It’s been more than ten years since the release of the last mainline Diablo game. That’s an astronomical amount of time where technology and game design are concerned, and Diablo IV has some very big shoes to fill.
After playing for more than 80 hours, the game’s biggest weakness might be that it’s a little too concerned with making Diablo “bigger and better.” There’s a staggering amount of content and new features, but not all of those additions feel meaningful.
Narratively, Diablo IV takes place 50 years after the events of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. A power vacuum left by the reduced forces of angels and demons has allowed a cult to grab power and resurrect Lilith, the mother of all Sanctuary.
Diablo IV’s world of Sanctuary is by far the largest, most open-world setting of the series yet. The story is split up into six different acts that take you across the various regions, and each has multiple objectives that can be tackled in any order you want.
The biggest positive: Diablo IV’s hack-and-slash combat feels better than ever before. It feels fluid and responsive, and each of the game’s five classes feels completely unique and distinct. The bulk of my time, so far, was spent playing as a Barbian, which focuses on soaking up damage and dishing it out at close range. Each class has a lengthy skill tree that can result in a handful of different builds, and it’s easy to respec and try out something new. The only minor issue here is that once you’ve locked into a build and hit about level 40, progression starts to feel less meaningful since the remaining skills only provide minor changes.
Scattered across this open world are dozens of dungeons, settlements, cellars, and world events that tie into the game’s new MMO-like shared world. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of content, most of which is procedurally generated, as is series tradition. You’ll get overwhelmed quickly by dozens upon dozens of things to see and do, which eventually start to feel less unique and focused. A lack of visual variety only compounds the problem, as you’ll constantly be running through snowy fields, dusty cliffs, and dank caves. Sure, Diablo’s hell-inspired world has a certain aesthetic to maintain, but it still feels like there could have been more visual variety.
Then there’s the story, which starts off strong but hits some serious pacing issues in the middle, often repeating plot points from past Diablo games. The final act brings everything together with some visually dynamic dungeons and meaningful character development but I enjoyed the last ten hours of Diablo IV’s story a lot more than the 50 hours it took to get there.
The biggest issue is that the world isn’t pleasant to navigate. There’s fun to be had in the dungeons and cellars, but getting anywhere feels like a slog due to dozens of enemy mobs that plague your every step. Sure, a fair amount of grinding is to be expected in a Diablo game, but I consistently found myself frustrated by how many repeated enemies I had to mulch through to complete any sidequest or dungeon. One of Diablo IV’s new features gives you a mount for faster traversal, but this isn’t introduced until more than halfway through the main story.
Much like the past couple of entries, Diablo IV is viable as either a co-op experience or a solo one. While I personally played mostly solo, having a few friends along for the ride can certainly help streamline things, especially in some of the tougher boss battles. There’s definitely some balancing that needs to happen as well, as one boss to the next can feel like a massive difficulty spike, especially depending on which class you’re using. Sorcerer and Druid also feel like they simply don’t feel like they stack up to the variety or usefulness of the other classes. These are all things that can be addressed in the near future, as Diablo IV is more of a live-service title than past entries. (That’s the main reason why we’re holding off on a score for now!)
There’s plenty of fun to be had in Diablo IV, but your enjoyment will likely hinge on your tolerance for repetition. In drastically increasing the scope, Diablo IV seems to have lost a bit of the tight focus that made the series so special.