“By three they come, by three thy way opens, by the blood of the willing, we call thee home.” The past four years of my life have been haunted by those words, teasing me at every turn, reminding me that, one day, I’d be writing this Diablo 4 review. Given I’ve focused on it for my entire career so far, it feels almost surreal – how is the action RPG game releasing next week? There was always concern that all of that excitement, all of that magic, would fall flat. Could Diablo 4 really live up to the sky-high expectations I set for it? Yes, my fellow nephalem, yes it does.
As the winds of Sanctuary howl, calling me home as it were, I watch my new Rogue emerge from an isolated cave atop the Frosted Peaks – fresh new meat for Lilith’s minions. She’s an echo of myself, in a way, crafted specifically for this journey using the myriad character customization options that are available. She’s my sacrifice to Lilith, the Daughter of Hatred that I’ve developed a perfectly healthy obsession with.
I played Rogue in my initial Diablo 4 gameplay preview, and compared with the beta’s spell-slinging Sorcerer and notorious Necromancer, it felt underpowered. That remains true for the game’s first few acts, especially because I chose the Shadow Twisted Blades melee Diablo 4 build over the popular Cold Archer. I was playing on world tier two, but bosses quickly became a grind, and waves of Fallen were tricky to deal with given the single-target burst nature of the build.
It all gets better with Shadow Imbuement, though, which I unlocked towards the end of Act 3 (bear in mind I played Acts 2 and 3 first – I’m a heathen, I know). Pairing it with Dash allows you to surge through waves of enemies, imbuing them with shadow magic. A second Dash sees the entire group explode in one glorious crescendo of blood, guts, and gore, and it becomes far too moreish.
There’s a tactical element to the chaos, too, as infecting and killing one large enemy at the center of the horde would cause them to explode. With the Blended Shadow Imbuement upgrade, this explosion would then trigger Vulnerable on nearby enemies. Paired with a leveled-up Malice, which allows you to deal up to 9% extra damage to vulnerable foes, the enemy tides simply became putty in my dagger-wielding hands.
My Rogue’s power was amplified by the fact I picked up a Legendary midway through Act 5 that made my Twisting Blades act as boomerangs that swirled around my character’s body, dealing damage to any creature stupid enough to attempt a full-frontal assault – and there were many. The flipside of picking up this orange surprise is that some Diablo 4 bosses simply felt too easy as a result. I certainly felt like I was tearing up the game’s last zone a little easier than I should have been. But, then again, is it a bad thing to be able to kill literally anything that gets in your path? You decide.
Speaking of paths, the interlinked biomes of this new and improved Sanctuary are absolutely glorious. Whether or not you choose to deviate from the well-worn dirt tracks to explore your surroundings is up to you, but I advocate for giving in to the alluring whispers of the wilderness – you won’t regret it.
While the Dry Steppes is reminiscent of both Diablo 2’s Lut Gholein and Diablo 3’s Caldeum, and Kehjistan is an area we know all too well by this point, the individual environments contained within each region are beautiful. From the rolling hills of the Druidic haven of Scosglen to the spectacular ship graveyard off the coast of Hawezar, there’s the perfect balance of old meets new.
If you want to check out these harrowing vistas in even more graphic detail, there’s a ‘photo mode’ feature that allows you to get a better view of certain areas. In some places, you’ll see a sigil reminiscent of Lilith’s blood petals seared into the earth. Interacting with it zooms the camera out to give you a full view of the slaughter that awaits you. For example, you can gaze out over the bloodied ruins of Guulrahn and marvel at the various different ways Lilith’s minions have artfully impaled the city’s inhabitants on spikes. It’s creepy, yet somehow beautiful.
And let me tell you, there’s a lot to love about Diablo 4’s overarching narrative. If I put my Lilith bias aside, Diablo 4 easily has the strongest narrative of any Diablo game so far, spiraling into a climax that often left my jaw on the floor.
There are twists and turns at every corner, but there’s familiarity, too. While I won’t spoil anything in this review, there are some age-old faces from days gone by, some familiar locations that play a key role, and some epic boss fights that literally had me on the edge of my seat. Diablo 4 harkens back to Diablo 2 in so many subtle ways but maintains its own unique storyline that integrates these characters and narratives beautifully. It’s a lore enthusiast’s High Heavens, and, if you couldn’t tell, I’m one of those.
Yet, it doesn’t feel off-limits to new players. Any major characters are explained in detail, any potentially confusing plot points can be broken down in side-dialogue, and there are informational titbits scattered across the woeful world of Sanctuary. The answers to your questions are there for you to uncover, guiding you through the story if you need it.
But, if you’ve never played a Diablo game before, I urge caution. If you’re not a fan of over-the-top gore then you’re in for a shock. Cutscenes see people torn apart in graphic detail and there’s death pretty much everywhere – some scenes even made me, a Diablo veteran, scream. If you thought Game of Thrones was bad, Diablo takes that formula and drenches it in blood – no one is safe in Lilith’s new world.
I mean that; not an inch of Sanctuary is free of corruption. There are side quests galore, – from Strongholds to Cellars. What I loved about each of these instances was that they were all completely unique, something we haven’t seen in the game’s beta or early test previews. I was worried that we’d see repeat dungeons, formulaic encounters, and a ton of ‘fetch and return’ quests. Boy, was I wrong.
Every Cellar instance has a unique story – some of which are so harrowing they’ll stick in your mind. I remember exorcizing a particularly nasty demon from a child in a muddy bunker in Kyovashad, with a part of me genuinely believing that the poor boy would be ripped limb from limb. One dungeon side quest involves you slaying the ghost of a young child locked up in the infamous Black Asylum so that his father can forget about the fact he left him there to rot in the first place. Every piece of Diablo 4 has been thought out. There’s no time-wasting here.
I also plowed hours into the Strongholds. These bastions of evil and malice are scattered across the map and contain powerful enemies that will test your mettle to the limits. The rewards, however, are infinite. Conquering a Stronghold gives you access to a new waypoint, and former residents flock back to their old homes in droves, bringing their wares and skills with them. Upon casting the scourge out of The Onyx Watchtower in the Dry Steppes, I again didn’t feel like I’d had my time wasted – quite the opposite, this was actually a reward for a decent time sink.
Blizzard has managed to make all of the supporting content feel unique and rewarding, which is a far cry from sister title World of Warcraft. I never once felt like I’d sunk hours into a dungeon for nothing, or cost myself valuable story grinding for no real purpose. While we won’t be detailing the Diablo 4 endgame or battle pass here, or discussing the crossplay functionality, what I saw in the early stages has me excited.
And that’s the point. Diablo 4 left me feeling excited. Diablo 4 is the Diablo game we’ve been waiting for. Executive producer Rod Fergusson once told me in an exclusive interview that Diablo 4 has “the darkness of one, the progress of two, and then the combat of three,” and he wasn’t lying.
Every inch of Sanctuary’s bloodied history and lore is encompassed in this game, and all of that conflict and strife is brought to life with snazzy new combat, stunningly macabre vistas, and meaningful, innovative side-content. Sanctuary has never looked so good but, more importantly, it has never felt so good as a player.
Diablo 4 is the Diablo game I’ve been needing – in fact, I’d argue it’s the best Diablo game of all time; a statement that’s controversial, I know. It’s the alluring shadow, the ragged whisper in the wind; it’s quintessentially Diablo in every way. Hail Lilith, oh denizens of Sanctuary, Diablo is back.
Diablo 4 review
Diablo 4 embodies the essence of what makes Diablo so great, taking the best elements of its predecessors and sewing them together to create an ever-changing, ever-evolving chimera that we can’t wait to play for years to come.