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News Opinions 21 December 2022, 14:35

Be Warned! Diablo 4 Will Consume You

Diablo 3 was a good game, but it was far from perfect, so it could eventually get boring and discarded. With Diablo 4, it will most likely be totally different. After playing it, I'm betting that we'll return to the addiction of chopping monsters and collecting loot.

Say goodbye to children, wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends and the dog and the cat. Enjoy their company, write letters, prepare your supplies, arrange holidays. If you have any obligations, it's time to fulfill them. If you have debts, pay them off. Resolutions - solve them in advance. When Diablo 4 comes out, it will be too late for all that. I played the version made available by Blizzard and it looks like... well, I'll put it simply. The king of hack'n'slash is back. And this time for real.

It's gonna be a hell of a good game. So good that it will take a great many hours out of your life. And you won't even notice when it happens. It doesn't matter that it's not 2001 anymore, that the era of cafes and floppy disks is over, and we have bigger tummies and more obligations. Even taking into account all the placeholders that I tripped over, the damn thing is designed so well that associations with Diablo 2 come natural. Strong words, right? And I already have plenty to back them.

The very best of Diablo

Diablo 4 right now seems the essence of the best features of the first, second and third games. You can turn your noses up, but there were a few aspects to the third game that made it great to play. The approach to atmosphere and worldbuilding is taken straight from Diablo and Diablo 2 – everything is shrouded in darkness, hopelessness and a sense of impending doom. Even the good characters don't shine too brightly in their shiny armors and don't rush to save save the world. We're actually drifting in a sea of grayness like never before in the world of Sanctuary. From its venerable ancestors, Diablo 4 also borrows (and improves upon) openness and diversity in many aspects – character development, inventory management or exploration. In exchange for freedom – the game challenges us more and can really kick our asses.

Be Warned! Diablo 4 Will Consume You - picture #1

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

The dynamics of the game and accessibility, on the other hand, were taken from Diablo 3. Combat deserves a separate paragraph, and when it comes to accessibility – the game offers a lot of freedom and allows for mistakes, none of which are irreversible. Yes, points that can be spent on skills and passives return in glory and we have to spend them wisely, but they are accompanied by a magical respecialization button. And that means that for gold – obtained as loot, not the one we have in our wallets, just for a change (see, Blizzard? YOU CAN!), it's possible to rearrange our character freely, if the build doesn't work.

Most importantly, Diablo 4 not only adds new elements to the gameplay loop (an open world, more extensive dialogues and exploration), but above all, it perfectly refines those already known. Diablo has always been an invitation to a study of addiction. By refining these aspects, part four may set a new record in this regard.

The devil's in the details

Blizzard released the entire first act for the purposes of the showcase. It's a big piece of the world, but most of all – quite a representative part of the story. I will not reveal too many details, because... it could simply spoil your fun. When the creators boasted of a mature plot, it was kind of funny because nobody seemingly cares about story in hack'n'slash games, but it's possible that after the release of Diablo 4, I will not be the only one looking for meaning in stories written for the needs of this genre.

The excerpt I've seen heralds a strong, mature story, and even if it sometimes is predictable, it can hit hard on emotional level. The NPCs are well-designed and easy to get attached to, dialogues are well-written, complete with motivations and weaknesses. It's easy to believe in these imaginary figures trying to survive in a shattered world. Everything is better in this game, created with an flair, an idea, good intuition and consistency. The characters sound natural, most of them teeter on the verge of a breakdown, but a bitter sense of humor seeps through all that – at least for those who already came to terms with the fact that people of the Sanctuary are simply screwed.

Be Warned! Diablo 4 Will Consume You - picture #2

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

Most importantly, this time, the main intrigue doesn't offend our intelligence and doesn't cause cringe. It's dark, bitter, disturbing and, above all, it starts in a nice, intimate way. Our avatar is not a spotless hero destined for greatness, a Marvel Nephalem from part three (these are some unpleasant memories). The protagonist is just a random adventure seeker who has the misfortune of wandering through a frozen land and by a twist of bad luck, crosses paths with Lilith herself.

And this crossing is much more brutal than any mortal would like. So much so that it becomes personal. Seriously, I like it much more than the action in part three, or in many other productions of this type, for that matter. It starts off as a coincidence, but given that we're talking about a world where possessed people, cults, or aspiring princes of hell are lurking beneath every rock, our situation feels like a fairly ordinary Tuesday in the life of a Sanctuary resident. But most surprisingly...

