Not So Massively: Diablo IV is going in all the wrong directions

    
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I remain torn on whether to forgive Blizzard for its “Hong Kong liberation” fiasco. J. Allen Brack has already contradicted his own apology, but on the other hand allowing so many protests at BlizzCon does speak to a willingness to walk the walk on free speech.

While it probably shouldn’t, how much I want to play the studio’s upcoming titles also plays a role. Going in I expected a Diablo IV announcement to be the thing that most tempts me to break my boycott, but what I’ve seen so far is a game I won’t mind skipping. Diablo IV seems to be moving in all the wrong directions

The headline so far is that D4 is going to return the franchise to its “dark roots.” This is ridiculous because Diablo never stopped being dark.

There is a perception among some that because Diablo III had a stylized art style that it was somehow a sugar-coated game for the kiddies, but only the most fragile of gamers (or people who, you know, didn’t play it) could believe something like that. By absolutely any definition, D3 is a very dark game, whether you’re looking for excessive blood and gore (Alcarnus), horrific monsters (Unburied, among many others), or tragic story-telling (Leah).

Right off the bat D4 comes across as an attempt to win back the most extreme and irrational elements of the fanbase, and pretty much everything announced so far further reinforces the idea that Blizzard is ashamed of Diablo III and doing pretty much everything they can to pretend it never happened.

This is certainly an odd attitude to take to one of the highest selling PC games of all time. Yes, it did have a vocal contingent of haters, but so do most major games these days, and after the many positive changes made by the Reaper of Souls expansion, even most of the haters were won over.

But Blizzard seems to be running scared from the people who will accept nothing less than Diablo II 2: Diablo Harder, so now that’s what we’re getting.

Honestly, if you’d just showed me the screenshots from D4 and told me it was a Diablo II remaster, I’d have believed you. Nothing about this feels new or fresh.

I am so disappointed with the new environments. They’re just the same moors, deserts, and mountains we’ve seen in the last two Diablo games. Scosglen seems like a cool place to visit in theory, but so far D4 seems to be presenting it as just a clone of Khanduras, rather than a new land with a rich culture and identity all its own.

Sanctuary is a huge world with lots of interesting settings. Why do we keep rehashing the same environments endlessly?

Imagine if we’d gone to Xiansai. We could have encountered all new demons and monsters inspired by Chinese mythology. It would have been something totally unlike anything in the franchise to date.

Or perhaps we could have gone to the Skovos Isles. Who’s onboard for Greek myths reinterpreted through the lens of Gothic horror? I know I am.

The classes and build system seem equally derivative. Yes, skill points and talents are back, which will please the people who believe pressing more buttons means more choice, but for those of us who actually value the ability to experiment with builds and create character identity, it’s a huge step backwards from D3‘s system.

Skill trees do not offer more choice. There’s always a right build, and a wrong build, and the right build usually isn’t that hard to figure out (and if it is, you just Google it). It just feels like you have more choices because you’re spending points every level. Yes, D3’s system has meta builds too, but when your choices are more about playstyle than choosing +5% crit over +5% haste, the difference between the top build and the bottom build becomes so small it doesn’t matter to anyone but the top 1%. You get to make real choices.

Aside from that, the new classes and their abilities look incredibly underwhelming so far. Diablo III‘s classes may have hewed to traditional archetypes, but Blizzard elevated those archetypes to something special. Wizard doesn’t feel like just another caster class; it feels like a conduit of unstoppable arcane fury. You can hurl actual galaxies at people!

By comparison, D4‘s sorceress looks like just another caster class. All of the classes and abilities so far seem like they could have been pulled from any generic ARPG in the last 20 years. There’s no fresh or clever mechanics; there’s no dramatic abilities; there’s no “wow” factor.

That brings me to the story. That’s another area where the team seems determined to sweep Diablo III under the rug, and for me personally at least, this is the area where that attitude is most frustrating.

There has been no mention of the Nephalem so far, despite the fact they should be even more common as the Worldstone’s destruction fades further into the past. Apparently they’ve all just fallen off the face of Sanctuary.

Nor does it seem likely we will be reunited with the NPCs we came to love in D3. Character was the greatest strength of Diablo III‘s story. The crafters and combat companions were all richly realized and incredibly lovable. They brought the light needed to counterbalance how oppressively tragic the main story could be.

Maybe D4 will introduce new characters I’ll learn to love just as much, but it still seems like a waste, especially as many of the NPC stories from D3 have been left unfinished.

