50 years have passed since the events of its predecessor, yet Diablo 4 makes it clear from its very first moments that Sanctuary still hasn’t quite bloomed into the idyllic refuge its creators – the demon Lilith and the angel Inarius – intended it to be. Worse yet, they’re now opposing parties, rekindling the conflict they once sought to escape.
As always, this means that people are bound to suffer while we get to collect shiny loot and save the world (or delay its further descent into chaos). Despite a series of new additions that push for a more social, live service-focused experience, familiarity courses throughout the whole of Diablo 4, which launches as a safe but refined sequel that is easily approachable yet hard to master.
The technology that powers it delivers a significant leap in visual fidelity over its predecessor. It paints Sanctuary as an impressive world that boasts more detail and variety than ever before, while seeing the series returning to its gothic roots.
Its dark forests feel pulled straight out of Diablo 2. The painstakingly detailed sculptures of Lilith, religious imagery found in some of its temples, and the different architectural styles of its regions give a distinct sense of identity to both its expansive – if a bit empty – open world and dungeons.
The denizens of Hawezar’s pungent swamp have learned to live in ramshackle huts as disease threatens their existence. The ruined hovels of Kehjistan’s deserts show how the passage of time is as big a threat as any angelic or demonic force.
There’s occasional beauty here, but Sanctuary stands out thanks to its infectious ugliness that always made me curious to find out what horrors lie in wait in the next area or dungeon.
The act of killing enemies remains at the core of Diablo 4, and is an appropriately grotesque spectacle in which you leave a trail of bloody gore behind you while listening to the vivid crack of bones and the satisfying sound of flesh being ripped apart by impactful abilities.
Diablo 4’s shift to an open world comes with an increase in the sheer amount of available content, collectible crafting materials, and a horse pal which you eventually use to quickly get around. But while uncovering the map and its secrets for the first time is enjoyable, its high number of side quests and dungeons become tedious a bit too soon.
The former are, for the most part, simple fetch, kill, or find-stuff-in-wide-area quests that feel ripped straight out of an MMO. Snippets of lore or small stories – like one following a troublemaker attempting to cross a few things off her to-do list in honor of her dead friend – do offer one argument for completing some of them. But you’ll have to go through plenty that are less inspired, only offering mediocre loot and meager amounts of experience.
Although you’ll only notice assets being reused as you step into Diablo 4’s late game, dungeons also fall prey to mechanical repetition much too soon. Most are made up of two or three different sections that ask you to kill enemies – while possibly also recovering certain items or collecting energy – before opening the door that leads to consistently underwhelming bosses.
Traversing chasms at the press of a button.
If obliterating scores of monsters at the press of a button is part of the genre’s appeal, the majority of the bosses you face in both dungeons and story missions don’t pose much of a threat, contrasting their often imposing models.
You face massive spiders, towering blood elementals, hulking armored knights, and other such creatures only to be able to effortlessly dispatch them. Although they seem to be designed with several phases and various mechanics in mind, I found it too easy to simply overlook or avoid them.
This is made worse by how you encounter the same boss multiple times, without as much of a different name, color scheme, or variation in attack patterns. Killing Slither, the big helpless snake twice was enough, but I’m still finding it in different dungeons at level 57 and fighting it is just as boring.
The excellent crescendos and unsettling lulls of Diablo 4’s music work in tandem with how great abilities look and sound to pull most of the weight here. But this is a case where fewer, more mechanically varied dungeons would have really made a difference.
Thankfully, this repetition only becomes an issue if you stubbornly do the same type of activity over and over. Prior to the endgame, you can alternate between the story campaign, side quests, events that spontaneously appear in the open world, strongholds, and dungeons. Although they all revolve around killing foes, jumping between them recontextualizes why you participate in the slaughter, which kept me wanting to gradually work my way through them.
Fighting a bunch of angry demons can be quite chaotic.
At launch, Diablo 4’s difficulty is also in a strange place. Although it ramps up when you reach World Tier 3 and take your first step into the endgame, you’ll level and play through the whole story campaign on World Tier 1 or 2, where the majority of encounters felt trivial, at least for my Necromancer.
The way level scaling works ensures that you can hop on and play with others without worrying about the level difference. But as great as this sounds, it does come at a cost. Although I only died a handful of times prior to reaching World Tier 3, I never felt like my character gradually became stronger. Instead, I was navigating abrupt peaks and valleys.
There were times when I almost felt underpowered as I pushed through, only to become surprisingly more effective for a few levels whenever a sword with a significantly higher item power dropped. I was easily melting foes but still somehow felt like I was always playing catch-up.
Diablo 4’s story campaign takes you on a desperate journey across Sanctuary, as you track down Lilith in an attempt to foil her plans. It’s a familiar setup for a more elaborate narrative that introduces a new cast of characters.
