Blizzard Entertainment has an amazing legacy in the games industry, but in recent years the California developer’s public reputation has suffered following a series of controversies, a change of guard across many of its key franchises and certain projects simply not meeting the expectations and high standards longtime fans have come to expect. Some of the latest headlines include the Overwatch 2 development team scrapping the PvE Hero Mode, leaving many players questioning the purpose of a sequel, and the company's famous MMO World of Warcraft has now added subscription tokens to the Wraith of the Lich King Classic, resulting in uproar throughout the community.

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And don’t forget, this follows certain other PR nightmares like the infamous quote (and now meme) “Do you guys not have phones?” when the company originally announced Diablo Immortal for mobile devices. It’s all led to this next significant chapter in Blizzard's history, Diablo 4 – a chance for it to prove it’s still the legendary and influential developer it always has been, and perhaps even capture the hearts of a new generation with this fresh take on the action RPG series.

Diablo 4 draws from the rich gameplay, history and lore of the hellish series spanning over 25 years. If you did end up playing Diablo Immortal when it launched on mobile and PC in 2022, then you’ll likely spot some similarities between the two in terms of the ‘social’ and ‘live service’ integration in gameplay, along with the less linear design of adventuring – offering the player more freedom. And if you participated in those more recent beta weekends for Diablo 4 from beginning to end, it’s actually a solid indication of what the rest of the experience has to offer.

So, how is Diablo 4? At launch, it’s an absolutely massive leap for the series in terms of the overall size of the adventure. This, and the new open-world design, is perhaps the most noticeable point of difference, once you venture beyond the city walls of Kyovashad. The map of Sanctuary is divided into five major zones, with areas now seamlessly interconnected. There are all sorts of stunning biomes to explore, from snow-covered mountains to swampland, making the world map quite intimidating at first (in a good way, of course). And that’s not even including the 120+ dungeons to explore, side quests and public events you can run alongside the main adventure. There really is a vast amount of demonic content to grind through here.

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The story in Diablo 4, set decades after the events of the third game, is about the "return" of Lilith – the “Mother of Sanctuary” and daughter of Mephisto, the Lord of Hatred. So, instead of going to the pits of Hell to take down Diablo (again), this time the focus is on stopping Lilith and her cultists, and it’s up to you – “the wanderer” and hero of this tale – alongside a new but familiar band of allies, who you’ll get to know a lot better over the course of the main adventure. We can’t really get into specifics here due to Blizzard's spoiler restrictions in place at the time of publishing, but we can say if you enjoyed the stories and lore in previous Diablo games, you should be just as invested from start to finish in the fourth major outing. The cutscenes, as usual, do a fantastic job fleshing out certain characters and moments in-between the bits of lore and dialogue exchanges in-game. Lilith’s scenes, in particular, had us on the edge of our seats, with her moments in the spotlight often delivering some of the most engaging and terrifying cinematics in the game, and perhaps the series’ history. In general, the tone and themes of this entry are a lot darker than Diablo 3, and seem more in line with the earlier release of Diablo 2, which in our opinion is the most fitting way to depict the bleak world of Sanctuary. The music and voice work only add to this, with crisp audio and a beautiful soundtrack that supports both the chaos and struggles taking place within this universe.

The hero of the story can take the form of five unique character classes, each with their own distinct gear, abilities and customisation options. Starting off with the classics, there’s the Barbarian, Sorcerer and Rogue, and also making a return is the Necromancer and Druid (originally debuting in Diablo 2's expansion). In the review build, our main was the brutal Barbarian class – a class that is skilled with all sorts of melee weapons, is physically dominating, and can dish out powerful attacks to both groups of enemies and bosses. Like previous Diablo entries, your class pick is everything! After all, you’ll be levelling this specific character for some time factoring in the Paragon system and additional difficulty tiers, so you’ll want to make sure the character you pick matches your playstyle.

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While there won’t necessarily be any standout differences in classes compared to Diablo 3 at first, there is a lot more flexibility and choice on offer, allowing you to customise your hero to your exact liking. In terms of their appearance, you now have the ability to fully design their look, following in the footsteps of Immortal's character creation tool. And while you probably won’t see much of your hero’s face (the exception to this being during certain cutscenes in the game), it’s still a welcome feature. You can also make more cosmetic changes in the wardrobe while locking unique designs to your character. When you’ve finally picked a class and spent enough time in the character creator, you’re thrust into the first zone, “Fractured Peaks”. It doesn’t take too long to get the hang of each class, with players already working out many strengths and weaknesses of each during the beta. During our time with the review build, the Sorcerer was easy to pick up and play, especially in the early segments, while other classes like the Barbarian didn’t seem to hit their stride until later on. By the time you’ve powered through at least the main campaign, your class will be fleshed out with all sorts of powerful skills.

