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Wed, 14th Jun 2023

Activision Blizzard has released the latest iteration in its series of fantasy role-playing games, Diablo IV. It’s a fantasy role-playing game that can be played solo, with friends, or with random strangers. The storied world of Sanctuary is packed with monsters, legends, and quests.

Diablo was one of the first PC games that I purchased. A simple hack-n-slash RPG with a hidden depth that kept you coming back for more. The game’s sequel proved to be even more diabolically moreish, with its expansion, Lords of Destruction, giving the game longevity that lasted the decade until the 2012 release of Diablo III. A constant stream of updates and expansions has seen Diablo III released across gaming platforms from PC to Nintendo Switch.

Essentially a dungeon crawler, Diablo IV’s world, Sanctuary, is open for the player to explore. The zoomable top-down/isometric view games players a bird’s eye view of the surroundings as the map reveals itself. Enemies are everywhere and attack on sight, sometimes in huge numbers.

The main quest line has players in the role of “The Wanderer” tracking down Lilith, daughter of Mephisto, who is always one step ahead. Players can choose from one of five character classes: barbarian, sorcerer, druid, rogue, or necromancer. I chose rogue, a class that I don’t usually go for, thinking faster attacks and sneaking may better suit my aging reflexes. The skill tree allows you to customise your character’s abilities according to your play style. The game has ten character slots, allowing players to experiment with different classes and builds.

The campaign quests are split into four acts, but you seem to be able to carry them out in any order as they unlock. These quests take players across the world, opening up new settlements, towns, and villages that can be used as fast-travel points. These locations usually have a few citizens that need your help unlocking side quests, some short and some more involved. The game is very heavy on the lore, some of which will be familiar to fans of the previous games.

Players can also find shops in the settlements offering armour, weapons, potions, and other services to aid them on their adventures. Items can be upgraded, salvaged, and repaired, and favourite items can be put into storage for another time. 

Properly managing your inventory and ensuring your weapons and armour are appropriate for your level is important. It may be that you need to go off and do some side missions to earn some coins to buy upgrades before resuming the main quest line.

With state-of-the-art graphics, Diablo IV retains the gameplay that made the series so popular whilst making it a much more polished experience. PC players can now use a controller to play without resorting to 3rd -party key-mapping programs, the result being a more intuitive experience than dragging and clicking your mouse whilst fumbling for keys. It was the ease of playing Diablo III on the Switch that brought me around to using a controller, and I’ve not looked back since.

For an isometric game, the visuals (as with the whole presentation, really) are polished to a tee. The game looks beautiful. From snow-packed passes to muddy towns and through dingy catacombs, the locations are fantastic.

Players can choose the world tier, or difficulty, that they want to play at. Tiers 1 and 2 are for players between levels 1-50. Tier 3, for players between levels 50-70, unlocks after completing the campaign. Tier 4, for levels 70+, unlocks after completing a capstone dungeon on tier 3. The enemies in the game scale with the player’s character level. This keeps the game challenging and avoids an overpowered character slaughtering the opposition. It also means that when faced with a particularly challenging opponent, you sometimes have no choice but to back off and “git gud”.

As with its predecessors, the combat is a bit on the button-mashing side of things, although employing some strategy is essential when dealing with tricky bosses and on the higher tiers. The tier 1 difficulty has regular health potion drops that make most combat a bit of a joke. The combat always reminds me of the frantic battles in the 1980s arcade game, Gauntlet.

The game world is vast and packed full of side quests, optional dungeons, and places to explore. You will never be left scratching your head, wondering what to do next. With no pause button, it’s not a game that really accommodates short gaming sessions; each mission can take an hour or so to complete. Side missions are shorter, and some of the dungeons are even shorter still, but in any case, the game is a huge time-sink. There are monster-filled cellars that offer short single-arena battles that you can engage in if you have a few minutes, but you still have to make your way to the location, fighting your way through the wandering monsters and opponents in the world.

There’s an in-game shop full of microtransactions for vanity items and cosmetics. The items are pretty steep for what are essentially unnecessary items. Whilst I appreciate the need to recoup the development costs of these games and keep the cover price reasonable via in-game revenue paths, that doesn’t mean I like it.

Diablo IV offers players a modern isometric fantasy RPG with a distinct massively multiplayer online game feel. The gameplay and quests are a lot more refined and player-tailored than an MMO, though. The game is an always-on-line live-service game, so you need an Internet connection to play.

As you journey across Sanctuary, you will bump into other players, forming ad-hoc alliances (and gaining bonus XP for going so). This wasn’t apparent during my early access to the game, but as soon as Diablo IV hit retail, I found myself regularly joined by other players.

As well as joining in with randoms, you can form a party with friends and/or strangers. Expect more monsters and greater rewards. The game allows players with characters of different levels to all play together. Combat is still challenging due to monsters’ attacks and vulnerabilities being scaled according to the attacking character’s level.

As with its predecessors, Diablo IV is a huge game that offers hours of gameplay. It’s a game that’s easy to get into and scales to the ability of the play quite nicely. The tier system makes the game accessible to most players. The world is rich, and the visuals are very nice. The online-only nature of the game is disappointing but understandable as a live-service game. Fans of rich fantasy RPGs should enjoy the game, as will anyone wanting to jump into this sort of game for the first time.

Verdict: 9/10