I admit it, I've never been a Diablo fan. That's not to say I don't acknowledge how influential the Diablo series has been in the action-RPG dungeon-crawling genre, but I personally never fell in love with the long-running franchise. When Diablo 4 was announced, it didn't seem like that was going to change, and I elected not to pay attention.
Recently, though, I decided to give Blizzard Entertainment's legendary franchise a chance when the studio announced the Diablo 4 Server Slam. I went in with zero expectations or knowledge; hours of playtime later, the Ashava world boss was defeated, and Act 1 of the high-stakes campaign was completed. Alright, Blizzard, you got me — I'm all in on the hunt for Lilith in Diablo 4.
Not my first experience with Diablo
The Diablo series is actually older than I am. That may make some of you feel old (time waits for no one), but it's the truth. I certainly wasn't going to hop into Diablo 2 when it came out (I was two), and I didn't have the nostalgia to attract me to Diablo 2: Resurrected when that arrived. Still, Diablo 4 is not my first experience with the franchise.
I was actually first introduced to this twisted world with Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls. More specifically, I took a chance and purchased the game when the Rise of the Necromancer DLC was released in 2017, as I was intrigued by being able to play as a master puppeteer of the undead. Despite moments of greatness, though, Diablo 3 was unable to properly hook me (like so many other games at the time), and it has faded into the obscurity of my distant memories over the years.
I played through the entirety of Act 1 in Diablo 3 twice over a year or so, both times as the Necromancer, and also started a new game as the Crusader, but all three times I fizzled out and moved on to other things long before I saw the end of the game. To be frank, I struggled to commit and complete most games at the time (ADHD will do that to you), but I practically forgot I played Diablo 3 in the first place until I was reminded of it when Diablo 4 began building up hype and anticipation.
I also briefly played Diablo Immortal, mostly to test devices like the Razer Edge handheld, but my interest in that game was even more brief (mobile-only games rarely capture my attention for more than a few minutes). All-in-all, my past experiences with the Diablo franchise have been forgettable, at best. I don't remember Diablo 3 being a bad game, by any means, but I also scarcely remember it at all. So, what makes Diablo 4 different?
A morbid, terrifying world that looks the part
As I already mentioned, it has been years since I played Diablo 3 (and it was already pretty forgettable at the time), so it's difficult to pinpoint exactly why Diablo 4 succeeds where its predecessor failed. There is one area in which Blizzard has made massive strides — how the world of Sanctuary, complete with all its chaos and devastation, is brought to life on screen.
The Diablo universe is not a happy place, with an eternal conflict between the forces of Heaven and Hell leaving the nearly powerless humans decimated in the middle. Diablo 4 is set 50 years after the tragic events of Diablo 3, but does a far, far better job, in my opinion, at conveying the misery of the universe with its visuals, world design, and narrative delivery than its predecessor. Even Blizzard Entertainment stated that Diablo 4 is the "darkest story we've ever told" in a recent video.
When playing Diablo 3, I felt a disconnect between the events unfolding and how those events were portrayed. While technically a huge step up graphically from the ancient Diablo 2, Diablo 3's visuals felt light and almost cartoon-like in comparison. Diablo 4 is a dramatic departure from this art style, with every pixel of Sanctuary oozing detail. It's visceral and vivid, and at no point did I forget that the people of Sanctuary are struggling every minute to survive in Diablo 4. This world bleeds gore and death, and it's not for the faint of heart.
I'll admit, I'm not very familiar with the lore of Diablo (that shouldn't be a surprise). I do plan to dive deep into my colleague Jennifer Young's brilliant breakdown of the entire history and lore of the Diablo franchise before Diablo 4 releases, but for now I'm still mostly in the dark. Still, I remember enough of Diablo 3 to state with confidence that Diablo 4 immediately feels more personal, focusing not just on the risk to the entire world (which is substantial) but also the effect on individual people. This includes the god-like creatures that sit at the top of Sanctuary's hierarchy, like the angel Inarius and demon Lilith, with personal motivations and emotions driving their respective actions.
It's a difficult balance to strike, but Diablo 4 has the beginnings of a powerful, emotional narrative married to visuals that perfectly convey its themes and messages. What I saw in Act 1 of Diablo 4 has made me hungry for more, a feeling I never had about the narrative of Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls.