D3 also did a great job of expanding the universe and evolving the story in interesting ways. We learned the angels of the High Heavens are perhaps as great a threat to humanity as the demons of the Burning Hells, and I’ve been looking forward to a reckoning with Imperius since he was first introduced.

D4 instead seems to be — again — ignoring the Heavens. No doubt this is another attempt to “restore” the horror of the setting, but that’s based on a childish and simplistic view of what horror is. You don’t need shadows and gore to frighten or unnerve people. Imperius’ blind fanaticism scares more than the mindless rage of the average demon.

The one source of hope comes from the purported antagonist of the game, Lilith. She’s a character we’ve heard about but not met before, and she could prove a breath of fresh air… maybe. This assumes she’s the real villain of the game and not a stepping stone toward yet another return by Diablo himself, and I would not rate the odds of that very highly right now.

Furthermore, at this point it seems like they want to portray her as just another avatar of pure evil like any other demon, but that’s not what makes Lilith interesting as a character. Her whole appeal is that she’s not like the other demons. She rejected the Eternal Conflict and made an angel her lover. She’s not necessarily “good” per se, but she’s never been about seeking chaos and destruction for their own sake. It would be a mistake to paint her as a purely villainous character now.

Admittedly, though, we don’t know much about Lilith’s role in the story yet, so my concerns may be misplaced. Out of everything in D4 right now, she’s still the biggest cause for hope.

With all that said, do I think Diablo IV looks like a bad game? No, not really. The scale of the open world is exciting, and it looks like a reasonably competent ARPG as these things go. The graphics look beautiful.

But it does seem to be sending the franchise in the wrong direction. In a world where Diablo III had never existed, Diablo IV would look like a solid continuation for the franchise. But we don’t live in that world, and in our world, it seems like a step backward from Diablo III in almost every possible way.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.

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Akuma Ryu

If u, or better yet Blizzard, would take a look at how Lost Ark manages it to introduce classical, but still innovative, classes D4 looks pale next to it. I am a huge Diablo fan, like many of us – I guess, but I feel like Blizz doesn’t care about innovation or new ideas as a whole, anymore. They act like “ubisoft” does with the Assassins creed franchise and just lean back and stick to safe and common recipes.

Even if we look at older Arpgs like Path of Exiles or Titan Quest, we do have much more diversity and freedom in building our classes. Or new games like Wolcen, which is in an early access phase currently.

Years ago I liked traditional and pre-determined classes. Nowadays i believe evolution shows itself in wether highly free creatable classes or classes with a variety of specs, which D3 did well enough imho.

Still, I am excited for D4, but I feel like they pulled D4 Infos out during the con just to counter the negative pr they had the last months. The circumstance that we shouldn’t expect the game prior to 2021 suggests me that the material we have seen so far could change drastically until release.

I rather play Lost Ark right now, following Wolcen’s progress and waiting for Project TL right now.

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Calahad

Diablo never truly was about story. Its a hack-and-slash level-and-loot game. Its been this, not story, that has been the draw. And at this I expect Diablo IV will excel with more eye candy than ever. If it has a story, thats’ a bonus.

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Dobablo

I continue to stick by my Azbats comparison. Trying dark and edgy to win emo edgelords who have already decided to hate Blizzard games is stupid and the priority had to be gameplay and repeating the successes of D3.

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Jose Ortiz

By saying returning back to their dark roots , they mean Diablo 1 and 2, including Lord of Destruction. Compared to the stories of both of those Diablo 3 was a cake walk. Name one part of D3 besides when you find out chick is really Diablo that had you on the edge of your seat like oooooo man. As a whole D3 wasn’t dark, not compared to D1 and D2. I do recommend going back and playing it.

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Haxton

The joke here is that Blizzard can’t go back to their roots for a game they never developed.

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Kegan Haynes

I think the game looks awesome and I want to play it but I’m not gonna break my boycott untill they actually sincerely apologise for being shitheads it’s a shame because this looks like it’s gonna be a cool game

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Matt Comstock

Just some thoughts on Lillith being set up as the big bad and a “purely villainous” character. In D3 several journal entries reveal, in my opinion, some seriously sinister and villainous tendencies:

Journal 1: My father is content to fight the same battles and the same foes while everything turns to ashes. Though his victories might last a day, or a year, or a hundred years, the war will never be won so long as he and his brothers lead. There is an end to it, but fools like my father are too blind to see it.

Journal 2: I took a prisoner in battle, an angel whose light was dimming. I brought him to my lair for my amusement. But he surprised me. My touch seemed to breathe life into him. He raved like a madman about how he wished to escape the war. Perhaps I have found someone I can use.

