Here we are again and now it’s be 27 years since I first sat down to play the original Diablo. That’s not a number I was expecting to write, but going back to my review of Diablo III which I wrote 11 years ago the reality of the IP’s longevity has really sunk in. Not that I’ve played much of it in the meantime though, only coming back for a small stint for the expansion before moving onto greener pastures. The hype has definitely been real and, like many, I paid the extra for early access (mostly so I could cram a bunch of hours in before a work trip to the US). Suffice to say this latest instalment is exactly what I’ve come to expect from the franchise, which is great, but it’s clear that my desires for these kinds of games have shifted dramatically in the last 10 years.

I am no longer an adherent to the RNG grind for its own sake.

50 years have passed since the fallen angel attempted to destroy mankind. The threat of the prime evils hangs heavy over Sanctuary however that’s not the peril that it faces today. With the eternal conflict having depleted the armies of heaven and hell cultists loyal to Lilith, the daughter of Mephisto, have brought her back to Sanctuary. Her goals aren’t clear but you, The Wanderer, unwittingly become linked to her when you stumble by a town of her cultists who feed you her blood. The visions you see of her lead you to track down the last of the Horadrim who informs you of the prophecy of Lilith’s return, of which you are now a part. Your goal is clear: stop the daughter of hatred from accomplishing her goals, lest all of humanity and Sanctuary fall victim to the eternal conflict again.

Blizzard’s take on the typical ARPG aesthetic always puts them at the top, striking a solid balance between visuals and performance. The transition away from the overworld being procedurally generated to hand crafted has given the level designers a lot more control which has resulted in some incredibly detailed environments. To be sure things don’t look as great when you’re zoomed up close, something’s that’s a bit too apparent during in-game cutscenes, but played at the level that you’re normally at it looks great. Speaking of camera work, the game does a great job of playing with the zoom levels at different points, giving a sense of scale that you haven’t really gotten from previous games. Adding to that is the verticality of the levels, yet again giving more scale to what used to be an otherwise flat environment.

The only issue I have, and one that has improved with the recent patches, is the level of visual confusion. Playing with a full squad (which I can now understand why it’s limited to 4) it’s quite easy to fill the entire screen with varying effects, not to mention the ones that are also added by the enemies. Layer on top of that how some *cough*necros*cough* classes have abilities which used to make you literally disappear from the screen and you can really struggle just to figure out what’s happening on screen. This has gotten better, and I’m sure it’ll continue to improve, but given I spent the majority of my play time dealing with it I feel it bears mentioning.

Diablo IV’s core gameplay remains as slick and entertaining as ever; ensuring that your left mouse button wears out prematurely. You’ll head out into the open world, kill things, level up, get gear then rinse and repeat the cycle ad-infinium. You’ve got a revamped talent tree that’s streamlined and crafted in a way to favour specialisation over breadth. Most of the ancillary mechanics will be familiar to long time players like the stat-rerolling, gems and crafting (kinda). Some things are new though like transmogs, legendary aspects and the various end game activities. It’s certainly a lot to take in on first glance, however the good news is that most of the mechanics don’t really matter that much until later in the game. It certainly helps if you have a crew with “that one guy” who’s blasted ahead of everyone and can explain everything to you, though.

There’s a couple stages you’ll go through when settling into Diablo IV. The first is when you start your game, choose your class, look at the abilities and go “that looks pretty cool, I’ll do that”. You’ll choose the cool looking abilities, not caring one lick about whether or not it actually works. This actually goes well for the first 20 to 30 levels but you’ll soon be finding yourself without the skills you need to actually play the game effectively. If you’re like me this will then transition you into the next stage: hitting up your favourite class builds site and getting a build to keep you going. This will then work fantastically all the way through the rest of the campaign until you reach the end game. Then the real game begins.

