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Diablo 4 Review: Giving Into The Darkness (In The Best Ways)

EDITORS' RATING : 8 / 10
Pros
  • Addictive combat
  • Excellent art and atmosphere
  • Engaging story
Cons
  • Lore-dense for new players
  • Some lag and connectivity issues online
  • No map overlay

A PC version of "Diablo 4" was used for this review. "Diablo 4" is available now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.

Long ago, Lilith the Daughter of Hatred rebelled against the endless war between Heaven and Hell. She created Sanctuary, the world of humans, and she gave birth to her son Rathma, whose father was the angel Inarius. For a moment, Lilith might have believed that she'd found a way to escape the war she was born into, but that hope eventually came crashing down around her.

Every game in the "Diablo" franchise has taken place in the world that Lilith created, so by now, fans are well aware that her world also became embroiled in the war between angels and demons. The events of "Diablo 3" left Sanctuary in shambles, and now Lilith has returned with a new goal in mind.

"Diablo 4" is the most lore-intensive game in the series to date, but it's also the most cinematic. The story is front-and-center and manages to be engaging even for players who haven't spent hours watching lore explainers on YouTube. The strong storytelling doesn't just apply to the main quest, as the side adventures in this game are without a doubt the strongest in the franchise. Best of all, charging through the thick atmosphere and tense narrative of "Diablo 4" is the top-notch, addictive ARPG gameplay that has kept the series alive for so long.

Thick with atmosphere

Far and away the best thing about "Diablo 4" is the atmosphere. Gone are the cartoonish vibes of "Diablo 3," which weren't without their own appeal, and in their place is the full darkness that early "Diablo" fans first fell in love with. Doom and gloom abound in Sanctuary, but it's hard not to investigate the scenery with a smile on your face. The art direction and graphics are astounding. The level of detail in the environments makes every bit of exploration and even every return to town a feast for the eyes. "Diablo 4" is a masterclass in taking deep horror and infusing it with art that is openly enthusiastic and endlessly engaging.

The art is matched by the score every step of the way. Each region has its own musical cues that you'll come to learn over the course of your playthrough. The score helps give every area its own unique identity and feeling. Though the music doesn't dynamically shift with what's happening on screen, that doesn't make it any less appealing to listen to.

Fighting through the hordes

Of course, ARPGs can't thrive on vibes alone, and luckily, "Diablo 4" has kept the core components that have made the series so long-lived. This time around, players can't swap between skills for free, but the costs of reassigning skill points are barely enough to dissuade full respecs and leave plenty of room for experimentation. The game has struck a good balance between letting you play how you want at any given moment and making you feel like your choices matter as you construct a build.

Out there in the hellish fields of Sanctuary, every class has its own strengths and weaknesses, but all of them feel viable. Unlike previous games, "Diablo 4" gives every class a dedicated dash button, and it teaches you to use it quickly. Combat in this game does essentially boil down to spamming those mouse buttons, but paying attention to your placement on the screen and purposefully moving around once in a while has never been so important in a "Diablo" game.

It's worth mentioning that the slower, more methodical feel of combat in this game is going to be a negative for some players. The modern ARPG fantasy of building up enough power to melt through health bars isn't going to be easily available here. Much like in "Diablo 2," getting that sense of true godlike power here will require perfecting a build and playing enough to get all the right pieces of equipment to ascend to a new level of damage-dealing.

A different approach to progression

All of that brings us to progression. "Diablo 4" makes the somewhat controversial choice to scale with a player's level. The upside of this is that even in the end game, players are free to fight enemies in any part of the game's world to continue progressing. The downside, naturally, is that progression in "Diablo 4" doesn't feel at all like it does in most other ARPGs.

"Diablo 4" prioritizes engaging in tense battles over the feeling of squashing your enemies like bugs. You can grind for hours, return to the starting area, and still run into tough enemies. Damage is measured in the thousands, not billions like "Diablo 3," which makes every fight feel a bit more measured and grounded. Will there still be characters who can clear screens with relative ease? Of course, but that will be the product of a well-planned build and a commitment to grind for ideal pieces of equipment.

As you level up in the game, you unlock more and more new abilities. That means the way you engage in battle is constantly evolving. Then, you hit the end game and start the slower climb to build perfection, ultimately landing in a place where it feels like the hordes of hell are just starting to fear you. It's a bold choice that will thrill some players and turn away others, but it's also something that's likely to change as "Diablo 4" evolves in the coming years.

Live long and prosper

As essentially a live-service game, "Diablo 4" has more potential to change than any of its predecessors, but that also means its loaded with features that are difficult to get a read on at launch. Seeing a swarm of other players in town or running into someone in the wild breaks immersion in the story to an extent, and it currently doesn't add all that much to the game. Completing the occasional world event with strangers can definitely be fun, but it doesn't feel like anything essential, or like anything that really justifies the MMO aspects of the game.

Then there's the money. It's hard to think of a game that was massively improved by a real-money shop or a battle pass. At the very least, the current implementation of these in "Diablo 4" doesn't detract from the overall experience. If they ultimately let Blizzard continue adding excellent content to the game, then maybe they'll turn out to have been a necessary evil.

A worthy competitor

"Diablo 4" finds itself in a strange place. It harkens back to the glory days of "Diablo 2" while embracing some of the changes brought by "Diablo 3." In the end, it might not borrow enough from either of those games to win over fans with extreme preferences for one or the other. "Diablo 4" is its own beast, and its crafted a delightfully hellish experience that's heavy on franchise lore, gruesome imagery, and surprisingly strategic combat.

There is so much content to explore in "Diablo 4" that it'd be easy to call the game overwhelming, but it really isn't. Between the dungeons, bosses, waypoints, world events, and PVP zones is the same call to action that has stoked burning passion for the franchise all these years: Grab your gear and charge into Hell.

A PC version of "Diablo 4" was used for this review. "Diablo 4" is available now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.

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