More than a decade ago, Warren Spector, the director and producer of Deus Ex, said that his dream game would take place in one city block. In his view, deep worlds that players could interact with were much more engaging than massive worlds at an inch per mile. Playing Diablo IV, I couldn’t help but think about Spector’s comments and how Blizzard’s latest release could have been even better if it were a smaller, more focused experience.
The story of Diablo IV begins decades after the events of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. The game’s narrative unfolds similarly to Diablo II, and players take on the role of a character who sets off after Lilith, the daughter of Mephisto, one of the Prime Evils defeated in Diablo II. If you play Diablo IV solely for its story, you will enjoy the experience. Still, if you decide to explore off its critical path, you’ll discover a lot of unstimulating content.
During open betas Blizzard held in recent months, players saw most of Diablo IV’s open world while leveling their characters. If you’ve played the game and encountered a world event in the Fractured Peaks that tasked you with protecting a group of villagers hiding under their carts, you’ll find a similar group in Scosglen, the game’s second zone, and in other areas, too. The game has more than 100 optional dungeons, with most featuring a limited combination of layouts and objectives. While the post-campaign adds more things to do, they increase the difficulty of the content rather than introducing something substantially new. Even though there are some interesting lore moments and a nifty bit of environmental storytelling, those moments are few and far between. The game offers an endless checklist of unvaried content if you decide to explore facing uninspired content.
That being said, playing Diablo IV is engaging, largely due to the game’s striking visuals. Every inch of the open world is detailed, providing some of the most creative assets Blizzard has ever produced. Additionally, the soundtrack is haunting and evocative. Players have a dizzying amount of visual customization for each class, and the transmog system allows players to transform the appearance of items to make them look like ones they’ve found in the game’s past.
Blizzard put a lot of thought into player agency, allowing each class to be played in various ways. Completing dungeons and finding legendary items with the Aspects system is one of Diablo IV’s most compelling features. Collecting item affixes that modify how skills work, players can completely change how their builds function. One frustration while playing Diablo IV was the lack of things to do in the game’s world other than killing countless monster hordes. It seems the sheer size of the game’s world works against it, resulting in a world simulated at an inch per mile.
Diablo IV is a full-priced game that features an in-game shop and seasonal passes. Blizzard has promised that none of the cosmetic items players can buy in the shop or earn by completing the paid track of a season pass will grant indirect or direct gameplay advantages. However, the presence of a season pass may put some gamers off.
While I enjoyed almost every moment of Diablo IV, it is a reminder of all the ways Blizzard has changed since the release of Diablo II in 2000 and even Diablo III in 2012. There is no denying that Blizzard has evolved to create games of Diablo IV’s scale, but sheer size is not what makes Diablo IV engaging with Spector’s perspective of deep worlds that players can interact with. Diablo IV will release for PC, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles on June 6th.