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Diablo 4 is no MMO - you’ll be “blowing up screens of monsters”

There's a huge focus on exploration in Diablo 4, Blizzard's highly anticipated action RPG game, but the devs remain resolute that it isn't an MMO, it's an ARPG.

Diablo 4 is no MMO - you'll be "blowing up screens of monsters": A woman with long curved horns looks into the camera as demons snarl around her

If the Diablo 4 endgame video didn’t get you excited for Blizzard’s upcoming action RPG game, then I don’t know what will. There’s fearsome world bosses, all-new Nightmare Dungeons, a tree made of literal faces – take your pick, Sanctuary has it. With a heavy focus on exploration, though, Diablo 4 seems to be blurring the lines between dungeon crawler and MMORPG, but the devs are resolute that it’s the ARPG we know and love, updated and improved upon for a 2023 audience.

Speaking to associate game director Joseph Piepiora and lead game producer Kayleigh Calder in an endgame-focused roundtable, I asked how the devs have walked the tightrope between MMO and dungeon crawler; a question inspired by several comments I’d seen online debating the game’s genre identity.

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“That’s a question the team asked itself continuously over the course of development,” Piepiora tells PCGamesN. “The answer is that Diablo 4 is an ARPG first. It is a dungeon crawling, monster-slashing, monster-killing, loot-collecting game. It has these persistent online elements where you can run into other players in the interconnected overworld, but we want these things to feel like they’re married together well.

“One of the things we don’t have at the launch of Diablo 4 is content designed explicitly for organised groups,” he continues. “We don’t have this notion of roles – in Diablo, everyone’s sort-of a damage dealer. The fantasy of playing Diablo games in many cases is making overpowered builds and blowing up screens full of monsters. We wanted to make sure those kinds of elements are preserved, without having to create a curated set of balances between multiple players in a party who need to work a particular way together.”

While upholding the pillars of all three previous Diablo games, Piepiora’s team asked themselves “‘what can we do to make the world feel larger, what can we do to really make Sanctuary sing?’ and we thought that other players were a really big part of that.”

A woman stands with a tanned young girl and a white armoured man in front of a huge statue of a horned demon woman looking over a chasm

Carrying on from Piepiora’s latter point, Calder clarifies that “one thing the team looked at really closely was enabling the player to feel that isolation. As you’re progressing through the campaign it’ll be a very traditional Diablo feeling experience. You won’t have a party, and you won’t really run into other players unless you’re in towns.

“Getting the balance of how many players you run into was a big part of maintaining that Diablo 4 dungeon crawler feeling versus an MMO where, at any time, you’re running into a bunch of players.

“There was a lot of discussion about ‘what is a quest in Diablo 4′” she says with a smile. “The team really took its time trying to examine that. It’s also why we’ve continued to invest in our dungeon system and those experiences as well.”

A fire pit in the middle of a snowy city

As someone who has played far too much World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV, Diablo 4 certainly feels different from the base MMORPG format. Lost Ark felt much more like an MMO because there were players literally everywhere you went, whereas my Diablo 4 experience felt much more solo. I didn’t see many players in the snow-capped vistas of the Fractured Peaks, and even in towns like Kyovashad it wasn’t overwhelming – have you seen queues for the Orgrimmar auction house, or the Limsa Lominsa aetherite on a Saturday evening? By comparison, Kyovashad is a quiet mountain getaway, but with demons.

With the Diablo 4 release date right around the corner you’ll be able to experience Sanctuary in all its glory yourself – just make sure you check out the five Diablo 4 classes to get prepared for Lilith’s onslaughts.