In these uncertain, turbulent times, quality escapism is pretty much essential for individual well-being. Preferably, that distraction is something a person intimately recognizes and enjoys at the most elementary level. Asking your significant other to make that special lasagna, binge-watching old episodes of Deep Space Nine, or playing Diablo games, raises the portcullis of your emotional redoubt, keeping major irritants at bay.
Encountering the ridiculous goatmen for the first time in Diablo 4 put an instant smile on my face. Every Blizzard game incorporates goat folk in some form, and since I have been enjoying their wares for several decades now, my brain made a weird, emotional connection with this tiny fragment of the glorious past. Goatmen are here, the world is anchored once again. No matter the intensity of global changes, things will inevitably stay the same.
Blizzard’s last hurrah?
After a few years of bad luck, self-inflicted wounds, and a ton of crap, Blizzard Entertainment finally brought something edible to the table. Diablo 4 is their first praise-worthy title since Overwatch, and while it might not be able to wash off the long-term stench of Warcraft III: Reforged, Diablo Immortal, Overwatch 2, and a multitude of sub-par World of Warcraft expansions, it’s a step in the right direction. Diablo 4 is a grim game, dark, devoid of optimism, and insistent on a bleak color palette. In that way, it’s conceptually much more akin to Diablo 2 than Diablo 3. This particular change was number one on many people’s lists.
Its underlying technical foundation, unfortunately, shares the DNA with Diablo Immortal. Diablo 4 is a live service game, with performance dependent on the quality of the internet connection and the server load. On a more positive side, it launched in a quite stable state, and necessary infrastructure wasn’t lacking this time. Pepperidge farms remember the monstrous queues from Diablo 3 and the sheer frustration they caused. The optional monetization is also more humane than before. Instead of a universally hated auction house (later abolished), we now have a simple in-game shop where you can indulge yourself in some cosmetic spending.
In the Babylonian Talmud, Lilith is described as a “primordial she-demon, a hot fiery female who first cohabited with man”. Lilith from Diablo 4 is a lot less interesting as a main antagonist. The daughter of Mephisto, the lord of hatred, is the original creator of Sanctuary. Elias, the rogue Horadrim, summoned Lilith into the world, hoping to use her to strengthen Humanity for the inevitable clash with prime evils (Diablo, Baal, and Mephisto). This misguided attempt, of course, brought epic catastrophe. Through thick and thin, you, the Wanderer, will assemble allies and try to stop her. There’s shallow eschatology permeating every part of the story, which replaces Nephilim-centered drivel from Diablo 3.
Ralph Ineson, who played General Nikolai Tarakanov in the HBO historical drama miniseries Chernobyl, is fantastic as Wanderer’s mentor Lorath. His deep, Yorkshire-accented voice will resonate with you long after you put the finishing touches to the campaign. The rest of the cast, including Lilith’s voice actress, is quite forgettable. The story itself is mostly OK. I wasn’t expecting much out of it, but I was pleasantly surprised at times with bits of semi-interesting narrative. But then again, it might all be due to the extremely low expectations I had for it.
Like in every Diablo, the core game is straightforward. You stroll around, smash things, monsters, and people, collect loot, min-max your stats through gear, and tweak your build. This time, however, you’ll share the world with other people, who will pass you by in the wild or assist you in completing random events, which are legion. The story consists of six acts, and all of them take place in one massive, seamless environment, divided into thematic biomes (desert, swamp, snow…). This is a quite significant change in Diablo’s legacy and the one I like the most. Instead of going east, always to the east, with Marius or whoever in tow, you will crisscross the countryside back and forth.
After picking the class and before you embark on the epic adventure, you can indulge yourself in character creation, which is also a novelty in the Diablo universe. You can also select the initial world tier, which is a fancy cognomen for the difficulty. At the start, only the first two are available, but no matter which one you pick, you mostly can just face-roll through the story. When you reach lvl. 50 (out of 100), you’ll get the opportunity to complete a difficult-ish dungeon and unlock the “nightmare” world tier and make things more interesting.
The (end)game proper, in essence, begins there. After lvl. 50, progress slows to a crawl and you’ll get to dabble in Paragon levels, further increasing your combat potency. At this point, you’ll probably decide to play on Nightmare, as staying on Veteran will impair the speed and quality of your progress. Higher difficulty means better gear drops and better gear enables you to farm XP more effectively. That being said, the challenge in every tier always scales to your level, which makes the proverbial carrot all too visible. The only way to feel truly, permanently powerful in Diablo 4 lies in reaching lvl. 100 and spending a lot of time perfecting the synergy between your build and your kit. Alternatively, you can engage in PVP in dedicated PVP zones and face-melt some poor sod who took the wrong turn there.
If you expected anything but a dry grind after finishing the story, you will face a disappointing reality. There is a solid number of secondary quests that offer some literary flavor, but you are bound to run out way before you max out. Farming dungeons, ad-hoc events, killing world bosses in mini-raids, and working for the giant sinister tree reminiscent of Pillar of Skulls from Planescape: Torment are more efficient leveling options. Dedicated players will engage in group farming, exploiting zones that offer the best time spent/XP gained yield before Blizz nerf those in patches that come almost daily.
Is it worth it?
Blizzard Entertainment knows how to get under your skin. Their best games, as a rule, are fabulously produced and carry that unbeatable ZING that their competition just can’t replicate. For some players, Diablo 4 will be derivative as hell, and they will resent several decades of deja-vu that ooze from every mob, texture, or item description. But for the majority of fans, none of that would matter, as they will happily and willingly jump headfirst into all that sweet loot, blood, and occasional lag. Is Diablo 4 worth the time and money? The answer solely depends on you, your free time, preferences, and, well, the degree of sanity you (still) possess.
- Gorgeous visuals and an insane level of production.
- Addictive as hell.
- Probably the most accessible, big-budget mainstream ARPG.
- Endgame consists of the cruelest possible grind.
- No separate gem pouch in the limited inventory (update: Blizzard promised to address this one).
- No escape from Live Service, even if only want pure single-player experience.