An addictive gameplay loop filled with options
Diablo 4's gameplay should feel instantly familiar to anyone who has explored previous titles in the series (or played similar action-RPGs), but it's updated, expanded, and modernized for a new generation of gamers and gaming platforms. Combined with the gorgeous effects and visual feedback built off the back of the graphical and design improvements discussed earlier; Diablo's gameplay has never been better than it is now.
The loop of battling hordes of enemies, tackling challenging bosses, exploring winding dungeons, and hunting down valuable loot in a quest to progressively grow stronger kept me interested in Diablo 3 through the first act, but something was missing. Looking back, it's hard to parse every reason, but I believe that improvements to accessibility and approachability in Diablo 4 help me feel more in control of my character and their abilities than I did in Diablo 3. I can strategize and plan ahead without needing to already be an expert on Diablo. In Diablo 3, I felt like I was always simply moving forward without rhyme or reason.
Of course, I can already tell there will be a cavernous ceiling for Diablo's most skilled and knowledgeable players to craft the most powerful builds in every class (for every situation), but it also comes with a lower floor to be more inviting to a Diablo newcomer like me. That's important when this is the first mainline Diablo launch in over a decade — For many other players participating in the hyped launch cycle, this will be their first Diablo experience.
An expanded online experience further aids Diablo 4's quest to be the biggest, most approachable Diablo game of all time. Blizzard Entertainment is trying to accomplish all of this without losing the "special sauce" of Diablo, that addictive core gameplay loop that has helped the series thrive for over two decades. Considering I lost an entire Saturday to the Diablo 4 Server Slam without a fuss, I'd say the studio succeeded.
Diablo 4 may send me back in time
When I decided to participate in the Diablo 4 Server Slam, I was largely motivated by my desire to aid the Windows Central team in creating unique, engaging, and knowledgeable content surrounding the highly anticipated action-RPG. Not only did I find plenty of reasons to join the Diablo 4 team here, but I also discovered that I simply really liked Diablo 4. Honestly, I'll be shocked if it doesn't earn a place among the best Xbox games of the year after release. Now, I can't wait to play the final game, and I'm excited to explore the full campaign and experience the latest chapter of Sanctuary's broken, tarnished history.
I enjoyed the Diablo 4 Server Slam to the point where I'm already planning to revisit Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls after I complete Blizzard Entertainment's upcoming masterpiece (assuming, of course, that the entirety of Diablo 4 delivers on what the first act built). With my newfound appreciation for the franchise, I hope I can also enjoy Diablo 3 in retrospect. While Diablo 3 failed to win me over the first time, all the experiences I've gained as a gamer in the years since (read: a lot of game completions) and a first-time love for the Diablo franchise may help me see the greatness that was always there.
When I'm done with that, I'll go back even further to Diablo 2. In fact, Diablo 2: Resurrected is on sale for 67% off right now at Xbox, so I may just have to buy it early (if you don't own Diablo 3, either, the Prime Evil bundle containing both games is also on sale at Xbox).
June 6 can't come soon enough. I'm eager to recreate my Necromancer character, or Necrobae (I have to thank my colleague Richard Devine for this one), continue the hunt for Lilith, and make a valiant effort to (maybe) save Sanctuary from certain destruction. Thanks a lot Blizzard, because my video games backlog wasn't large enough already.
Diablo 4 officially releases on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC, and PlayStation consoles on June 6, 2023. You can preorder the game now for some exclusive in-game cosmetics, and even get up to four days early access with the Ultimate Edition. Stay tuned to Windows Central for all the latest news, guides, and more on Diablo 4.
The legendary franchise is back with an all-new, gore-tastic campaign and countless hours of epic content. Track down the Daughter of Hatred, Lilith, and see if you have what it takes to save the world of Sanctuary.
Get the Windows Central Newsletter
All the latest news, reviews, and guides for Windows and Xbox diehards.
Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.
Join us. Be beautiful in Sin.Reply
😈😈😈Samuel Tolbert said:Join us. Be beautiful in Sin.
Find it interesting someone who drives home that they remember nothing of their D3 experience in the start of their review can suddenly make direct comparisons, praising D4's first act. The gameplay loop actually seems to be the worst part as in the first act there was no synergising or way of chaining skills together in any meaningful way unlike even D2 has. You also lost me at saying this could be one of the games of the year for Xbox. That's a low bar to hit when the exclusives hit as hard as redfall 😝Reply