When Blizzard started having its controversies, one of the only titles left that could give the now-embattled company hope for salvaging its once-stellar reputation was Diablo. However, Diablo III was a disappointment due to an incohesive and insensible storyline, as well as gameplay that tries a lot of new things and misses on a lot of them. Also, that launch was a complete disaster, from what I can remember. It looks like they’ve done the opposite with Diablo IV — the last game I’ll likely ever buy from the undead remnants of Blizzard Entertainment.
Mind you, they still tanked their reputation in the meantime with the reveal of Diablo Immortal, but they don’t care at this point because they still earned a lot of money with that game. All we can hope for is that developer NetEase keeps making a stink about the fallout of their relationship after that collaboration. Seriously, NetEase converted me into a fan after seeing the extent of the fuckery they’re laying upon Activision Blizzard after the release of that mobile game.
Anyway, Diablo IV is an action role-playing game that tries to keep up with the rest of the landscape that its ancestor carved out over a quarter century ago. Since then, tons of titles inspired by that initial spark by Blizzard North have since added to the ARPG iceberg a lot more than this pioneering franchise ever could on its own. Perhaps the way Blizzard North, a team that was not a part of Blizzard at first, was subsequently treated should’ve been seen as an early prelude to how Blizzard would come to be decades later.
As you can see, from that intro alone, I’ve talked more about Blizzard’s reputation as a depraved multi-billion dollar company than the best product it has released in years. There’s no helping it because that’s how its post-merger company culture has bled into public consciousness. It took a while to manifest, but I can now determine with hindsight that it was already evident during the launch of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty in 2010. We just didn’t know yet how far down the abyss the company could descend, and we now know the hole is bottomless.
Meanwhile, Diablo IV is a fun game with both a compelling story and some room for improvement.
NOTE: This is a full review, so here be spoilers. You’ve been warned.
You may also read about my first impressions of the beta here.
Diablo IV Story
It has been many years after the events of Diablo III in the land of Sanctuary. Deckard Cain is long dead, Diablo had been defeated for the umpteenth time, and peace was supposed to reign at long last with Tyrael taking his place as the Aspect of Wisdom. However, all was not well. After all, it’s called “The Eternal Conflict” for a reason.
The creators of Sanctuary, the fallen angel Inarius and the Daughter of Hatred Lilith, are locked in an age-old conflict that’s about to come to a head. Enter the Wanderer, who comes into the small town of Nevesk to get out of the cold. No one knows where they came from or why they’re there, but the townsfolk of Nevesk would have them unknowingly imbibe the blood of Lilith.
It’s a Diablo game without the titular villain. Instead, they have the daughter of the titular villain’s older brother. Lilith becomes quite the compelling villain as her motivations for her actions in the game are eventually revealed. Also, the nature of her conflict with Inarius isn’t just the usual angel versus demon dynamic. They were once allies, as well as lovers.
I find it amusing that the gist of its plot is conflict between two ex-lovers.
What I got out of the story is that all the powerful forces playing tug-of-war with Sanctuary are doing so for mostly selfish reasons, but you’re then thrown a curve ball of having to deal with an even greater evil that necessitates the player character to make a different choice. While the narrative is still linear for the most part, that seed of doubt is still planted in your head.
Side Characters and NPCs
At first, I thought the setting and characters were quite forgettable due to how they were presented at first. But then, the story took sharp turns and the characters started to shine, including the NPCs that came off as throwaways at first. At least a couple of them took me by surprise and won me over with what they do in the most troubling circumstances.
The message I got from this story is that the land of Sanctuary was a battlefield of deities who created humanity, but don’t care for it. Their creations are only a means to an end, and their hubris is what would bring them down. Whether they come out in victory or defeat, the denizens of Sanctuary will surely be affected, for better or for worse. And they don’t seem to care.
On the other hand, the towns are mostly ineffectual. They’re just hubs for selling and salvaging junk. Whether it’s Kyovashad, Scosglen, Gael Kul, or so on whose names I had to look up on Google to include here, their denizens are just faceless NPCs whose names are just “Blacksmith”, “Item Vendor”, or so on.
This is a good turn compared to the seemingly aimless plot they had in Diablo III. It’s not that there was no story in that game because there certainly was, but it did a lot of things that were either underwhelming or downright infuriating, which then amounted to basically nothing. All the mainstays either die or dramatically change, only for the plot to fall flat.
But on the other hand, the first two Diablo games had NPCs that fleshed out the world with their dialogue so much that Tristram ended up having more character and backstory than all of Sanctuary. Perhaps the best you can get from Diablo IV in terms of the towns is the difference in the accents of the NPCs, but they don’t say anything significant with all that voice acting.
