The return of Diablo, the iconic demon-slaying hack-and-slash franchise, is nigh.
Activision Blizzard, the company behind the game, hasn’t announced a release date for Diablo IV, other than some time in 2023. That would put it nearly 11 years after the release of Diablo III. It’s a long time to wait between games, but now Blizzard has shown off at least part of the upcoming installment in a limited preview.
Blizzard’s preview build offered access to most of the first act of the game, though it was limited to three playable classes (Barbarian, Sorceress, and Rogue) and max character level of 25. (Blizzard says the ultimate max level will be 100, with most players expected to complete the campaign around level 40–45.)
For the unconverted: Diablo is a third-person, top-down dungeon crawler. You choose a class of hero and blast away at some demons either in single player or multiplayer. The lore has its share of convolutions and complicated characters, but at the core it’s a battle between good and evil. The forces of Heaven and Hell are locked in a constant power struggle. You play as one of the poor saps caught between them in the mortal realm of Sanctuary.
Of course, you’re not exactly helpless. The Diablo franchise has always been a power fantasy, and Diablo IV wastes no time in letting you kick ass. Within seconds of taking control of your character, you’re set loose to vaporize enemies and collect a dizzying array of loot to grow ever more powerful.
The Big Bad you’re tasked with defeating is the demon Lilith, also known as the Daughter of Hatred. As such a name may imply, Lilith’s influence on the world is brutal and malevolent. The game’s environment reflects that. The lighting is dim, the landscape stark and broken. The characters you encounter run the gamut from forlorn widows to blood-obsessed murderers. The remnants of ritual sacrifices and other violent scuffles are strewed about everywhere.
Diablo has always been grim, but the world of Diablo IV is a stark change from its immediate predecessor. As multiple developers on the game have repeatedly said during interviews, Diablo IV is a “return to darkness” for the series. Diablo III caught some flak For its brighter, more accessible color palette and tone. Diablo IV aims to pull the franchise back into the macabre. The aesthetics lean harder into horror elements than ever before. The environment is a blend of various grays, at least when everything isn’t covered in blood.
“Darkness is mainstream now,” head of franchise Rod Fergusson says. “That felt like a really interesting place to go, to bring Diablo back to its roots.”
John Mueller, Diablo IV‘s art director, says that the art team looked to great works of Renaissance art for inspiration. (Think the right panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.)