Review : Diablo 4 : Glorious Hell

Diablo is a franchise that holds a lot of meaning to me. Back in 1997, when the original Diablo launched, I had just secured a monster Compaq home computer powered by a 166mhz Pentium processor, and I was exploring all that PC gaming had to offer. Having grown up playing RPGs of all sorts while enjoying mapping out characters and spending thousands of hours min/maxing, Diablo struck just the right nerve for me. I spent countless late nights sitting in my room, battling the hordes of hell.

Diablo 2 was, quite simply, a revelation. Still championed today, it’s widely-considered the greatest ARPG ever developed. Expectations for Diablo 3 over a decade later, then, were extremely high. In 2012, I built a new PC just for Diablo 3’s launch and, as many may recall, was horrified over the next several days as the realization set in that Blizzard had fumbled it. Badly. The server issues were atrocious, the Auction House was an affront to all things ARPG, and the loot design was shockingly short-sided. Many also took issue with the more artistic, “lighter” style when compared to Diablo and Diablo 2. Fortunately, a short while later, Blizzard corrected many of their mistakes, and Diablo 3 has since become a tremendous ARPG in its own right.

When a franchise only releases a mainline title once every decade or so, expectations are understandably high. Prior to this launch, Blizzard had conducted several successful tests and had shown a lot of promising design features of Diablo 4. While I had been very impressed with Diablo 4’s earlier tests, I still had reservations about whether Blizzard could deliver a complete experience at launch that lives up to the IP’s illustrious name. It makes me extremely happy to say that my fears couldn’t have been more misplaced.

Preparing for Battle

Diablo 4 launches with five classes: Barbarian, Rogue, Druid, Necromancer, and Sorcerer. After one of my favorite cinematics in Diablo history (By Three They Come), you go through the familiar process of choosing a class and then customizing your character. While the options for doing so have been expanded compared to prior games, I wish it was a little more in-depth and more akin to other modern character creator suites.

You can adjust features such as hairstyles, eye color, jewelry, and markings. But you’re rather limited in terms of body shape and size, or any other specific features. It would have been nice, for example, if I could have made a scrawny “witch of the woods” type of Druid instead of that look essentially being relegated to the Necromancer. But alas, each class has a specific body style you cannot deviate from.

Fortunately, the rest of the character customization is much more streamlined than in the past. As you discover new loot, you’ll unlock new looks for each piece of gear after you break new pieces down at the blacksmith. Once doing so, you can visit your Wardrobe in town at any time and customize your look, including full transmogrification and color combinations. This is free and can be done endlessly. You are even provided “Ensemble” slots so you can save your favorite looks and activate them with a single-click. Excellent.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Diablo 4 takes place about 30 years after the events of Diablo 3, with much of humankind having been killed in the battle between the Burning Hells and High Heavens. Lilith, the daughter of Mephisto, Lord of Hatred, and “Mother of Sanctuary,” is whispered to have returned. Meanwhile, Inarius, formerly an archangel of the High Heavens and Lilith’s one-time love interest, also plays a key role.

The Journey to Hell

From the outset, Diablo 4 presents a far darker tone than Diablo 3. From Lilith’s introduction to some of the early cinematics, the diabolical nature of Lilith and her control on Sanctuary is made very clear. For fans hoping for an approach in tone more akin to Diablo 2 than 3, you certainly got your wish. Personally, I love it, and this design aesthetic and artistic style is layered throughout the entire game-world.

Your journey will take you across many regions of Sanctuary and include a number of new, core characters. While a direct follow-up to Diablo 3, the narrative and characters are more fleshed-out and memorable. Lorath is spectacular, and those who grew up admiring Deckard Cain in earlier Diablos will certainly find a lot to love. I also enjoyed the fact that you, the player, are put at the center of the story. For a game that features a tremendous amount of lore and history, that specific aspect was handled well and invests you more personally into the story.

Blizzard has frequently said this is the “darkest Diablo story yet,” which is likely a comment directed towards players’ response to Diablo 3. To that end, I felt Diablo 4’s story was superior to prior games and, quite frankly, most other loot-based ARPGs. But it’s also not a campaign I’m necessarily eager to revisit, either. It doesn’t do anything revolutionary with the way its story is told, but I do appreciate the level of environmental story-telling at play throughout. If you’re the type of player who wants to fully invest in learning details about the world around you, there are ample opportunities.