Lorath’s warm bass voice makes the reluctant but nonetheless dedicated Horadrim a promising replacement for Deckard Cain. Although it does maintain Lilith as a somewhat distant antagonist, every scene in which she is involved successfully paints her as a tangible threat and a ruthless character whose motivations you gradually begin to understand.
Diablo 4's environments are truly a sight to behold.
Seamless transitions from gameplay to in-engine cutscenes add cinematic flair, while easily drawing you into the story. Not all of the figures you meet get the time to shine, and newcomer Neyrelle feels more suited for a role in a Marvel movie, but Diablo 4’s story kept me invested all the way through.
Once you complete the campaign on one character, any others you create have the option of skipping it and leveling through side quests, dungeons, and events, alongside a chunk of the endgame activities. They also benefit from any realm unlocks you might have gained from completing various region activities, which is a welcome quality-of-life addition that lets you more quickly reach higher World Tiers.
Without going out of my way to party up or join a clan, the multiplayer aspect that’s baked into the open world never felt intrusive. It mostly manifested itself through occasionally getting help during world events and seeing other players in towns or roaming around, which is not bad if you’re looking to play solo. Once I hit endgame, teaming up became a bit more frequent, while often greatly reducing any challenge.
Diablo 4’s classes feel noticeably distinct, both visually and from a gameplay standpoint. As a Necromancer, I attack turning my weapon into an extended spectral scythe, while summoning, upgrading, or sacrificing minions through the Book of the Dead. As the Barbarian, I can equip several weapons, pick which ones I use when casting individual skills, and increase my expertise by slaying foes.
Each class uses a different resource to cast spells, making Diablo 3’s builder/spender economy still very much present. My Necromancer’s Essence regenerates by itself, but using a basic attack and consuming corpses expedites the process. I, of course, have to weave this into my damage-dealing rotation, which involves summoning and empowering minions, casting a debilitating curse, and using Bone Spear to hurt foes and render them vulnerable from afar.
Some of the gear you find makes you look scarier than the horrors you face.
As a Barbarian, hitting things in the face and getting hit myself is my main avenue of generating Fury. I could speed the process and my damage up by using shouts, then close the distance to enemies with my basic attack before unleashing a deadly whirlwind of steel upon any foe who lacks the notion of personal space.
Skill trees allow for several potential builds right from the start, conveniently separating abilities into clusters that make their role easy to identify. A Necromancer can also play as a solitary but still deadly mage tapping into Blood or Bone magic. You’re limited by a hard cap of 6 equippable abilities on your action bar, but can respec by paying increasing amounts of gold to remove points spent on individual skills.
Costs can become prohibitive if you go ham – especially when you factor in late-game crafting –, but it’s possible to completely reset and experiment with different builds if you’re not satisfied with your current pick.
Diablo 4 enables you to unlock the full extent of your skills relatively early in its campaign. I spent the last part of my leveling journey unlocking passive skills that didn’t feel as impactful but, on the flip side, this offers more than enough time to get used to your rotation by the time you reach challenging content, which I appreciated.
Diablo 3’s Paragon system also makes a return and receives a handful of improvements. It comes into play after level 50 – when experience requirements increase significantly – revolving around themed boards.
Skeletal minions often struggle with cleanliness.
Most of the nodes they host offer incremental stat increases, with rare and legendary nodes having more powerful effects. You can also slot glyphs into special slots, allowing you to further customize your character’s bonuses.
Once you reach a gate node on your current board, you can select and attach another, rotating it to determine which nodes you’ll progress through first. It’s a nice bit of planning that only comes into play at a stage when you’ve likely decided upon the build you want to pursue, ensuring that progression continues well after locking in your active and passive skills.
Diablo 4’s crafting system gives you a measure of control over obtaining the stats you need. Vendors in major cities let you reroll a stat on items at an ever-increasing cost and upgrade their level. You can also extract unique powers from higher-quality items like legendaries and turn them into Aspects of Power. Some of them are also unlocked by completing dungeons, and you can later imprint Aspects into a different item that might have better stats.
You can also add sockets and slot in gems for additional bonuses, as well as refine gems into better versions. But while you can influence some things, whether or not you get the perfect items for your build remains largely in the hands of the randomized loot system.
If I want to summon more skeletons than my base skills allow, I have to find items bearing Aspects of Powers that increase this limit, since those don’t unlock when completing specific dungeons.
Raining blood (possibly from a lacerated sky).
When I do find them, they’ll often have only one or two stats I want, with the remaining ones either not being vital or useful to my current build. I can try my luck rerolling one stat or extract the power and imprint it into a better item I find later down the line.
This should sound fairly familiar to anyone used to the perfect stat chasing and grind of hack and slash RPGs, because that very same pattern fuels Diablo 4’s endgame. Once you wrap up the campaign and complete the first capstone dungeon, you unlock a set of new activities which you’ll bounce between.
The Tree of Whispers marks dungeons and events on your map which award Grim Favors when completed. Ten Grim Favors let you select one of three types of caches as your reward, allowing you to target items for specific slots. In addition, they also reward crafting materials, gems, and Paragon glyphs.
