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Opinions 09 January 2023, 23:30

"Returning to the Roots". Blizzard Devs Talk Diablo 4

Diablo 4 is coming. We know the date, what it looks and feels like, but before the release, there’s still more aspects of the famous ARPG to uncover and discuss. That’s exactly what we did in this interview with the creators of the hack’n’slash behemoth.

Diablo 4 may be the last chance for Blizzard to restore its reputation as a cherished game developer. That’s why the studio kicked into the highest gear and proudly presented what they have in store for us. Along with many journalists from all over the world, we had an opportunity to play the beta version of Diablo IV. The game is a blast. After we collected our thoughts, I took part in the interview with Joe Shelly and Rod Fergusson, creators of the game. The event happened online via Zoom in a form of so-called round table, where a dozen or so journalists could ask questions about the game.

While the most important question about a certain cult-classic secret remains unanswered, the developers provided us with some insight about what’s to come for Diablo 4 players. The creators explained some mechanics, shared their thoughts on what’s important for us and them, and how they try to fuse the best elements from previous installments together in the game.

Joe Shelly: My name is Joe Shelly, I’m the game director for Diablo IV. My role on the project is to make sure that the game is great and the team has everything that they need and make decisions about the vision of the game.

Rod Fergusson: And I’m Rod Fergusson and I’m the general manager of all things Diablo, so I oversee all the Diablo development and then the thing around, the Diablo intellectual property.

The first question "from the audience" concerned how much the build we played would have coincided with the final vision of the game once its released.

JS: Well, it’s a pretty current build, we made it a few weeks ago. But it’s only a small part of the overall game people will get to play. Of course, we’ve talked about the game taking place over the expansive content including five zones. The area that you’re playing is just Fractured Peaks and there’s still content to be added even within Fractured Peaks. We’re adding more side quests, but it’s a good taste of what the game will be. It has a lot of features that you’ll get to see at launch, including campaign, side quests, although as I said, there will be more added; many of our open world features like strongholds, the renown system. So yeah, a lot of cool stuff.

RF: Plus, the game is very clearly in development. There’s still text to speech voiceover, there are still placeholder things. So it’s not meant to be like, hey, this is 99% done. We still have a lot of things to do there, especially from a polish and optimization standpoint. Especially like audio is always at the tail of certain development process and its true here. That’s why a lot you NPCS you meet has the actual English-speaking actors but a lot of them doesn’t. It’s text to speech in there. So, it is stuff to add.

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

When will we see other players?

Diablo 4 approaches the issue of the division into single- and multiplayer modes in quite a specific way. The game will require a permanent connection to Internet, but we will go through the campaign solo, and only after completing the story in a given act, will the location open to other players. One journalist wanted to know how often encounters with other heroes in the open world would occur.

JS: We thought we approach this in a way that the game architecture adjusts a number of players that go, that are in an area, they are running into. Based on a type of activity taking place there. So, as you are running around the town you will see other players quite frequently, because towns are ours social hubs. Game provides more players, you have opportunities to interact with other people, form groups, see cool “hustle and bustle” of the town. And there are other areas where we bring players together like for example world bosses. In those instances you will partner with other people automatically. You don’t have to party with them. It’s just a fun moment of “let's fight the world boss together.”

Now, when you are just adventuring through the world, you still run into people from time to time but the number of people that the game puts into this areas is smaller, because the number of people that makes sense to fight alongside at the same time is smaller in those areas. We don’t wann have it feel to much like everyone is out there and killing all the monsters, mining all the ores and all those kinds of things. But if you go to the area, there's a chance, you'll encounter some of the world events like caravan, where people are trapped. Game is set upped to similar kind of players to help along the way there. And in the campaign, you will see people only if you invite them directly to your party. So, lots of explanation there.

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

Darkness from part one, progression from two, combat from three

When it comes to the nature and "harshness" of their games, Blizzard has significantly softened in recent years. And it's not even "recent years;" Diablo 3 is eleven years old, and even earlier, with the release of World of Warcraft, the graphic style of Warcraft were softened, and Hearthstone is simply a charming cartoon enchanted in cards. Starcraft 2 also grew more colorful compared to its dark predecessors. Overwatch also looks quite pleasantly. Therefore, seeing Diablo 4 bathed in horror and blood was as much fun as it was surprising. One of the participants in the conversation wanted to know what made Blizzard go back to the roots of the series in this respect.

RF: I mean it’s really a reflection I think of couple of things. One it’s a bit connected to the past in terms of what Diablo used to be when we go back. And that’s kind of a way that I think about when I tried to ask people what's the elevator pitch for Diablo for them. It’s the tone of Diablo 1, dark tone. Its progression of Diablo 2. That permanence of the idea of progression. There is the visceral combat of Diablo 3 and there are innovations of Diablo 4 with the open world, freedom of choice and all the other stuff that we have for Diablo 4. And so part of that internally and even early on when we first announced the game, when we used the phrase “return to darkness”. And that was really that idea of going back to what Diablo was as a franchise in terms of the darker tones. And when you look at pop culture today, you can be mainstream and dark. We get Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Squidgame, that's a lot of things that have much greater edge to them and still can be mainstream. So that felt like this is the right time to go back to the darker roots of Diablo.

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

For many players, an important aspect of itemization in Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 were powerful item sets. Sometimes, they were just additions to the collection of items, but in Diablo 3, they served as the basis for the builds of most characters. Many gamers and journalists wondered if and when they would be implemented in Diablo 4, because there was not a single one in the version we could play. Here's what the creators had to say:

JS: One of the things I have been really happy with in this development process is that amount of communication we have been able to do with community and players. Things like having builds of the game available through our blogs. It’s been great to be able to share the game along the way as it develops and get feedback on the game. Sets are interesting case, because as we have been building the game we really felt like we could evolve sets in a new way, relative to what we have seen in Diablo 3 for example. But we needed some more time to get them into game in the way that would work really well with the rest of Diablo 4 so you won't see sets at launch in the game.

