The original Diablo was one of the first Blizzard games I ever played, way back in 1996 when I was 12 years old.
It was terrifying, and I will never forget playing it in the dark, way past my bedtime, and jumping out of my seat when I first encountered The Butcher and his famous “Ahh…fresh meat” line. Diablo II was just as scary, and remains one of my favorite games to this day.
So when Diablo III came out in 2012, with its bright, colorful, almost cartoony aesthetic, I was a little disappointed. While I enjoyed the fast-paced, flashy combat, this wasn’t the Diablo I grew up with.
Fortunately, Blizzard has decided to return Diablo to its roots with the latest entry in the series, Diablo IV. The nine-minute cinematic reveal trailer alone is gorier and scarier than anything we ever witnessed in Diablo III, and really sets the tone for the game.
The playable demo at BlizzCon lets you pick from three classes: the Barbarian, the Sorceress, and the Druid. Each class comes with some customization options.
The demo offered both a male and female Barbarian, but both skins for the Sorceress were female, and both skins for the Druid were male. While the name Sorceress suggests a female-only class, I would be really surprised if there wasn’t a male Sorcerer skin when the game launches.
According to Blizzard, at launch you’ll also be able to choose hairstyles, scars, tattoos, and other customization options.
For my playthrough, I chose the Sorceress because, like me, she’s Asian, and also because she sets things on fire, and who doesn’t love that.
The demo starts off immediately in some dark, dingy dungeon. Open a creaky gate and you’re immediately attacked by skeletons. The graphics look fantastic, and straight away, the first thing you’ll notice is that they look a lot more realistic than Diablo III. There’s also more blood and gore in the game. Enemies explode into body parts that actually look pretty gross.
The demo starts you off at level 20 so you have a variety of spells and abilities at your disposal. The Sorceress has some familiar abilities like Blizzard, Meteor, Fireball, and Frostbolt, as well as some new ones, which we’ll get to in a bit.
For every class in Diablo IV, abilities generally fall into one of three categories: resource spender, resource generator, and cooldown ability.
The Sorceress’ Fireball, for example, costs 30 mana but has no cooldown. Frostbolt, on the other hand, costs no mana and has no cooldown but also deals much less damage than Fireball. You can also replace Frostbolt with Arc Lash, a short-ranged, no cooldown ability that actually generates mana. Finally, abilities like Lightning Spear, which shoots out a spear of lightning that bounces around and hits multiple enemies, costs no mana, but has a 20-second cooldown.
Each class has its own unique resource type. For Barbarians it’s Rage, for Druids its Spirit, and for the Sorceress, it’s Mana.
Generally speaking, you’ll want a good mix of cooldown abilities and resource spenders, with one or two free or resource building abilities.
Each class also has a long-cooldown ultimate ability. For the Sorceress, it’s a new skill called Conduit, which turns her into a ball of pure lightning that makes her immune to all damage and debuffs. She can’t cast any other spells in this form, but she can blink around and will deal damage to any nearby enemies. From the looks of it, there will be multiple Ultimate abilities to choose from, but they were locked and hidden in the demo.
There’s also an extremely extensive talent tree with multiple branching paths that will let you customize your gameplay, but I wasn’t able to explore this.
Combat in Diablo IV feels quite similar to Diablo III. The action is fast-paced and even without a resource-generating ability, my mana refilled really fast, so I was never stuck waiting around without any buttons to press.
Movement is fluid and responsive, and I really liked the new dodge ability, which every class has access to. Press spacebar and your character will dash forward a short distance. It’s great for evading enemy projectiles or quickly getting out of AoE effects.
After making your way through the skeleton-infested dungeon you’ll crawl through a small hole which will trigger a disgusting cutscene showing your character coming face-to-face with some gruesome body parts as you crawl out of the hole and make your way to the surface.
Once you get to the surface you’ll encounter one of the really cool new additions to Diablo IV, which is its dynamic multiplayer map. As you run around you’ll occasionally see other players playing their own single-player game. You can help them out, party up with them, or simply ignore them and continue on your way.
There are also open-world bosses and public events that require multiple players to team up to take down. You’ll know if a public event is starting because it will pop up in your quest window alerting you when you’re nearby. Walk over to where the public event is and a timer will show you how long until the boss spawns. If you’ve ever played Destiny 2, it’s very similar to that.
The boss fights are a lot of fun and feel like mini raid bosses. One that I took part in pitted the makeshift raid team that had gathered against a huge, spined demon with massive blades on its arms.
The mechanics were simple enough with a frontal breath attack that left pools of poison on the ground and a huge AoE cleave, but the experience reminded me fondly of my World of Warcraft raiding days.
One brave Barbarian held agro and pointed the beast away from the group while everyone else stood behind and dodged the swipe whenever he spun around. When the monster died it rained a shower of loot that I assume is individually instanced for everyone that took part in the kill.
Speaking of loot, stats in the game have been simplified, which makes it easier to see straight away if an item is an upgrade or not. Open your inventory and look at your stat sheet and you’ll only see three stats: Attack, Defense, and Life.
Attack determines how much damage your abilities do, Defense determines how much damage you take when attacked, and Life determines how much damage you can take before you die.
All items come with either +Attack, +Defense or a combination of the two. Most rare and above items also come with a third modifier, such as critical hit %, or max life % increase. Legendary items also have their own unique modifiers.
Unfortunately, I only had 20 minutes with the demo so that’s as far as I got, but my first impressions of the game are very positive.
If you liked Diablo III, you’ll like Diablo IV. It plays and handles very similarly, and I’m willing to bet you won’t miss III’s bright, cartoony art style.
If you’re an old school fan of Diablo or Diablo II, this is the game you’ve been waiting for. It’s got the same creepy atmosphere right from the start, and there’s a sense of unease as you play that Diablo III just didn’t have. While I didn’t encounter any Butcher-style jump scares in the demo, I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of them to look forward to in the release version of the game.