The hour grows late as Blizzard appears to be getting ready to finally reveal Diablo IV after nearly a decade since the last installment arrived to create a divide between veterans and newcomers over the new design approach.
In a surprising announcement this week, associate community manager Brand Camel revealed that there are multiple Diablo projects in the pipelines. She also teased that some of these will take more time to finish but others may possibly see the light of day in the coming months.
It should be noted that Diablo IV has yet to be officially announced. However, the trail of breadcrumbs from Blizzard has made it quite evident that the much-awaited sequel exists. There is uncertainty over when the development began but if the planets align, which they seem to be doing so right now, the developer may just drop a trailer at BlizzCon 2018 in November.
Stay awhile and listen. Here are thirteen changes Diablo IV should strongly consider to appease the aging player-base.
Transparency and listening to the players
What ailed Diablo III at the start was Blizzard enforcing changes on the pretense that it knows best. The problem was largely attributed to former game director Jay Wilson, who took a fresh approach without consulting the players.
Blizzard had to ultimately remedy the situation down the road and while Diablo III turned out better with post-release improvements, it was a bit difficult to reinvigorate excitement for the installment.
Suffice to say that Blizzard should learn from previous mistakes and involve the community for crucial feedback this time around. The development process for Diablo IV needs to have more transparency.
Meaningful story and better content support
Blizzard is renowned for creating some of the best lore ever but its writing department fell short with Diablo III. The storyline was very predictable and the few included twists hardly held enough meaning to surprise anyone.
In fact, the Reaper of Souls expansion pack fared much better in comparison to the base offering. Unfortunately, this improvement was short-lived because Blizzard decided to not release any further story-based content.
Whether the Black Soulstone, which was shattered to release all seven evils, will be taken by Diablo IV as a potential plot thread remains to be seen. Blizzard, however, needs to find a more immersive narrative and significant post-release content that carries weight for the sequel.
Balance between online and offline content
For the first few years, Blizzard had to frequently rush back and forth to give players a solid reason to continue investing time in Diablo III.
The installment was released with a primary focus on the traditional single-player story-driven experience but players quickly found themselves without having anything to do. The developer was then forced to focus on the online component by introducing Nephalem Rifts, increasing the difficulty, and bettering the rewards. However, the conversation only returned to additional story content.
It is true that multiplayer holds great value in any game but it is equally important to not abandon the single-player campaign. For a franchise like Diablo, there is a natural yearning for as much story-based content as possible to gnaw on.
Blizzard needs to a find a balance between online and offline elements for Diablo IV. Perhaps opting for a persistent online world with regular content updates would not be a bad idea.
Choosing the right narrator
Blizzard did well to bring back Deckard Cain to accompany players in Diablo III. While he was killed off in the later acts for emotional value, the Horadric scholar still remained a significant part of the narrative through his journal entries.
It would be a personal joy to see him return in Diablo IV even if he narrates through a spiritual or shade form. However, if Blizzard must find a new narrator, the new individual must be able to fill those incredibly large shoes.
Better distinction between difficulty levels
There were more than a dozen difficulty levels in Diablo III — seventeen at the time of writing, most of which had very little to do with proposing a challenge.
In fact, the first several levels could be skipped and the gameplay would still be fairly easy. In the case of the latter and harder levels, even they felt unnecessary sometimes. It was not until fairly down the “Torment” tree when jumping a single level meant certain death if unprepared.
Blizzard had, for reasons, split a single difficulty level into multiple levels. Diablo IV needs to amend this system for clarity. If more are required, the developer should add significant incentives and other differentiating factors to give each difficulty level a separate identity.
Facial character customization
What is a role-playing game without the option to customize your appearance? There is no greater feeling than spending time on a creation screen and fiddling with facial features for a tailored look.
Strangely, the customization aspect was scrapped from Diablo III because the in-game characters were considered too small to show up personal changes. In addition, the developer found no use of customization since they could be hidden by helms and shoulder pads.
Diablo IV should dismiss these excuses and come up with a workaround. Let players change their characters even if the most that can be seen is the hair.
Elsewhere in the customization category, Transmogrification was an excellent addition to Diablo III. There is no reason why it should not return for the sequel.
