Diablo 4: Hands-on preview from BlizzCon 2019

It's time to return to Sanctuary, but it's more violent than you might remember. It's also more social! Shacknews goes hands-on with Diablo 4 at BlizzCon 2019.


Diablo has always been among the darkest of Blizzard's franchises. That was never more evident than Friday's BlizzCon 2019 Opening Ceremonies. Visceral imagery, blood and entrails, and full-on flesh capes, Diablo 4 does not look like it's going to hold anything back. The publisher is fully embracing the darkness and presenting a much grittier product this time around.

But how does Diablo IV actually play? Is Blizzard reinventing the wheel or sticking to the formula that's made this dungeon-crawler such a breakout phenomenon in the first place. To get an idea, Shacknews went to this year's BlizzCon and gave it a look, braving some of the baddest demons that Sanctuary will have to offer.

Diablo 4 - BlizzCon 2019

Before diving in, there were three classes to choose from:

  • The Barbarian: A melee-based killer with a multitude of weapons and no fear of getting up close and personal. The Barbarian almost literally bathes in the blood of his (or her) enemies and is capable of going toe-to-toe with many foes. For our demo, we stuck to the Barbarian.
  • The Sorceress: A mistress of the elements, the Sorceress is capable of using lightning, ice, and fire to dispatch enemies. And yes, even the elements can be gruesome, as the Sorceress is fully able to flay enemies and leave them a pile of bloody organs.
  • The Druid: It would normally be enough to switch back and forth between a human (able to use the winds for aid) and a werewolf to swiftly eliminate foes while bouncing around the world. The Druid can also transform into a bear and literally rip enemies limb from limb.

There's no character creation system here, but each class does look to have four preset models, two male and two female. So it's possible to run around as a female Barbarian or as a male Sorcerer. (Editor's Note: The Sorceress model did only have two female models available for this demo.) Voiceover lines will adjust accordingly.

The first thing that stands out about Diablo IV is that it looks like a much more realistic affair than its predecessors. The refined art style captures the slickness of the Barbarian going back and forth between his four available weapons and wielding them effortlessly. More than that, it captures how hard he's able to hit with them, sending enemies flying by slamming his staff on the ground or dismembering foes with his double axes. Combat feels much flashier than it has in the past, something I noticed as one of the Druids on-screen switched back and forth between werewolf and bear and stylishly ended enemies with his sharp claws and fangs. Just know that certain moves spend individual resources exclusive to each class, such as my right-click club strike spending Fury while the Druid was spending Spirit.

Diablo 4 - BlizzCon 2019

That is another thing to note here is that outside of the instanced caverns and dungeons, the greater outside region appears to be open to other players. As I looked to get going on a quest, I was suddenly joined in mid-conversation the aforementioned Druid, who had the same idea. It wasn't long before the Druid and I had informally partied up, but rather than continue on our quest, we found ourselves enthralled by the shared open world. Skeletons and other demons would pop up and we'd practice our abilities and watch each other work. It feels like something out of an MMORPG like Guild Wars or a social looter shooter like Destiny, where you're not necessarily partied up, but you'll find other players roaming the world. That does seem to indicate that portions of Diablo IV will be always-online.

Those who choose to go beyond the shared open world can jump into various dungeons, each with their own challenges and their own massive bosses. And as one would imagine, the bosses will drop copious amounts of gold and loot. Loot is one of the biggest draws of any Diablo game, but it feels too early to judge this aspect of the game, given my extremely limited time with it and my inability to respec my character. Item and loot synergies are definitely something that will require a little more time to judge properly.

There will be no shortage of ways to earn loot, especially through the aforementioned shared open world. These public areas will have their own bosses, which can be summoned by completing certain tasks. Once a boss is summoned, surrounding players will be alerted to its presence and will be allowed to participate. You'll probably need them, because these bosses are enormous and wildly powerful. It actually didn't take me too long to die facing off against this giant, slimy dragon. It's here that it's worth noting that the dodge roll that was a staple in the console versions of Diablo III is now a regular part of all versions of Diablo IV, with the move tied to the space bar on PC.

