Expectations can be tough, especially when a lot of time has passed. Just ask George Lucas about The Phantom Menace. Or Axl Rose about Chinese Democracy. Or George R.R. Martin — no, don’t bother him. Or, you could just ask the good people at Blizzard who made Diablo IV (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC), which comes eleven long years after 2012’s Diablo III (and, well, a year after the wrongly convicted Diablo Immortal). Especially since Diablo IV is not a huge jump forward the way Diablo III was over 2000’s Diablo II. But while Diablo IV may be more of a refinement than a reinvention when it comes to this series’ third-person hack & slash / bow & arrow / magic spell action, it still ends up being as effortlessly addictive as the most recent installment. And Diablo III.
Set three decades after Diablo III —
or, more specifically, Diablo III‘s final expansion, Reaper Of Souls — Diablo IV begins when cultists trick some thieves into unsealing the underground prison holding the demon Lilith. But while you’re the one who’ll eventually have to take her out, you’re not ready. Not by a long shot. Which is why you’re going to spend the next couple days fighting tons of supernatural creatures, exploring dungeons and forests, and completing quests, all of which will make you stronger and more able to wield better weapons. And I do mean “days.” This game is very long, and Lilith is very strong.
For anyone who hasn’t played a Diablo game before, or any other kind of dungeon crawler, Diablo IV is an epic fantasy adventure game with real-time combat, albeit one with aerial viewpoint (unlike, say, the over-the-shoulder view of The Elder Scrolls IV: Skyrim). Depending on which class of character you chose, the game either plays like a hack & slash action game, or something like a shooter, if “shoot” is the right way to describe using ranged weapons or magic spells.
Though combat in Diablo IV is a bit more complicated than the arcadey way I just describe it. And not just because enemies come at you from all sides, and even sometimes in swarms. As you grow as a character, you gain the right to use better weapons and wear stronger armor. But you’re also given a choice of learning new attacks, which are assigned to different keyboard keys or controller buttons. When playing as a barbarian, for instance, puling the left trigger made her slam her mace or hammer into someone’s head, while the right bumper prompted her to leap up and land hammer first for a shockwave attack. That is, until I unlocked better attacks and reconfigured the buttons.
How often you can use an attack also varies,
as some require you to wait for a timer to click down, while others pull from your reservoir of “fury.” Which means you might be able to slash enemies in rapid succession, but have to wait a few seconds before bludgeoning them with your mace.
There are also different ways to engage in combat in Diablo IV. While you’ll get into fights when exploring dungeons, or randomly as you’re making your way somewhere, there are also caves where enemies attack you in waves, as well as larger encounters on the surface, both of which last until time runs out.
Diablo IV also distinguishes itself from such other fantasy action / adventure games as the aforementioned Skyrim or Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands by having an open world, but one that’s made of intricate pathways, not open fields you can wander all willy-nilly.
As for how Diablo IV improves upon this series’ tenets,
well, as I said earlier, it doesn’t change as much as Diablo III did over Diablo II. But that’s not to say it doesn’t change a few things, and for the better.
For starters, Diablo IV‘s camera is pulled in a little tighter than it was for Diablo III, which gives both your character and your enemies more detail, though without sacrificing much in the way of situational awareness.
The environments are also way more varied, especially the dungeons, which, unlike those in Diablo III, sometimes felt like variations on a theme. Though, conversely, they’re not as interactive, and don’t have any traps you can set off or weak walls you can drop on enemies by taking out support beams.
Your choice of weapons is also different in Diablo IV. For instance, barbarians in Diablo III either used a two-handed weapon, or two one-handed weapons, or a one-handed weapon and a shield, and used whatever they had equipped for every attack. But in Diablo IV, you equip multiple weapons and automatically use the one best suited for each attack. Which is why my barbarian — Jalea The Magnif…oh, too many letters — used two-handed maces or hammers to bludgeon fools, and a pair of short swords to slice and dice, uh, other fools.
Thankfully, when managing your inventory, the game automatically puts the right weapons in the right weapon slots. You don’t have to sit there and compare every new short sword to ones you already have equipped to see which would be best for which attacks.
All of which makes Diablo IV…
a worthy successor to Diablo III. And a big one, too. Which may be the biggest difference between Diablo III and Diablo IV: the latter is a much bigger and deeper game. And the former was already super big, especially when all the add-ons were, well, added.
As impressive as Diablo IV may be, though, it’s far from flawless. Though most of my complaints are more minor annoyances than anything that would make me throw my controller across the room.
For starters, while you can do a dodge move in Diablo IV, it’s a move that needs time to recharge. Which makes sense, I guess; it’s hard to jump out of the way when you’re wearing all that heavy armor. But I still wish it would recharge fast.
I also hate how you can’t carry a lot of health potions, and also how, if someone drops one, but your pouch is full that you have to leave it behind, there’s no point going back for it because they disappear after a short while. Thankfully, the same isn’t true for any gold, weapons, or armor you forget to grab.
Diablo IV‘s mini-map is also frustratingly vague…
…when you’re underground or it’s dark out. It’s supposed to show you in real time where you have and have not gone. But because the map is dark grey on a darker grey background when you’re in a dungeon or at night, and areas you’ve visited are highlighted by turning a slightly less dark shade of grey, and do so long before you actually go there, it’s hard to really tell which sections of a dungeon or road you’ve explored and which you haven’t. Especially if you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV.
Also, as someone who doesn’t play well with others, I wish Diablo IV was structured more like Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands (i.e., a single-player game you can also play co-op) as opposed to like Destiny (a co-op game you can also play solo, but with other people in your world regardless). Or, at the very least, like The Division 2 (a co-op game you can play solo, but with other people only in combat-free safe zones). Not because I hate sharing my kills with other people (though I do), but because I like being able to pause my game when nature calls. Or my mom does.
That said, while the inability to pause puts you at risk if you pull up the menu where you can look at the larger map, the one used to organize your inventory or choose what new skill to learn only takes up part of the screen, which means you can see if an angry skeleton is approaching while you’re checking out the new sword you just picked up. Well, from the west, anyway.
I also wish they had incorporated one of Diablo Immortal‘s coolest additions: having a blacksmith ghost show up when you finish a dungeon so you can easily sell off unwanted items. Though being able to freely teleport to town and back again whenever you want works well, too.
Though, as I said,
these are minor annoyances, and nothing that will make you quit and go back to playing Diablo III. Or The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum. With deep button mashy combat, equally varied enemies who swarm you from all sides, and at the same time, and a wealth of nicely varied quests, explorable dungeons, and combat scenarios, Diablo IV isn’t just a worthy successor to Diablo III — and, yeah, Diablo Immortal — it’s one of the best fantasy action games you’ll play this year…and next year…and the year after that…