This is the first time in a long time that Diablo's story asks players some very specific questions. What is better? Succumbing to the lowest instincts, but getting the freedom offered by "mother" Lilith, or the severity and, in the end, care of the bitter, but helpful "father." The upcoming conflict between Lilith and Inarius is not a typical fight between good and evil, but rather a war of the toxic parents (as we know from the mythology of the previous parts – the demoness and the angel created this world and its first people), and in all of this, we represent the traumatized children of the pathological family. And we spin in between mommy and daddy's crooked ideas. For now, I'm intrigued by Lilith, who combines demonic cruelty with human empathy. Quite the combo, but it works and induces curiosity, a desire to know what it all leads to.

The aftermath that'll follow this clash is hard to estimate. There are more active parties in the game for the future of Sanctuary; some participating openly, others sneaking in the shadows, and we can only guess who they represent. Still, I'm curious about the motives, both overt and implicit, and about what the conflict will bring. Because the story won't be a reheated chop, we can be rather calm about it. As Kain said in Soul Reaver: "Fate promises more twists, before this drama unfolds completely."

Be Warned! Diablo 4 Will Consume You - picture #3

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

Side quests are simple and classic, but also neat. They surround the main story with feelings of desperation and bitterness, maybe they have no moral choices and are an excuse to reduce the hellish population, but these are sometimes great and sad story tidbits. The episodes are somewhat similar to The Witcher (let me remind you that a person from CD Projekt RED took one of the key roles in developing this game).

The creators did not lie either when they'd announced that it would be really dark. Almost from the beginning, they take no prisoners. It doesn't matter that we know the main "monster" and have seen her in all her glory, even saute. In Diablo 4 , there is enough inscrutable and ordinary human meanness and madness to make us wander around anxiously. The game plays with different types of horror. It returns to goth horror, occultism and possession. It intertwines it with slasher, body horror, and even a chunk of a psychological thriller. If Diablo 3 softened you, it's time to harden your psyche before the release. I was delighted, but did I have pleasant dreams afterwards? Well, not really, but I'll be back for more anyway.

Cutting to the chase

But jokes aside, as king Dezmod said when the feasters suddenly started choking and turning blue. Both you and I know why you came here. For war, or at least for the slaughter and chopping. Get ready for the best combat in the series, and perhaps one of the best in the history of the genre. Hits, arrows and discharges of magical energy pack a helluva punch. The combination of animations, sounds and lighting effects and gallons of blood provide a lot of satisfaction, my little butchers. You've been waiting for it and now you're gonna get it.

Sure, you've seen shinier shambles with bigger swords and brighter flares, but that's not always the case. Sometimes, the biggest advantage in the race to achieve clicking addiction is the right feel and balance, which is already, at the stage of unpolished beta, close to perfection. Remember the feeling that David Brevik talked about when he killed the first skeleton after reprogramming the first, turn-based Diablo to real-time? The revelation? It's back.

Diablo 4 combines intimacy (despite hordes of enemies), naturalism, brutality, smooth hacking and slashing, and power fantasy – but above all, it perfectly balances all these aspects.The studio took what's best in Diablo 3, i.e. the combat feel, polishing and refining the responsiveness and sense of power.

Be Warned! Diablo 4 Will Consume You - picture #4

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

No matter what you choose. Spells, bows or swords – you will be satisfied. I'm curious about the druid (my favorite class from part two) and the necromancer, so far unavailable, but we'll find out closer to the premiere if the class makes it into the game.

However, to prevent the experience from being an empty shell – which was Diablo 3's real problem until it was patched – this beautiful framework needs a proper engine – a set of mechanics that will drive the system and encourage fun. Blizzard engineers did their homework and listened to the feedback.

I couldn't get to know many aspects yet, because the released version allows you to develop the hero up to the 25th level of experience, and I'm not even halfway there (and it is in the latter that we will find all the endgame morsels), but I can assure you that this time, the progression system works and is simply fun. Along with the points that we joyfully spend in the skill tree, the satisfaction from wreaking havoc and getting stronger has returned – and in a way that depends on our decisions.

The risk of restored freedom? Insignificant. Thanks to the respec we mentioned, we only spend some gold and a few minutes to rethink our build. Classic. On the other hand, there's plenty of ways to spend the gold on, because crafting has been refined. We can visit the craftsmen to improve our gear and potions in several ways. We "progress" in healing with herbs, although we can also prepare boosters reminiscent of witcher potions – giving special bonuses for the right circumstances (only one can work at a time, so it won't be all that rosy). Interestingly, crafting is perfectly intertwined with exploration.

Be Warned! Diablo 4 Will Consume You - picture #5

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

And lead us not into temptation...

Did I mention this game has the potential to be damn addictive? Well, not only is it great to play, but engaging in combat, getting to know the story, exploring and chasing the side plots are all very skillfully intertwined with the reward system and character building. The world is divided into regions (between which we can move quite freely). If we complete all the tasks in a given sector or for a given group, we will get an additional gratification "from the map." For now, it consists of experience, resources, gold and skill points. The latter were invaluable, after all, in Diablo 2, every point to be spent on skills counted to make the build complete, but currency also mattered. At the beginning, you won't get too much gold – even at this stage, you have to spend money with craftsmen to prepare for more serious challenges.

And since the difficulty level is well-balanced, you'll get a beating quite a few times. Combat really requires preparation – you have to choose your gear, skills, elixirs and other upgrades wisely, but you also need to be dexterous and watch out for the environment, enemy attacks or area-of-effect magic eruptions. Even at the initial difficulty levels, the fights can be challenging, but coming at reasonable doses – and thanks to that it provides great satisfaction.

I had the most fun killing the bosses that unlock fortresses – places that, after being cleared, turn into safe hub cities. There's a lot of potential in this system to bring the world to life (if even small quests appear in them) and it can provide a sense of influence on the environment, but the liberation itself is a nice process, at least on the example of these two strongholds. Firstly, because the bosses can be difficult, and secondly, because the tasks we do to prepare for the fight bear the hallmarks of creativity (especially the second one, which I took) and fit the atmosphere.

So far, the loot system looks reasonable, but the first levels are just a warm-up. Legendary loot drops rarely and they really bring something substantial to the table through special skills (which can be transferred to a new item at the craftsman) – also in this respect, the game promises to be a well-thought-out product, but we'll see how the developers balance this system in the final version and how it will work at a later stage and after the end of the campaign – the pinata of legends and sets could get mundane in Diablo 3 towards the end. But that's just a guess.

Be Warned! Diablo 4 Will Consume You - picture #6

Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2023

Of course, there's a risk that the game will be affected by the bad balance of variables affecting builds – artifacts, legends, even their drop rate. The receipt system may not work out and turn into a vicious circle, although this time character development is supposed to be finite. Finally, the story can go astray or end with a cheap cliffhanger (this is an important issue for me, and probably also for many other lore hunters). For now, though, it doesn't look like that.

The only thing that I liked on average was the arrangement of teleports – they're only waiting for us in cities and settlements, generally in civilized hubs, so sometimes we have to cover a lot of distance to get to the task location. I think the waypoints of dungeons and wilderness have been unnecessarily removed – what's wrong with getting to a location quickly? The fact of the matter is that cities are usually near the places we need to get to, but there have been a few exceptions and I'm afraid of of backtracking a bit. It will probably stop bothering when we get on the mount, but I haven't had the opportunity to test this functionality.

Out of stubbornness, I can also scold one more aspect. As the devs were inspired by the best of the best, they could also try to take an equally uncompromising approach to the sound effects of inventory management or trade. I miss all those loud, characteristic clinks, pops, and puffs that accompanied juggling the equipment in Diablo 2. What we have in the game is okay, but it's not memorable, too smooth, not that addictive – not as much as it could be.

But these are trifles. They will probably be made irrelevvant by solutions, which we have not yet had access to. Because overall, the game looks and sounds great. The locations have a harsh, dark and depressing atmosphere of a land ravaged by evil and war. This world has been attacked one too many times and you can feel it. This was taken care of in every piece of the graphic design, in every detail. There's room for gore, occult symbolism, some bitter, dilapidated gothic beauty, and the wilderness looks like it's about to devour us before the first opponent even emerges. The music builds the atmosphere and hits tones that we've been longing for since Diablo 2. Well, maybe the music could be a bit heavier on the timpani drums to evoke the connection even more, but on the other hand – Lilith is a more subtle villain than Diablo. And that suits her character.

It all looks beautiful and seems to be in good hands. I went through the entire first act as a barbarian, and now I casually try the rogue to see if there is anything else that will surprise me. I can't get enough, I want more, and killing monsters makes me think about how to level up the character faster and click even harder. Even now, with just a portion of the game, the ancient fun with demos is strongly felt. Considering all this – I advise you to take seriously the warning at the beginning of the text. Diablo 4 has the potential to put many lives on halt.

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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