The good and bad of focusing on player choice and endgame.
The fact that Diablo III still has such a big and active player base eleven years after its launch kind of says everything about how great Blizzard's fascinating universe, engaging gameplay and enticing loot-system truly are. Add the continuous updates and seasons on top of that, and it's understandable that some have questioned the need to pay for a sequel. Well, after spending 80+ hours with Diablo IV, I can safely say the game is easily well worth your money.
You get a clear taste of this straight away, as the game starts with an impressive and alluring cinematic that shows off Blizzard's top-tier cinematography and story-telling. Highly detailed characters and environments, astounding voice-acting, atmosphere-building music and fantastic camerawork makes every big story moment such a joy that it's easy to look past just how predictable and clichéd parts of this adventure are. Those shortcomings are especially prevalent in many side-quests where the lore reasons for doing them are so thin and overused that you'll have forgotten them before the conversation ends. Still, the core story and its grandiose cinematics do just enough to at least keep me curious till the very end. What really kept me coming back and has ensured that I'm looking forward to starting from scratch and spending 100+ more hours with Diablo IV after getting my pre-release character wiped is the gameplay, however.
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Because Diablo IV takes Diablo III's great combat and makes it fantastic by adding and changing a handful of things. It doesn't matter if you choose a barbarian, druid, necromancer, rogue or sorceress, every fight feels and looks so satisfying. This coming from a guy that doesn't like real-time strategy games or similar titles where you're basically just selecting a target and let the action unfold with a single button press. Giving each class a dodge is one of the reasons why that's different here. Watching the cooldown for it (or them if you have gear that gives you an extra) and rolling out of trouble while taking advantage of the invincibility frames is a real thrill and brings even more depth and options to each fight. That's nothing compared to each class' unique abilities and perks though, and it's clear why the developers spent so much time talking about player choice and customisation leading up to launch.
Those of you who played the betas know what I'm talking about. Whether it's how each class' skill-tree has a wide array of options suited for different playstyles (and can be respeced for a small amount of gold), being able to socket what you want into whatever gear you want, swapping the often game-changing aspects legendary and unique gear offer, improving yourself even further after level-cap with the Paragon system and so much more. Yes, I know I'm mixing in the gear and loot system here, but that's because the gear and skills are synergised in such a fabulous way.
Take my rogue as an example. I found great success with activating an ability that imbued my other skills with ice, then using the ultimate that made it rain arrows over a large area while I went up close and personal with my twin blades. Worked well in the early parts of the game - Absolutely obliterated almost everything later on when I'd transferred the aspect that created a barrier around me when I damaged an elite to my favourite bow, had gems increasing my ice damage on many gear pieces, unlocked slots that lowered the cooldown of my ultimate by using certain other abilities in my skill-tree and made a few other tweaks that are easy and fairly fast to make. This becomes even more entertaining after finishing the campaign and the endgame starts.
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As the video shows, and the developers have talked about for years, making the endgame diverse and entertaining has been an important part of Diablo IV, and the result proves it. Going into previously completed dungeons that might have new kinds of enemies and challenges in store depending on certain criteria or personalised sigils is so much fun when you know this also increases the chances of getting even better loot. Even traveling between these can suddenly lead to memorable moments thanks to the enormous world bosses that require you to team up with other players around the world (feel free to @ me if you manage to defeat one on your own) or smaller solo-able world events filling your screens with enemies to test your skills. I've experienced many enthralling heart-pounding moments that ended up with super-powerful loot and nice messages from other players. Top that with a specific PvP area for those who want to truly test their might, and there's no doubt Diablo IV will keep millions of players coming back for years to come. At least if Blizzard fixes, changes and adds a few things.
I say that because it's always weird reviewing a live-service game, and Diablo IV is a great example of why. Let's start with the fixable stuff that allegedly will be improved upon with a Day 1 patch. Fighting cool-looking enemies and exploring beautiful environments isn't as fun when you all too often come across quests not progressing the way they should, T-posing corpses, textures taking time to fully load in, enemies behaving weirdly and getting stuck, dungeons resetting the second you go outside, some less than optimal user-interface, stats and boosts not working properly, framerate drops on PlayStation 5 and stuff like that. Each separately isn't a big thing, but everything put together really hurts the experience. The good news is that the patch notes claim many of these problems will at least be less common when you get your hands on the game.
Then a couple of things the patch won't fix. Variety is an important part of these kinds of games, so seeing the same dungeon layout over and over again is such a disappointment. Brag about having more than 150 dungeons in Diablo IV, Blizzard, but that just makes it ridiculous when I enter different dungeons on different parts of a zone and end up with the exact same design. What's the fun in that? I understand this is a live-service game where the most eager of us are going to revisit areas over and over again, but recycling an infuriating amount of dungeon layouts from the get-go might even make casual players turn the game off after a few hours.
The loot-system will probably also be adjusted, considering 90% of the gear you find is at least 5 levels below you, making it pretty much useless. Part of the game since it makes it even more enjoyable when you actually get something good? Maybe, but such a big difference and bad ratio just makes me sad as it forces me to walk past so many shiny things or keep traveling back and forth to town to sell or dismantle stuff.
For full transparency, it's also worth noting Blizzard didn't give us access to the store in the review period, but the sheet with prices and other details we got made it seem like the company is living up to its word of not having any pay-to-win chicanery in there or the battle pass.
Shortcomings we've become used to when all is said and done, which is why Diablo IV is a great, truly enjoyable game every fan should play. The core story, highlighted by the superb cinematics and excellent voice acting, leads you through a highly detailed and fascinating world. Not that you'll get or want much time to enjoy them when it's so much fun fighting everything from a massive dragon-like creature to hordes of tiny spiders with your own personalised character alone or with other players. It might feel a tad basic and unoriginal at first, but Diablo IV spreads its impressive wings as you unlock more abilities, improve your stats and gear, come across new features that will keep you coming back to try new tactics, make your character look cooler, and see those numbers get higher.
8 / 10
Powerful and diverse abilities.
Legendary and unique gear are often game-changers.