If you have been following our coverage of Diablo IV through the long development process, you will know that both the original public beta and then the much publicized server slam event went surprisingly well. While the first beta was a little bit rough, with hints that this might be another Diablo II: Resurrected kind of launch with long waits and dropped games, everyone at GiN who played during the server slam had a great time with no lag or problems getting into the game. Probably because of all the effort that Blizzard put into the backend of Diablo IV this time around, things went very smoothly at launch on June 6 when everyone (not just those with ultimate edition pre-orders) were invited to jump in and play. Yes, there were a few issues reported at times by some players, but nothing that can’t be chalked up to (very minor) launch hiccups when serving a massive game to a huge population of hungry players. In any case, none of our reviewers personally experienced any issues at launch, and we were playing a lot that first week on PCs and also PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles.
One of the reasons for all the concern about server issues is because Diablo IV is a very different type of game than Diablo III, or any of the others in the series for that matter. Instead of having a linear story and map where players follow the main plot chapter by chapter, Diablo IV has a truly open world that is more like a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game than a standalone title. Yes, you can play it without ever interacting with other people, but you will still see lots of other characters running around the world, especially in cities. And it’s kind of fun to people watch and see all the cool outfits and gear that other players have equipped. It’s also extremely easy to join a group or a guild, and it fully supports two-player couch co-op, something that for me personally would have almost earned it a perfect score just by itself. My couch co-op partner and I have played for many hours since the launch and have never had as much fun playing a game together – at least not for a very long time. I hope that its success (it’s already Blizzard’s best-selling title to date) leads more developers to invest back in couch co-op and cooperative multiplayer.
Potential server issues aside, nobody really ever questioned the actual gameplay in Diablo IV. It seems like Blizzard keeps getting better in terms of functionality, features and fun in their Diablo titles. For example, Diablo III was a really solid game, but it could get repetitive and boring, especially in the end game when all it really offered was just more of the same challenges and rather linear levels. But Diablo IV gets around that by having a metric ton of diverse content available at all times regardless of player levels. There is the main quest to follow of course, but also hundreds of side quests. And the side quests are fully voiced and expertly plotted. More than once, they surprised me with interesting plot twists or combats that I was not expecting. In fact, some of my most favorite moments in Diablo IV so far happened when following those diverse side quests and doing all sorts of interesting things for NPCs.
In addition to those scripted side quests, the game is also full of instances, which are designated by a bright circle on the mini-map when you get close to one. In those, you generally fight within a small outside area while also trying to accomplish some goal, like filling up a blood rune on the ground or keeping a caravan driver alive. They are always challenging, but also rewarding since if you accomplish all of the goals of the instance, you get a resplendent chest with at least some high-level gear and other goodies.
There are also world events, which are like normal instances but only come up in Diablo IV every few hours, always advertised with a countdown clock on the main map so that people have time to make their way out there to them. Those world events and world bosses are truly monstrous, and generally take the combined effort of many players to bring them down. The world boss Ashava during the server slam gave players a taste of what it takes to fight a world boss. Working together with a small army of other players, we were able to defeat Ashava, although I died many times during the fight.
There are also plenty of dungeons to explore, much more than just the ones you find when following the main quests. Like the rest of the game, the goals of the various dungeons are pretty diverse. You might need to collect keys to proceed, rescue prisoners, find lost lore or target specific enemies hidden inside. Scrolls you can find sometimes also help to give a history of those dungeons too, which helps to add a lot of flavor to the point that you will forget that you are adventuring on a side quest. There are surprises too. For example, The Butcher, that huge demon from Diablo III we all had to fight, makes a reappearance. He randomly warps into dungeons and attacks players, giving quite a surprise since he is one tough boss in Diablo IV. He ambushed me during my sorcerer specialization quest which all spell casters need to undertake at level 15 to unlock their passive magic ability, so it was quite a shock. My party was deep in our inventories evaluating new loot when he pounced on us. He slaughtered half of the party I was adventuring with before warping back out with the note that “he escaped.” Truth be told, it was me who probably escaped him, although if he had not surprised us, we probably could have taken him. We will be ready (I think) the next time he shows up unannounced.
Like in the beta, there are five possible classes to play in Diablo IV. They are the Barbarian, Druid, Sorceress, Rogue and Necromancer. I like the sorcerer class because I feel like it gives me the most options for building out the character, but every one of the starting five choices is amazing. The necromancer is probably one of the most powerful classes even after getting nerfed in the betas. Their ability to summon skeleton warriors, skeleton mages and eventually golems makes them the commander of their own army, and they also have access to some of the most powerful damage-dealing spells to boot. The druid is very diverse as well, able to be played as a melee warrior like a werewolf or wearbear, but one with lots of powerful magic as well, again leading to diverse player choices about how they want to play. The rogue likewise can be built out as a speedy melee fighter wielding dual weapons or an epic archer and trap setter who adds both damage-per-second and crowd control to any adventuring party. Finally, the classic barbarian does what he always has, generating fury with his attacks and building up to become a powerful juggernaut. Barbarians are more challenging to play when just starting out, but quickly ramp up the killing power after getting some levels under their giant belts.
The gameplay is smooth and the combat feels good. It’s a touch slower than in Diablo III, especially since dodging is a timed thing now with a short cooldown. The combats are more like really fast chess games in a lot of instances. Since I was playing mostly with a sorcerer and a ranged rogue specialist in my main couch-based party, we would spend a lot of time making slow retreats while quickly setting poisoned traps and caltrops and making enemy waves pass through blizzards, walls of flame and a very angry summoned elemental hydra to try and get to us. Most of the time, we were able to shred enemies before they could lay a hand on us. Boss fights in small arenas were a challenge, but using cold magic and tripping enemies served to slow them down, again so that the fight was almost more tactical than a typical action RPG kind of skirmish. Of course, other people with different builds and character classes can approach things differently, but Diablo IV will likely accommodate whatever strategy players want to employ for maximum enjoyment.
Everything described in the previous part of this review would make Diablo IV an awesome MMO, but it’s really a single player game. As such, it’s not surprising that the main plot is a good one. It involves a new super villain stepping up to that main role, the demon Lilith, who is the daughter of Mephisto. She’s evil for sure, but does not seem as evil-for-evil’s sake as the other demons. For one thing, she created Sanctuary, so she’s pretty much responsible for humanity in this world even being alive. And she has quite the sales pitch, which is why she’s able to gather so many followers. Yes, she is evil, but it’s a more complicated kind of evil where you are a little sympathetic towards her at the same time as loathing and fearing her.
As you travel the massive world of Diablo IV, you will learn more about her devious plans and get a chance to truly make a difference for the world – if you are not too busy exploring all of that other aforementioned content.
It’s hard to say how much playtime is in Diablo IV. If you just do the main quests, you can complete it in about 35 hours. But for me, I was 35 hours into Diablo IV and had barely even done a handful of story missions. I was having too much fun just adventuring, following all of the side quests and instances, and generally having a great time with the couch co-op. If you play the title like that, then there is easily hundreds of hours’ worth of things to see and do in Diablo IV. It’s an amazing value filled with quality action RPG content in any case, no matter how you play it.
Diablo IV is both technically impressive and very enjoyable to play. It’s easily one of the best titles released this year. If you have even a passing interest in action RPGs, then do yourself a favor and give Diablo IV a try. Trust me, you will have a lot of fun while raising a little bit of hell in this brilliantly crafted world.