Diablo IV Review

Diablo 4 Lilith Header Artwork

Diablo IV is finally upon us, the latest game in this defining series bringing with it a lot of changes, from a darker tone and less of the wrestler-style monologuing from the villains to verging on being an MMO in some ways and being set on a map that no longer leans on procedural generation. Having now completed the main Diablo IV story, had a taste of the endgame and even found a few Uniques, it’s time for our final verdict.

Update: This updated article is now our final, scored review of Diablo IV.

To start with, there’s five whole classes to choose from at this game’s outset – Barbarian, Necromancer, Sorcerer, Rogue, and Druid – with large skill trees that give a ridiculous amount of options when it comes to tailoring your chosen character to your playstyle, though with skill runes having far less impact than in Diablo 3.

They all feel great to play as, but have fundamental differences and styles. My Necromancer – my main class, as ever – has a small squad of up to eight undead minions (and a golem), handles very differently to the Sorcerer I played as during the beta, who teleports around and unleashes salvos of elemental magic like a high-level raid boss.

Diablo IV looks unerringly gorgeous as well, whether you’re in a macabre, bloodied dungeon or a desert of red sand, it’s really beautiful. Performance on PS5 is practically perfect as well, with a grand total of three frame rate stutters through the weekend, each of which was triggered by using a viewpoint, where the camera zooms and swoops to get a nice view of the level ahead. These honestly look so good I wished I could remove the UI and screenshot them to use as a wallpaper.

My only criticism is that cutscenes don’t take advantage of this visual finery. There’s plenty of detail in the animations, so the fact that the camera just zooms in slightly and hovers over things as they happen is very strange, especially since there are also cutscenes that do use more creative camera angles. It feels the most awkward at one point when a character is crying with an incredibly emotive and convincing performance from the voice actor, and the camera is just hovering over them, whereas some close up shots and a little basic direction could have made it resonated more. The cutscenes that do have more direction are proof of this.

Diablo 4 open world

The story itself is also a significant step up from its predecessor. Lilith is a more mysterious threat than the usual Prime Evils as her motives are a little less obvious – the demon Lords of Chaos, Hatred, and Terror don’t leave much space for confusion. Lilith is the Daughter of Hatred though, and whatever her motives may be, they’re not good. While is might drag a little in the middle, features some inconsistent characters and has you trudging back to places that you can’t fast travel to, it’s an entertaining story that kept me guessing right through to the end. It also features some of the best CGI cutscenes I’ve seen in a game for ages – it’s just so cool!

The entire game now features level scaling, so outside of some areas with a minimum level, everything scales in difficulty to meet your level. You’re now almost completely free to explore the giant map however you like, but it also means that later in the game you’ll be able to go everywhere to play, rather than a limited selection of high level areas, which is great!

The downside is that it leaves the gameplay feeling the same wherever you go. Previously, you’d level up as you went through an area, eventually getting too powerful just as you got to the next, and it would repeat. It had an ebb and flow that managed to feel like progress and advancement despite basically being a gear and XP grinding treadmill. In Diablo IV it sometimes feels more like you’re trapped on the treadmill as every enemy levels up alongside you, keeping the challenge you face incredibly consistent and without an ounce of unpredictability.

Well, that is out of the rare difficulty spikes that feel like bugs. I can’t even explain how one enemy killed me, my deaths so sudden whenever I went anywhere near it, and there’s times that a particular boss returning from Diablo 1 spawns in a dungeon, completely ignores my minions (negating a huge part of my survivability), and flattens me over the course of a few minutes. He has killed me every time he’s shown up.

In general the difficulty feels very even and this, combined with mob density being a bit spotty in some areas, meant that once I finally unlocked a mount I just started to ride straight through areas to reach objectives and dungeons, not really bothering with the enemies in between.

Diablo 4 mount

Dungeons have another issue in that they usually have objectives now. These objectives are pretty repetitive, which wouldn’t be such a problem if they didn’t force you to backtrack through areas you’ve already cleared out to complete them, where there’s nothing left to fight. Why this is the case is anyone’s guess, as dungeons aren’t procedurally generated in Diablo IV. They could have been arranged in a way to avoided this entirely, but they’ve taken something that was repetitive in a way that wasn’t a problem – just kill lots of enemies until you reach the end – and added a mechanic that makes it into a problem.

They’re not bad overall, but that little frustration will be magnified when you’re in the endgame trying to grind for gear. At least there are more than 100 dungeons in the game and they all have a nightmare variant as well, not to mention an aspect that you can then apply to legendary weapons. This is a huge amount of content and I’m usually having a lot of fun in these dungeons. Though they don’t have unique end bosses, which is a touch disappointing.

Diablo 4 Dungeon

I’ve found a frankly embarrassing number of legendary items at this point, a few Uniques – legendary items with affixes that cannot be changed – and a bunch of Sacred items – not part of the tiered system, but more powerful than non-Sacred versions. In the endgame, you’ll soon find yourself not only hoping to roll a legendary, but also needing that legendary to be Sacred as well. This could get a little frustrating, but I haven’t had too much trouble finding upgrades.

