It’s great to see Diablo 4 evolve into a more comprehensive experience with each entry in the dev diary. Positioning yourself between Diablo 3 and the excellent work, while intimidating to many due to its expansive endgame, Path of Exile was just the right call. In particular, this void is currently only really occupied by the second remake of itself.
In particular, the massive increase in the depth of character development is a boon and should lead to a thriving building and mentoring community. After all, to this day, players still love tinkering with the perfect stats and gear packs for their Diablo 2 heroes.
Yet whether the open world feels like an eerily beautiful playground or an overcrowded daycare center is a critical question that lingers in part four like the Sword of Damocles. After all, the most crucial story moments should be kept out of the shared world by instancing, making them reliably enjoyable. All in all, Blizzard provides enough of a positive boost here to justify a healthy dose of optimism.
Not even death can save you from me.
In the trailer, a couple of unfortunate ventures of fortune accidentally free Diablo’s niece Lilith from her banishment, paving the way for an enthralling and complex antagonist. Mephisto’s daughter was the one who, in an unholy union with the archangel Inarius, created not only the world of Sanctuary but also humanity itself.
When her lover later wanted to wipe out their children, she instead wiped out all angels and demons from Sanctuary, thus ensuring our species’ continued existence long before the first games.
As the story of Diablo 4 begins several decades after the annihilation campaign of the death angel Malthael from the D3 addon Reaper of Souls, we can only imagine how much Lilith is hurt by the loss of 90 percent of her descendants. It would not be perfect if we had to get rid of them for self-defense. Let’s hope her motives turn out to be as multifaceted in the final game as her past suggests.
However, by no means regrettable are all the gameplay changes that have prevailed since the original announcement. Most obvious is the move away from oversimplified character development. The fan call for more depth was heard and has now been converted into tangible features.
If you can’t remember all the names, we’ll take you on a short tour to get to know them:
Sanctuary’s origin myth holds that the ancient deity Anu shed all evil from himself before creating the universe. From this pure evil came the seven-headed dragon Tathamet. Both died in their big final battle, and the seven heads gave birth to the seven evils, which caused suffering and devastation at every opportunity.
The Three Great Evils: Hell prince Diablo is considered the lord of terror and leads the demon hordes with his two brothers Mephisto, the lord of hate, and Baal, the lord of destruction.
The four Lesser Evils: Andariel, Duriel, Azmodan, and Belial, are among the strongest demons of the Burning Hells after the three brothers. They once rebelled against the trio and banished them to Sanctuary, where after a long struggle of arranging the horadrim, the three were imprisoned in three soulstones.
The previous parts of the series revolved around these soul stones and the power of the three great evils, which could hardly be tamed even within them. As far as we know, Diablo 4 will at least see a reunion of Andariel, the Mistress of Torment, and Duriel, the Master of Pain. However, likely, Diablo will also be allowed to wave in his own game.
Attributes, talent trees, and giant boards
The attributes and talent trees are back and more diverse than ever! Each of the five classes planned for the release (see box) receives attribute and skill points when you level up, and we can then distribute them freely. The attributes are broken down into strength, intelligence, skill, and willpower.
One at a time is critical to a class – in the case of the Huntress, Dexterity as usual – but the others each provide an offensive and a defensive bonus. Exactly what these are differs from class to class. If intelligence increases the base damage of a sorceress, the hunter can better recognize the weak points of her opponents and thus increase her chance of critical hits.
It gets even more complex from level 50 because from there, the completely overhauled Paragon system is open to us. Instead of constantly banging on the same few buttons and only getting tiny bonuses each time, the revised version presents itself as a massive secondary skill tree in a Path of Exile style. We shimmy along the branches in the talent trees and unlock both powerful active and passive abilities as the level progresses.
There are over a hundred tiles on a Paragon board that we can follow like a string of pearls. With each ascent, we continue our path in any direction, trying to navigate tactically cleverly so that we pass not only ordinary but also as many magical and rare tiles as possible.
At each of the four edges, we find a transition to a new board, which we can choose from which direction we want to enter. A legendary tile in the center of such further boards rewards us with mighty power. One possibility for the Barbarian lures with about thirty percent additional damage as long as our anger gauge is more than half full.
In addition, there are still base tiles to reach, in which we can use the so-called glyphs (reminiscent of the jewels from Path of Exile). They can be looted randomly on our adventures and leveled up in dangerous dungeons. The better a glyph, the more tiles it boosts around it.
A hero to my taste
Above all, the new focus on more depth should allow more individuality and brood over the most efficient or moodiest builds. It also continues in the second significant aspect of character development: gear.
In addition to the possibility of defining the gender, skin and eye color, coarse facial features, hairstyle, and tattoos of your hero, which is now significantly richer in polygons, there are hardly any limits to the choice of items.
Not just because we’re allowed to dye and transmogrify them, but because any rare item may have a Legendary property in the future. This then replaces the fifth affix and can have a decisive impact on our style of play – for example, when there is a damage bonus for staying within our area damage radius.
Thanks to revised hit zones, these are now much more precise and correspond precisely to the animations or effects displayed. An even more fluid feeling in combat is sought – hence the new evasive step via the spacebar.
If we find an item with fair values but an excellent legendary effect, we can quickly take it to the new occultist and have the mythical essence extracted from it. The rest of the item will be destroyed, but the valuable bonus can then be socketed onto any other piece of armor. So gone are the days when a few overpowering Items dictated our wardrobe.