More grit and less rainbows
Despite the limited technology at the time, Diablo II managed to produce creepy and gloom-ridden environments that fell right into the dark theme of the franchise. Diablo III had the advantage of advanced lighting and shaders for realism. However, the new-age art-style meant brighter colors that reduced grit.
So where should Diablo IV stand? The new installment definitely needs to return to its dark roots. Dungeons are supposed to be morbid and that means more contrast to bring out bold contours.
Exploration instead of linearity
While the maps of Diablo II have often been blamed for a linear approach, selective memory fails to note that the much-loved Diablo II also followed the same lines to a certain degree. The comparison can better be made with other franchises in the same genre for better understanding.
Torchlight II and Path of Exile, for example, both featured expansive worlds that felt better populated. Players seldom found themselves running from one point to the next and instead would often end up exploring to uncover secrets. Constructing a similar world for Diablo IV would not be difficult when considering the exhaustive lore in the hands of Blizzard.
If the next installment will indeed be pursuing an online persistent world, it makes it all the more important to have better designed maps for exploration
Bringing the environment into play
It is high time that Blizzard evolves the franchise to introduce new gameplay mechanics. There should be more than just dropping chandeliers and rolling piles of logs on to clumps of enemies, which mostly proved useless in Diablo III.
Divinity: Original Sin did wonders with its usage of environment. Why cannot Diablo IV offer the same by using the terrain for bonus attributes? Some classes could take advantage of holy or unholy grounds, others of the weather and obviously the incurred elements.
Real talent trees instead of skill variants
Blizzard went with a simplified talent system for Diablo III on the premise of accessibility, which was not appreciated in the slightest.
The traditional talent trees need to return in the next installment if the developer is even remotely interested in making up for lost time. Something massive with multiple branches for players to explore and test their builds with should be the order of the day.
Blizzard needs to just look at what Path of Exile has done. This will ultimately add replay value to Diablo IV since players will no longer be able to change their abilities on the fly.
Raiding, not races; Bosses, not sponges
When it comes to raiding parties, challenges associated with dungeons should not mean following a timer. The very idea is different from what a raid should look and feel like. While the Nephalem Rifts still stand as one of the best post-release aspects of Diablo III, the feature could use a few improvements in Diablo IV.
To start off with, raids must have exploration elements. Being overwhelmed with strong enemies in an alien location sounds far better than dropping into a pit to kill as many enemies as possible.
In addition, the enemies need to have some level of intelligence. The units and bosses in Diablo III looked great by design but most were simply damage-absorbing sponges in the end. There is a looming opportunity here to increase satisfaction by bettering the dungeons and their bosses.
Modding and level editors
How many times does it need to be said that the modding community helps increase the longevity of a product, especially if there are multiplayer components involved? Provided that Diablo IV features better and deeper online elements, Blizzard must make sure to give modders the freedom to work.
There is only fleeting hope that Diablo IV will be open for the public to make and share great content. This is primarily because the developer has a history of taking a stance against modding in order to restrict the naughty ones from reverse engineering the code to create cheats.
Hence, modding in Diablo IV will likely not happen but if it does, all the respect for Blizzard.
Keep the Auction House from returning
This is going to be a bit difficult to explain since trading is considered a mandatory feature for the franchise.
Diablo III did launch with an Auction House but it was removed by Blizzard down the road. The gameplay relies heavily on gear and players were able to get their favorite lot through purchases rather than progress. This not only made the single-player campaign easier but also irrelevant.
Once the Auction House was removed, Blizzard balanced the situation by increasing the drop rate of loot. Farming for gear remained as the only option, but the process yielded better results than before.
In both instances the clear focus on gear made for a shallow experience. Even now in its current state, players power-level ahead to pick up high-level gear in order to start entering Nephalem Rifts. There is no incentive in going through the story campaign, apart from unlocking a few mediocre achievements.
If Blizzard is going with the same focus for Diablo IV, then there is no point of bringing back the Auction House. However, if it forces players to stick with decisions made in a deep talent system and less on their wares, trading could make a fine feature.
What are your expectations from Diablo IV? Is there any other change that you want in the sequel? Let us know in the comments below.