As for hero skills, it’s the usual process, where you’ll unlock a skill point after levelling up, and from there enhance a certain aspect of your build. You start by unlocking basic skills, and this branches out into various kinds of class-specific moves for the likes of attacks, defensive and passive skills and then further down an ultimate skill, which can give you the edge in battle. If you have played a Diablo game before, the types of skills on display across classes should be somewhat familiar, and there are plenty of builds per-class that players will be able to experiment with for ages. The Sorcerer, for example, could have a certain elemental focus (such as fire or lightning). Skill points can also be reassigned by spending some in-game coin – meaning you can test out or adjust your hero’s playstyle to better match a specific area, boss or style (PvE, PvP). With our Barbarian we went with a dual-wielding axe Berserker build, allowing us to unleash hell on mobs and crush bosses at the highest difficulty available at the time of review (World Tier II).

In terms of the actual combat and how each class feels to play, returning players should be right at home with Diablo 4. It’s got a distinct feel about it that makes clearing every area of enemies incredibly satisfying while still feeling just like a Diablo game should. And depending on your playstyle or whether you’re playing solo or in a group, you may want to construct a build accordingly, to either support others with summons or ranged attacks, or perhaps lead the charge with brute force. Certain enemies will also provide quite a challenge depending on your class, and like with everything else, there’s a mix of new and old foes. You’ll encounter ranged and close combat dealers as well as huge tanks, and as you progress more mobs return with special elemental effects – distributing additional damage with pools of poison or electric orbs, for example. And on higher difficulties, like World Tier II, enemies take more hits.

Like other Diablo games, the benefit of the higher difficulty tiers is better loot drops. You’ll get improved weapons, potentially more legendaries, and generally be able to grind levels quicker because you gain more XP from each kill. Hardcore Mode, where there's no respawn, also returns. Regarding levelling though, and the grind in general, the game features scaling. In brief, enemies will scale to your hero’s level in most cases, meaning you never really out-level any area in the game. While this might not appeal to every player at first, it does admittedly makes sense within the context of Diablo 4's new “live service” open-world design - ensuring zones retain players and don't necessarily become an abandoned wasteland when the community reaches a high level. Blizzard has made similar comments about this previously. This shouldn't diminish the experience either, as your skills, weapons, armour and even potions become a lot more powerful over time thanks to upgrades, allowing you to mow down enemies and adding to the sense of progression.

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Right, so we’ve covered what already should be relatively familiar to Diablo veterans, but there is more to the new live service and social elements. At the time of review, the game was live, but it wasn’t obviously “live” to the general public, with early access starting on 1st/2nd June. During our adventures, we encountered the odd players who were able to seamlessly join us in a co-op quest, or join in on world events and dungeons. There's cross-progression, cross-play and local couch co-op on console platforms, meaning you can join your friends (and others) on their journey in Sanctuary without worrying about what system anyone is playing the game on. If you did participate in the beta weekends, you’ll probably already have an idea about what to expect from the live parts of the game. The towns, cities and other areas are busy hubs – a bit like what you would see in an MMO, but in most cases you'll find yourself alone in a lot of sections when you’re running a main quest or something similar. Out in the field, it’s only when you join certain public events, or say the huge (and stunning) world boss battles, where you’ll be actively fighting alongside other players, or in some cases fighting against them. And again, you can party up with random players and friends with relative ease to progress through main events and your own side quests, which will see the game balance out the difficulty to match your own levels, while also making some situations easier to overcome – especially if you support other classes and builds with your own hero.

The open-world design of Diablo IV compliments this social aspect of gameplay as you run from one biome to the next, completing your own quests while joining other players to slay the demons around Sanctuary together. The load screens are mostly reserved for dungeons or when you portal back to town. It truly is a next-generation Diablo and a natural evolution of the series, especially with every other major game series nowadays taking a similar pathway by incorporating open-world elements. It’s also about as close as we’ll probably get to a Diablo MMO - the game's improved social and multiplayer design makes it feel more ‘MMO’-like compared to previous entries when you’re surrounded by players running around towns and cities, and you can generally just see everyone going about their business across Sanctuary.