Runes and Runewords are also making a comeback, albeit in an unfamiliar form. Instead of collecting pre-made words, we use a trigger rune to determine when the central rune’s effects should trigger. A random buff when drinking a healing potion would be conceivable. An exciting system that gives build hobbyists an extra level.
As an icing on the cake, the combat also changes depending on the level of our skills and the composition of our equipment bonuses. The stronger we get, the more boom our attacks have. The opponents react differently to hits, depending on their ability and weapon. While a cannibal melts away horribly thanks to a nasty poison, he chars subtly to ash after a fireball.
All announced classes in Diablo 4 are old friends, but they have a few new tricks. Each of them gets, among other things, a new, unique class mechanic. Parts of it and other skills often have to be unlocked via quests.
The Barbarian: The tried-and-true brawler fuels himself and his party with war cries, leaping at or knocking over enemies and looking pretty angry. The game principle was expanded to include the so-called arsenal. The Barbarian can now wield up to two one-handed weapons and two two-handed swords and assign them to separate abilities to switch between them on the fly.
The Sorceress: The famous sizzle and freeze miracle shoot lightning, icicles, and meteors through the area and, as a particular mechanic, can put up to three active abilities in enchantment slots. Then we can no longer detonate them manually, but from now on, they occasionally trigger themselves or modify our playstyle according to their effect.
The Druid: The shapeshifter has practiced well and no longer has to transform into an animal form for fixed periods. Instead, he quickly slips into the skin of a werebear or wolf for single attacks. His class perk is that he can unleash Crushing Blows with any earth ability, stealing a flat percentage of enemies’ maximum health.
The hunter: As the most diverse class to date, it is a mix of assassin and demon hunter. She has three unique mechanics in her luggage, of which she has to choose one: she can either collect combo points with regular attacks and spend them again on strong finishers, pull opponents into the shadow realm and eliminate them there undisturbed, or react quickly to weak points in the respond to enemy defenses, dealing bonus damage. She can promptly stab with two (poisoned) daggers or rake her enemies from a distance with her bow.
The Paladin?: The fifth release class is still kept secret. Most hints and overall balance currently point to some Paladin or Crusader. It’s a pity since the necromancer would have deserved to be there from the start again.
Stay awhile and stand in line.
What still worries me is the idea of an MMO-style open world where massive clusters form around quest givers. That sounds like a potential atmosphere killer with no real compensation value. I should particularly enjoy meeting up with others, building groups, or trading in the so-called social hubs. Why build groups? Nobody is forcing us, but in addition to the public events, at least the world bosses should only be Defeatable in a team.
It remains to be seen whether a character that has been bred up over months can eventually crack it on its own. Furthermore, the world will be traversed by randomly generated and so-called essential dungeons that sociable natures can tackle with up to three players. The new camps could also be described as something similar. These are settlements overrun by demons that can be permanently liberated, and then quest givers and traders move back into.
The whole thing then takes place in a kind of story bubble that is instantiated and split off from the public world: No other player can free a camp right under our noses. If we want to support a friend in an earlier step, the progress of the group leader applies to everyone. If we are completely through with a camp, the bubble bursts, and we switch to the final public version of the location.
So that we don’t get blisters on the way to all the activities, there are also mounts for the very first time in addition to the well-known waypoints. Horses, to be more precise, from whose back we can even perform a stylish fight opening and which can be pimped up both visually and in terms of values.
Did someone say horse armor? Yes, they will probably come, but according to the current state of knowledge, the shop will limit itself to purely decorative knick-knacks for horse and rider.
Incidentally, certain mob types should always have certain items when hunting for fat loot. A bandit is more likely to carry around crossbows, boots, or morning stars, while the coveted two-handed sword would be easier to get hold of elsewhere. The drops look mainly determined by the current area: A one-handed sword should appear in the desert as a scimitar.
Magical: The blue items only have a single affix, which is comparatively strong.
Rarely: The yellow powerhouses can have up to five affixes, which are a bit weaker than the magic items.
Legendary: These are essentially rare items with their fifth affix replaced with a legendary one. Its effect can be extracted at the cost of the item and transferred to another.
Unique (replaces Mythic): Treasures with their names anchored in the backstory have immutable affixes, which cannot be taken. They have thematic solid and class-related traits, as well as distinctive looks.
Last but not least, there’s the PvP mode, which hasn’t played the most significant role for most Diablo fans in the past but at least rewards us with glory and exclusive skins here. We have to travel to one of the so-called fields of hate and do quests and kill monsters there as usual.
In return, we get contaminated shards that can be cleaned at a central point. This takes a while and draws a thick target on our backs. If someone turns off our lights during this time, we’ll drop our shards, and whoops, they end up in our killer’s pocket. If, on the other hand, the washing load runs through, the shards are ours, and we can use them to trigger the mentioned glory leaves in the form of skins.
Thrills should also spread, especially when we have teamed up with a supposed ally in the best survival manner and the mutual loyalty becomes shakier with every shard we earn. Alternatively, we may also directly mark ourselves as hostile and openly go searching. Oh, I can taste the drama.
If we succeed particularly well, a bounty hunter is declared. Depending on the outcome, our hard-earned shards either end up with one of our captors, or we cream off an extra reward for overcoming the dangerous situation.
The background story even has an acceptable explanation for the whole circus: on the PvP fields, Mephisto’s hatred comes to the surface and makes the heroes unusually aggressive. That is why the murderers put out to hunt are called vessels of hate. However, it is doubtful whether the saying “Let’s become a vessel” will prevail in everyday life.