Already the benchmark for AAA isometric action RPGs, Blizzard's series reaches dizzying new heights with Diablo 4. With endlessly gratifying combat, deep customisation, and virtually limitless build options, it's a Hell of a ride, front to back, and we can't wait to dive back in.
Diablo 4, we're pleased to report, is an infernal return to form for the series. Delightfully violent, it constantly injects dopamine directly into the bloodstream and will no doubt prove dangerously addictive to some. Also, someone on the audio team is deserving of a standing ovation; the sound of a needed Legendary item dropping (in context) is the closest thing to a digital orgasm yet conceived.
More than any of that, the most exciting part is the promise of the platform to come, and how what's here can be expanded upon. We hope launch day won't make fools of us, but in terms of quality and intent (and despite the gulf in the genre), the game Diablo 4 most resembles isn't Path of Exile or Torchlight, but Destiny 2.
Despite those lofty ambitions, battling in Diablo 4 is the real star of the show and grounds the experience. While we couldn't play every class to the point they really came online, we did spend more than 40 hours on our initial playthrough on World Tier 2, Diablo's "normal" difficulty, alone. Fast, fluid, and constantly evolving, the combat feels complicated, crunchy, and impactful in the best kinds of ways. Well, based on our time with the Necromancer, Barbarian, and Sorcerer, anyway.
Skills are well-animated, gory, and even manage to feel hefty, thanks to the often darkly comedic physics system in play. The variety is fantastic, giving players the tools with which to unravel some of the game's more complex encounters. And while the Campaign does feature a few difficulty spikes that make you sit up and pay attention, the immense amount of side content on offer means there's always something else to do if you get stuck, or some other direction to get lost in.
The variety of build options for a single class alone is impressive, and already we've begun to theory-craft for our next character. We played predominantly as a Necromancer, splitting skill points between Blood and Dark abilities and focusing on melee damage, even forgoing the ability to summon Minions for extra buffs. It felt different enough that the prospect of playing the same class (one we chose knowing it would be wiped before launch) is a tempting one, which seems like a notable feat in its own right.
New to Diablo 4 is the powerful (and time-consuming) Aspect system. Aspects are Legendary-style passive abilities which can be imprinted on items to grant powerful bonuses. Most are class-specific but are shared across all characters, and with 115 in total, adds yet more to do. The vast majority must be extracted from Legendary gear (destroying it in the process), and the rest are rewards for completing specific Dungeons.
Visually stunning and technically sound, running consistently somewhere close to 60 frames-per-second, the vistas and varied landscapes of Sanctuary are a sight to behold on PS5. Towns bustle with commerce, and riders and armed guards can be found travelling between settlements, which helps to make the lonesome world feel more lively.
After a short tutorial (and witnessing one of the more awe-inspiring introductory cinematics ever crafted) and reaching the first hub of Kyovashad, players are cast to the winds to do or slay as they like. With a vast world to explore, a refreshingly open gameplay structure, profitable Dungeons, and imposing Strongholds dotting the horizon, it can be a lot to take in.
The first three Acts of the game can be addressed in any order you like, provided you're willing to do a little grinding (and let's be honest, if you aren't, you must be lost to get this far). With each located in far-flung and geographically diverse corners of the map, this structure makes the prospect of playing again as other characters more appealing. For those without that kind of free time, beating the Campaign with a single character thankfully gives you the option to skip it with the next.
The story itself is engaging enough, but if we have a real complaint, it's that it starts to drag on in the back half. It's a shame, too, because some of the voice work is really great (as is the writing), and there are some truly impressive set-piece moments. And while the quest to stop Lillith, daughter to one of the three Prime Evils of Diablo lore, takes some surprising turns, we did find ourselves skipping through the dialogue towards the end.
There's just so much more beneath the surface we want to dive into, like tackling Dungeons multiplayer, the ways in which the already world-class loot has been revamped, the Paragon Endgame progression, or its more grounded and gritty narrative. It's probably worth mentioning that the Diablo Store was not live during our session, so we can't speak to that end of things, but Blizzard has recommitted to keeping any microtransactions cosmetic in nature.
We liked Diablo 4 this much and played the entire thing alone, a process which was surprisingly difficult at times, forcing us to rethink our strategies and equipment. The set-piece battles with named bosses deserve a special shoutout, having multiple phases and even requiring us to reinvest our skill points directly in response a few times.
We can only imagine how much better it will be to have some stalwart swords at our backs and take on some of the content we couldn't come to grips with alone. The formidable Capstone Dungeons, which gate off World Tiers III and IV (Nightmare and Torment difficulties, respectively), remain as yet unconquered, as does the array of apocalyptic World Bosses (not to mention other players in PvP).
It's starting to feel trite at this point, but Diablo 4 feels like the crossing of another Rubicon for a classic gaming franchise; as with Breath of the Wild and then Elden Ring, we can't imagine Diablo can ever go back, nor would we want it to.
Diablo 4 is the true successor to the bad old days of action RPGs and oozes quality in its frenetic combat and deep, engaging character development. It tells a complex, gritty narrative set in the darkly beautiful world of Sanctuary. Even better, it provides a solid foundation for years of Diablo content to come.