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As previously touched on, there’s also a lot more freedom in the fourth entry, with the ability to take on specific quests in your own order. And as for the world, we'll remind you again that it's absolutely huge; fortunately, mounts are now a thing, but it might take you a while before you unlock one. There are plenty of distractions in Diablo 4 as well, and outside of player events, side questing is something you'll find yourself doing a lot more in the fourth game. Towns typically have NPC quests where you can earn even more XP and rewards. You'll carry out tasks like helping individuals track down a friend, and fighting off waves of Lilith's worshippers. There are many kinds of different smaller-scale quests to take on, and it all adds to the world-building, illustrating the depressing state of Sanctuary along the way. Then there are additional tasks like liberating Strongholds (essentially transforming camps of evil into safe havens) and much more.

Beyond the main campaign, players can look forward to the End Game. While we again must refrain from any major spoilers here, the fight is far from over after the final boss, with more story to uncover and all sorts of new challenges to take on across the continent. You’ll unlock certain challenges and can move up to higher tiers of difficulty to unlock even better items, drops and rewards. From there it's Diablo's classic rinse-and-repeat grind, similar to what has been seen at the End Game in Diablo 3, but with its own unique twists along the way as you progress your character. Item customisation also obviously plays a significant role throughout Diablo 4 – while enemies mostly scale with you, to give you the edge; you’ll not only need your skills but more powerful armour, jewellery and weapons (with the usual colour code system distinguishing legendary and unique items from other drops). These items can be further enhanced by inserting gems for extra bonuses and also unlocking legendary aspects for specific classes via the Codex of Power (powers you find hidden in Dungeons). With the End Game, you can also work your way towards the Paragon Board and use Glyphs to further customise your hero's skillset and become even more powerful. And to top it off there are PvP zones, Capstone and Nightmare Dungeons which use sigils to put hero builds to the test, and Helltide events - all offering more rewards for your class.

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With the live service part of the game not yet in full swing, Blizzard has also outlined what’s ahead after the initial launch phase. There’s new content planned for years to come apparently, and with Blizzard, we don’t doubt that. Players can look forward to seasons, adding new challenges, mysteries and ways to level up. There will also be a Season Journey, which contains limited-time reward events and will pit players against extremely tough enemies.

As for more divisive content coming to the game, there’s a Battle Pass, which will allow players to unlock more rewards such as cosmetics, premium currency and seasonal boosts. This also includes a free tier and two paid tiers. And last but not least is “The Shop”, described as an optional experience for players to purchase cosmetics with premium currency. This is again entirely cosmetic and Blizzard insists it will provide players with no gameplay advantages. Obviously, we’re yet to see how all this pans out as none of this was available in the pre-launch version of the game. Based on our own playthrough though, Diablo 4 does not require additional purchases with real money or anything similar to progress the whole way through the main game, and there are no major paywalls from what we could see in the review build. Keep in mind, this will be an experience that Blizzard constantly evolves for years to come.

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And one last important part to cover here is the state of Diablo 4 on Xbox. The performance was fine during the review build on Xbox Series X. On Microsoft's most powerful console, players can expect 4K at 60FPS, and for Xbox Series S players the game runs at 1080p and 60FPS. Although it may not look quite as crisp as the PC version and the UI is slightly different to support controls and certain screens, we’re pleased to say the game is still equally as enjoyable to play on the latest generation of Xbox hardware. The menu UI does enough to make the game playable on a television screen, although environments and backdrops may not always be the easiest on the eyes due to the sheer amount of detail poured into every area of the game, and simply everything that's happening on screen. The controls might also take a while to get your head around, but fortunately navigating submenus and executing attacks in battle becomes second nature after hours of play. Overall though, this might just be the best Diablo console release ever. This is all supported on Xbox and other systems with cross-play, local couch co-op as already mentioned, and drop-in and drop-out gameplay where your own experience goes undisrupted. We did encounter some minor bugs like quest glitches and closed doors that you could run straight through in the review build, but Blizzard promises it will resolve at least some problems with a day one update.


You can see why it’s taken Blizzard over six years to get this one out the gate when you look at the end product. Diablo 4 is a natural evolution of the series with its new open-world design and gameplay, enhanced social and multiplayer experience, and a live service that promises to keep players returning to the world of Sanctuary for years to come. These strong foundations and scale of the whole experience, combined with the five unique classes and seemingly limitless customisation options for builds, should keep even the most diehard demon slayers busy for a very long time. With all of this in consideration, Diablo 4 is a must-play if you’re a veteran of the series and it's a great starting point for newcomers. We can't wait to jump back in! Now, fingers crossed we just don’t have another 'Error 37' at launch.