The Diablo franchise is Blizzard's crown jewel, and it's been around for several decades. Each game left a footprint in the industry, but even after all these years, Diablo 2 was (and still is) a measuring stick for all action role-playing games, and therefore the standard Diablo 4 had to reach. I'll leave Diablo 3 largely out of this comparison, as I was disappointed with this iteration (to put it mildly).
I guess I was not the only one feeling the franchise lost its way, as Blizzard had D2 in mind during the creation of D4. And did it work? Is this the successor of the dark and gritty Diablo 2 fans adored? I must admit, I was skeptical, especially after Diablo Immortal. The mobile game showered me with microtransactions and free content that severely turned me off. But as it turns out, Diablo IV was not a miss, and it's a game that'll be played for years to come.
Story & Worldbuilding
The story is an essential part of any Diablo game. While you may completely ignore the lore, skipping it entirely would be a shame! Without spoiling much, the story in Diablo 4 revolves around the demon Lilith, rogue angel Inarius, and their creation: the world of Sanctuary. The story has many twists and turns, and to be honest, I was leaning toward siding with Lilith in this conflict, as Inarius was far from the beacon of goodness.
The story is segmented into five Acts, so you uncover the story slowly, which acted as a sort of carrot on a stick for me. But the narrative wouldn't be that effective without such fantastic worldbuilding. Sanctuary is a vast world with cities and villages that truly feel alive. There's much to do, from talking to NPCs to solving side-quests and conquering Strongholds. Add to that endgame content and the presence of other players, and you'll feel like you're part of the dynamic world with much to offer.
Score: 5/5 Stars
Let's get one thing straight—grinding and hoarding were, are, and always will be the essence of Diablo games. I love that it's still the standard in Diablo 4, as character progression is my main drive. To be honest, there's a lot to play for in this iteration, such as acquiring new abilities, aspects, and paragon levels. Exploration also plays into that all-too-familar feeling that you've done something substantial.
But to enjoy this neverending cycle, I always needed to feel like I was making some progress, which was not always the case here. That feeling did arrive moreso after I reached the endgame, but even then, I wasn't completely satisfied. This is partially because Blizzard expects players to play Diablo IV for years to come, but as Freddy Mercury would say: "I want it all, and I want it now."
Score: 3.5/5 Stars
Related: Is game sharing Diablo 4 possible?
The combat in Diablo 4 feels almost the same as it did in previous entries, which is a big plus! One shouldn't flippantly change the thing that is a staple of the franchise. Blizzard was aware, so they improved the well-known system minimally. The focus seems to be on reintroducing the Diablo 2 system while tweaking it for the modern gaming scene (with even more sockets, gems, and other item boosters).
Make no mistake: this is still Diablo! You'll run around fighting enemies (mouse & keyboard or controller) without any arcade shenanigans seen in Diablo Immortal. You have more choices now, as the skill tree is back, looking like a simplified version of the one from Path of Exile. All in all, I had more options for different character builds (compared to D3), while "Diablo combat" feels the same as ever.
Score: 4/5 Stars
I have always had high expectations when it came to visuals in Diablo games. Indeed, I must admit that I was one of many Diablo veterans appalled by the unicorns-and-rainbows look of Diablo 3. Blizzard was aware they went too far with those visuals, so they switched back to the gothic palette of Diablo 2. The serious tone in Diablo 4 combines with glorious, top-notch cinematics, making this entry a visual feat.
Enemies look inspired, especially bosses, which made combat even more attractive. I'm glad the magic effects are toned down, too, so I can still see what is happening. But it can be challenging if you play with friends while everyone is doing their various skills and ultimates. All you can really do in those moments is hit your buttons and enjoy the fireworks.
Verdict - The Diablo that we all deserve
Diablo 4 is finally here, and it won't go away for many years. This game is far from finished evolving, as the endgame is only the starting point. You can expect many updates (and new classes) with announced Seasons. Of course, Blizzard is planning to earn money by selling the game and offering you shiny cosmetics and other privileges included in the Battle Pass. While microtransactions are something I detest, I have no issue with them so long as they're not entering into the pay-to-win territory. If you've ever played Diablo, you'll enjoy playing D4. And if you're a rookie, welcome to the club!
A free copy of the game was provided to PGG by the publisher for review purposes.