Diablo IV Review

Hell to the yeah

By Paul Hunter

After participating in a few Diablo IV betas (all of which were excellent) the big moment has finally arrived—this past week I've been playing a special 'review' build of the retail launch version. Diablo IV is by far the biggest game in the series at release with a massive-scale open world, six full acts instead of the usual four, a huge leap forward in storytelling, and so many fully fleshed-out game mechanics that gradually unlock to enhance and expand the action RPG experience.

Before I get into my thoughts on what I played it's important to take a step back and mention what I didn't play during this review process. For starters, while Diablo IV is built to be a shared world with other players, I didn't see a single other player during my 45-plus hours of game time. I was in the North American servers, which I imagine many other reviewers were also in, so I have to assume that multiplayer was turned off during the review period. I also didn't get much time with the end game content, including the Paragon Boards, Nightmare Dungeons, Capstone Dungeons, and by extension I only played on World Tier II (Veteran) and I (Adventurer) difficulties, since Tiers III (Nightmare) and IV (Torment) unlock after completing Capstones. Thirdly, I didn't get to see the in-game shop (aside from images provided by Blizzard) or Battle Pass since both were not live during the review week. And finally, I never got to see the Season 1 content since this is expected to launch in mid to late July.

What I did accomplish during the review week is I played through all six Acts of the campaign with my Necromancer, plus spent another 15 hours playing a new game with the Druid class. I got a chance to clear dozens of dungeons, both Main Campaign and optional ones, as well as participated in numerous World Events, completed a wide range of side quests, found lots of Altars of Lilith, beat a bunch of Strongholds and experimented quite a bit with the new Legendary Aspect items. With that out of the way, let's dive into Sanctuary to see what you can expect, here are three things I liked about Diablo IV...and one I didn't.

Liked: A Huge Leap Forward in Story

Diablo IV represents a significant jump up in storytelling compared to its predecessors. While Diablo and Diablo II had great cutscenes and some memorable characters (ahem, Deckard Cain), and Diablo III had even more cinematics and focus on story, none come close to what Blizzard has delivered with their latest offering. Diablo IV has a rich and involved story that's so much more engaging, featuring a pantheon of characters that feel fully fleshed and are all given the proper time to shine.

At the centre of this tale is Lilith, the daughter of Hatred and Mother of Sanctuary. Unlike the great evils of Diablo's past that were one-dimensional embodiments of Terror, Hatred and Destruction, Lilith has layers to her character that make her more a shade of dark grey rather than being a purely sinister presence. She possesses an astounding array of dichotomies being merciless yet caring, scheming yet soft, and manipulative yet sincere.

Diablo IV takes place 50 years following the events of the previous game, and while humanity has had time to rebuild, it's still a very bleak and dark world where everyone is fighting to survive. Sanctuary is rotting away and following a brutal revival ceremony, Lilith is brought back and immediately sets out to find a way to restore the land to her liking. As the creator of Sanctuary, she has a long history and deep connections to the world and the many characters you'll get to meet.

Inarius, a rogue archangel and the co-creator of Sanctuary, also gets plenty of screen time to great effect. While you would assume at best he would be a force for good and at worst a neutral figure, he too has many layers to his character and comes off as mysterious with ambiguous motivations. And oh boy, those cutscenes he's in are incredibly tense and visually impressive—easily among the best story moments Blizzard has ever delivered.

Zoning in on your character and his adventure, there's a massive uptick in the number of friendlies you'll meet and vastly more dialogue than we've ever seen in a Diablo game before. Every town, and there are many to find across this gargantuan world, is filled with NPCs ready to give you sidequests or simply converse, all with surprisingly good voice acting for such minor parts. While I normally don't get too invested in random villager conversations, Diablo IV does a fantastic job of making this world seem lived in with characters that genuinely feel more fleshed out and real. Whether I was chatting with a dad who lost his son to a brutal torture prison or speaking to criminals condemned to death in the stocks, conversations have never been more engaging in the Diablo series.

Your character themselves also feels more developed compared to the previous games as they have a modest amount of voiced lines that help uncover how they feel about situations and the wider world. Having played through the campaign with the Necromancer and about half the campaign with the Druid, I was also impressed with how each character class has their own unique dialogue lines, often making references to their tribes, history and class. Players that don't like chatty protagonists don't have to worry though, as your character talks enough so you understand their ways of thinking, but not enough to overpower any dialogue segments—which are mainly focused on the companions you'll meet.

On the topic of companions, there are several standout characters that all play their pivotal roles, big or small, to help shape Sanctuary's ultimate fate. Companions will regularly follow you into the dark pits, defiled crypts and bloodsoaked forests on specific missions and they're fairly chatty to help make these miserable places a bit more bearable. Main supporting characters will also appear in cutscenes that generally offer dramatic developments and rich dialogue far above what we've seen this franchise give us before.

As a whole, I found the storytelling in Diablo IV to be extremely ambitious and it got me much more invested in the characters and outcome compared to the first three games. Blizzard has crafted a dark, immersive world that peels back its many layers over the six Acts, culminating in a final stretch that I literally couldn't take my eyes off of. While I wouldn't usually recommend Diablo games for their stories, Diablo IV's story is so rich and detailed that it's absolutely worth paying attention to.

Liked: Back to a Dark, Gritty World

Diablo I and II are remembered for their deliciously macabre settings, whether that was venturing through horribly creepy arachnid lairs, putrid swamps, bloody moors, or evil-infested outer cloisters. Then along came Diablo III with its pivot to more colourful environments and stylized characters that were decidedly less hellish, and got quite a bit of pushback from longtime fans. For Diablo IV, Blizzard has clearly heard the feedback and this time is giving players the most gruesome Diablo game yet.

While the actual dungeons you explore in Diablo IV will be quite familiar to fans—fiery hell pits, spider nests, evil burial grounds and yes, more cloisters—visually, everything looks vastly superior to anything in the Diablo franchise before. The gothic art design here is breathtaking in its detail, all elevated by an impressive lighting system that breathes new life into the filthy, repugnant hell holes you visit.

So much of Diablo IV looks truly ghastly, whether you're exploding bloody corpse mounds with your Necromancer or sloshing through the forests of blood while hacking vile creatures to pieces along the way. Monasteries and cathedrals appear scarier than ever with their periodic fire-red lanterns that bring short respites from the otherwise dark corners hiding hungry cannibals and foul ghouls. All this is clearly a response to Diablo III and as someone who's been a fan of this franchise for over 25 years, I couldn't be happier with this back-to-its-roots art direction.

The amazing fidelity of the cutscenes adds to the immersion and more so than ever we get to see the intense fear and agonizing pain of humans suffering at the hands of Sanctuary's worst demons. We've always known that this brutal world was a truly rotten place to live, but now we get to see the horrors and sadness in much more vivid detail.

I also have to mention the tremendous audio work in Diablo IV, which again is a clear leap forward compared to previous games. Hearing skeleton bones breaks as you axe cleave them to pieces or piles of corpses exploding all around you sequence all sounds incredibly lifelike and further immerses you in the moment. Your spells all sound fantastic too, whether that's unleashing cyclones that tear the flesh off of the unholy or the thunderous crack of chained lightning attacks that fry the skin right off demons and goatmen alike.

Liked: Immensely Satisfying Progression

Diablo IV is so massive in scale, I think it's safe to say that's larger than all three prior Diablo games put together. The world is staggering in its size and exploring every inch of it bit is tremendously rewarding in a variety of ways.

For one thing, there are dozens of settlements and towns to discover, each with its own locals that will chat you up, provide services or give you sidequests. The world is also stuffed with a huge checkmark list of activities to complete, ranging from Strongholds to defeat, 120+ dungeons each offering unique rewards, and Altars of Lilith that give all characters within the realm permanent stat increases.

Virtually every activity you complete in Sanctuary rewards you with a currency called Renown, and after acquiring enough you can collect rewards such as bonus skill points, mounds of gold, +1 to your potion capacity, or extra Paragon points. The sheer number of activities you need to do is staggering, but I can honestly see myself going for 100% completion given just how fun and rewarding the core gameplay loop is.