Journal 3. The angel I captured, Inarius, is in love with me. I can feel the intensity of his desire. I told him that we must liberate the Worldstone, and then we can be together. We will create something never imagined by those mired in the Eternal Conflict. A new world.

Journal 4: Inarius and I stole the Worldstone, and now we have a group of renegades to follow us. I have created a new world where we can live in peace. A place of infinite possibilities. Inarius believes that escape is enough. In time, I will show him that even victory is possible. But first, I will give him children.”

See https://diablo.fandom.com/wiki/The_Writings_of_Lilith.

I think the obvious thing here is that Lillith completely used and manipulated Inarius to further some dark scheme. She believes this dark scheme can win the eternal conflict, and not just live in peace and harmony with an Angel hopelessly in love with her. It would seem to me that nephalem/humanity are but pawns in the sinister game she is playing.

IIRC the Nephalem were the first “children,” with great power (sufficient to challenge and defeat the prime evil as we see in D3), until someone did something to the Worldstone that greatly weakened them, resulting in the majority of the population of Sanctuary. (sorry didn’t have the time to look up sources on that; I welcome any corrections on that bit of lore)

I look forward to seeing where the writers take this story, and I imagine Lillith’s children, the Nephalem, will be a part of it even if they are not front and center. Blizz can’t put all the cards on the table now, otherwise it would ruin the enjoyment of exploring the story on a first play through.

Carlo Lacsina
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Carlo Lacsina

You’re right, Inarius was the guy to who tuned the worldstone to weaken the nephalem. Lilith was vanquished to the void for trying to use the nephalem to end the eternal conflict as well.

D4 takes place many years after Diablo 3. Without a worldstone or the aspect of death around, sanctuary’s been slowly deteriorating

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Rodrigo Dias Costa

I do mostly agree with this vision. Also I do believe that D4 will come out worse than D3. I don’t believe on Blizz to deliver story-wise anymore, I can’t care less about the “NeEd MoAr DaRk” sentiment, and they would be foolish to, even with the return of skill tree, not ship it with some kind of “training wheels” for those who would not care nor want to risk messing up with your build (most of the more than 30 million D3 playerbase).

They’ll just piss off a lot of people somehow, that’s how triple-A games launch work these days.

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Aaron Quebman

Heres the question I have. Can it capture the dark ominous mood of D1? D2 and D3 make you feel like super heroes D1 you felt like a single human trying and struggling to stop the ultimate evil bursting forth in their village.

Ill probably enjoy D4 but if they really want to go with a dark horror theme they should mimic the feeling the music and the world gave of the original Diablo.

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Anthony Clark

3 classes at launch.

additional classes as separate purchases for more money but all the same content.

They did it with Diablo 3 and the necro. Since people bought that, they’re going to do that again. Instead of getting 5 or 6 classes with the game it’s only 3 now. All of the other classes are going to be additional purchases.

BOO Blizzard! BOO! Bad form!

HalLundy
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HalLundy

Wait, is this confirmed or just speculation?

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Bruno Brito

Speculation, but people are concerned about how this game will be dlc-ity since D3 had a lot of it.

I think people are jumping the gun, tho. D4 is years away yet. We may as well get 6 classes.

HalLundy
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HalLundy

Oh no DLC is not the way anymore.

I expect D4 to have all classes free. What they will have though is a cash shop, maybe loot boxes.

You know. Emoticons, portrait frames, cosmetic items. They will milk dry.

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Oleg Chebeneev

More like stupidity. Blizzard confirmed there will be 5 classes at launch.

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McGuffn

If they were going to do that I have to imagine they would have grouped them around the campfire better, Instead of leaving big gaps.

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Anthony Clark

I hadn’t noticed that.

HalLundy
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HalLundy

I would say it’s going in the wrong direction for completely other reasons.

Always online, no way of playing alone; a world where you will constantly bump into other players out in the wild (except when doing dungeons), with world events.

Mark my words, Diablo 4 is gonna be a live service destiny clone with a cash shop.

I don’t mind retconning D3; it’s story was never a very strong point imo, but i can see how annoying that would be. And to be fair i doubt they will; i expect all the companions to show up somewhere either as NPCs or corrupted enemies (similar to the rogue from D1 in D2).

As for locations, man… if this game doesn’t contain Tristam in any way, shape or form, it will be a stellar advancement for the series location-wise.

If i have to clear that god damn cathedral one more time…