Diablo IV Review (PS5) – A Decadent Express Elevator to Hell
Hell is once again sticking its nose into the affairs of man. You will have to be ready to poke that nose with your weapon of choice. Diablo IV swaggers into view, promising misery and suffering for all. In a good way, though, right?
Lilith is the latest big bad to be unleashed. After actual eons in exile, some bright spark has decided to wake her up, put her in her best power suit, and have her wreak havoc on Sanctuary like only she knows how. Sanctuary is soon corrupted by the Mother of Demons’ growing influence. Who can stop her? Why you, of course, you little badass.
You can say this for Diablo IV. You see where the budget was spent in every lavishly-detailed environment, stellar cutscene, and delightfully gruelling score. Diablo is back bigger and better looking than it has ever been. The game underneath it all also manages to stay true to its roots.
There’s something fascinating about a series that sticks to its gameplay guns (or swords in this case) over many years and iterations. The relative simplicity at the heart of Diablo has allowed its developers to twist and tinker the shape of what surrounds it. Even in its darkest days (and there’s been plenty at Activision Blizzard) Diablo still fundamentally plays like Diablo should. Is that a good thing? Well, it helps keep an identity and allows other factors to be progressed or corrected.
Dark Times Ahead
The unfortunate side effect of Diablo IV being a bigger, glossier version of Diablo III is how it reflects issues at the developer and its parent company in the years since Diablo III. It could be more daring, but a familiar pattern of comfort in design with escalating costs and expectations rules much of Activision’s product line. Given how things are reported to be in the background of Activision Blizzard in particular, it doesn’t feel like this formula is a worthwhile punt for something so long-gestating.
That’s not to say Diablo IV is a bad game, because it really isn’t. The consequence of being a glossier version of what came before is that by the end of Diablo III’s life, it had become an exceptionally good game. Diablo IV just reinforces all the good to be found in that compelling gameplay loop.
As ever there’s a variety of classes to choose from and an ever-evolving set of moves and abilities at your disposal to conquer everything Lilith and her cohorts can throw at you. The Barbarian is naturally a beefy smasher of a class that quite literally shakes the ground with their heavy attacks. The Sorcerer manipulates the elements to perform devastating attacks of ice, fire, meteors, and more. Necromancers do exactly what you’d expect and utilize the undead to fight for them. The Druid’s shapeshifting ability sees them transform into a great bear or werewolf; they can also harness the power of nature in some intriguing elemental attacks. Lastly (but not least for me!) the Rogue. The Rogue brings good old-fashioned bow work, agility, and devious use of poisons and traps (sometimes both at once!).
A Different Class
These classes will be a matter of taste. Their individual traits can be shaped into something more unique to your own style. Even if the initial style isn’t to your liking. Plus there’s always the juicy fun of teaming up with other classes and seeing what mad tag-team manoeuvres you can pull off by combining your particular skills.
It’s very easy to look at the incessant battling of Diablo IV and feel it’s repetitive. Especially for a long-form game such as it is. But the little tweaks and changes to a character over a playthrough and into those beyond it definitely add some nuance.
Of course, the core of Diablo is the loot. The sweet, sweet loot. Weapons, armor, and trinkets with increasingly tastier stats, names, and benefits. A seemingly unending parade of bright and shiny new things to give your character from one playthrough to the next. Given so many games have tried to emulate this over the years, it’s remarkable the trick still works. But it does, and much like a certain Activision stablemate, I suspect this particular hook is what keeps its fans invested and playing the same thing over and over again. No disrespect is meant by that either. To find that lightning and to keep it bottled over many iterations is pretty admirable. There just shouldn’t be an over-reliance on it.
What of Diablo IV’s story? Well, on the surface it’s a typical race against time to defeat the terrible nasty thing out to destroy/enslave humanity. Yet there’s no denying the quality of the writing and voice work for Diablo IV. It wrings every last drop out of that premise.
The Horror, The Horror
There’s a really dark horror feeling this time around. Somehow nastier and bleaker than Diablo III, with character’s suffering some undesirable fates along the way. You’re following Lilith’s trail of misery and destruction for much of Diablo’s story. Witnessing the corruption she leaves in her wake and the damage she does to individual lives in cruel, unfeeling ways. The enormity of what trouble the daughter of Mephisto could conjure is always on the horizon. It pushes you to catch up to it and snuff it out before it’s too late.
The characters themselves are a strength of the story when they get time to shine. Ralph Ineson’s gravelly weariness is something you’ll hear plenty of as his character accompanies yours for many main story moments for instance. As Sanctuary fractures, the people you meet become more wild in their opinion of you and what you’re doing. It might induce an eye-roll or two to say the cast gets to be in that grey area of imperfection, but that is what makes them interesting. The good and honorable are just more likely to fall to Lillith’s corruption. She almost seems to seek that out in humanity in fact.
Lilith gets moments to have little speeches and do some cooly menacing brooding. Perhaps the most frightening thing about her is the indifference she has to her often brutal actions. The casual way she does whatever is necessary to get what she wants sees some truly devastating effects on the people of Sanctuary. As villains go, she’s a fascinating one.
To Hell And Back
If all you wanted from a new Diablo was the same old Diablo with flashier visuals and a better start to life than Diablo III, then Diablo IV likely has everything you want. However, this doesn’t mean it is really better than its predecessor overall. Still, there’s no denying just how refined an experience Diablo IV is.
Diablo IV is scheduled for release on PS5, PS4, PC, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One on June 6, 2023.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.