In any case, here’s to hoping that whatever expansion Diablo IV gets, it does better than Reaper of Souls.
I saw an interesting comparison between Diablo II cutscenes and Diablo IV cutscenes by The Act Man on YouTube. However, while I admit that watching that video did color my opinion on this, I already recognized it as I played the game for myself. While the narrative is still better than that of the previous game, the cutscenes still don’t live up to that of Diablo II from over twenty years ago. The cutscenes in Diablo II actually showed what happened, while the cutscenes in Diablo IV mostly had Lorath talking about what happened.
The worst thing you can do in a visual medium is to tell and not show.
Perhaps Blizzard decided that they didn’t want to have everything shown through flashbacks, but they should have. This creative decision was likely done to cement Lorath Nahr as a significant character, making him the Horadrim sage in place of the much beloved and now deceased Deckard Cain. But he’s more cynical and introverted, while you couldn’t shut Cain up. And yet, they had Lorath being a sadboi, talking about stuff that we want to see happen before our eyes. Maybe Blizzard is just being lazy with making their vaunted cinematics.
That’s likely why while I liked much of the campaign, I found myself suddenly uninterested after finishing it. I planned to finish the story with every single character class, but I haven’t gone over it the second time yet. I can’t be bothered.
Lore and Worldbuilding
This for me is the franchise’s Achilles heel, but even more so with this game. As Rhystic Studies said about Magic: The Gathering — “What takes (the game) a bit further though is its ability to remain interesting even when not playing it. The fantasy may be the facade, but for many players, it’s the meat and potatoes of the package.”
In my case, the importance of lore in games is that it makes me think about them even after playing them. This was certainly the case when I played Diablo II over twenty years ago. Even after I finished the story with all character classes many times over, I wondered what happened to the rogues in Act I, the citizens of Lut Gholein in Act II, and even the residents of Kurast in Act III and the mountain dwellers in Act V.
I don’t find myself caring much about anyone apart from Neyrelle after getting through the story of Diablo IV.
Suffice to say, my long-term enjoyment with this game has been disappointing. I don’t know how it exactly is for other people, but story and lore are very important for me, especially with fantasy games. A fantasy game with uninteresting lore is like spaghetti with bad sauce. It doesn’t matter how much I like spaghetti — if the sauce is bad, I won’t eat it.
Diablo IV Presentation
In terms of visuals and sounds, I find this game somewhat mixed. It’s good in some parts and disappointing in others. But what I can really say for sure is that I don’t have particularly strong opinions about them, and that’s not a good thing for a game review.
Visuals and Graphics
The previous game had a dark and high-contrast style with colorful effects. I found it both attractive at times and off-putting at other times. Meanwhile, Diablo IV has one thing I like that hasn’t been seen since Diablo II — outdoor environments at daytime. Seriously, everything being dark and cramped all the time is a great way for me to lose interest in a game.
I can only be mentally tickled by pretty lights for so long, and I grew up playing Quake II.
But what you can say about the look of Diablo III that’s positive is that it’s a lot more distinct than the look of Diablo IV, which looks a lot like the other ARPGs in the market today, but with the brightness turned up. I know that’s a garbage take, but that really is how it looks to me. Then again, I’m a casual when it comes to the genre.
However, the player character models look pretty good, despite not having the most extensive character customization in 2023. The sorcerers are elegant, the barbarians look brutal, the necromancers look very goth and black metal, the rogues look like they need therapy, and the druids are chunky bears. The way they look and move on the character selection screen, inventory screen, and in isometric view all do well for immersion.
Audio and Music
There’s also something to be said about the sound design. The most important part is how hits sound, which this game does both very well and somewhat poorly. The sound of every impact the player character makes is so loud and bassy that it both enhances gameplay and smashes your eardrums. You’ll have to turn gameplay sounds way down to show mercy upon your own ears if you use headphones, as well as your viewers who use headphones if you’re a streamer.
As for music, the soundtrack is quite atmospheric, although very forgettable. As of this writing, I don’t get enough distinction between tracks for each different area of the in-game world. That’s one thing the Diablo II soundtrack did very well, which was to make every act sound distinct. Due to how lines between acts and regions of the world are deliberately blurred in this game, that seems to have also been done with the music.
I can hear the music for Rogue Encampment and Lut Gholein in my head right now as I write this, but I can’t remember how Diablo IV music is supposed to sound like. Perhaps I haven’t played this game enough to burn that into my memory, but I do wonder how long it took for 14-year-old me to remember Diablo II music.
