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Blizzcon 2019: Diablo 4 has a lot of stuff, and looks a lot like an MMORPG

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Blizzard came out swinging at this year’s Blizzcon 2019 with a cinematic reveal of Diablo 4. However, Virtual Ticket holders and attendees alike were also treated to a panel hosted by the team behind our next adventure in Hell. Director Luis Barriga sat down, along with Senior Producer Tiffany Watt and Art Director John Mueller, to give fans a general overview of some of the changes being made this time around. And they are many.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the grim story tying the game together. Decades after Malthael’s failed attack on humanity, suffering has spread across the land. Heaven itself has barred its gates to the faithful, leaving mortals to fend for themselves. The creator of Sanctuary and daughter of Mephisto walks the Earth again, her motives unknown.

The main narrative may be as grim as in entries past, but the way players will engage with it has changed.

Diablo 4 will be non-linear, allowing players to level up on their terms. Repeatable content, side quests, random dungeons — it’s all fair play. The eternal struggle will play out across a continuous open world, allowing players to walk from one end of the continent to the other. Distinct biomes and unique architecture will define these areas, each with a weather system, and even a day/night cycle. Some of these regions include foul swamps, icy peaks, and desolate grasslands.

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Cities and towns will operate as hubs for players. You’ll be able to pick up new quests from NPCs, trade, and group up with others to take on more difficult content. Among those challenges will be world event bosses that require multiple players to dispatch. Fans can also expect rewards to match difficulty, as Diablo 4 is hoping to have more legendaries than ever. This increase in legendary items is a direct answer to set bonuses dominating in Diablo 3. The developers behind Diablo 4 want to encourage more diverse builds.

That desire for more diversity among characters stretches all the way to character creation. When rolling a new character in Diablo 4, players will be given presets for their given class that they can then customize. According to the game’s director, players will be able to change features such as hair, skin, jewelry, tattoos, and scars. While a few examples were shown, Blizzard says the final game’s character creation will have many additional choices.

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Character customization isn’t the only new feature coming to Diablo 4, as mounts will make their series debut as well. The developers have remained faithful to the overall aesthetic of Diablo with flaming, flayed, and decaying horses. You’ll be able to customize your horses’ armor, saddle, and mount trophies from them. Other items will also buff your steed, increasing their speed or their resistance to damage. Each class will feature dismount abilities that complement their playstyle. Barbarians will leap off their horse and ground pound, while the Sorceress dismounts in a flurry of ice and snow.

Add all this together, and Blizzard’s dungeon-crawler is beginning to look a lot more like an MMORPG. It’s not, of course, in the classic sense, as you won’t see dozens of players running around at the same time. Yet the more open world, with world bosses, new cosmetics, and numerous side activities, sounds a lot like the sort of quests you might see in World of Warcraft. This perhaps isn’t surprising. Other recent action-RPGs, like Pagan Online, have taken a pseudo-MMO approach, pairing ideas from big persistent multiplayer games alongside classic action-RPG gameplay.

While all this change may seem daunting for series purists, the team has been vocal about the careful steps they’re taking as they introduce new features. The game’s Art Director assured fans that they can complete the game solo if social features don’t interest them. Players will also still have familiar waypoints to move around the in-game world.

Many of the changes made are, according to Blizzard, in response to player feedback and behaviors in Diablo 3. It seems that the team is pulling from everything they’ve learned throughout the series. How true the end product will be to its roots remains to be seen.

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Alan Torres
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