"We definitely heard the feedback, we know people are excited about Paladins." Diablo 4 lead talks about taking a new direction with the Spiritborn class and more about Vessel of Hatred

Diablo 4 Vessel of Hatred new Spiritborn class
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

What you need to know

  • In an interview with Rod Fergusson and Brent Gibson, we asked why Spiritborn was chosen as the first new class, and not Paladin.
  • The developers want a class that fits with the new area and the story they wish to tell with the Vessel of Hatred expansion.
  • Season 6 will run concurrently with the expansion, and the team is already playing and testing how that interaction will work.
  • Diablo 4 launched assuming that players wanted the loot grind of Diablo 2, and the negative reception to the Uber grind led to a lot of realization amongst the team and changes we see today in Season 4. 

During the Xbox Games Showcase, we got a new and gruesome trailer for the new Diablo 4 expansion that launches later this year on October 8, 2024— Vessel of Hatred. Following this showcase, our Managing Editor Jez Corden and a handful of other media representatives were lucky enough to sit down with Rod Fergusson, GM of Diablo, and Brent Gibson Associate Game Director, to ask some burning questions about the upcoming DLC.

During the chat, we learned more about the team's thought processes when introducing a new class to the Diablo 4 universe, including the question on many players' minds. Why not a Paladin? We also got to hear more about how the core experience of Diablo 4 will or will not be impacted by purchasing the expansion and some insight into what the team thought players wanted when Diablo 4 launched and what they actually want, as we've seen with the incredible success of Season 4: Loot Reborn

Why is there no Paladin in Diablo 4? 

Many wonder what a Paladin would look like in the Diablo 4 world (Image credit: Blizzard / Reddit)

We asked the burning question on many players' lips following the big reveal of the new Spiritborn class — why not Paladin? Players have been crying for a 'sword and board' style class since the launch of Diablo 4, having Paladin in Diablo 2 and a Crusader in Diablo 3, it's felt like a glaring omission from the game so far. When a 'new class' was teased, despite the developers already telling us this class would be new, and something not seen in the Diablo universe before, some still held out hope.

So why, when a Paladin would be an easy win for the Diablo developers in terms of 'giving the people what they want', did they choose to launch the Spritborn as the first new class? Will this satiate the sword and board fans? Rod and Brent had this to say: 

Rod Fergusson: "When we look at what we had before, what we launched before, we wanted to make sure that we were honoring the past. Because we were essentially 10 or so years between [Diablo] 3 and 4, we wanted to make sure we had some classic classes.

So we looked at the Rogue, the Barbarian, the Sorc, the Necromancer, and the Druid. When you look at making a new class you're looking at both [fitting in and making something new]. What are the different play styles you don't quite have yet? Like if there's things that you want to have, that play different ways, you're going to look at, 'oh, we could probably lean in on this part of the gameplay style and the way people play.' But also, knowing that because we did so much in honoring the past, we wanted to do something that was completely different. And so that's what you see with the Spiritborn. It's a recognition that we're going to a new place with Nahantu, and we wanted to have a class that was part of that design. The class be a part of the place you're going to, you know it's all one theme, and so that was a big part of it."

It's a recognition that we're going to a new place with Nahantu, and we wanted to have a class that was part of that design

"I don't think the Spiritborn will satisfy a sword & board play style. People, more often than not, people are sort of rearward facing. Like they know to ask for things, things they've already seen. they don't necessarily ask for the new thing they haven't seen because they don't have a frame of reference. And so again it was really more about like yeah we definitely heard the feedback, we know people are excited about Paladins or Sword and Board gameplay. But we also knew that like again we did a lot of nostalgia in the first five [classes] and so we felt like at least for the first one we have to be able to look beyond nostalgia and start breaking new ground on classes and trying new things. "

We did a lot of nostalgia in the first five [classes] and so we felt like at least for the first one we have to be able to look beyond nostalgia and start breaking new ground on classes and trying new things.