There were other elements of Diablo IV that I wasn't able to try out. For example, I couldn't change up my skills or play around with the talent tree. That does seem to feed into the feeling that this game is going to spend a lot of time in the oven. However, there's a lot to be encouraged by here. Blizzard looks to be keeping the best elements of Diablo III, while also adding in some much-needed upgrades, like the grittier art style, the increased level of violence, and a greater emphasis on cutscenes. And it's not just cutscenes, but cutscenes that are personalized to your character, a welcome change from the pre-rendered cutscenes of the past.

Diablo IV does not have a release date and nobody at Blizzard looks to even be hinting that there's one on the horizon. So don't expect to see this anytime soon. However, whenever the time does come to step into Sanctuary again, look for it to release on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 2, 2019 6:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Diablo 4: Hands-on preview from BlizzCon 2019

    • reply
      November 2, 2019 6:18 AM

      Nice article. I'm not sure how they can improve gameplay-wise on Diablo 3 which is so super slick and playable. Maybe add more keyboard controls and make it less of a click spamfest? Or move away from the super precise builds that are required to play D3 on the higher Torment levels? I'd love to have D4 focus on story and open world to bring something new to the series.

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        November 2, 2019 6:53 AM

        The best thing they could do to improve it would be to balance classes/skills/gear in such a way that there really isn’t a “best build” or “best in slot” for anything, so you don’t have the scenario where there may be a weapon or skill that’s fun to play but ultimately not effective enough to be viable so you pretty much have to skip over it to advance to higher levels.

        Plus, with the way they’d rebalance things every season that would lead to “flavor or the month” builds, rather than letting people be creative and come up with their builds that could be effective + fun at the highest levels

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          November 2, 2019 7:02 AM

          I think there will always be game balance vs end game balance. At some point in the end game, it comes down to numbers.

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          November 2, 2019 8:44 AM

          Yeah. I'd like to get back to actually hunting for loot that compliments my own personal build, not the D3 style where it was more swapping around my skills and play to fit the specific loot, like the seasonal sets. Itemization that can actually impact and modify all sorts of abilities and builds in interesting ways, to where there may not be a best of the best for everyone, you should always be wanting to get more loot which may be synergistic in some unforeseen way and further specialize your character.

          The skills or talents don't to be permanent choices, but there should be some sort of costly penalty or limited number of respecs to make it an extremely rare occurrence (and to make rolling secondary characters of the same class a better proposition if you want to try another build). Does anyone know how the skill system works in D4? Can you swap shit around again and change up your build whenever you fancy like D3?

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            November 2, 2019 9:13 AM

            The game is still way early in development. You can tell just from the game directors wording and interviews for developers. A lot is going to change so I wouldn’t take anything you see now to be representative of the game. It was clearly rushed to get something for Blizzcon after last years debacle. They only recently switched developers from other teams to the Diablo 4 team.

            Some concerning things though were in other interviews when people were asking devs questions and comparing some things to PoE the devs eyes kind of glossed over and they had no idea what the person was talking about.w that’s really worrisome when Blizzard is working in that kind of bubble since they were always good about taking the best ideas from other games, but that hasn’t been the case at all in recent years.

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            November 2, 2019 10:11 AM

            The last thing I want is a return the notion of leveling a class more than once just to try new builds. That isn't fun.

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              November 2, 2019 10:31 AM

              Yeah, that would be totally DOA for me. I like leveling the separate classes individually, but if they force me to level more than one of a single class, I’m out.

              • Zek legacy 10 years
                November 2, 2019 11:06 AM

                I read somewhere that skill leveling is permanent but you can eventually fully level every skill. Whereas talent trees are respeccable.

                If they're keeping it traditional then they'll have seasons that give you some incentive to start fresh every few months, but you don't have to. I'm hoping they'll instead put more work into replayability of max level characters with cosmetics etc so you never have to start over. Lots of ARPGs these days do that, see Warframe etc.

