Lilith arrived in Sanctuary with her the minions of hell. Diablo IV introduces one of the most integral characters from its expansive catalogue of lore to weave a tapestry about choice, parenthood, while transitioning the series into something more resembling a live service game. With one of the most interesting antagonists to date and a cast of characters that harken back to the much beloved Diablo II, Blizzard attempted to recreate the same lightning in a bottle it did with that seminal entry in the franchise. While Diablo IV is most certainly a beast of its own, it retreads old ground in more ways than one.
Editor’s Note: This review was written without access to the battle pass. A feature about how it works and impacts the game will appear in the future.
Diablo IV shares more in common with Diablo II, in terms of how it executes its skill tree, as opposed to Diablo III or other action-RPGs that share similar DNA. Players will allocate a set amount of skill points per branch before they can progress and obtain new skills or passives. However, it isn’t entirely linear in its overall execution, as you can always go back and add more skill points or even invest in new skills or passives you may not have obtained earlier in the game. Generally, players can invest in as many skills as they want, but will only ever be able to use a total of six skills at any given time. You can also obtain additional skill points through passives found in Legendary items, which can be used to try out new skills without investing skill points or even empowering active skills beyond its five point threshold. Investment also is as permanent as Path of Exile, for example, as you can reset your skill tree at any time for a sum of gold that scales based on level. You can also refund individual skills without needing to reset your entire tree if you can remember what order you invested those points in.
However, builds in Diablo IV are almost entirely dictated by the Legendary items you obtain. This isn’t too dissimilar from Diablo III, but it feels more restrictive. Thankfully, I obtained the Legendary items I needed for my build fairly early on and at integral points of the game, which allowed me to beat the final encounter some ten levels below the suggested level at World Tier l. Without those items, I would have probably needed to dedicate more time to participating in events found throughout the world or picked up more side quests for experience. But even at World Tier II, certain encounters definitely felt considerably easier once I had the appropriate items for my build as a Rogue, which relied on vulnerability and poison. Harder encounters became something of a DPS race, as I was determined to kill whatever would potentially instantly obliterate before it even had the chance to do so. I wouldn’t recommend playing this way, but it is entirely possible and does pose some fun challenges before you unlock the harder end game content.
Once players beat the main campaign, Capstone Dungeons will be unlocked, along with missions on rotations players can complete to receive rewards. These are generally fairly challenging. It is suggested that players are at least level 45, since certain missions will require you to crawl through dungeons and take on a boss as the final bit of the encounter. This is how players will spend a bulk of their time obtaining Paragon points (which are used to allocate passive stats post level 50) and Legendary gear to create their ideal build. What differs about the Paragon system this time around is that they are fairly extensive and aren’t just four paths you can level up like Diablo III. This is the real meat of where your build will be, since you will be picking and assigning glyphs to enhance your passives. For example, certain glyphs will increase the amount of poison damage a Rogue can do or can enhance the kinds of elemental damage the Sorcerer is capable of dishing out.
That said, certain classes do feel significantly stronger than others. Sorcerers and Rogues feel like absolutely powerhouses in comparison to the Barbarian and Druid. Necromancer feels like a middle ground at the moment, but with the right Legendary items, they’re capable of dealing incredible amounts of damage. The Barbarian and Druid aren’t nearly as lucky, but can get through most of the more challenging encounters the main scenario presents through sheer force of will.
Thankfully, boss fights in Diablo IV aren’t as active as you may expect, as the game takes a slower, more deliberate approach to these encounters. Coming from Lost Ark to Diablo IV left me surprised at the general pace of the boss fights, which can sometimes be a slog if you’re not able to stun bosses out of attacks or stagger them with the right kind of damage. There isn’t any real mechanical complexity to a lot of them, with the exception of one that transforms the arena. But this feels in line with other entries in the series, as boss fights in Diablo III weren’t exactly engaging, though they were extremely punishing during the game’s first few months.
Certain fights also feel way more challenging than others. They can be overloaded with projectiles players need to dodge in order to avoid taking amplified damage while vulnerable, while others are fairly basic and just require you to dodge and move out of certain windows. Nothing is too challenging, but that’s what the different World Tiers are for. Though, from what I’ve experienced it mostly just affects the overall pool of health and damage done to you. That said, the game can easily be completed solo and despite the more MMO-lite approach Blizzard has taken with Diablo IV, you won’t be reliant on players for anything outside of possible world bosses.
What Blizzard has succeeded in is creating one of its most compelling characters within its catalog of games. Lilith, the central antagonist of Diablo IV and mother of Sanctuary, is without one of the best additions to the Diablo series by far, with this only amplified by Caroline Faber’s performance. While she is no doubt driving Sanctuary to the brink of madness, there is something human about Lilith that makes her the most interesting antagonist in the series to date. However, despite Diablo IV introducing a new antagonist and even a new cast of characters, it is a narrative determined to retread old ground. Homages and even references to prior Diablo games, specifically Diablo II, feel as though they are reassuring players this is not Diablo III, for better or worse. This hinders what new ideas Diablo IV presents, as the narrative seems caught up in trying to tell the same story as its predecessors.
Outside of moments when Lilith appears and utterly steals the shows, sidequests help flesh out the world of Sanctuary. While event quests are mostly generic and see you escorting ghosts to the graves of their loved ones or killing servants of Lilith before they spawn greater, more terrible demons, sidequests provide a glimpse into the madness the world faces. These narratives are equally fulfilling if at times equally harrowing as the main scenario, demon possessions and gore aplenty. This helps add texture to the world, and gives even the most minute characters in Diablo IV some substance. Even NPCs you see in passing provide some details as to how the world is faring with Lilith’s return, which is far from ideal in the eyes of most. The environments are also incredibly detailed for a game that you will spend most of your time zoomed out of. The various locals in Diablo IV are utterly gorgeous, if not a bit gray at times, but it truly shines in its more macabre states.
Diablo IV feels like a worthy successor to the franchise. It has all of the hallmarks of a Diablo game, but adopts more modern contrivances that feel almost unnecessary in a series that has thrived off of paid expansion packs accompanied by free updates. Embracing this MMO-lite formula gives Diablo IV a lot of potential for growth in terms of what can be added to the game over time, and I’m genuinely interested in future story related updates given how the main narrative ended. But its slow pace and limited character builds could be a turn-off to some, especially those looking for more variety. It feels like time will tell with Diablo IV and whether or not it will thrive among other live service games of its kind that have carved out a niche in the series’ absence.
Diablo IV will release on June 6, 2023 for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows PC.