Diablo IV Review: A Devilishly Fun Loot-Fest Set Across the Fires of Hell

Cards on the table: I’ve never played a Diablo game before. Yes, I know, I’m a bit late to the party, which is strange considering this hellish franchise is sprinkled with all the right ingredients from ghoulish monsters, perilous dungeons, loot drops, and lots of blood — elements that would normally have me giddy with excitement. It’s a household name that still holds some well-deserved clout, despite last year’s Diablo Immortal tarnishing it with pay-to-win mechanics, which for obvious reasons didn’t sit well with the fans. Blizzard has big plans for Diablo IV, starting with an expressive open world that leaves abundant room for content in the future, alongside sharp refinements to the combat and its build system. I reckon that should be enough to keep us distracted from its stolen breast milk scandal and the cancellation of Overwatch 2’s PvE mode.

Diablo IV review: Setting, and first steps in Sanctuary

Diablo IV fully embodies its dark religious overtones, tossing you into the blood-spilt realm of the Sanctuary, whose lands wail in misery. Its inhabitants are humankind, the unfortunate souls who are caught amidst the Eternal War between the High Heavens and the Burning Hells. What was originally established as a refuge from the war soon succumbed to darkness, for years forming a power vacuum that once again piqued the interest of a legendary horned demon — Lilith, Queen of the Succubi. We, the Wanderer, weary from a long journey, seek shelter inside a cave in the snow-capped Fractured Peaks, only to be awoken by anguished cries for help, which kickstarts the prologue.

It’s some basic RPG storytelling that merely serves as a spark for you to investigate this lush new world and carve your own path. Of course, a large chunk of it is determined in the character creator screen, where you assess Diablo IV’s five main classes and sport a unique look by cycling through hairstyles, body markings, jewellery, eye colour, and more.

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You can cycle through multiple attributes such as body markings and hair colour to create your Wanderer
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Rahul Chettiyar

This being my first Diablo and all, I rolled what some might consider the most cowardly class — the Necromancer, which can summon and dispatch a small group of undead corpses to carry out my foul deeds. This was highly beneficial in taking the heat off me, as I maintained a safe distance to heal up or regain my composure when pitted against tanky minibosses. Another personal favourite of mine is the Druid class, a savage shapeshifter who can fluidly transform into a blood-lusting werewolf or a towering bear to slash down all kinds of demonic entities, while bearing additional elemental skills that align with mother nature. You can rain down bolts of lightning, call upon strong gusts of wind, or unearth a large boulder to treat oncoming minions like bowling pins.

In the mood for something skittish? Pick Rogue and dart around the arena to deal massive amounts of damage, or become a Sorcerer and cast magical spells from afar. The brutish Barbarian, a franchise staple, fuels you with unbridled rage, making you a living arsenal that can haul around and swap between diverse weapons on the fly.

Diablo IV isn’t big on hand-holding, trusting the player at the start to figure out basic controls by having them plunder crates and carcasses while slaughtering packs of wolves in the dead silence of the woods. Being an isometric game based around a highly-repetitive gameplay loop, I really appreciate the left click being a multifunctional tool that allows for general movement, in addition to attacks and looting, enabling a far-less strenuous dungeon-crawling experience.

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The open-world format causes Diablo IV to heavily lean into exploration
Photo Credit: Blizzard

With the franchise pivoting to an open-world format, Diablo IV heavily leans into exploration, littering the world with towns full of NPCs to chat with, desperate citizens with quests to hand out, shortcuts, world bosses, and enemy encounters that make discovery utterly rewarding. A lot of this can only be experienced upon commencing the Act I segment, ergo reaching Kyovashad, a large medieval settlement that mainly serves as a reprieve from the harshness of the outer world that gave into Mother Lilith’s temptations.

Diablo IV review: Story

We first encounter these misguided followers during the Prologue, as we head towards a noisy barn to discover an insane monk rambling. Here, we meet the residents of a cosy inn, who welcome us with open arms, promising shelter and food, while the other occupants offer to sell arms and fully heal us. Long story short, we’re asked to deal with a demonic infestation in some ruins to the north and rid the locals of suffrage, which we manage to do successfully, resulting in a party in our honour.

However, things start getting hazy and we soon realise that our drink had been spiked. The sequence carefully highlights the crazed townsfolk’s devotion to Lilith, a well-thought-out con job, as they prepare to offer our sedated body to sacrifice. Luckily, we’re saved by the insane monk, who is revealed to be a priest who also suffered the same fate as us, albeit now less delirious. It’s a surprising twist in an otherwise cookie-cutter good vs evil tale — moments that were present in spurts throughout the main story, which kept me going for more.