That said, Lilith as the antagonist at the center of Diablo 4’s story does not disappoint. I was engrossed with every cinematic that featured her, and there is one late-game cinematic in particular that stands out as one of the best in any Diablo game to date. It was a smart move by Blizzard to focus on a memorable antagonist. It adds a lot of flavor to the game, especially when compared to the likes of Diablo 3.

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The campaign structure in Diablo 4 will feel familiar to both Diablo veterans and those who have played modern open-world RPGs. While the story continues to be told through distinct Acts, the player dictates the pace due to the open-world structure of the game.

To be very clear, Diablo 4 is a massive game with a wide array of activities to occupy your time outside of the main story. Not only is the game world vast, but you can discover new cities and encampments, take on dungeons, cellars, and strongholds, find Altars of Lilith, and conquer a very large number of side-quests. To put the amount of content in perspective, at launch Diablo 4 contains:

  • 35 waypoints
  • 15 Strongholds
  • 115 Dungeons
  • 160 Altars of Lilith
  • 213 Side Quests

Of course that’s before even mentioning live events, world bosses, unique enemies, or any of the post-campaign specific activities that I will touch on later. In short, if you have been waiting for a loot-based ARPG to escape into for hundreds of hours, your date has arrived. However, to Diablo 4’s credit, very little of the additional content is required. There’s a tremendous amount of player agency in how you enjoy your time in Sanctuary.

Exploring Sanctuary itself is a joy. You’ll traverse a wide-range of environments, including snowy mountains, open deserts, infested coastlines, poisonous swamps, and more. The transitions between environments are seamless and highlight both the variety and breadth of the game-world. While the story is told through acts and leads you through Sanctuary, the world is not gated behind them. So if you’re like me and find the most enjoyment going off the beaten-path, you’ll feel right at home. And further complimenting exploration is the addition of an unlockable mount which makes traversing the large world much more flexible.

If I have one complaint, it is, oddly enough, enemy variety. While you’ll battle dozens of variations of frightful beasts, after a while you begin to see them repeated across different regions rather frequently. Knowing Diablo 4 will be iterated upon for years to come, I hope part of the plan is to introduce new enemy types to existing areas.

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As someone who likes to engross themselves in game-worlds, I truly enjoyed the more modern approach taken by Diablo 4. Uncovering the fog of war from the map to discover new towns, dungeons, and enemies is a pleasure, while activating each and every Altar of Lilith you find is a pure injection of dopamine. Side quests, meanwhile, range from simple fetch quests to multi-tiered story events. While most are rather mundane, there are some that are truly enjoyable and further develop the current state of Sanctuary and the despair felt by its inhabitants.

And, most importantly, vanquishing the hordes of hell is more satisfying than ever. Having played several other ARPGs recently, including Diablo 3, it’s immediately noticeable how polished Diablo 4 is in comparison. It feels precise, intuitive, and fierce, particularly once you begin to get more powerful. As a Druid main for the review, turning into a werebear and smashing dozens of enemies into pieces will simply never grow old.

One of the benefits of tackling the extra content in Diablo 4, beyond gaining more experience and loot, is “favor,” which is earned by completing activities in each of the five regions. Earning more favor will unlock account-wide bonuses, such as additional skill points, potions, and more. It’s a well-designed, complimentary system that provides an additional avenue for players to increase their character power.

Similar to Diablo 3, there are also a large number of challenges tied to your exploits across Sanctuary. Whether playing in a party or solo, Diablo 4 tracks hundreds of challenges that provide character and/or profile-wide rewards. This feels like Blizzard’s approach to implementing open-world discoveries just as you would expect in any other open-world RPG. As someone who explores every single corner of a world, I certainly appreciate the broader addition, if for no other reason than to give me further reason to do so.

Sweet, Sweet, Dopamine

Naturally, what any hardcore Diablo player truly wants to know is what leveling, builds, and loot are like. Each of the Diablo games has been rather unique in this way. With Diablo 3, skill building was simplified, and this meant that loot became the primary driver in your character’s power. While loot will always play a very important role, Blizzard has been clear that with Diablo 4, they wanted to return to a system that enabled players to rely less on loot and experiment more with build combinations.

There’s more flexibility here than Diablo 3, for sure, and I appreciate that you can refund the skills easily and experiment as much as you like. Loot can also be discovered with skill affixes now, allowing you to use skills you may not have invested in directly. I’ve experimented to varying levels with each class, and, while all of us will have personal preferences, I can say for sure there’s a lot of viability across the board.