We think sets are really cool and we wanna do them right and so there's something we are looking at for our live service. One of the things that I really like about our itemization in the game at launch is that we have lots of exciting legendary items. The legendary items themselves have this feature that you have to ability to move the power around. So you can take off legendary power of particular item move it to another item. Which means that you can solve problems like: “I have a hat with the power that I really love and I got that have different power I really love”. Well, no problem, you can move the power out of the hat and place in a different slot.

RF: It’s just created with our theme of choice like more combinatorial aspect to the legendaries. Sets, when you look at Diablo 3 it works like this: “oh I wanna be this type of sorc with this set, I wanna be this type of barbarian when I wear this set” and you can a lot of similarities across classes. Because you don’t have sets in Diablo 4, we find that everything is placed individually and the fact that you can move it around. Plus of course the skill tree, plus the paragon tree, plus specializations within the class. Like there is a lot of things that make your character unique. For example you and I are both bleed barbarians, but we can still be different barbarians.

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

Diablo 4 changes a lot compared to its predecessors – some of the changes have already been discussed a lot, about others you will learn from this interview. One of the questions was about which innovations in the upcoming hack'n'slash game the developers were particularly proud of.

JS: For me one of the things that is really cool about Diablo 4 is it’s the first time. In Diablo 3 and Diablo 2, when you are in the game, you are sitting in the menu and you are deciding “oh here is difficulty I wanna play, I wanna play with these other people and all of that. In Diablo 4 all of that takes place in the world. You are sitting in the middle of town, there is a snow coming down, while you can change difficulty through the UI, but there is actually a statue in the middle of a town. You can run over to the statue and you switch your world tier from Adventure to Veteran and our later world tiers that are up here available for high level characters. I think it's so cool that we are able to build this huge expansive world of Sanctuary, so all of that Diablo gameplay and tone, that Robert was talking about, take places in this real area that you can run and ride across.

RF: Yeah, there is a lot. I was trying which one of these do I narrow just to one, because I know what the open world is supposed to be. That’s because it is one of the things that really is different from other games of the series - you have the open world. And that’s obviously important innovation for us, for the Diablo franchise and inside the Diablo IP. But there is also bunch of things that really excites me as a player. While Joe was talking about ability to take out your legendary affixes and move them around. Before it was like: I have this ability, I love that’s on my boots so when I get more powerful boots, I have to make this tradeoff to keep the ability or new ability to it. Now I can say: I’m gonna take that off those boots and I’m gonna put this on my helmet so I can keep using it and I can move my stuff around so I keep my build optimized longer. That really excites me.

We didn’t have that amount of freedom before to be able to move affixes around. In fact, you can move around legendary affix and then put it on to a rare (yellow) item, which turns them into the legendary. I just did this in the build you are playing. I completed a dungeon, I got a codex of power aspect, I took that aspect, I didn’t have any legendries because I’m about level 10, and I went to a craftsman and I put it on one of my yellow pieces of armor, it became a legendary and now I have this barrier that appear every 10 seconds to protect for 50 points of damage. So that idea of being able to “make your own legendary” or move your legendary affixes around. It really changes, how you play, and this is something I love.

One more thing is a shared progression for all the characters on your account. It's now huge innovation because it’s like a list of things but the renown system and how you play the game and want to explore and how its impact your alts to me it’s like another one of those, because I’m a player, I love this, because I told you about this all the time, because you go in and now have, because sometimes sandbox can be paralyzing, because if you give players too much or so much freedom that they don’t know what to do next. So if you done the campaign and you don’t know where to go, to do, you have this renown system that says “you know, one more stronghold and you get new scope point or one more dungeon and you get another potion charge” and what’s great about this is that it’s a guide that tells you “hey, there is whole world out there, things you can go do” but the rewards are across your account.

So now you have a great time and you play your barbarian. And I just did this even if we can go only to the level 25 in the current build. I got sorcerer all the way to level 20 and I got extra potion charge I got extra scope point for the renown system in Fractured Peaks. So, I rolled my barbarian and started with 6 potion charges and skill I can apply even if I didn’t move out of the first cave yet. I know that notion of being able to carry progress through from playing other beta test server, where we go much deeper. I have started as a level 1 with 12 skill points to spend. And that felt amazing as a whole to go out, I’m going back to the world and I have all those amazing abilities. And so I love that sort of freedom to be able to play all statweight and be able to not only write progression to the character you are playing but provide progression to your account essentially.

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

Microtransaction inferno

Multiplayer is an integral part of Diablo's identity. Diablo 3 already worked great on consoles, so the question had to be asked about how many players would be able to face hell together in local coop.

JS: Local coop supports 2 players.

After the catastrophe of Diablo Immortal's economy and many other practices that Blizzard indulged in after joining Activision, many players are wondering what Diablo 4 will be like in this respect. Therefore, one of the journalists asked about the presence of microtransactions and their scope in the game. We were assured there will be no pay for power in Diablo 4.

Probably many of you have wondered how much we will pay for the game (we have since learned the answer to that) and what hardware requirements Diablo 4 will have.

Maxim Samoylenko: I don’t think we can comment on the specs for the launch version of the game which still has way to go.

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

Hubert Sosnowski

Hubert Sosnowski

A raccoon in disguise. Had his head blown by Baldur's Gate, Todd McFarlane, Paul Verhoeven, Steven Erikson and J. Michael Straczynski. He wrote for the Polish Playboy, published a couple of short stories in magazines and books.


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