You see, save for the neatly written dialogue, most of the plot beats in Diablo IV are cliché, with a disjointed narrative structure that has you spend the vast majority of your time chasing after Lilith across five massive regions. Sure, that’s the main objective, but I found the quests slotted within those segments to be largely filler content, with us being consistently sent out to run unrelated errands that needlessly stretch the playtime. This isn’t helped by the characters themselves, who are often put in harm’s way due to their own lack of cautiousness. It gets frustrating soon enough.

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Lilith’s ominous presence is elevated by her sultry voice acting that bends mortals and immortals to her whim
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Rahul Chettiyar

For the most part, Lilith is hidden behind the grand curtain, often peering through to up the stakes for the fate of Sanctuary by inspiring hatred and cruelty in the hearts of humans. Her presence is theatrically ominous and her sultry voice acting does well to exhibit Lilith’s powers of seduction, as she gently whispers and bends both mortals and immortals to her whims. For me, these scenes were easily the highlights of the main story, but it also makes me wonder if they’re only engrossing because of how scarce they are.

In time, we also strike up a trusting relationship with Lorath Nahr, a hermit who believes we’ve formed a strange, otherworldly connection to Lilith and drops us in the sprawling Kyovashad. He’d often appear at select points of the campaign, helping us in battle and slowly unfurling the secret to stopping the Blessed Mother. But what really kept me entertained in Lorath’s arc was his familiar gruff, rumbling, Yorkshire-accented voice that’s sure to send tingles across any A24 Films fan’s body. It’s Ralph Ineson! Yep, the star of The Witch and the voice behind The Green Knight plays a central figure in Diablo IV’s story. I couldn’t help but get all fanboy-ish as soon as I heard him — jittery on my chair with a stupid grin spread across my face, as I listened to his calming baritone. He’s also probably the only character whose dialogue I never skipped, which is saying a lot considering my issues with the narrative’s pacing.

Diablo IV review: Open-world, progression, and gameplay

Blizzard has certainly knocked it out of the park with an aesthetic that is gruesomely ugly. Piles of carcasses, severed limbs, pools of blood with rotting organs, bodies on crucifixes and spikes, some Lovecraftian tentacles wiggling about in some curdling brown goo — you name it — every step you take emanates with the stench of death. All of this is spread out across an atmospheric landscape that boasts demonic caves, lush forests teeming with deadly wildlife, putrid swamps, and snow-capped areas that howl with isolation. The world here is really massive, causing you to willingly or unwillingly absorb lots of it, especially in the early acts, where you can only travel on foot. Sure, there are mounts for fluid traversal, but the game doles it out much later.

Diablo 4 doesn’t really push the dungeon-crawling ARPG genre to new heights, but mixes borrowed ideas and the ones it pioneered through previous instalments to forge a worthy sequel. The gameplay loop largely revolves around an explore-kill-loot system, which while sounding bland, is actually quite addictive. Scattered around the world are points of interest, be it random spear-wielding minions, dungeons, and hostile wildlife — some of them being otherworldly werewolves, living trees, giant humanoid ovines, huge spiders, and the like.

While the combat pacing and style are initially determined by what class you picked, with progression, you pick up new skills that completely change your build. Up until level 50, you’ll often visit a web-like skill tree, whose paths branch out to unveil new perks that result in damage upgrades and an entirely new set of attacks.

As mentioned before, I mostly vibed with the Necromancer since my original plan was to simply whack away at enemies and flee when things got rough, hoping that my summoned undead would hold them back. However, with each new weapon and piece of armour I equipped, it wasn’t just the damage numbers but also my confidence levels that rose. I was no longer scared of overstaying my welcome in close proximity to an enemy, nor was I too stingy when glugging down my health potions.

Through skill level-ups, I was soon able to impale foes with bloody lances, unleash a concentrated blight that lingered, and even have laying corpses explode and inflict massive damage to surrounding enemies. With Corpse Tendril, I could perform some crowd control — activating it on a dead body bursts out tentacular veins that grab and pull enemies closer to it. By figuring out how various abilities synergise with each other, you could come up with your own custom build to persist in the brutality of Sanctuary. The possibilities are endless.

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The skill tree grants a new array of attacks, which can be personalised to your build
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Rahul Chettiyar

In adopting the open-world format, Diablo IV also suffers from some enemy-scaling issues from around mid-game onwards. While certain regions do have a minimum level requirement, it will soon dynamically scale to match your level. For instance, if you’re scared to take on a level 30 mission with your level 20 character, you’d ideally go and explore the expansive world, taking detours and completing other missions, to eventually return overpowered. In this case, let’s say you come back as a level 35 character. However, the game will then adjust the said mission to be level 35 as well, raising the enemy stats and rendering the effort somewhat useless. I wasn’t really a fan of this, because it takes away from the immersion of being this lone warrior who defies all odds and progressively gets strong enough to steamroll through perilous monsters.