Outside of simply finding new drops, there are numerous ways to modify and improve your gear. You are able to extract skills from items and affix them to others (and you can bank these for future use). You can upgrade items, typically multiple times, and give them a pure stat boost to each line item. Diablo 4 also features a Codex of Power, which is essentially a database of powerful skills that you unlock over time by completing dungeons. Each of these skills, once unlocked, can be affixed to items at the Occultist vendor, which becomes increasingly important later in the game.

What I found, unequivocally, is that Diablo 4 has defined arcs for building your character. Early on it’s simply about experimenting with various skills that work for your playstyle while finding continual loot upgrades. It then transitions to more of an optimization game while learning how to capitalize on affixes and the Codex of Power. And then, brilliantly, it refreshes anew after you complete the campaign, which I will touch on below in the end-game section. Reflecting on my journey, I really admire the progression design that Blizzard developed for Diablo 4 as it keeps the game continually feeling fresh.

Building your character is also noticeably more fun than Diablo 3, and it scratches more of the “min/max” itch I expect of an ARPG in this vein while simultaneously not going off the ledge into total redundancy. Loot-based ARPGs usually compromise somewhere and end-up on the curve between simplicity and overly elaborate. Diablo 4 walks the line about as well as I could have hoped, particularly considering this is just the beginning. It has a fair amount of complexity as you get deeper into the game, but nothing ever feels without purpose.

The End of the Beginning

Perhaps the most important aspect in a new Diablo game is the end-game. There have been a lot of questions on this front, especially as it took Blizzard a few years to get Diablo 3’s end-game activities in order. To that end I’m pleased to say that Diablo 4 impressed me greatly in the time I had with it.

After you beat the campaign, a new dungeon appears on the map, labeled the “Capstone Dungeon.” It is a level 50 dungeon which you can enter any time you like, solo or in parties. It throws a range of higher-level enemies and bosses at you and, once completed, unlocks World Tier 3 “Nightmare.” I was very pleasantly surprised at how fresh the game felt once switching to Nightmare, especially given the fact that I already had 50+ hours into a single character with plenty of side content still available to complete.

Upon switching to World Tier 3, you will be introduced to a wealth of changes to Sanctuary. New enemy types, including champions, appear, “Unique” items can drop, “Sacred” versions of all loot varieties (which increases their stat-roll caps) begin dropping, Helltide events can spawn, and activities open for the Tree of Whispers. Additionally you’ll begin to discover glyphs for the paragon board and rare nightmare sigils that unlock special Nightmare Dungeons.

Setting out in Nightmare for the first time almost feels like beginning a new game. It introduces so many different ways to continue your character progression, it instantly re-engages you in the experience post-campaign. It’s one of the aspects of Diablo 4’s overall design that impressed me the most, and I’m already chomping at the bit to progress back to it upon full release.

Right around this time, you’ll be hitting level 50 (if you hadn’t already), which introduces paragon boards. The paragon system in Diablo 4 represents the second half of your leveling journey to the cap of 100. Once you hit level 50, your progression bar will begin to unlock 4 paragon points per level. Your paragon board is a way to endlessly optimize your build to take on more and more challenging content.

Eventually, once you feel ready, you can take on the next capstone dungeon (level 70+) and unlock World Tier 4 “Torment.” At this point, even more Unique items enter the pool of loot, and you can discover “Ancestral” versions of all loot tiers. As you can tell, there’s a continual string of progression in Diablo 4 that will keep you looting, leveling, and optimizing for a long period of time.

If you’ve followed me for any period of time or engage with us on The Bitcast, you know how frequently I talk about my obsession with loot games. As Diablo 4 approached, I was encouraged by the information Blizzard had been providing, but until you engage with the systems yourself, you never truly know. Lest we remember the Auction House. shudders

Fortunately, the systems in Diablo 4 have impressed me greatly. Looting is always fun, and it’s tuned in a way so that you’re frequently finding new equipment to experiment with. When combined with the fantastic Codex of Power, affix, and aspect systems, it’s a joy continually finding new ways to banish the denizens of hell. This was perhaps the most important aspect of the game to me, as I’m sure it will be to many, and it pleases me to say that they’ve nailed it out of the gate (though I’m sure additions will continue to be made).

