Diablo IV Review – Heaven-sent

Diablo IV successfully tempts me to gleefully indulge in sin at every turn. A thrilling hunt for rare loot feeds my insatiable greed and lust for power. The satisfaction of slaughtering thousands of foes, supernatural or otherwise, leaves little room for remorse. Whether taking down the forces of darkness alone or with friends, this is a massive and deeply engrossing action RPG that keeps me coming back for more dozens upon dozens of hours later.

Diablo IV delivers a profoundly satisfying fantasy of growing a character from a one-trick pony to an unstoppable, highly specialized killing machine, thanks to its well-paced progression and pipeline of systems that reward multiple aspects of play. No matter which of the five classes you fancy, an increased focus on player maneuverability and a litany of enemies that encourage skillful play result in entertaining, thoughtful, and chaotic combat scenarios. Titanic, lengthy boss encounters skirt the line of feeling manageable and won by the skin of my teeth, offering the best examples of the game’s good difficulty balance.

I love that becoming stronger has less to do with grinding to raise my level and more with how I adjusted loadouts to maximize my playstyle and abilities. I am encouraged to regularly respec skill points to sample new powers and perks and enjoy the great sense of control over how my character shapes out. A more robust but easy-to-parse skill tree helps with this increased flexibility, and it gives way to a revamped Paragon Board upon hitting level 50 that offers an even more intricate and enjoyable form of self-improvement. 

Tinkering with gear proves an obsessive venture since I can replace unwanted armor traits with new ones, destroy useless loot for materials to improve favored equipment, or add sockets for stat-boosting gems. Loot drops bestow powerful gear at a good cadence, but even lousy gear feels valuable since, at the very least, I can turn common rags into vital materials to transform a great weapon into its final form. As strange as it sounds, I’m also glad I’m not finding amazing loot too often, letting me customize and grow attached to equipped gear without the fear or hassle of constantly ditching stuff for the shiny new toy.

Although exploring Sancutary’s five massive regions is sometimes a chore due to how long it takes to get a mount and the near-constant mugging from enemies, it’s a blast to uncover. Tackling over 100 good sidequests, some of which tell interesting multi-part stories, locating dozens of stat-raising Altars of Lilith, and exploring tons of randomized dungeons, feels worthwhile as they feed into Renown. This effective rewards system high-fives players for completing routine tasks like finding new areas, completing quests, and unlocking waypoints by rewarding additional skill points and, best of all, more potions. Renown also incentivized me to run dungeons that don’t offer Aspects, powerful item perks specific to my class, or to clean up parts of the map I might have overlooked otherwise. Strongholds, objective-based enemy-laden areas, are my favorite side activity. Their steep and unique challenges presented worthy tests of my skill for a usually big payoff, such as new settlements and quests. 

Diablo IV’s centerpiece feature, its always-online shared open world, is largely unobtrusive during moment-to-moment gameplay. The multiple pre-release technical tests have seemingly paid off, as I’ve yet to experience any major connection hiccups. I generally favor solo play, but I never felt like the presence of others impeded my adventure, and the occasional instances I did encounter another human avatar added neat moments of emergent storytelling. When hordes of goatmen nearly tore me to pieces while tackling one of the many varied, often-challenging live events, a deus ex machina-style barrage of frost bolts from an intervening sorcerer player felt like a cool scripted rescue. While I’m happy to bid a friendly wave to such helpers before moving on, forming groups with strangers is easy, as is assembling friend parties to raid dungeons as a squad. 

Diablo IV’s reliance on an internet connection is still irksome on a conceptual level due to the reality of server issues preventing log-ins. As for the cosmetic-only in-game store, the costs are relatively high for a full-priced release ($8 for a small accessory pack?), but the abundance of great-looking discoverable gear doesn’t leave me wanting to throw cash at cool threads. 

It’s not hard to sell me on a fun dungeon-crawling action RPG, but Diablo IV’s strong narrative is a treat. Lilith’s hostile takeover of Sanctuary and the disturbing events that follow gripped me thanks to the improved cinematography, something you don’t often see in top-down dungeon crawlers. In-game cutscenes do the strong performances and characterizations justice. I was almost as invested in learning more about a character or seeing the next big plot point as I was dungeon crawling. Copious references and surprise cameos will likely delight Diablo veterans, but even newcomers can absorb and enjoy the tale since it doesn’t rely heavily on existing knowledge of the previous entries. Tack on an infectious reverence for Diablo’s history, and the plot, especially its ending, has me itching to see where the cast goes next.

A substantial endgame offers several neat diversions that turn Sanctuary into a fun playground for turning a strong character into a god-like force. In addition to unlocking new World Tiers offering more demanding challenges and greater rewards, I liked engaging with Whispers of the Dead missions, which hand out exclusive goodies for completing them within a time limit. Exploring Helltides, recurring zones teeming with tough-as-nails variants of existing threats, is another solid measuring stick of my prowess. Nightmare Dungeons and PvP battles add other fun shakeups, forming an impressive dessert that fueled my drive to become stronger even after so many hours. 

Diablo IV continually seduces me with its promises of power and riches and regularly follows through. I’ve had a tough time putting it down even after starting fresh numerous times, and I get excited thinking about how I’ll be foiling Lilith’s plans in the months ahead as seasonal updates begin rolling out. Until then, I’m happy to continue relieving Sanctuary of its treasures – and demons of their lives –  in this devilishly impressive epic.

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