23rd February 2024 11:55 am
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Diablo IV Review: Is it worth R1400?

When it comes to the videogames of Blizzard Entertainment, we very much sat on the “lapsed” side of fans.

Having enjoyed the glorious height of the golden age of Blizzard games, recent releases like several World of Warcraft expansions, hideous third-party remasters, mobile-only cash grab Diablo Immortal and lately the debacle that is Overwatch 2, have soured the reputation of Irvine, California’s once-infallible Warchief of Gaming.

Added to this are heaps of allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and an otherwise toxic work environment for the studio’s developers, fostered by uncaring, greedy executives.

We were not expecting much with its latest title, the fourth mainline instalment of the Diablo series.

Promising a return to darker, grittier Diablo 2-era aesthetics and fewer dumb ideas like the real money auction house, we cautiously followed along from the sidelines as Blizzard released trailer after trailer.

By the time Diablo IV landed on our desk, it was impossible to escape the game. Blizzard forked out a considerable sum of money on marketing for the title, including big cash bags to Halsey for a song inspired by the game’s main antagonist and to Megan Fox who will humiliate the ways your characters die in some sort of parasocial BDSM fantasy.

A pop media play like this is not cheap, and we venture Diablo IV cost as much as some motion pictures to make. No doubt influencing its pricing. The standard edition on PC goes for around R1 400 in South Africa and will no doubt be the most expensive game you buy this year.

Given Blizzard’s latest outings, is Diablo IV worth this asking price?

To begin answering this question, we will tell you now that Diablo IV is a magnificent return to form for Blizzard. One that harkens back to that lauded golden age, capturing the magic of classics like Starcraft and Warcraft 3. A magic we didn’t even know we missed.

Return to Sanctuary

We played the Necromancer class, which many publications say is the best in the game so far. There are five classes to choose from, including Druid, Barbarian, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Necromancer.

The five starting classes of Diablo IV.

Character creation involves a wide range of design and aesthetic choices but you will not be able to mould your character’s face as you would want like in the Elder Scrolls or similar titles. You choose from two main body types, and four base faces, and then the options expand from there. They include myriad skin tones, eye colours hairstyles, piercings, facial hair, tattoos and more.

We also noted that several hairstyles, facial features and skin tones aimed at creating realistic black characters were present. Something that hugely popular games like Elden Ring have yet to get right.

A possible Barbarian.

Right here at the start of the game, Blizzard begins differentiating the classes. Each will have different customisation options. Necromancers get glowing eyes and Druids get tribal hair accessories. Each class is also physically distinct, with different body and face options, hairstyles and stances between body types.

Each will walk differently, have different voices and when taking into account the enormous amounts of skills, abilities and talents each class has, and then different build types upon that, there’s a lot of variety to be had in each playthrough.

The character creation is quick, with more choices than what could be done in Diablo 3. You find what suits you, what looks cool and then hit finalise.

Difficulty options are next, and you get two off the bat with the most difficult two available as New Game Plus experiences after the main campaign is finished. We chose the Veteran World Tier and started the game with our sad boi.

Sandro is sad because his pet hadeda died (he wears its skull as a necklace).

The prologue mission immerses you in a new snowy location in the world of Sanctuary, one where the people are inspired by slavic cultures. The impeccable sound design conveys the isolation of your character when you begin the game. Rushing cold winds are accompanied by soft, anxiety-inducing music. You are alone and in danger, and eventually, feel a rush of relief when you come across the fires of the nearby town.

We would venture to say that Diablo IV is the best-looking game Blizzard has ever made. Not just in terms of graphical fidelity but in art style. The company has too long languished in bright colours and cartoony characters.

A return to the grounded and the realistic is right up our alley and makes Blizzard’s artists shine. Every piece of equipment is festooned with maddening amounts of detail, all anchored on true-to-world conditions. Such as in the starting equipment for the Necromancer, who carries a red health potion on his side.

The prologue serves as an introduction to the new Diablo, a Diablo very different to fans of the 2012 release, a Diablo closer to the grim and blood-covered Diablo 2 – the game that made the series famous. Diablo 4’s narrative has also been significantly improved compared to its predecessor, and the opening of the game familiarises players with what they can expect.

Three different levels of cutscenes are used to tell the story of the game. From expensive cinematics to less detailed in-game cutscenes, to your character walking up to people and you clicking on text boxes.

