With Diablo 4, Blizzard seems to be taking a page from live-service games that have cropped up with increasing frequency in the seven years since the release of Diablo 3. Diablo 4 supports a shared world in which you’ll see and even fight alongside other players who aren’t in your party, much in the way you might in an MMO or a live game like Destiny. The game will support PvP areas that let you battle against other players. And it’ll maintain some of Diablo 3’s features that made the game replayable over the long term.
As Blizzard detailed at BlizzCon 2019, Diablo 4 is adding a few new elements–and bringing back some old ones. Lead systems designer David Kim told GameSpot that what has him most excited for Diablo 4 is the chance to improve the franchise’s replayability.
“The stuff that we’re going to be exploring there is to make sure that whenever someone comes back after a break, it’s kind of a fresh [type of experience] with new things to explore….” Kim said.
A lot of what will and won’t be in Diablo 4 still sounds like it’s up in the air, with Blizzard working on content and systems while taking feedback from the player community. For instance, the playable build at BlizzCon showed three returning character classes: Diablo 3’s Barbarian, and the Sorceress and Druid from Diablo 2. Kim and lead lighting designer Sean Murphy said the team isn’t sure what other classes might make a return or if they’ll add new classes; the developer is waiting to see what people want before making those decisions.
Another feature not yet set in stone is Adventure mode, the replayable endgame mode that appeared in Diablo 3. It’s coming back, but Kim said what form it will take or how exactly it’ll work is something that’s still being determined.
“We’ll have something like Adventure mode, but we don’t know exactly what that is yet, but we’ll have the replayable content that you can play forever in the world, and we do want to up the game there a little bit,” Kim explained. “So in the endgame, we want not only that dungeon-running experience, which is also fun and great too, but we also want to up the stuff that’s going on in the world too, for variety, for additional challenges, things like that.”
Adventure mode’s influence can be felt in the rest of Diablo 4 with the game’s new focus on public spaces that include additional players beyond just you and your party. In Diablo 4 hands-on demo available at BlizzCon, it was possible to run into other players in open spaces outside of dungeons, like in an MMO or live game. Diablo 4 includes public events and world bosses you can take on with other players even if you’re not grouped up with them.
Murphy said that Blizzard is still working on finding a balance between including other players in public spaces to make the world of Sanctuary feel more alive and populous, without sacrificing the developer’s focus on a darker, more horrific tone for Diablo 4. He said the demo on the show floor was pretty indicative of what the game will feel like–there will be people around that you run into from time to time, but there won’t be so many that they undercut the feeling that Sanctuary is a dangerous place filled with terrors.
And then there’s seasonal content. Diablo 3’s seasons helped keep the game fresh over the last seven years, and Kim said seasons are something Diablo 4 will also employ to keep the game replayable. Unlike Adventure mode or public events, though, seasons will focus on adding new experiences to the game.
“The main goal will be to change up the play experience from season to season,” he said. “So one example I can talk about is, what if there were brand new legendary items coming into seasons? And then there’s also some subset of all legendary items that are more powerful in different seasons, that way you can kind of explore different combinations that you’ve never played with before. With that said, this is just a legendary item-specific example, but we want to try to do this across the board in as many places as possible.”
Legendary items sound as though they’ll provide another reason to keep coming back to the game. They’ll provide more options in the gear chase, and along with the return of skill trees after their absence in Diablo 3, should work to give you more customization options that change how you play.
The system of item sets from Diablo 3 will still make a return, but they’ll have something of a different role as you work for better equipment while you play, Kim said.
“We want to have sets as kind of optional choices,” he said. “So players who want to have a simpler choice or players who are just getting into the game, not really sure what combinations are really good, they can use sets as a starting point to see, ‘Oh, I can do this with items and that with items,’ and kind of learn that process. But in the end game, we would want a scenario where a majority of the players are customizing every single slot to their liking, so that even if we are both playing the exact same class and exact same build, like we’re both playing the Bleed Barb, your build is very different from mine because of the choices that you’ve made versus the choices that I have made.”
The last big new inclusion to Diablo 4 is something that was supposed to come to Diablo 3 but never made it: a player-versus-player mode. Like Adventure mode, it’s a feature Blizzard is still experimenting with, and seems to be taking influence from the games that Diablo has inspired over the years, in order to add more things to do and more reasons to log in.
“Currently, we are planning on having specific areas of the world where you can choose to PvP if you want to, and the other thing is, we are also exploring some PvP modes that would work really well in Diablo,” Kim said. “So the goal is, we want to have that mixed PvE and PvP type of experience, because everyone knows the PvE, killing swarms of monsters, that’s where kind of the core fun of Diablo is at. We haven’t found something that we really love yet, but once we do, of course, we’re going to tell everyone about it.”
There’s still a long way to go before we see Diablo 4 in a completed state, despite its BlizzCon demo looking pretty solid. Blizzard hasn’t set a release date yet, and as Kim and Murphy noted, a lot of the game’s features are still in their early stages of development. But it appears that Blizzard’s focus on replayability is set to shake up the Diablo formula from what we’ve seen in the past, giving players plenty of reasons to stick with it after its release.