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                  November 2, 2019 12:41 PM

                  Oof, sounds like they're halfway onto something. Comes off like you may be somewhat 'locked in' to a specific build or skill set as you level, but once you eventually max out every single skill it would then be a lot like Diablo 3 as far the ability hot swap skills and builds go, if everything the class has to offer is always accessible and usable at that point. Possibly with the slight hiccup in having to respec your talents to fully maximize your current chosen skill set? IDK.

                  Still early as Chod says, though. Anything can change. I really just don't want a Diablo 3.5 when it comes to character builds and items, but it's sounding like it wind up being just that with some minor wrinkles.

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              November 2, 2019 12:24 PM

              It is way more fun when the loot is there to support individual class customization and differentiation. Diablo 3's method of itemization is less than ideal for that because most of the items are designed around rolling the most generic stat modifiers possible, and then having overpowered set bonuses which dictate the character builds and play styles instead of tailoring your own custom character setup. It's so fucking boring and by the numbers, do you really want more of that?

              Not at all against limited respecs, either, just feel the D3 method defeats the purpose of growing and customizing a character when you can be anything at anytime, and even modify your entire build around a new piece of random loot instantly. Also kills the drive to continue hunting for random loot that actually modifies or compliments your current build, everything becomes more ubiquitous and generic and less specialized and unique.

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                November 2, 2019 12:45 PM

                I mean, for me, I want to hunt for loot. And I want to be able to use the loot I get, rather than having a cool item drop that benefits a build which isn't mine. I don't like when these kinds of games turn into "hunt down item X", but the method is doing Y 100 times and crossing your fingers. I'd much rather lots and lots of interesting loot with unique modifiers, fewer set bonuses (because that shit it so boring), and generally fewer +X% to thing-type bonsues on loot.

                I have no interest in growing a customizing a character in a game where characterization comes entirely from randomized item drops. If this were an MMO where I'm seriously investing in who Dragnar the Barbarian is, I might agree. But it's a game where Dragnar the Barbarian is just the class I picked, and that gives me an array of options across lots of builds depending on the loot I find, and I want to always be able to fuck with those. My biggest "please don't fucking change this" for Diablo 4 is Diablo 3's instant respec and skill options. That shit made the game so much more fun to me than D2 ever was.

                Keep in mind, I never have and never will play Diablo or similar at the bleeding edge of content, so I don't care much how they implement getting those last extra couple DPS out of a character. My interest is in having lots of fun build options and lots of unique loot to support those options.

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                  November 2, 2019 1:26 PM

                  I don't like when these kinds of games turn into "hunt down item X", but the method is doing Y 100 times and crossing your fingers.

                  To me, that's way more apparent when a game has poor itemization to begin with, like Diablo 3. Where eventually you're going after the exact same items, but hopefully with the slightly better generic stat rolls for a tiny boost here and there. Ideally, you should be constantly on the crawl for anything and everything, surprised by plenty of what you get because of the randomization, and occasionally have it add to or modify your current build in unexpected ways. Not just the highest quality tiers, but even the basic magic / blues and rares can offer some interesting curveballs beyond simple stat boosts.

                  I have no interest in growing a customizing a character in a game where characterization comes entirely from randomized item drops.

                  Who's saying it has to come entirely from randomized items? That sort of defeats the whole purpose of having a specific build to begin with. It should supplement or add to them in meaningful ways. It's still mix of everything that customizes and specializes your character, he build with the stat allocations and chosen skills, the armor and weapons, the modifiers / charms / runes / gems / etc.

