere amongst all the grinding, Diablo IV had unfortunately ground me down as well.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Activision Blizzard. It is currently available on XBX/S/PS5/ and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 45 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. The game is constantly online alongside other players, though I never grouped up with them during my time and only joined others during multiplayer world events.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence and Language. The official description reads as follows: This is an action role-playing game in which players assume the roles of heroes battling the forces of Hell. From a 3/4-overhead perspective, players explore dungeons and battle demons in frenetic melee-style combat. Players use swords, axes, maces, and magical attacks to kill enemy creatures. Blood-splatter effects occur as characters are hit; some attacks result in dismemberment and/or decapitation. Several environments depict large blood stains, with mutilated bodies on spikes and torsos with exposed entrails/viscera. Cutscenes depict more intense acts of violence: a man slitting his throat to complete a ritual; close-up depiction of a man mauled and eaten by attack guards. The word “sh*t” appears in the game.
Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be altered and/ or resized. As best I can tell, Diablo IV is fully accessible without sound. Gameplay elements don’t rely on it, and the accessibility options are fairly extensive.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.