Diving into the character classes, they're quite varied but even within classes, you can build them out in so many different ways. I chose to be a Necromancer focusing on minions and Blood attacks that rip the flesh off of enemies and heal you in the process. But I easily could have taken my Necromancer in an entirely different direction, including banishing my minions and instead receiving character buffs and unleashing debilitating Shadow magic to control the battlefield.

This same huge range of choices repeated itself when I changed over to the Druid class. This time I focused on buffing my two wolf companions that served as my frontline defence while I held back and blasted the undead with immobilizing lightning blasts and followed up with crushing earthly boulders. I'm already planning at some point to completely respec my Druid so I can explore his vicious werewolf and towering werebear forms.

Many of the tried and true systems that have made past Diablo games so engaging make their return in Diablo IV. This includes item rarity—ranging from Normal, Magic, Rare and Legendary—with each step up offering better stats and more perks. The gem system makes a welcome return as well, and like before gear items might contain gem slots they can be inserted to. Gems provide a range of bonuses from increasing weapon damage to upping your health regen rate and so much more. The Paragon system is another major system that's back, and like before once you reach the level cap of 50 you'll start acquiring Paragon points that you can trade in to strengthen your character.

It seems that each class will also get unique enhancement systems that unlock when you reach a specific character level. For the Necromancer that was The Book of the Dead, a specialized system where I could turn my minions into creature variants, as well as selecting different perks. For example, I turn my Skeletal Mages into shadow, cold or bone variants that had different attack types and inflict certain status effects on enemies. Similarly, for my golem, I had choices like the ultra-tough iron golem or the blood golem that absorbs a percentage of the damage I took. It's such a deep system that gave me a high degree of customizability to develop my minions exactly to my liking.

Switching over to my Druid, his unique class mechanic is Spirit Bonding which allowed me to select powerful boons to enhance my character. After completing the Druid-specific quest that unlocks spirit bonding, you have the choice of offering boons to four spirits: a deer, an eagle, a wolf, and a snake. The boons are quite beneficial, for instance, the deer can reduce damage from Elite enemies by 10% (huge!) while the wolf can give you a 20% chance with every critical strike to reset the cooldown of your animal companions (also huge). These unique class mechanics offer amazing benefits and they're fun to tinker with as you go about trying to maximize your character's abilities.

All told, the sum of Diablo IV's many game systems results in a game that feels like it has near-infinite replay value. I'm already well over 100 hours of logged game time across the betas and review period, and I feel like I've only scratched the surface of what's possible in this game.

Didn't Like: Plays It Safe

While Diablo IV is a game I'd recommend to every fan of this franchise and all action RPG gamers for that matter, it's hard to ignore how familiar much of this game feels. The core gameplay loop is virtually the same as we've seen in past Diablo games, we once again hack and slash our way through sewers, caves and cathedrals and even when it comes to enemies, it's once again skeletons, spiders, ghouls, werewolves and other monsters we've seen time and again. If it ain't broken, don't fix it seems to be the mantra here.

All that said, everything has been taken up a notch and I imagine fans won't mind too much how overly familiar the adventure is. The storytelling, art direction, audio direction, map size, production values and the sheer amount of content on offer is dramatically beefed up compared to previous games. If you're looking for a fresh Diablo experience this isn't it, but if you're craving the most refined and meaty core Diablo offering ever, this game delivers and then some.

The Verdict

You know the old question 'if you were stranded on a deserted island and could bring one game with you, what would you bring'? If that choice was posed to me today, I'd likely respond with Diablo IV. This is a game I feel like I could easily sink 500 hours into without ever getting tired of the rewarding gameplay loop. With five character classes, a map bigger than all previous Diablo games combined and an ever-expanding list of game mechanics to tinker with, Diablo IV is one hell of a great experience.

Final Score: 9.5/10 - Amazing

Diablo IV details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Genre: Action Role-playing, Hack-and-Slash
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.