BlizzConline 2021 spotlights Diablo IV's open world and online components
Diablo IV has a long way to go but Blizzard still wanted to discuss some of their ideas for the game.
Blizzard describes Diablo IV as a large open world action game with RPG-like character progression that can be played by as many people as possible. The title was announced in 2019, but it won't be released before next year at the earliest. We already knew that before BlizzConline took place, but at the big online event it became clearer than ever that right now, nobody can predict one hundred percent what this game will be like once it eventually launches. The distilled information that sprang forth from the event is rightly referred to as the "ultimate blog post" at one point. However, there might also be some aspects you haven't caught when watching the live show yourself. In this article we will work through the information outlined.
First of all, a new class was announced: The Rogue joins the Barbarian, the Sorceress and the Druid to put a stop to the countless henchmen of hell. The new character is described as a mobile class that allows different play styles early on. Basically, you will be able to choose between being an archer and the power fantasy of an insidious melee assassin - as well as everything in between those two pillars. Fast attacks and high mobility with a certain pinch of finesse, these seem to be the core characteristics of the Rogue class.
Attacks can be reinforced with various elements, such as ice, poison or shadow, in order to gain additional control in battle. If you find yourself in danger, the courageous escape into the realm of the shadows might help you hit your target with the fatal blow (or resume the fight elsewhere). Caltrops and the rain of arrows grant area of effect control and whoever perfects all of these abilities will be able to even further specialise their hero to cause combo damage, attack the enemies' weak spots more thoroughly or merge even closer with the shadowy realm.
Class specialisations are not only applying to the Rogue, of course, because each class can be refined in a similar way. Blizzard currently plans to unlock these advanced techniques once and then let us switch between them freely. In some cases the unlocking process is accompanied by a narrative, for example by letting the players work together with certain factions to help in bringing a character's imagination to life. That sounds interesting, sure, but currently it is a mere collection of ideas that Blizzard hopes people will like. The team is still working on the foundation on which possible content and experiences are built upon. This becomes even clearer when the team is discussing the topic of loot.
According to the developers, magical (blue) and rare (yellow) items are solid options for refining your own build, too - which might be true in the first few hours, but it's hard to believe that those items will play a role in the end-game experience as well. Anyway, the developers want to prevent known customisation problems from Diablo III through passive talents in the skill tree, among others. For example, once your character has the appropriate amount of stats, various bonus effects can be unlocked for an active skill you invested in. Upon reaching a certain value, your ability can cause an additional effect or be altered in some other way. In Diablo III such influences are being introduced via runes and items only.
Talking about it, Diablo III was a linear action game that drew us deeper and deeper into the circles of hell on a randomly generated, but ultimately clearly predetermined path. In contrast to that, Diablo IV will be an open world game that we should be able to experience with significantly more freedom. According to art director John Mueller, there will be sections that are more focused, but there will also be one or more points in the adventure where the various missions come together again. You shouldn't expect narrative branches, multiple game endings, or dialogue options, but the way we experience the content available will be different for each player.
Whether you complete certain missions or prefer to start exploring and repopulating Sanctuary early on, that is up to you. Exploration should be worthwhile especially for fans of the series, the developers emphasise again and again with referring to factions and places that tell me little to nothing. From what I understand, there is certain variety in Sanctuary but quality content is overall more important than quantity and an intimidating amount of things to complete. You also should be able to explore the game's world faster on a horse's back, whose skills you can increase with items too (horseshoes are supposed to increase the riding speed, for example). New movement options such as jumping and climbing create a sense of mobility for your own character.
According to lead game designer Joe Shely, focused players of Diablo IV can expect a campaign that entertains between 20 and 30 hours. As the story progresses, as well as after the conclusion of the main events, the open world "container" (as art director John Mueller described it in our group interview), will open up continuously to make room for further side quests and activities. Currently, these are camps, dungeons and quests, world bosses and PvP areas.
For example, when exploring the open world, players should come across locations that have an immediate problem for you to solve. If you chose to help the residents and avert the danger, a permanent camp might emerge from it, which in return leads to some useful advantages for yourself. Blizzard explains that vendors and other locations, as well as new dungeons and quest threads might become available after the villagers settle down. By helping reclaim Sanctuary you will rebuild the world of Diablo IV piece by piece, which is meant to give players a sense of accomplishment, according to Shely.
Looking at the PvP mode, John Mueller (art director) described it as a kind of "survival challenge". In certain areas - the so-called "Fields of Hatred" - Mephisto's corruptions spreads upon all life, including traversing players. It's really just an excuse to be attacked by other heroes and attack them ourselves. Opening chests and killing enemies unearths "Shards of Hatred" that we have to purify at a special shrine near the PvP area. We need the currency that is obtained in this process to buy outfits and mounts from special vendors. According to the developers, these items are as powerful as other items are, but you will miss them and all of the PvE content that is being integrated in the PvP experience if you decide to ignore the online part as much as possible.
The two Developers Careena Kingdom (animation department) and Joe Piepiora (systems design) explained another aspect of the PvP experience in a separate segment of the show: Player Bounties. If you kill enough people in the Fields of Hatred you will eventually incur Mephisto's Curse. This will make you a "Vessel of Hatred" yourself, meaning you will be highlighted on other players' map. They will be rewarded with a bounty for killing you, but if you survive a certain amount of time in this state you can expect a big bonus for yourself... You have to stay in the PvP zone during the whole phase and are not allowed to escape. Otherwise you will abandon your chances of getting a bonus.
Blizzard did not announce an expected release date for Diablo IV this weekend because the game is far from finished and we do well to understand that. Although I can see the frustration of some players, I very much welcome this decision, because nothing is gained if employees are exposed to external expectations, in addition to internal pressure. Diablo II emerged in the late 1990s after a terrible, unacceptable state of Crunch that some of those involved still remember up to this date. I can therefore only wish all members of the development team that the long shadow of this genre-defining epic does not reach into the depths of this personal hell.