On the other hand, the voice acting is commendable. While not as distinct and memorable as Deckard Cain with his “Stay a while and listen,” it does well with propping up the quality of these characters, from the divine and demonic, to the religious fanatics who are at their mercy, and to everyone else in between who are struggling to survive amid a supernatural war they’re forced to experience. Lorath’s voice acting is certainly a standout, as well as Neyrelle’s.
Performance and Optimization
Is it me or are there problems with this game’s performance and how it makes my computer behave? My graphics drivers have a tendency of crashing whenever I’m playing this. Mind you, I’d also have Opera browser open with a gajillion tabs, and sometimes even TradingView (a stock trading chart viewer).
Maybe I should have them closed while I’m playing Diablo IV, but that goes against my usual gaming habit of playing something like an ARPG while listening to a podcast or long YouTube video in the background. If I can’t do that, I won’t be playing Diablo IV to begin with.
I’ve also tried opening OBS while the game is open, and that would slow my game to a crawl. Perhaps there’s something wrong with my graphics card or my RAM (which I recently expanded to 64GB). I’ll have to isolate the problem and see whether it’s Diablo IV or just my hardware. But I can tell you that most of these problems occur whenever I have the game on.
However, I can say with certainty that the network performance is certainly not the best. Even if I use a VPN like Mudfish to optimize my game’s connection, it can still lag every now and then. Most of it can be remedied by turning off crossplay before entering the game, but that kills the point of having a crossplay feature in the first place. It’d be nice if I can play with console players without their presence launching my latency to the moon.
User Interface and Experience
I like being able to adjust the user interface. If I were playing with a controller, perhaps I do want to have the heads-up display on the left corner of the screen so I get more real estate in the middle. But since I’m a boomer, I play with keyboard and mouse and my HUD centered on the screen like a true Diablo oldhead. But it’s nice to have the option.
Then there’s the controversial decision Blizzard made with the font, which is in a serif font instead of the usual font you’d expect from a Diablo game (the one with the O with a cross in the middle). That font brought a lot of flavor to the previous games, especially Diablo II. But with this game, they went with a less stylized and more legible font, which is understandable.
However, the Diablo franchise has never been just about legibility. A game doesn’t just exist to be optimal. We learned that from the disastrous release of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. Gameplay elements aren’t just a bunch of functions working together to create “fun” out of nothing. As I talked about in the previous section about lore, the flavor is a big part of why people play in the first place.
So, for me, the choice of using a sterile font is a minus. Perhaps it’s sentimental value, which I usually don’t fall for as a wet blanket in human form, but not so with something I grew up with like Diablo. The dark fantasy is why I got into the franchise in the first place, right down to the littlest detail. Without that flavor, I wouldn’t have been interested as a 12-year-old.
I then wouldn’t have spent $70 on this game as a 36-year-old. The value of the brand is still there in my heart, at least at first. After having played it, that’s another matter.
Diablo IV Gameplay
This is where my limitations with this game may show. I only planned to finish the campaign with all five character classes, and that’s it. Perhaps I try World Tier 4 and maybe max level one of my characters, but that’s all I really care for. I’ve never been that into the endgame with ARPGs, but I’ve since become more receptive to it with this game since I’ve been having fun.
ARPGs in this day and age stand on the shoulders of giants, including Diablo itself. As far as Diablo IV is concerned, it takes a lot from other major titles in the genre like Path of Exile and Lost Ark. However, Diablo IV’s way is not to have everything in one package. It takes what works for it, rejects whatever it doesn’t need, and adds a few things that are uniquely Blizzard.
Controls and Movement
Even back in Diablo III, or even in the PS1 era with the original Diablo, the idea of playing an ARPG for a late-90s gaming boomer like myself sounds ludicrous. The thinking is that Diablo is a PC game meant to be played with keyboard and mouse. But the thing is if you can make a first-person shooter playable on pad controller with Halo, then it should be able to
On a tangent, I’m a millennial, which is basically a boomer in gaming.
But it works here. Some people like playing it with a controller. Meanwhile, I played my first 300 hours of Elden Ring with keyboard and mouse, so I’m bound to be stubborn with it. But since I spent over ₱3,500 to buy a wireless Xbox controller a few months ago, I had to try it.
The traverse button is another great addition. It’s a dodge most of the time, but it becomes a jump, climb, duck, or slide button, depending on the obstacle. Being able to dodge makes fights more dynamic, although it does mean I have to be more focused while playing. I do tend to go half-asleep while playing ARPGs — it’s just how I play games like this.
That’s why it’s too bad it doesn’t let you traverse that far and has a 5-second cooldown. That wouldn’t be so bad if you could use mounts inside dungeons.
