Diablo IV is one of the more highly anticipated releases of 2023, and that’s in a year where the likes of Starfield, Final Fantasy XVI, and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, barring any delays, are expected to come out. That’s saying a lot, but despite the immense competition, Blizzard’s behemoth beckons.
After a few Lilith summoning rituals, I was fortunate enough to play a very early build of Diablo IV on my PS5 over the past week that allowed me to try out three characters – the Rogue, Sorceress, and Barbarian – along with a look at the prologue and the first major area of the game, The Fractured Peaks. While the Necromancer and Druid have already been announced to round up the roster, they weren’t available to use during this time.
To have an informed experience across characters, I played each one up to the temporary level cap of 25 (Lv100 at launch), trying out various skill builds and abilities that briefly quenched my thirst in anticipation of the game.
Related – Read our Diablo IV interview with Diablo Head of Franchise Rod Ferguson and Game Director Joe Shely
Diablo IV is a culmination of lessons learned over the years and an entry that is poised to be the biggest game in the series, in more ways than one. As a celebration of 26 years of Diablo, which is seeing a re-emergence with the recent release of Diablo II Resurrected and Diablo Immortal, more and more players will be jumping into what could be the most epic adventure yet.
Playing the game, it is evident that Blizzard has taken inspiration from its well-celebrated past. From the darker themes and tone of Diablo I, the progression systems of II, to the action-packed combat of Diablo III, the game is much more focused in its intent to give the power of choice to the players by having them play their own way.
Character creation is a big departure from the old formula, and this time around, players can customize their avatars by choosing various options – face, hair style, facial hair, skin color, body markings, jewelry and accessories, and much more. While a lot of this is certainly not too noticeable in-game, especially when you get to equip the higher leveled armor sets, your created character in Diablo IV carries over to cutscenes, so its definitely something to look forward to.
Diablo IV also ups the ante on its visuals, creating a rich and vivid setting that conveys the darkness and despair in the world of Sanctuary. Taking place decades after Diablo III, the world has been decimated and the people have been broken. This is reflected everywhere in the world, where environments are superbly detailed, taking players to various locations such as a snow-capped pass, forests, dungeons, castles, and much more just from what we’ve played.
The cinematics are hellishly good and backed by some wonderful voice acting, the lighting inside dungeons is very impressive, and the overall visual fidelity is just astounding. Graphically, this is the best looking and grittiest Diablo game yet by a wide margin.
I played the build with some headphones on and it really made a difference as opposed to hearing the audio from my TV speakers. I could distinguish more ambient sound that I wouldn’t normally hear, and these small details did well to further immerse me in the world.
While the foundational gameplay is the same, Diablo IV tweaks the formula in many ways to make the experience feel fresh. A noticeable change from Diablo III is its use of a charge-based potion system instead of cooldown-based one. You can technically spam health potions here, but you only have a limited amount to use, which you can refill be either heading back to town or picking up refills as you kill enemies. Its effectivity is also upgradeable as you level up your character.
All characters will also be given an evade button that runs on a short cooldown, allowing players to dash in a certain direction to avoid enemy fire. Even early on, enemies come in droves, making this a crucial and tactical tool for survival.
As mentioned, I got to play 3 character classes. Fans of previous Diablo games will notice a lot of familiar elements, but the skill system has been overhauled from Diablo III to provide a more customizable approach that promotes custom builds and experimentation.
Skills now have branching upgrades that will shape your style of play and will be the basis of synergy across your equipment and upgrades. For example, the Sorcerer’s Firebolt can be upgraded to either Glinting Firebolt (Increases burn damage for critical hits) of Flickering Firebolt (Generates 2 mana when hitting burned enemy). The Barbarian Whirlwind can also be upgraded to Violent Whirlwind (deals x30% damage after using for 2 seconds) or Furious Whirlwind (inflicts bleeding damage if using a slashing weapon).
Aspects are another new feature in Diablo IV, basically acting as mods for your equipment that can imbue it with additional properties. The Aspect of Piercing Cold lets Ice Shards pierce 4 times but deal less damage per hit, while the Aspect of Arrow Storms give your range skills up to a 10% chance to proc an arrow storm. These are class-specific and can be obtained from dungeons spread across the world, making exploring a more rewarding experience.
Each class also has a unique progression mechanic to further customize the experience. The Sorcerer, for example, has Enchanment Slots, where players can slot skill upgrades to further add to their tools of destruction. An example is the upgrade for Fireball, where enemies killed will explode in a Fireball that deals % damage to surrounding foes. As you can imagine, build possibilities will certainly be the talk of the town when Diablo IV comes out.
There are many more quality of life upgrades in Diablo IV that have seemingly been taken from fan feedback, like having one inventory slot per item even for bigger items and the addition of mounts to aid in exploration (not available in the build I played). Some familiar trimmings also make a return, such as Transmog, the Paragon system (not available in the build I played), and even sockets and gems.
Exploration is a big part of Diablo games, but the team have made it even more rewarding in Diablo IV. As part of its live-service push, the game will be introducing a shared world which allows for cross-play and cross-progression, and will feature the biggest world map that the series has ever seen, allowing players to seamlessly travel from zone to zone and traverse the map without having to teleport.
Dungeons make a return in Diablo IV, offering players a trek through treacherous places that will reward their persistence with the aforementioned Aspects, ensuring that these activities are hardly optional if you want to maximize your build.
Strongholds are also newly introduced locations that demons have overtaken, and it will be up to the player to clear these out, bringing about a permanent change to the location, repopulating the landscape and rewarding the players with loot, all while possibly opening up a new dungeon or two.
Players that take the time to explore what Diablo IV has to offer will be rewarded with Renown, basically an incentive that is obtained when new areas are explored or by completing various side activities. Gathering enough will offer players rewards, such as an extra skill point, that will help you explore even further.
It is clear to see that Diablo IV is emphasizing “Play your way” as a core pillar of the game. Despite some returning systems, the tweaks and updates introduced seem significant, offering players many ways to go about their adventures in Sanctuary.
We’ve only scratched the surface in this preview, as Diablo games really begin as soon as the story mode ends, so we’ll have to wait a while longer before we can pass full judgment on the game. If what I’ve played was any indication, I definitely cant wait to dive back in.
Diablo IV is scheduled to launch in 2023 for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC.