In this exclusive interview, Joe Piepiora and John Muller of Blizzard talked to us about how Diablo 4 tries to re-invent the series – by calling back to the past.
Diablo 4 is almost here after being in the making for a good while. Its predecessor, Diablo 3, came out in 2012. And it caused quite a stir, with many fans complaining about things like the simplified build system and the auction house – while still playing it for hundreds of hours.
Now, over ten years later, the developers at Blizzard are back. And with Diablo 4 they've set themselves the ambitious task of trying to create a game that will at once remind long-term fans of what made them fall in love with the old games, while also re-inventing Diablo anew for modern audiences. How did they approach this huge task?
Associate Game Director Joe Piepiora and Art Director John Mueller set down with us to talk about their approach for Diablo 4 and how they wanted to find the right balance between satisfying old fans, getting new people on board and surprising everyone along the way.
Diablo 4 Is Familiar, Yet New
One of the key differences between Diablo 4 and its precursors lies in the shared world. Sanctuary is the first true open world in Diablo and it’s always-online, which puts a much bigger focus on multiplayer activities like world events and timed world bosses.
How did the team get to this point? By going back in the past and seeing what made those old Diablo games so beloved. Piepiora explains, how “as we started thinking about what Diablo 4 needed to be, there were things we wanted to take from previous entries in the series.” That's how a mix of familiar elements were brought together to form the foundation of Diablo 4:
“We wanted to take the dark atmosphere of Diablo 1, the rich, deep build making of Diablo 2 and the action combat of Diablo 3. We needed to make sure that these three things we thought were really great about previous entrance series, that we bring them all forward and then we start to think about what are the things that we can add in Diablo 4.”
With this foundation established, recalling the staples of the series, the question was left of what Diablo 4 could add to the series, with the team wanting “to focus on this idea of player choice across the board”.
That’s where the developers landed on this new open world approach, and the big, diverse world of Sanctuary. “We've got this rich tapestry of sanctuary we've built over several games, there's like books and other media that we've done to support it”, said Mueller. This was the perfect opportunity to expand Diablo and make it bigger and more open than ever.
“Let's just try to make the whole world, let's blow the walls down off the sides of the little spaces that you typically travel through, and let's just make one contiguous overworld for Diablo 4. I think we were really ambitious with this game. We did things that we've never done before.”
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From what we have played of Diablo 4 so far, this approach worked out really well. The open world in Diablo 4 is beautiful and engaging. Sanctuary is a rough and broken place, one where you can feel the history and the struggle of the people in every town, every corner of the map. But it’s a diverse world as well, with every region creating a unique and distinct feeling.
If you have never played Diablo before, the new game is the perfect entry point:
Always-Online, But Not An MMO
Next to the new open world, another unique aspect is the game’s addition of online multiplayer elements. You see other players in your game, you can complete events together and engage in PvP in specific areas of the map.
But, while Diablo 4 will be an always-online-live-service game, it is distinctly not an MMO. This is not the next WoW, as the game was created as “an action role playing game first and foremost”, as Piepiora emphasized during our conversation.
The multiplayer aspects were introduced to enhance the experience, with the multiplayer elements not being a focus, but rather an extra addition to the game.
This new element is set to support the longevity of Diablo 4 as well, especially thanks to new seasons being rolled out every few months. How these will be designed, and how much they will embrace the multiplayer-focused parts of the game, will largely be based on player feedback, according to Piepiora:
“As we see how players are interacting with our world boss encounters and the kinds of things they're really enjoying in the game, we can certainly lean more into those things and know that the players really like them."
Diablo 4 is shaping up to be a distinctly new chapter in the franchise, while still embracing and upholding the strong foundations of the series and the elements that people have loved for a very long time now. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and one which will be interesting to follow in the coming months.
After our conversation, I really had only one question left. And it’s one that I just had to ask: Will Diablo be in the game? While the devs somewhat dodged the question, they did deliver a promising answer, not just about Diablo the character, but for the future of Diablo 4 as a game: “This is just the beginning”.
Next week, you can read more about our thoughts on the world design and everything else in the game in our extensive Diablo 4 review.
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