You do feel yourself getting stronger and more adept with Diablo IV’s combat system, sure, but there is definitely some restriction to it. Some permanent upgrades are woven into exploration by way of crafting healing potions and activating Altars of Lilith out in the wild, eerie statues that give an account-wide stat buff to your character. Furthermore, there’s the Paragon levelling system, aimed at late-game activities.

The board only unlocks once you hit level 50, with each of its nodes letting you massively buff your character build in small increments, over time. I’ll admit though, that the layout feels haphazard and quite intimidating to look at, and might take a while before you can fully wrap your head around it.

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The inventory is quite exhaustive, urging you to frequently replace equipment
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Rahul Chettiyar

Inventory management is another core mechanic in Diablo 4, with the game limiting how much equipment you can carry. Running out of space can be a frequent occurrence, nudging you to open up the inventory and slot in better gear you find outside, while stockpiling the older, less powerful ones. While it can be annoying for some, I kind of relish this system since it pays off in the long run. The thing is, all equipment in the game, ranging from weapons, rings, amulets, and armour have durability points between 0 to 100 apiece, which drops by 10 units upon dying.

Once it gets to zero, the weapon breaks and becomes useless, which can be a common occurrence during boss fights, where you’re under the perpetual delusion that you’re going to get them the next time. So instead of hightailing back to the blacksmith to get it repaired, you can simply peek into the inventory and switch to hoarded gear that’s slightly less powerful.

Over time, the dungeon-crawling can feel a bit repetitive though, at least in terms of how the mob enemies behave. It won’t take too long for you to discern their attack patterns, as most of them simply chase after and surround you with pointy weapons. It’s not all blind hack-and-slash though, as the game occasionally tosses in horned red shamans who have a unique glow to them and keep summoning new enemies to make our journey annoyingly long. The AI is fairly smart and persistent as well and will chase after you if you move across rooms.

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From a distance, combat will usually look unclear, like an unbridled mess of colours and lightning
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Rahul Chettiyar

Others might stumble in with a large shield, or you might face bulky sword-slashing Revenants, or even Blood Mages that hurl projectiles from a distance. Fights rise in intensity really fast, advancing you on a path to defeat the dungeon’s boss, which at times can feel tedious and bland due to them being huge bullet sponges. Another gripe I have with Diablo IV is its side quests, which all feel like a bunch of checklists, where the NPCs ask you to go from point A to point B and bring back a specific item for them. On the way, you might have to slay some hordes or engage in lengthy dialogue with characters — monotonous activities —  which I couldn’t help but skip through.

Diablo IV is a live service game through and through, with Blizzard aiming to support it for years to come with new seasons, battle pass, and expansions. The term has garnered some bad rep in recent times for its bad monetisation practices that otherwise warrant grindy gameplay, but here, the developers have assured that every purchase is merely cosmetic items.

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Blizzard has promised that any microtransactions will simply be cosmetic
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Rahul Chettiyar

Yes, there is an in-game shop that requires you to spend real-world money, but they’re not implemented in a way that you’d constantly get pinged or pushed into buying them. At the time of writing, it’s located in an entirely separate tab that isn’t bothersome to its players who paid AAA pricing for this game. I really hope it stays that way, though I have a theory that the only reason Diablo 4 even needs a constant internet connection to run, is so they could implement these microtransactions. Unless you plan on engaging in PvP battles or heading into co-op adventures with other players, I fail to see a reason why this game does not have an offline mode option. That said, I never faced any disconnection issues or noticeable latency, suggesting a strong foundation.

Diablo IV review: Verdict

If you’re in the mood to slay blood-lusting demons with an unhealthy dose of loot-clicking, Diablo IV is perfect for you. The sequel doesn’t reinvent the dungeon-crawling space in any way, but borrows ideas to offer intensely frenetic combat, robust progression, and totally knocks it out of the park with its dark, sacrilegious themes that turn its sprawling open world into literal hell. The tight enemy scaling is certainly a downside, but Blizzard evens it out with diverse classes that synergise uniquely with abilities, making encounters increasingly thrilling. The presence of microtransactions — albeit cosmetic-only — is a sour sight and the narrative would’ve surely improved with better pacing. Overall though, it’s devilishly addictive!

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