This is a roundabout way of saying that the combat mechanics of Diablo IV evolve dramatically over the course of the game. Whilst mucking about is fine early on, the game slowly escalates the challenge to a point where you start needing to focus in order for it to not be a total drag. For me it was the realisation that, even though I was specialising in shock skills, taking all of them isn’t the most optimal way to increase your damage. Further to that the shock tree is at its best with its crowd control abilities, reliably stunning enemies whilst letting others do the lion’s share of the damage. Later on this build then starts to lack the survivability you’ll need for higher end activities and so since I didn’t have the gear requirements to hit the ice shards meta build that’s currently dominating for sorcs I instead went for the firewall build. This didn’t seem to increase my damage output much at all, but I suddenly found myself not needing to chug potions every 2 seconds in order to stay alive.

Having said all this the combat is fun though, striking the right balance of cooldown management, mob densities and overall challenge. To be sure there are a handful of bullet spongey type enemies that are simply no fun to play against, and as always with Diablo a few prefix/suffix combos that are just painful to deal with, but even my “boring” firewall build sorc is an enormous amount of fun when I’m able to punch off my entire kit of spells on a massive mob of enemies and just see the entire screen light up in flames. I’m sure the ice shards build is just as fun, but my journey to get there highlighted the biggest challenge I have with games like these.

The grind.

It wasn’t too long ago that you’d find me in a MMORPG, ARPG or any of its ilk happily grinding away to get better gear so I could keep playing the game to…get even better gear? Writing that down makes it sound absurd but that’s exactly the game loop of these kinds of loot based games and there’s nothing wrong with that intrinsically. The missing drive for me these days is a goal to drive that grind. For say, Destiny 2, the goal used to be doing the raid of that particular expansion, something I had always enjoyed doing. When the drive to raid fell away, mostly due to the amount of time I could dedicate to any game, the will to engage in loot grinding fell away with it.

Such is my experience with Diablo IV. Whilst the end game activities I’ve done, hell tides, nightmare dungeons and world bosses, are all great fun in their own right there’s really nothing driving me towards doing more of them other than the chase for better gear. It didn’t help that the stats I was chasing for the ice shards build, mana reduction and cooldown reduction, appear to be among the rarest stat drops for any kind of item necessitating another form of grind for materials and other well rolled items I can then enchant into what I need. It’s at that point, after running half a dozen hell tides and other activities, I ran out of will to keep going on. To be sure if I had gotten some more gear towards the build I wanted I probably would’ve played for longer, but I’d still hit the same wall eventually.

I don’t count this heavily against Diablo IV though, it’s more a sign of my changing interests over the near decade that’s elapsed since I last visited the IP. I know there’s a lot of people wanting a better end game experience, and there seems to be a lot of hope pinned on what Season 1 will deliver, but for someone like me who’s no longer interested in the grind for grind’s sake there’s really nothing to be done. Again, I don’t count this as a negative, just that the end game experience is no longer something I’ll find myself dumping countless hours into just to get that next legendary.

Diablo’s lore has become quite the beast over the last couple decades, something that became quite the discussion point as the crew and I ran through the game’s campaign. To be sure it can be appreciated for what it is on the surface but it certainly feels a whole lot more engrossing knowing the larger world that’s built around it. Unfortunately it’s kind of hard to orient yourself with the story without inadvertently tripping over spoilers on the various wikis and blog posts about it so proceed with caution until you’ve finished the campaign. Reading back over key elements once I got that done certainly settled a lot of things in my head making the whole experience that much richer for it. There’s also a good amount of teasing as what’s to come with the IP which is good, given it’d be all too easy to fall into the trap of strongly telegraphing some kind of sequel.

Diablo IV brings more of what we all love about the franchise into the modern age. It’s construction feels like the Blizzard of old, one that had a laser focus on only putting out products once they were done. The core game loop is as solid as it ever was with the uplifts and streamlining done from the previous installments in the IP bringing many welcome changes. I may have lost the fire for the endgame grind, and many of my grind loving friends are running out of puff on it too, but that didn’t detract from the numerous of hours of fun I had before I hit that point. Diablo is one of those series that is reliably player focused and Diablo IV is no exception to this rule.

Rating: 9.5/10

Diablo IV is available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 right now for $119.95. Game was played on the PC with approximately 30 hours total game time.

About the Author

David Klemke

David is an avid gamer and technology enthusiast in Australia. He got his first taste for both of those passions when his father, a radio engineer from the University of Melbourne, gave him an old DOS box to play games on.

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