The addition of mounts is the best QoL improvement, in my opinion. An open-ended world means tons of traversing, and walking or running the whole way gets mind-numbingly tedious, no matter how good the music, podcast, or YouTube video you’re listening to while playing.
We all know that from Diablo II, especially with that stamina bar.
Perhaps some would say it makes the world less immersive as players are incentivized to skip big chunks of the world map to finish their quests and clear their dungeons, but that’s just a part of the deal with ARPGs. Having a mount that speeds up travel reduces the tedium.
Blizzard had World of Warcraft to take from in adding mounts into this game, but the peculiarity of having the mount speed up or slow down depending on mouse position is not necessary. It’s actually irritating to have the cursor at the edge of the screen to go max speed, especially when it has to go over the interface.
There’s also the decision Blizzard made to lock the mount behind a quest that you don’t get right away. You only get it in the middle of the campaign, which does make the mount feel more freeing once you finally get it. And once you get it with your first character, your subsequent characters will get a mount as well automatically.
Elden Ring has made me used to skipping big chunks of the map to get sites of grace right away. I find myself doing the same with waypoints in this game. Perhaps some people may find that icky and detracts from the gameplay experience, but I like that there’s now the option to do that. With the game being open world, that should be allowed.
With that in mind, why does it feel more or less ok to not be able to use a mount indoors in Elden Ring, but it’s infuriating in Diablo IV? Is it the third-person perspective compared to the isometric perspective? Is it the difference between Elden Ring’s worldbuilding compared to Diablo IV? I’m not entirely sure, but I wish I could use a mount indoors in this game to make dungeons a lot less tedious.
Character Classes and Abilities
You get five different character classes to begin with, much like in Diablo II. Each has its own skill trees and abilities, making for many character build possibilities. To make your character stronger and maximize that build, you grind hard to get the best loot. That’s the basic gist of the gameplay design, but it’s only good if the classes are designed well.
While not as “streamlined” as it was in Diablo III, the skill trees in this game are still somewhat restrictive. Then again, most people who say that are into the mess that was the Diablo II skill trees. What was wrong with just doing Diablo II skill trees, but with more readily available respecs? Perhaps they don’t want useless skills, but that’s up to Blizzard anyway.
Besides, there are still some useless skills in this game.
However, there’s still a good bit of freedom. For instance, you can skip entire parts of the tree to get abilities further down — my sorcerer doesn’t use any core or conjuration skills; her secondary skill is Blizzard. You can also do builds that subvert expectations, like my necromancer that doesn’t summon skeletons, sacrificing them for more critical damage.
However, this is where Blizzard really rears its ugly head. As of this writing, they’ve dropped patch updates prior to the beginning of Season 1 that have gotten the community’s panties in a twist. The fixes for bugs and exploits are alright, but the nerfs do sting. Then again, they mostly hit the popular builds in the meta, so perhaps the non-meta builds are still fine.
Main and Side Quests
As stated, the storyline is pretty good for what it is, and the main quests support that. The only thing I didn’t like about it is how the non-linear narrative made the delineation between Acts a lot less relevant. All you see about it is in the quest log, indicating in which act a listed main quest is, and that’s about it.
Along with the more lackluster cutscenes, that makes for a less compelling experience for the campaign.
The side quests are also quite compelling. Most side quests in RPGs tend to be fetch quests without rhyme or reason. There are still plenty of fetch quests in this game, but they tend to have twists that lead to interesting and compelling events. Some of them are even memorable. They remind me of the side quests in Cyberpunk 2077.
However, the problem I found after finishing the campaign for the first time with my sorceress is that I didn’t feel compelled to play it all over again with a different character. I made other characters to try out the classes, but I didn’t feel like I wanted to go through the story again. Maybe there’s something to the story that made me feel like I didn’t want to experience it again.
Or maybe I’m just a 37-year-old boomer who doesn’t want to waste more time grinding renown and looking for those Altars of Lilith again.
I can still remember items like Arkaine’s Valor, Naj’s Light Plate, Harlequin Crest, Ring of Jordan, and even magic items like King’s Sword of Haste. Runes in Diablo II mattered a lot both as currency items and for creating runewords. Prefixes and suffixes were important and consistent. Most of the item stats mattered because they were tangible and comprehensible.
Just like in Diablo III, the items in Diablo IV make for items that ultimately didn’t matter. Most of the prefixes and suffixes aren’t worth remembering, the rare items felt like slightly stronger magic items,
Their solution was item power. Having a number that summed up all the other numbers in order to make it easier to determine if one item is stronger than another seems like a good idea. However, with how seemingly ineffectual most of the other item stats have become, having to depend on item power to make decisions about one’s gear makes the process even less engaging in the long run.
