Diablo 4 devs on Rifts, console ports & there being "more room around the campfire" for classes
Diablo as a franchise isn't afraid of being frightening, in any of the ways that it possibly can be.
To begin with, the subject matter of the clash of Heaven and Hell is an Evangelical nightmare, immediately placing it on the puritanical blacklist, but even beyond that, its scope is unlike anything else in the gaming industry.
The franchise has become well known for luring its players into obsessive loops, much like Blizzard's World of Warcraft and Starcraft, offering players seemingly endless activities to lose themselves in. The looting adventurer is the perfect series to sink an entire lifetime into, and for many, it's already true, clutched by its dry claws since the first game's launch in the last moments of 1996.
With each new mainline title, though, Diablo has grown exponentially, becoming even more expansive and increasing the gravitational heave of its black hole gameplay. Diablo IV threatens to be the ugliest beast of a title that the franchise has seen yet, with hundreds of hours of gameplay being offered to players from the moments its fiery gates creak open - and in conversation with the game's top demons, we found that what we've seen from the surface is but a mere precursor for the horrors that await us within Diablo IV. Welcome to Hell.
Diablo IV is the ultimate Diablo experience
As with any sequel in the modern gaming landscape, the intention with Diablo IV is to create a brand new benchmark for the franchise going forward, to establish a new port of call for additional content and become the first place to turn for new and old fans alike looking for the Diablo experience. And to do that, it first needs to find its feet with the series' pre-established accomplishments - and our conversation with Associate Game Developer Joe Piepiora and Art Director John Mueller revealed that the pressure was truly on behind the scenes.
"Diablo is a tentpole of RPGs," reflects Piepiora. "It's a tentpole of gaming, as it's been around since the mid-nineties. So obviously we feel the pressure to deliver on the expectations are gonna have, that we, the younger versions of John Mueller and Joe Piepiora had back then as well."
"You think about anything with a ‘4' in it, and people are going to expect the pinnacle of the franchise," Mueller says.
"You know players are gonna show up, so it's not a question of if people are gonna have an interest. We've built a team that can handle these different efforts… so that the launch game wouldn't lose anything and seasons would be spinning up and we would have a great shop experience, a great battle pass experience, and all those things have individual groups and teams.
"So it was really in service of this idea of making it a pinnacle experience that feels like it's the greatest time ever to be a Diablo fan. There's something for everybody here without losing what's core to the franchise."
The new stuff seems to be what keeps the pair the most amped up, with only one character revealed to be returning to the title, and the rest of it being entirely fresh for Diablo IV's five classes to explore. Plus with an 80-hour battle pass and an estimated 150+ hours to reach level 100, there's clearly plenty for players to do beyond the title's main campaign - which is something that Piepiora especially seems very passionate about, especially when it comes to the game's seasons.
"Really, what's important to me is that the player has fun for the entirety of their experience," he says. "There are lots of goals for them to pursue, there are lots of things for them to do.
"As long as you've got a good time when the moment you've said you're going to stop playing during that season [comes], that's fantastic. Come back next time, we have an all-brand-new enclosed storyline to play through, brand-new themes, brand-new features and systems to interact with."
A new kind of hell awaits
There's a lot of hope resting on the shoulders of Diablo IV, not just for long-term fans waiting behind their keyboards to click "Play" at 0:01 on release morning, but also for players hoping to kick into Diablo gear on console.
"It's a tremendous amount of work, to get all the platforms to the expectations of our players that we know they'll have, and to have a good experience for all those players whether you're on an Xbox One, or an Xbox Series X, or a PS5," says Mueller of the tribulations of porting.
"There's a lot that we've learned from taking Diablo III and putting it on different devices," adds Piepiora. "From the get-go, we know obviously that Diablo IV had to be a multi-platform game. I wanted to make sure as many players as possible could check out Diablo, and that doesn't mean we wanna leave PC behind.
"We're trying everything on PC, we're trying everything on controller… you know, we're going back and forth trying everything on this platform, on that platform, making sure there's a good amount of parity between different devices to make sure that it all feels good and smooth."
There are notable changes in the game that may come as a frustration to some players, though, as this new cataclysmic caper has made some omissions to streamline a brand-new experience.
Speaking with the pair, it has become clear that the Auction House, Diablo III's buying-and-selling market for high-tier loot that was stripped from the game during its life-cycle, would only have undermined what the new game is all about. Piepiora says that "it was never really discussed, a thing we'd even consider again," and yet another missing feature rears its head when he tells us outright that "Rifts do not return to the game in Diablo IV."
This isn't much cause for concern though, as even though their distance from the game contributes to its overarching atmosphere and ethos, Piepiora said "Who's to say whether or not a feature like Rifts might return in the future?"
It's an open-ended argument that could still be committed to the omission of the Monk and Witch Doctor classes, and while Mueller assures us that "there's always room around the campfire," their assuredness in the quality of Diablo IV speaks to a streamlined experience that is comfortable enough without them, even those who intend to infect foes from the game's opening moments.
Through the Fire and Flames
Change is a-coming for Diablo, but make no mistake - the very same hacking-and-slashing titan that defined your youth is still very much intact. The future of the franchise looks to be white-hot, and the game's team are hoping for the best after their hard work.
"Developing through the pandemic was incredibly challenging," Mueller muses as our time together drew to a close.
"I remember when we announced the game, it was 2019, Blizzcon, and then three months later was when everybody went home," he reflects.
"The team really galvanised through that experience, we overcame a lot of challenges, and I think it was a development experience. I mean, to have it come out in a really good feeling way, and you know, to feel like the launch is gonna go well, and the game be well received… that would be just an amazing outcome."
Despite leading the charge on a AAA game at one of the biggest gaming companies on the planet, the pair seem to maintain their passion for the franchise and have effectively boiled any concern that a returning Diablo fan could have into one hell of a spicy broth.
Our last mainline title now sits at over a decade old now, and with the future of Diablo in the hands of the likes of Mueller and Pieiora, it seems that it could be brighter than ever before. We're going straight to hell, and frankly, we couldn't be happier about it.