Rod Fergusson

"And so it doesn't mean we won't go nostalgia ever again or we won't do our new classes again. When you look at the team as well part of it is just satisfying kind of the creative urges on the team. And so if you're only always rebuilding the past then you're not necessarily getting the best work out of your team either. And so we wanted to have some creative freedom and create a great creative outlet for the team as well. But you know and like I said we talked about gameplay and so it's about scratching a different type of itch. So it's like okay I get the melee scratch from Barbarian but what can I get with the Spiritborn?"

Brent Gibson: "Yeah, really, we wanted something born of the jungle, right? The idea that everything that we're releasing in the next patch is part of a larger scheme, is super cool. I actually think to your point, we did a phenomenal job with the original classes, but there was so much more room for the playstyle, that we left open. We're going to have a bigger reveal coming up on July 18. We're going to do a deep dive and get into more details with that, so you guys should definitely make sure you stay tuned, it's going to be pretty cool."

it's a whole another story that we're telling.

Brett Gibson

"I think if we were to come out with another thing that had already been done, it's a whole another story that we're telling. And when we delivered on the original five classes, we needed to start experimenting and broadening the power for Diablo 4 specifically. And then there's the total package thing that we were talking about earlier. It's like okay what fits well with this new region that we're going in. And so that had a heavy influence on our choice too."

Fergusson: "Being thematically relevant was important. Very important."

Season 4's success and how that fits into the wider plans for the Vessel of Hatred expansion

Players are still having a blast in Season 4 (Image credit: Jennifer Young - Windows Central)

Season 4 has been widely well received, breaking Diablo 4's concurrent player record on Steam nearly a month into the season, with old players coming back and new players interest being piqued by the positive media coverage. Rod and Brent were asked how this success ties into the DLC, and if the update has been impacted by the new 'Loot Reborn' philosophy.

Brent Gibson: "So all the changes that we're talking about, leading up all the way to the season 4 is all part of a grander plan to continue to improve the game. So it's definitely a road to Vessel of Hatred that we're working on. Just to have the opportunity to really talk to the community, understand what they're looking for out of the game. Because honestly the game isn't really ours anymore. It's theirs. So yeah, all of these things meet up into each other. We're excited about what that means for the new expansion."

Loot Reborn is just the start for Diablo 4 improvements

Loot Reborn completely overhauls itemization in Diablo 4 (Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Loot Reborn addressed a lot of pain points over itemization, and endgame activities, but what comes next? We wanted to know, what the team are looking at in regards to player feedback right now.

Fergusson:  "We've heard feedback about what Season 1 was like and obviously what felt really great about Season 2, and then Season 3 maybe didn't live up to the same level. But as I've said other times, Season 4 exists the way it does with the success it's having because of the other three seasons. That's part of being a live service is that with each season we iterate and we learn and we build upon that. So there is no Season 4 without Season 1, 2, and 3 and the feedback the players gave us. And so we feel really good that the loot feels in a really great spot. That notion is now at the end game of "I do The Pit to get Masterworking, to make better weapons, to go deeper into The Pit, to get better Masterworking." When you're level 100, what do you do? And The Pit is the answer to that now, right? And we didn't have that before.

Now we look at what are the other aspects?  I was with a friend that came over around the expansion, and I always complain to him about only having one place to get Glyph experience. I'm like, Brent, could we please get Glyph experience in something other than a Nightmare Dungeon please? Those sorts of things. We look at how, and what is progression like? How do we think about how leveling up works, how paragon works and those sorts of things? And I think now that we have this really juicy kind of hook going on where people want to Temper their gear and Masterwork their gear and chasing gear. I think now we look to the future and go like, okay, like how do we think about the other aspects of that? 

And we're still adding more modes and things like that. Like we have a roadmap for the things that we want to do. We know what's coming in season 5 and we're really excited about what that's going to do.

And we're still adding more modes and things like that. Like we have a roadmap for the things that we want to do. We know what's coming in season 5 and we're really excited about what that's going to do. And then season 6 is at the same time as the expansion and we've got cool ideas for that too that we're currently playing and testing right now. And so, you know, so it's just trying to make sure we're listening to the players. The PTR we did for Season 4 was phenomenal. There were some things that we were really needing [to hear].

