It’s been a while since we last knew the Devil. While new releases on consoles have kept Diablo lurking at the back of the public consciousness, it’s easy to forget that the last major series release, Reaper of Souls, was over four years ago. Diablo 3 itself launched all the way back in 2012. With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine a sequel is on its way.
But where is Diablo 4? This question came to a head in the run-up to BlizzCon 2018. After months of small rumours, job listings and speculation, hopes for another major entry in one of PC gaming’s landmark series were at an all time high. So it’s something of an understatement to say that the audience reception to the announcement of the mobile-only Diablo: Immortal was, um, muted.
So, will PC gamers ever journey back to Sanctuary? Or has mighty Blizzard once and for all frozen over hell? We dig into everything we know about Diablo 4, from its potential release date and story, to the rumours and leaks from the past few years, this is the story so far on Diablo 4.
Diablo III’s missing expansion
Reaper of Souls wasn’t initially pegged to be the end of an era for Diablo. According to a lengthy report by Kotaku an internal announcement at Blizzard back in late 2013 or early 2014 canned Diablo 3’s second expansion.
According to one source, executives had lost faith in Diablo 3. The game launched amid a perfect storm of controversy, managing to rile up fans through online-only connectivity issues (hands up if you remember Error 37) and item balancing that was skewed heavily by a real-money auction house. In the source’s own words, upper management thought it was “a giant fuck up”.
The Diablo developers at Blizzard Team 3 worked hard to turn things around, addressing complaints around balance, wiping the auction house out of the game entirely, and delivering the critically-acclaimed Reaper of Souls expansion. Fan reception was moving back in Diablo’s favour.
Unfortunately, it was too little too late for management, who had pre-determined that Diablo 3 was irredeemable. Team 3 was scattered across other projects – for those who remained, it was time for a do-over.
For a brief moment, Diablo 4 may have looked a lot more like Dark Souls than the isometric dungeon-crawler we know and love. Codenamed Hades (not to be confused with Supergiant’s new roguelike), Diablo 4 was to have the viewpoint shifted over-the-shoulder while retaining the series’ trademark looting.
As such a divergent take, Hades may not have even ended up with the Diablo name. We’ll never know, as the project was tossed out by Blizzard within a few months after failing to take shape. Around the same time, project leader Josh Mosqueira left Blizzard, perhaps due to the cancellation of his project.
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Most of the team on Hades moved onto new Diablo 3 content, working on the Rise of the Necromancer character update. A select few began work on a project named Fenris, which is widely understood to be the version of Diablo 4 currently in development.
Meanwhile, while the latest builds of Fenris have been isometrics, the discussion is still active on whether a return to Hades’ camera switch is best for the series.
What is Fenris, anyway?
One thing Hades sought to capitalise on, and that Fenris is allegedly driving towards, is a desire from fans to return Diablo to its grim graveyards and darkest dungeons. Diablo 3 is still a muted game, particularly when compared to Blizzard contemporaries like Overwatch and World of Warcraft, but it was a departure from previous games that were near-grayscale in their visuals.
Additionally, Fenris is allegedly aimed at being the most social Diablo game yet. Diablo 4 will possibly contain social hubs, where players can organise for instanced dungeons and Destiny-like strike events.
It’ll be a curious diversion from the franchise’s roots, but an expected one given the current landscape of gaming. Blizzard hasn’t been in the business of making strong single-player titles for a long time now, and currently manages a number of successful live games.
Kotaku’s report also suggests that long-term monetisation is still a hot-button issue for Diablo development. Many of Blizzard’s current titles have mastered the long-lasting extraction of funds from players’ pockets, from Warcraft subscriptions to Hearthstone card packs and Overwatch loot boxes. When Diablo 3 attempted this with the real-money auction house, it was a disaster, and Blizzard is likely keen on a less offensive way of keeping Diablo 4 profitable when it does eventually surface.
Diablo 4 may be a way out yet, or it might be just around the corner. Kotaku’s report claims that the Diablo 4 release date is 2020, but of course it could be some time later before we pick up our swords to go on some hellraising loot runs. As far as official word is concerned, Blizzard has stated there are announcements incoming for multiple Diablo projects in the coming year.
There are also conflicting sources as to whether Diablo 4 was due an announcement at this year’s Blizzcon. Much of the vitriol following the announcement of Diablo: Immortal, a mobile title co-developed with Chinese publisher NetEase, was the idea that a Diablo 4 reveal was just around the corner. The PC-centric BlizzCon audience wanted that to cap off the night’s announcements, not a mobile spin-off.
Two sources told Kotaku that an announcement was pegged for BlizzCon as early as January, with plans for a playable demo on the show floor. When summer rolled around and things weren’t ready, the team was at least convinced a teaser was coming.
Blizzard’s statement has always been that no announcement was planned. And that’s a sound statement to make – with the fanbase already on edge, it makes sense to assure the fans that they weren’t robbed.
Open the gates
There appears to be increasing internal worry at the company over cancellations and letting things out too early. Projects like Titan gathered anticipation for years before being quietly cancelled, and the Diablo team has already gone through hell and back to get to where they are now.
Titan’s failure is still seen as an embarrassment internally. While Overwatch grew from that game’s ashes, sources claim the project still lingers over the company. No team wants to make the next game that spends plenty of time and money in development and amount to nothing – less so with the public finding out about it. With one reboot under its belt, the Diablo team appear very wary of avoiding this image.
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But Diablo is one of Blizzard’s big-hitters. It’s a flagpole franchise in the games industry, weathering over two decades of shifting trends and audiences, Hopefully it doesn’t end up like Half-Life 3, trapped in development purgatory until it achieves meme status. So, while we’re still waiting on an official reveal, things are still looking positive for a return to the High Heavens and the Burning Hells.