                  And yeah, maybe you do find something awesome that makes you want use up a limited respec (or maybe it costs an increasing amount of gold per character to prevent constantly changing, etc) - that's a tough choice, and an interesting one to make than just immediately changing your character into something different in an instant. Or maybe you'd want to create another character build for that instead, I know you're not a fan of that but to me that's actually a benefit and adds longevity and even more replayability to games like this, which are already built around extreme replayability. Or perhaps you trade with another player for something that may be a better fit for you? Looks like they've they've been talking about wanting to bring item trading back, that alone radically alters what you can do with the all the loot that's not a fit for your build and opens you up to finding more that is.

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                    November 2, 2019 1:31 PM

                    Unless they make the process of leveling fun, which it's never been in rhese kinds of games, I just don't see the point of doing it more than once. All the interesting choices and gameplay happen at endgame. This has been true of every game like this I've played.

                    I'm open to that changing, but I don't expect it to. As long as "the real game starts at level cap", it feels silly to have to get to that cap more than once.

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      November 2, 2019 7:02 AM

      Still sucks that this game is at least 2 years out.

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      November 2, 2019 7:02 AM

      Can’t wait !

      I’m guessing we don’t see this until 2021

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      November 2, 2019 7:30 AM

      did they say anything about twin stick controls? or simultaneous release on PC/consoles?

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        November 2, 2019 8:08 AM

        I read somewhere that the PC version will have gamepad support this time. Not sure if it's confirmed or if people are just basing it off D4 having the D3 console dodge maneuver.

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          November 2, 2019 9:16 AM

          We talked to the devs themselves yesterday and they confirmed controller support on PC. That interview should be up sometime in the next week.

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            November 2, 2019 9:54 AM

            Neat! Did you ask about the UI as a followup? Does that change based on your input method?

            The inventory interface on display in Diablo 4 still looks mouse focused like Diablo 3, and completely different from Diablo 3 console's approach with the gamepad in mind.

            • Zek legacy 10 years
              November 2, 2019 10:09 AM

              I would assume the UI can be swapped, they're developing the console versions simultaneously.

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      November 2, 2019 8:14 AM

      The gameplay reminds me of that Korean ARPG lost ark, which is a great thing. Way more dynamic, like the inning and mounts. You cab see the influence.

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      November 2, 2019 9:28 AM

      This is going to be a must buy ofc, but was it just me or did the ingame animations seem slightly.... off a touch? I cant put my finger on it, but they didnt seem quite up to Blizzards normal standards. Not that theyre bad or anything close to that, but they just seemed to be lacking that... blizzard something...

      I dunno maybe it was something i ate...

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        November 2, 2019 9:59 AM

        Like the in-game cutscene sort of thing?

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          November 2, 2019 11:46 AM

          Nah the game play... more the player character animations but ive watched some more and maybe its just me. Its almost like theyre like 10% too fast so you miss out a bit on the coolness I dunno...

          The cinematic trailor is stupidly good as per usual blizzard. Dark as fuck tho... man. Total Hellraiser vibes...

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        November 2, 2019 10:57 AM

        The game is super early in development. Like years out. This is a rushed build for Blizzcon.

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          November 2, 2019 11:03 AM

          The devs cringed when we asked if this would be out in 2020, so we’re looking at 2021 at the earliest, from the looks of it.

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            November 2, 2019 11:47 AM

            Sad but not worried. I'll have an uber rig next year for Cyberpunk and it should have no probs with D4...

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      November 2, 2019 10:02 AM

      I will say that the video content made the visuals seem a little lacking and low on detail, but after taking a look at screenshots, I think that feeling was largely based on crappy compression artifacts. The screenshots look very solid:


      Like this one looks really good, and very much in line with what I would consider to be the thematic spirit of Diablo 2:


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      November 2, 2019 12:57 PM

      Addendum: Played again. The Sorceress rocks. Slow freezing spells, chain lightning, and giant meteors are more my jam.

      Also, the side quests look to be where the loot is REALLY at.

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      November 2, 2019 1:05 PM


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      November 2, 2019 1:46 PM

      Will shacknews have a video of the diablo info panel(s) today?

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      November 2, 2019 2:42 PM

      Where's the Winnie the Pooh class?

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