At the end of the first dungeon, you find a beheaded priest – you will only realise who the priest is after a while and only after you are betrayed. The first in-game cutscene is here, which will introduce you to the big bad, Lillith, as well as the main theme of the game: satanistic rebellion against a cruel organised religion.

After the prologue, the game opens up. Literally. Diablo IV is an open-world game, and you get to play across one whole half of Sanctuary. The world is so large that mounts are a new thing in Diablo, but also a new thing for Blizzard to sell.

The Diablo IV Map, or at least as much as could fit in a single screenshot.

AAA and A

It feels good to play a real Blizzard game again. We almost forgot that the polish and mechanical near-perfection on offer with Diablo IV was possible. It is a premier title, beyond triple-A. Every single aspect of the gameplay is exhaustively designed and laid before the player as a lavish banquet.

Your character’s movements and combat, cut down to a diamond from the gems of the previous games in the series, are reactive and tight. Easy to pick up and painless to reproduce. Running around and fighting is the bulk of the gameplay so it has to be good and Blizzard delivers.

The mouse and number keys are your blade against the denizens of the Burning Hells. You can bind abilities to them simply by clicking and dragging, but the game offers several ways to do this because apparently Blizzard is obsessed with quality-of-life features.

Each class has several different play styles. The Necromancer class teaches you how to play it from the get-go, with the first ability to raise the dead from bloody corpses left behind by your enemies. Soon, you will get a few friends, and by the end of the game – an army.

Skeleton guardians provide less DPS than skeleton skirmishers but have the ability to negate a percentage of damage you take.

All skills and abilities are organised through a fantastic, minimal UI that doesn’t skimp on coolness. Diablo 3’s skills were found through a complex series of menus for each button. This has been thankfully scrapped in favour of a sphere grid.

Final Fantasy X anyone?

This makes it easy to see what are spells and what are passive upgrades. The spells can simply be clicked and dragged unto your hotbar. You get six spell slots, including your two mouse buttons, and there are way more than six abilities, so choice influences gameplay and builds and sets up different playthroughs.

Everything from the sound of applying a skill point, to the clink of closing and opening menus, to the way the inventory is set up and how equipment stats are displayed has been thought out and goes to make the experience just a bit better. A bit more satisfying. The flow of your skirt, the swing speed of your sword, the bloody colour of the menus, every detail has been taken into consideration for a mechanical showcase and a tour de force in game design.

You may not even notice it because Diablo IV has been made as frictionless as possible.

The inventory screen, where you will spend a significant amount of time, sorting your loot.

Environment design is another aspect that seems impossible to get this right, at this scale. Every area is beautifully detailed. From tombs to towns, every room has a million things happening and is just a joy to take in. The shine off stained glass. The accoutrements on every shelf.

Environmental design is another highlight.
Details are exhaustive. Have I said that before?

There is so much that Blizzard just gives you in Diablo IV. Things that make your experience more enjoyable. Transmogrification is unlocked as soon as you hit the main city, and it is a fantastic experience where different looks are unlocked by scrapping equipment and each item can be individually set to different colours.

Lilith won’t match my sheer powers of fashion.

Rock of Sisyphus

When it boils down, Diablo IV is the apotheosis of Diablo games – the ultimate Diablo experience. This means that eventually, the gameplay boils down to the addictive gameplay loop that David Brevik and his team innovated in 1997 with Diablo.

You journey to a new location, and you use your skills to kill monsters, they will drop loot, and you will level up. You will always be progressing, always moving forward. You hit level 2 almost immediately after the prologue begins to make sure you get that slight bit of serotonin squirted into your central nervous system.

Get used to this feeling. The game will provide it again and again. The constant progress leads to tougher challenges, better loot and more destructive abilities. This loop grabs hold of you and it is a struggle to let go. This grind never stops, as your enemies become stronger and more in number you find yourself absolutely slaughtering your way through the seemingly endless world of Sanctuary.

This loop seems as expertly designed as ever. For example, the Necromancer playstyle relies on The Book of the Dead to raise undead servants from corpses. Each of the undead that can be summoned can be given an upgrade, and each time this upgrade is applied, your current servants will fall to the ground.

What happens here is that sometimes a dungeon will provide a challenge that will require you to slightly adjust your playstyle, including your undead upgrades. More than once we had to scour the corpses of our enemies to raise new servants. This is exactly what a Necromancer would be doing.

On top of this, clearing the slate and selecting all-new skills is cheap and can be done off the bat. Blizzard wants you to experiment and switch up on the fly and makes it easier than ever to find a build that suits your playstyle.