Like before the PTR, you couldn't trade your Uniques. And so we did the PTR and then we said, okay, how's it looking? And, you know, we got a whole bunch of feedback about what the hell? Why can't we trade Uniques. And we're like, okay, we're changing that now. It's huge. It's a big part of the cooperative experience we've got. For me, I have two stash tabs of Uniques just so in case my friends go like, do you have a Tempest Roar? And I'm like, I have four of them in fact! Would you like one my friend? Sometimes, if you're not interacting with the players and you're not interacting with the community, you can kind of get a little insular sometimes and you're making design choices for design reasons. The one value I try to provide to the team is the objective player experience. I don't know the numbers behind the scene. I didn't work on the spreadsheet, but as a player, this is what I feel. And that's the thing that we always have to keep our finger on the pulse. Just being able to think about, okay, what's this feel like as a player?"

Learning what the new Diablo player base wants from a Diablo game, and not just recreating Diablo 2

In Diablo 2 you may never reach max level, let alone find the Uber loot you need within a lifetime (Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

I've written before of my thoughts on why Season 4 is so successful, and touched upon the theory that at launch, Diablo 4 was trying too hard to distance itself from the fun, instant gratification mechanics of Diablo 3, and instead trying to recreate the grind of Diablo 2. Rod and Brent mentioned the inspiration of Diablo 2 specifically in this chat, and how the team perhaps overestimated how successful repackaging that grind would be.

Gibson: "There's a direct correlation between time and clarity.  So when we launched the game, like a lot of the things that we put out there were assumptions.  Us as developers, making developer decisions. And as time continues on, a full year has passed. The clarity is coming in like there's so much more clarity that we have today that we would have had."

We had the assumption that D4 was meant to be more D2-like

Rod Fergusson

Fergusson: "When you launch something, you're always doing it with a set of assumptions. We had the assumption that D4 was meant to be more D2-like. And so one of the assumptions was that people were going to be okay with the long grind for the Unique or an Uber Unique in particular, because in Diablo II, it can go years. You can go three years before you find the Uber you're looking for. And in fact, like there's a name called the Holy Grail, which is getting one of everything, which literally takes years. And so we were like, okay, this is what people love about the progression of D2, that idea of that very long chase. And so we launched that way with D4 and we found out very quickly that if you don't give me my Uber in my season, then I'm upset. And so we're like, oh, wow, okay. And now it's not like, now we actually have an uber currency, uber unique currency that you can go make the one. If you're not finding it, you can actually go make it for yourself, right? And so, which is very different. It's just a kind of a recognition of how much players have changed in 20 years. You know, what they, that consumptive nature of a live service and that time is money and I don't have much time, so let's go, right? And so that idea of like, oh, you're going to get a unique every six months. So what are you talking about? I need to get all the unique in six months, you know? And so it's been, so that's that clarity that Brent talks about is just putting in players' hands, getting their actions and adapting."

Vessel of Hatred will impact the game regardless of if players purchase it or not

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Diablo 4 has a variety of players and levels of commitment. Even within our team at Windows Central, we have the die-hard daily Helltide grinders and those who played the story and have little to no interest in Diablo 4's service content. How will Vessel of Hatred deliver for these different types of players, and how big can we expect the new story to be?

Fergusson: "I mean, in terms of big, it's one of the things you look at, when we ship D4, it's basically five regions. When you think of like Dry Steppes and Skosglen, what have you, and so the expansion represents another region, another full region, so it takes it from five to six. That's in terms of scope, of the size of the region.

It's a continuation of the main story we wanted. There's a moment in the story, when Neyrelle has to make a decision about whether she's going to side with Mephisto to fight his daughter or go against Mephisto in hope that the wanderer or the hero can take on Lillith.  So she decides to go against Mephisto, and so what we really want to do is continue that story about what happens. What is the result of that choice? That was one of the key lines in that cinematic, "you made your choice, and now you have to live with it", and this is what living with that choice means. And so telling that story about how Neyrelle and Mephisto are kind of at odds, and he's trying to get out, and she's trying to contain him as they enter into the region of Nihantu. So you basically go there to try to help her with her plan, or what she's trying to accomplish."

