It’s been a rough decade for Diablo fans. After the troubled launch of Diablo 3, and then the great redemption of the excellent console versions and expansions, it felt like Blizzard’s looter was poised to be welcomed with open arms when a new version was released.
Unfortunately for Diablo 4, mobile spin-off Diablo Immortal spoiled that momentum. From the announcement, through development until the launch and beyond, Diablo Immortal was criticised for its ridiculous microtransactions, causing the community to revolt. The same community that forced Blizzard out of their real-money auction house, the same community that called for the refreshed loot system, Loot2.0, which made Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls the premiere action loot game of the last era.
They felt, and in many ways still feel, abandoned by Blizzard. Diablo 4 can begin to make things right. Blizzard is a company in transition. Firmly in the middle of the pending Microsoft merger, Diablo 4 could prove to be the final game made by the “Old Blizzard,” and there’s a lot of pressure to give fans the game they want, especially since, in the years following Diablo 3, other games in the genre, like Path of Exile, have challenged Blizzard’s looted crown.
There’s a core loop in Diablo that is central to the whole game working or disappointing. Is it satisfying to drop into the dungeon, mindlessly kill mobs and get loot? If yes, then Diablo 4 is halfway to being beloved by the fan base. If the team has once again messed with the loot system as it did in the original release of Diablo 3, then we’re in trouble.
In the book Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, the chapter on the disaster of Diablo 3’s launch tells the story of how one Blizzard developer played the game for literally hundreds of hours before they found one piece of legendary loot. When that orange light finally popped out of a random enemy, he approached the loot only to realize that his character class couldn’t even use it. The loot system was so fundamentally broken that the tension of grinding for hours, followed by the relief of actually getting something special, was broken.
This was eventually fixed to where you could only ever find certain tiers of loot that would work for your class, and the rate at which early-game legendary items were dropped was increased. So even though the legendary items you were getting didn’t break the game, you still felt you’d occasionally get a small hit of dopamine to keep you on the hook.
If Diablo 4 gets that right and has a similar loot system to that of Loot2.0 in Diablo 3, then we’re already worried about just how much time we’re going to sink into the game. Diablo 3’s disaster is arguably the best thing that could have happened to the franchise on a go-forward basis, and combine that with the Immortal controversy, it feels like Blizzard has a pretty straightforward roadmap of potholes to avoid if it’s to remain in the good books of it’s most loyal players.
The community is extremely vocal about what it doesn’t like, and has been throughout the lifecycle of Diablo 3, so we’re hoping Blizzard is taking that on board from those lucky enough to play large portions of the game pre-release. Although we’d bet Blizzard isn’t a fan of the tidal wave of leaked footage that seems to follow in the wake of one of these private tests.
One element of Diablo 3 that is confirmed to return are the limited-time Seasons. These are essentially post-post-game pieces of content that refresh the way legendary items work, and remix the content of the base game, adding replayability to a game that is already ridiculously replayable. Seasons were supported for a significant amount of time in Diablo 3, so we’re hoping they’ll also be a huge focus in Diablo 4.
That seasonal approach also sets Diablo 4 up to be another irresistible Game Pass game, should the merger eventually close. A game like Diablo with rock-solid gameplay is perfect for a service designed for players to pop back into live games after a few months. However, with the game set to release in June and the battle for the future of Activision still well underway, this is one title that’s very unlikely to get the Game Pass treatment on day one, unless something substantial changes.
If we were betting, we’d wager that the aim for Diablo 4 is that when the game is finally released, players in the community that were outraged, and rightly so, about Diablo Immortal sit back and think, “oh yeah, this is Diablo.”
While there are still cosmetic microtransactions, and the forced online connection feels like it could see some backlash, the juxtaposition between the loot box-obsessed, incredibly cynical mobile title, we’re hoping this could be a breath of fresh air. Even the players that got hooked on Immortal seemed to do so because it had just enough of the special Diablo sauce that separates the series from its peers, so a game full of it is primed to succeed.
There was a time in the games industry when anything that Blizzard released stopped traffic. Weeks would be booked off of work, and the industry as a whole would freeze in time to marvel at what the Blizzard team had put together.
While that doesn’t happen much anymore, and a lot of that prime Blizzard team is no longer in the industry for good reason, Diablo is a franchise with significance. In all of its legendary history as a series, this is only the fourth mainline release. Diablo 4 can be a game that makes the industry stop and pay attention to Blizzard again, this time for the right reasons.