They didn’t solve the problem they created in Diablo III, which persisted even when the Item Auction House was long closed. Never mind that you can’t sell your super powerful legendary item for $250 (in legit channels) for a decade now, but you’re an idiot for having bought an item whose name you likely don’t remember during that time.
Meanwhile, the solution they had for unique items is to make them so incredibly rare that only a handful of people on the planet would ever be able to get them. It’s a brute force approach to item rarity, and it means a vast majority of players have no chance of getting those items and an even slimmer chance of getting one that fits their build.
Some do see such items with such drop rates as true treasures that they can yearn for, even if they end up never picking any up throughout their time in playing this game, while others may find that demotivating.
Class-specific cosmetics that cost over $20 each. Meanwhile, Path of Exile has cheaper skins that are applicable to any class. When Grinding Gear Games, a subsidiary of the Chinese corporation Tencent, coins the term “ethical microtransactions” and means it, and then the American corporation tries to copy the same homework, but change it by making it cost more and not be as ethical, then the latter definitely messed up.
But that’s not as unethical as the extra tabs that cost more and provide less storage space.
Not to mention that Path of Exile has been going on for much longer and free to play the entire time. Diablo IV is at least $$70. There’s also the sequel Path of Exile 2 going for a less MMO-ish direction, which is now looking more and more like the right direction after everything that has since happened to Diablo IV with how Blizzard has been trying to pull off.
Even if you’re willing to cough up the dough to have slightly more fun, it’s not a good enough value-add compared to whatever you can get with Path of Exile — the new gold standard since the 2010s. I personally don’t like the aesthetics of Path of Exile, but I’ve played it before and had fun with it without it costing more than my free time.
Seasonal and Endgame Content
This is what seals the deal for me with this game. Perhaps in the future, I can be bothered going through seasonal content or at least be bothered to clear yet another capstone dungeon. But right now, as of this writing, playing Diablo IV endgame content is the farthest thing from my mind. I certainly am not looking forward to re-grinding renown.
If you want to do all of that on your own, you have no life. In my opinion, this kind of content is best enjoyed with other players. You’re free to disagree, but I have no more time to argue. Diablo IV endgame is a slog, and so is writing this review.
The best way to describe Diablo IV is that it’s better than Diablo III. Perhaps it’s good that I put this review out so late because I got to live with the game and find out for myself how good it really is over the long run. In the end, that’s what this game really is about — it’s better than Diablo III by trying to be more like Diablo II, but it’s not actually better than Diablo II. It took a while for me to let it sink in. I can now say without any doubt that I stopped having fun as soon as I finished the campaign. Once I knew what happens in the story and how it ends, I was effectively done with the game. I couldn’t care less about the endgame, even if the game should be all about that. It’s because the way everything blends together in this game makes for a less-than-satisfactory experience for me. I can’t even relax playing this game while listening to podcasts or Ladytron like I did with Diablo III. I’ve done that more with Elden Ring than this game. At this point in my life, I no longer question my instincts when it comes to what’s fun and what’s not. Somehow, while it’s objectively better than its predecessor in terms of its gameplay features, aesthetics, and narrative, I actually had more fun playing Diablo III in 2013 than Diablo IV in 2023 because times have changed. It doesn’t have only its predecessor to compete with, but also every other game available today. As I finish writing this, I just got Baldur’s Gate 3. I’m going to play that after posting this review.
The best way to describe Diablo IV is that it’s better than Diablo III. Perhaps it’s good that I put this review out so late because I got to live with the game and find out for myself how good it really is over the long run. In the end, that’s what this game really is about — it’s better than Diablo III by trying to be more like Diablo II, but it’s not actually better than Diablo II.
It took a while for me to let it sink in. I can now say without any doubt that I stopped having fun as soon as I finished the campaign. Once I knew what happens in the story and how it ends, I was effectively done with the game. I couldn’t care less about the endgame, even if the game should be all about that. It’s because the way everything blends together in this game makes for a less-than-satisfactory experience for me.
I can’t even relax playing this game while listening to podcasts or Ladytron like I did with Diablo III. I’ve done that more with Elden Ring than this game. At this point in my life, I no longer question my instincts when it comes to what’s fun and what’s not.
Somehow, while it’s objectively better than its predecessor in terms of its gameplay features, aesthetics, and narrative, I actually had more fun playing Diablo III in 2013 than Diablo IV in 2023 because times have changed. It doesn’t have only its predecessor to compete with, but also every other game available today.
As I finish writing this, I just got Baldur’s Gate 3. I’m going to play that after posting this review.
Learn about the standardized review system [here].
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.