The legendary affixes, however, are a little underwhelming. Nothing I have found is as powerful as many of those in Diablo 3, but more than that, I am constantly finding legendaries that have properties affecting abilities I don’t use, which basically makes that legendary useless unless I go and imprint it with another at the occultist. This is a fine system, but it takes the fun out of finding it, especially with the unnecessarily high gold prices for imprinting. It also has the reverse effect, where you’ve have an item with a property so essential – let’s say it lets a necromancer summon two extra skeletal warriors – that you feel like it’s basically required to survive at higher world tiers.

That said, there being extremely low chances of finding loot you need it basically what you expect in the endgame, and Diablo IV does do this better than most. There’s always loot around the corner and it never seems to take too long to find an upgrade.

Within the endgame there are a few new options for acquiring that delicious loot after the story’s end. First, there’s the Tree of Whispers, an unsettling tree to be sure, but one that will put “whispers” on your map telling you to go complete a specific dungeon, kill certain enemies in an area, complete a specific event, that kind of thing, after which you’ll be rewarded with Grim Favors. Ten Grim Favors can be traded for a box of items, usually of a specific type.

Once you reach level 50, you can then complete a capstone dungeon that will then allow you to access World Tier 3: Nightmare. This brings a couple more things, first of them being that it allows Sacred and Unique items to start dropping, as well as Nightmare Sigils, which you can use to access the harder, nightmare version of a specific dungeon for better rewards. Then there are Helltides, where a section of the map gives way to Hell’s influence, which means meteors fall from the sky, enemies are stronger, and more importantly they drop Cinders that can be used to open Helltide Chests for yet more loot. Particularly difficult bosses can also spawn here that are intended for multiple players to fight, so you’d better hope there’s some around when they do.”

There are a few issues to be found in Diablo IV. As a Necromancer, the minion AI is not good, and especially noticeable once your reach World Tier 3. They stand around in fire taking damage, they walk into traps, and they spread out, meaning that a bunch of your damage is now spread thinly between different enemies instead of targeted. The Golem likes to take his time using his charge attack when you order it, and it often targets an area not an enemy, so sometimes the enemy has just moved before it lands. This compounds the fringe bugs like getting caught on bits of scenery, and annoyances like the horse having a cooldown, which is a pain when you have to dismount to destroy barriers.

The shift toward omnipresent online play has also brought a few issues. It’s rarely intrusive and the online only launch has been fairly smooth in my opinion, but Blizzard recently turned off the servers to fix a store issue but didn’t give users a warning, which can absolutely impact player progress. There’s also a curious lack of being able to quickly search for a party to complete a dungeon or quest, or a global chat. If you want to fight world bosses or those aforementioned bosses that spawn during Helltides, you are going to need more players just to deal enough damage, but the likelihood of them being nearby is pretty small considering the size of the map. It’s a lot of fun fighting them when there are people around, you just can’t guarantee there will be and getting people together isn’t easily facilitated within the game. Most people seem content to complete ignore you even if you do try to communicate anyway.

Of course, this being the 2020s and Diablo IV an Activision Blizzard game, you can also buy an in-game currency and cosmetics. These cosmetics look nice but, as always, a lot of what was once locked behind gameplay and fun comes with a paywall instead. The monetisation team at Blizzard should be more embarrassed than they clearly are for offering cosmetic DLC that cost a third the price of their latest, full-priced entry into one of their flagship IPs, but this is something we can say about far too many games. At least it’s not quite as icky as Diablo 3’s real money auction house was.

Summary
Diablo IV is almost shockingly refined, with an absorbing story and addictive gameplay. The shift to always online and connected play might turn some away, and the level scaling can make combat a little same-y, but on the whole, this is still Diablo at its best. It plays very well, offers tonnes of options for tailoring your character and acquiring that all important hunt for better and better loot will keep you coming back for more.
Good
  • Looks and sounds gorgeous
  • Good, if flawed story
  • So much loot!
  • Level-scaling allows any players of any level to play together...
Bad
  • ...But it also makes the combat less dynamic
  • Shift to a more MMO-like structure
  • Minion AI needs improvement
9

4 Comments

  1. Thanks Gareth, that’s a great update. I can’t wait for your full review.
    Just a quick question, I played allot of D3, all of it solo.
    How is this one for solo play, did you feel the need in areas to play with others or can you get by without?
    Thanks ????

    • I’ve played it entirely solo myself so far (up to level 50 of 100, completed the story at 45) but for some events that others showed up to, I haven’t had any issues really. It’s actually better for solo than multi at the moment because there’s no easy way to search for and group up with random players for dungeons and stuff. It’s possible grouping up might be more necessary as I get further into the endgame, but will have to see.

      You will have to be online at all times, but solo play doesn’t need PS+ if you don’t care about chat or parties and things.

      • Thanks again Gareth, really fantastic job. That’s all I needed to know.

  2. Never played one of these games but this has caught my eye. Think a weekend splurge might be in order, this, Street Fighter and Final Fantasy may have to be snagged. Looks dope!

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