Sigils also begin to drop and can later be crafted and upgraded. They allow you to transform existing dungeons into their Nightmare versions. This limits the number of times you can revive while running them and also adds new modifiers that grant you a bonus of some sort but also make enemies deadlier. Sigils aren’t shackled by level scaling, going up multiple tiers and allowing you to choose the level of challenge you want to tackle.
The added effects often involve elemental affixes, which is where consumables – elixirs and incenses that you can find or craft – come into play, offering additional resistances or stats alongside a boost to experience gain. After beating the end boss, you earn two additional items – on top of all the usual drops – and have access to an Awakened Glyphstone, which is the only way to level up your Paragon glyphs.
Here we see an unlucky world boss attempting to teach the loot-hungry players furiously clicking on it how to dance.
Although they’re not much different structurally than their regular counterparts, the modifiers do add more challenge, encouraging you to play more carefully and making Nightmare dungeons actually feel engaging to run.
Periodically, regions on the map are engulfed by a Helltide, which rains down blood upon the area, spawns more foes, and adds new interactable objects. Killing enemies and poking these strange new plants and corpses earns you Abberant Cinders. You use this currency to unlock special chests that are present in the region while the event is live. Each chest enables you to target items for specific slots, while also having a higher chance of rewarding high-quality loot.
When a Helltide overlaps with Tree of Whispers activities, you can get a fair bit of gear for your efforts alongside a good chunk of experience, especially if you party up and spend the full hour culling demon hordes.
Diablo 4’s massive world bosses then add another challenge you can tackle alongside other players, rewarding a cache of powerful gear on a weekly basis.
My experience in Fields of Hatred – areas marked for PvP – mostly revolved around getting stomped in a matter of seconds by higher-level players who sought to extract dedicated currency using special altars. These areas also host a few events that grant Grim Favors, but never overlapped with PvE-focused areas, making them feel optional.
Her diet could probably use some adjustment.
Diablo 4’s endgame activities offer different contexts in which you kill stronger versions of enemies you’ve already faced, but nonetheless give you a good reason to roam its open world and revisit its dungeons. Jumping between them feels great, especially if done in shorter bursts, and should be more than enough to tide you over at least until Season 1 drops.
There’s a lot to love about Diablo 4, but it’s hard to talk about it without mentioning its monetization. Blizzard promises to not include items that grant power in its upcoming battle pass and in-game store, but is more than eager to sell (optional) cosmetic armor sets that cost as much as 25 euro. That’s more than a third of the base edition’s price.
There are cheaper bundles with fewer items alongside one single add-on which you can buy with real money (all other purchases require Platinum, the game’s premium currency). The shop isn’t intrusively advertised in-game at launch, but the few times I looked at what’s on offer, I couldn’t help but think about how the awesome items on there would have been great rewards for completing challenges or difficult content.
On an i7-13700K, 32 GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080@1440p, Diablo 4 ran exceptionally well. It’s one of the few major releases in recent memory to comfortably sit between 130-160 FPS at maximum settings for the greater part of my playthrough.
Diablo 4’s launch was also unusually smooth, with no queues or lag on both its early access and standard release dates. That being said, my journey wasn’t entirely free of issues.
I frequently encountered rubberbanding when traversing between map regions, which kept my character awkwardly running into an invisible wall for a few seconds, temporarily shattering immersion. I also saw instances of stutter during traversal or while entering and exiting instances which, on some occasions, happened just as I was plunging face-first into a pack of elite mobs.
There were also smaller bugs that prompted NPC dialogue to constantly repeat or removed quest markers from the map. By far the most aggravating, however, was a bug that rendered me unable to use skills unless I left the game and rejoined. If this happened inside a dungeon, it equated to losing all my progress and any consumable items that I might have used.
DIABLO 4 VERDICT
Diablo 4 doesn’t revolutionize hack and slash RPGs like its predecessors did, but its blend of new and old features works quite well. Its return to a darker, gothic art style that embraces gore, ugliness, and religious imagery really makes its world effortlessly etch into your mind the detailed shapes of demonic sculptures and remains of obliterated foes.
Punchy sound effects, excellent voice acting and music, alongside distinct classes and flexibility when designing your build all harmonize. They fuel the intense action even when its dungeons and side quests inevitably become repetitive and its level scaling messes with how powerful you feel.
It’s a sequel that plays it safe, but in doing so provides a polished, refined take on the series’ formula that caters to both veterans and newcomers. It offers hundreds of hours of monster slaying at release, while also providing a sturdy foundation on which Blizzard can build as it revs up its post-launch support.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Looting an item whose legendary power increased the number of undead minions I could summon and watching my new skeletal pals cut through hordes of demons.
Excellent visuals and music
Lots of builds to try out
More elaborate narrative
Repetitive dungeons and side quests
Open world can feel empty at times
Level scaling negatively impacts how powerful you feel