Its 1996, Gaming Developer Superstar Blizzard is releasing a whole new experience that you can play with friends together in a dark brooding world, rich with lore and atmosphere. People were buying the game off the shelves, and everyone was praising it to kingdom come. It still had some lightheartedness and established the addicting thrill of finding loot deep into the minds of many fans for years to come. Then in 2000, they released a sequel that would set the standard for isometric loot based action RPGs for years to come, expanding and improving everything from their original release, a culmination of the lessons and feedback they have received.
This game was Diablo 2, it was a devilish and genre defining experience that allowed for unprecedented freedom of build with a tight, heroin-like gameplay experience. Then after more than a decade later, the next sequel would be released. Diablo 3 marked the series’s first step towards a more conventional market, with a lighter atmosphere, and streamlined progression so they can focus on polishing the gameplay. While it was still a great game, it left a gap waiting to be filled that have been growing since the release of Diablo 2. Hardcore fans felt left out as it removed much of what made Diablo 2 the golden game. During this time, we have seen other developers rise up and attempt to create a game that would fill this gap. Great games such as the Van Helsing series and Path of Exile come to mind, but now, in the wake of almost 19 years, Blizzard officially announced that Diablo 4 was in the making.
With such a huge legacy, expectations and the stakes being as high as ever with a year of embarrassments, the Diablo 4 team had much to prove. They announced that they were returning to the dark vibe of the first two games, which serves as an early indicator of their awareness of feedback to me.
But how much of it was talk?
Hands On at BlizzCon
I got to spend a bit over an hour playing the Diablo 4 build at this year’s BlizzCon going between the 3 classes available: Barbarian, Sorceress, and Druid. Overall, first impressions was pretty good. In the demo, barbarian was a unisex class, allowing for either gender to be the vigorous brute, while druid and sorceress were both locked to male and female respectively. It starts you off in an dungeon where you find a couple of skeletal swordsmen and archers. However, upon emerging, the game shows an in-engine cutscene with your characters scrambling to climb out of the cave and releases you into the first real open map area. In this open area, there was a village, a dungeon and a raid where random players were fighting via a drop-in, drop-out multiplayer.
The fun I had during the experience was definitely the public raid boss. It took roughly 12 players and 6 minutes to beat, but it was a great time managing cooldowns and dodging in this game. Kiting still feels as great as it did, if not better, with slick movements.
The entire experience felt satisfying. The combat and audio effects made the gameplay feel extremely meaty and significant, while the updated graphics allowed for in-engine cutscenes to be implemented and overall improved the experience. All good things, but in the back of my head I thought: “Is this it? One entire generational gap, and pretty much only superficial changes”.
With so many new entries being made in a similar genre, it is a shame that very little was done to actually innovate the genre as much as they had before. While the demo was extremely early in development, its a shame that there wasn’t too much mentioned beyond expanding and polishing the experience we have come to expect. Yes, the game is up to par with the mirror sheen polish we know to expect from Blizzard, but this is hardly been enough improvement to justify their painfully slow development cycle.
They gave some more reassuring information during panels, such as the removal of loading screens in dungeons and other systematic, quality of life issues. However, at the end of the day, it feels like the only true innovation was upping the polish, which should be a requirement for a sequel, and added verticality.
While this all may sound negative, I left with an extremely optimistic feeling for the game. The direction they are going for is strong, the art design is still top notch, and above all, they were very very open about wanting feedback. Nothing about this game feels like it will be bad, but simply not enough. These devs have a lot to prove with this game, and it certainly feels like they are giving it their all.