Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Early Game Review: 'Diablo IV'

"Diablo" games don't really begin until they end.

After the main quest ends, your character's journey is just getting rolling, with new quests, rifts and treasure to seek out. Blizzard Entertainment's commitment to ongoing content additions is well established, and a reason why "Diablo III" is still wildly popular 12 years after release. Heck, even "Diablo II," re-released in 2021 with the subtitle "Resurrected," is in heavy rotation.

New to the family is "Diablo IV" -- due out June 6 --  a colossal undertaking for the developer that not only manages to lurk out from underneath the shadows of its predecessors, but will no doubt emerge as a giant in its own right.

"Diablo IV" thrives just as much on advancement as familiarity. From the jump, the game sinks you into its fresh take on its captivating realm -- a land called Sanctuary that's been ripped apart by demonic forces under the leadership of Lilith.

In the new outing, the focus shrinks away from the grandiose developments in the past, focusing more on the day-to-day politics and townsfolk who live, scrape by and die in Sanctuary. "Diablo" games have never been grounded, but this one feels as though it's deals with people with real problems.

The game unfolds in a vast open world with no loading screens, procedurally-generated dungeons. A morose, haunted feeling of dread hangs over the world like a weighted blanket, but within the gloom lies opportunity for thrill-seeking and fulfillment.

As always has been the case with "Diablo" games, and likely always will be, there is an irresistible gameplay loop that makes the progression grind a compelling thrill. You take down enemies, collect the loot they drop, craft and upgrade your armor, enhancements and weapons, then seek out bigger and badder enemies, who will drop even more valuable stuff.

The thrill of seeking out rare, ultra-powerful items is captivating, building the empowerment fantasy that the game casts upon you.

The upgrade economy plays into Angelic, Demonic and Ancestral power schematics, which bestow status effects

The classes, all drawn from previous games, include Barbarian, Druid, Necromancer, Rogue and Sorcerer. You're encouraged to develop multiple builds in parallel saves, with each character taking shape in wildly varied ways.

While season passes and cosmetic items are out there, looking to gobble up your credit card funds, at least there are no pay-to-win items for sale as there are in the franchise's mobile spinoff, "Diablo Immortal."

Everything in "Diablo IV" feels bigger and badder than in previous games. The in-game cut scenes are gorgeous and rendered with an enormous cinematic flair, and the combat and menu interfaces are silk-smooth and intuitive. Myriad quality-of-life improvements have been made, and as much as I love the previous two "Diablo" games, I can't imagine going back to them when "Diablo IV" has so much to offer.

While we're less than halfway through the year, the 2023 Game of the Year race already seems like a two-horse contest, with "Diablo IV" roaring down the back stretch to catch up to "The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom." 

While comparisons of the two are apples and oranges, it says something that when I carve out time for my gaming day, it's "Diablo IV" that's always top of mind. The dark obsession has returned, and like its predecessors, will no doubt be around for the long haul.

Publisher provided review code.

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