Loot is more bountiful than ever, and your character can use any weapon that drops. A Necromancer can use a claymore, for example. However, the loot is aimed at your specific class, and most of the fanciest drops will be in-line with your playstyle.

Your character gets stronger and cooler the more you play.

This would be a problem if the gameplay wasn’t so fun, but we could see some players who don’t enjoy grindy gameplay grow bored of the “switch-off-your-mind-and-kill” loop of Diablo IV.

But if you do enjoy rolling the boulder up the hill, then you will find hours upon hours melting away and suddenly you are at level 50 and your Corpse Explosion skill can plaster a hundred enemies every half second. What day is it? What was the last time I ate? Just five more minutes and then bedtime. Just five more…

But not everything is old hat. Diablo IV comes with a new Dodge mechanic. Now, every class can dodge towards the direction the character faces with the Space bar, followed by a short cooldown to mitigate abuse. Most of the very early game will not require this mechanic, but the first open-world dungeon provides a wall for you to become familiar with it or you won’t be able to defeat its final boss.

Another major addition sees Blizzard dip into its history and gives Diablo IV MMO-like features. During your travel across Sanctuary, you will see other players in the same locations, attacking monsters and looting chests. To try and coax cooperation Blizzard has included World of Warcraft-like world bosses and Guild Wars-style events.

This has the adverse effect of enemies respawning constantly in certain areas where players may be heavier, like in an MMO. This makes the gameplay even grinder as you have to slaughter your way free from bandit camps or spider nests.

Another problem with this system is that, at least in the early game, there are not enough challenges to force players to party up and work together. This style of gameplay was first introduced in vanilla WoW, which is incredibly difficult at low levels and forced you to make friends, fast. We still wake up in a cold sweat thinking about Fenris Isle.

As Blizzard gradually made WoW easier, this system became vestigial. Which is why it’s weird to see it return in Diablo 4. While we came across and helped many on our journey so far, we never once had to party up with a stranger to beat a challenge. Especially since the dungeons and cellars are instanced.

Stay a while and listen, again, and again, and…

The story of Diablo IV surrounds the return of Lillith and her rivalry with the angel Inarius. Lillith is portrayed as a sort of anti-hero character, with the common folk being attracted to her as the cold, cruel Church of Light is seen as an oppressive institution.

You will still have to obliterate her, even though you barely have a personal reason to do so. Instead, you do what others tell you, leading you to more and more locations and somewhat memorable characters all featuring tremendous voice work, sometimes from Hollywood talent.

This is still a marked improvement over Diablo 3, which after hours of playing still doesn’t manage to explain why your character is doing anything. The new cutscene system also goes well with the improved narrative, however sometimes these scenes last a little too long before the next bout of violence.

New cutscenes use in-game graphics to show off a more cinematic way to tell stories.

But the story is just scene dressing for the real reason people will keep coming back to the game. That delicious looting and slashing loop. We can say that it is far superior to what was given in the previous game, but apart from its grim and dour direction, Blizzard doesn’t do anything too unique and doesn’t seem to take its great theme to truly important narrative levels.

Diablo IV – Final Verdict

Diablo IV is the best game from Blizzard since perhaps the original Overwatch in 2016. It has drawn enormous attention and is already the company’s fastest-selling game. Thanks in no small part to its marketing wehrmacht.

The game design on offer is near-perfect, with AAA plus attention to detail and a gameplay loop purified to induce delicious bumps of serotonin almost all the time. Art and sound direction are of the highest quality, providing Blizzard’s best-looking game in years.

Diablo IV is a grand return to form and a much-needed piece of evidence for a company that claims to be one of the world’s leading game developers. For R1 379 across platforms for the standard edition of the game, it is more expensive than Street Fighter 6, which was released in the same month.

Is the game worth that price? Yes, especially if you have the budget for it. It will provide hours upon hours of fun through its addictive gameplay, especially if you were a fan of any of the previous Diablo games. It is a marked improvement over Diablo 3 and a real contender for 2023’s Game of the Year.

FINAL SCORE: 9.5 OUT OF 10.

FULL DISCLOSURE: THE PC CODE FOR DIABLO IV WAS GIVEN TO HYPERTEXT BY THE LOCAL DISTRIBUTOR OF THE GAME.

Luis Monzon

Luis Monzon

Journalist. Covering education, AAA gaming and consumer tech. Reach me at Luis@htxt.co.za.

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