If you’re the type of player that likes to demonstrate your character-building prowess against other real-life players, fret not, as you’re covered as well. One of my favorite new additions are the Fields of Hatred, which are sections of the map labeled as PvP zones, enabling players to engage with one another should they choose to do so. The Fields of Hatred also feature tough enemies for PvE, though, which drop their own currency (Seeds of Hatred) that you can use to buy unique cosmetics and even buffs that can be used against other players.

Even if you’re not one to engage in PvP Diablo, it can still be great fun going for runs. This is because it’s structured similar to The Dark Zone in The Division, in which you can treat the area as purely PvE, but any seeds you pick up must be extracted to be kept. It’s a risk versus reward system and yet another way to engage with the core gameplay loop of Diablo 4 that is both seamless and voluntary.

The Sounds Of Hell

Accompanying you every step of the way through Sanctuary are stunning music and sound composition. The soundtrack is filled with a wide-range of audibly staggering tracks, many that compliment either the current story theme beautifully or the specific setting at that point in time. From orchestral compositions to Gregorian chants, and, of course, the classic Diablo theme, the soundtrack is a highlight of an already remarkable experience. Anyone who appreciates what music can bring to a game will find a lot to love in Diablo 4, and I have no doubt it will be listened to for many years to come.

Just as impressive is the environmental sound design. Utilizing full surround and/or spatial sound, you hear every distinct detail in what’s happening around you. For a game that is frequently a mass of utter chaos on the screen, it’s truly extraordinary what the sound team has accomplished. Distinguishing every piece of wood that shatters, every droplet of condensation that strikes a puddle, and, of course, every demon scream bellowed as you send them back to hell is spectacular.

Real-Life Vendors

It’s been all teddy bears, rainbows, and cows so far, but it wouldn’t be Diablo without at least a little controversy right? Despite Diablo 4 being a full-priced, AAA release, it will also feature a paid battle pass and a separate paid cosmetic shop. Of course this has raised concerns. The teams at Blizzard have been quick to point out that there are still hundreds of cosmetics to find in the core game, and there will be zero pay-to-win. But I certainly believe it’s fair to question such a strong monetization approach for a full-priced game.

As part of our review period, the store was not active. In fact, season one of the battle pass will not begin until several weeks after launch. So at this time I can’t offer any intelligent commentary regarding the implementation or perceived value. However, we were provided screenshots of future store and battle pass offerings (shown below). And you can tell the structure is pretty much what you are familiar with in other battle passes.

If you don’t care about cosmetics, the premium battle pass seemingly shouldn’t be too large of a deal to miss. And there is a free track on the pass as well, though we need to learn more about how the Ashes and Blessings are implemented in reality.

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The paid cosmetics look to be rather expensive, though, and with some of the class packages seemingly running $20-$30 each, it raises some eyebrows. Look for me to talk more about this in our on-going dialog around Diablo 4.

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A Monument To Your Sins

Loot-based ARPGs are rather synonymous for launching in a more narrow state and evolving over time. While Blizzard has been clear that Diablo 4 will be added to and iterated upon for years to come, as usual, what’s most impressive is what they’ve already delivered at launch. I say, confidently, that this is the best launch-day package for a loot-based ARPG that I’ve ever played. There is an incredible breadth of content and nearly endless ways to engage with it.

There’s so much more I want to write about, but I’ll summarize in the simplest terms: Diablo 4 is a masterpiece. It’s the culmination of decades of ARPG refinement and evolution, and it manages to pay homage to the IP’s legendary namesake while successfully integrating modern RPG elements. It’s a game that should delight both new players and all but the most jaded of Diablo fans.

As I finish this review and reflect upon my 18-year old self losing sleep in a CRT-lit room fighting The Butcher in 1997, I wonder what he would have thought of Diablo 4. And to be honest, I think he’d question why I was sitting here writing about a game that sounds so magical instead of playing it. It’s a fair point. So with that, I’m going to listen to myself. See you in Sanctuary, Nephalem.

You can find Seasoned Gaming’s review policy here

I’d also like to thank Blizzard for providing me review access to Diablo 4. For reference, I was playing on PC with a 4080/I9-13900 and outside of some network latency intermittently, experienced no major bugs nor issues.

By Ains

Founder and Editor-In-Chief: Seasoned Gaming. Avid gamer and collector. Plays a lot of Halo and Diablo. Find me on Twitter @Porshapwr.


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