Gibson: The thing I love about this story the most, you leave off on a big cliffhanger, you've got someone who's quite young, and I think a lot of people can identify with the idea of being young and being faced with such tremendous responsibility.  Being isolated with the Primeval, if you're a lore person, like being alone with the Primeval for that long, like what does that do? And so that's really the excitement that we have for this story is to be able to expose a more intimate relationship with something so dark.

We're trying to make sure that whether you're an eternal only player, you're a seasonal player, you're a campaign only player— want to make sure that there's stuff every season we're adding

Rod Fergusson

Gibson: "Yeah we actually have a lot of content for everybody you know so but the goal here with the expansion is not to do it in a way that took anything away from the core experience. So that's intact. Got a lot of fun stuff to do. Jump into the season when the expansion launches there's going to be content for you there as well. And then, like, the expansion is just building out more of that. It has some exclusive stuff, obviously, as we go into it. But it's all going to be additive and not take away the core experience."

Fergusson: "There is some bleeding through, like there's some of the monster family stuff from the expansion. Light touches that we will make sure are there. We've been adding more and more to the Eternal Realm so people who don't want to reset can experience Helltides and things like that. We're trying to make sure that whether you're an eternal only player, you're a seasonal player, you're a campaign only player— want to make sure that there's stuff every season we're adding. We're actually adding further experience across all three player types."

Gibson: "And the same with the expansion. Every different player type is accounted for coming into the expansion."

Fergusson: "Yeah, the way that we think about it is, like, basically the region. The bridge into Nahantu is kind of like if you have the expansion, you can cross that bridge, and if you don't have the expansion, you can't cross that bridge."

Vessel of Hatred will bring a new dynamic to Diablo 4, but familiar throwbacks to Diablo 2

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Gibson: "It's a really interesting thing because if you're a lore person, you know that's the last stretch of the Eastern continent, right? And it just ideally lined up with the Mephisto story because being in the region itself is the home of where his first original Soulstone was held. And the impact it had on the Zakarum faith in the area. So there's a lot of nostalgia, so when we talk about new, it's kind of like we're [re]introducing a part of the story, that many of our gamers weren't even born when we told that story.

there's a lot of nostalgia, so when we talk about new, it's kind of like we're [re]introducing a part of the story, that many of our gamers weren't even born when we told that story.

Brett Gibson

So, you know, it's kind of like returning to the roots. Now the jungle...we had this massive dark Gothic world, and to go to some place that has a fresh look? Like, we're dealing with the jungle, the canopy, the big, gnarly roots of the jungle that's supposed to be thousands of years old. You're going to see a lot more new visuals, that fill the region with all the stuff that we can expect. But I think we'll do more of a reveal later on that stuff."

Fergusson: I think that'll be part of the July 18 thing, too. One of the things, when we talk to John Mueller as our art director, when we were talking about where can we go, we were were like, as Brent basically said, it was like this Gothic medieval sort of vibe that's in the game. And so how can we go and really create some extra diversity in the environmental look and opportunities there. And so the fact that it's a jungle will feel very different for new players, but also again, it's the nostalgia that D2 [Diablo 2] hit. 

Tune in for more about Vessel of Hatred and the new Spirit Born class in July

As Rod and Brent mentioned a few times throughout our chat, there will be a deep dive into both the new Spiritborn class and more of what we can expect from the new map expansion in Vessel of Hatred, which launches officially on October 8, 2024. In the meantime, you can enjoy new content right now with the free pet that was shadow-dropped into the game on the day of the showcase, and take advantage of the March of the Goblins event with my guide on how to farm treasure goblins and profit!

Jennifer Young

Jen is a News Writer for Windows Central, focused on all things gaming and Microsoft. Anything slaying monsters with magical weapons will get a thumbs up such as Dark Souls, Dragon Age, Diablo, and Monster Hunter. When not playing games, she'll be watching a horror or trash reality TV show, she hasn't decided which of those categories the Kardashians fit into. You can follow Jen on Twitter @Jenbox360 for more Diablo fangirling and general moaning about British weather. 

With contributions from