Gaming ‘Diablo IV’ review: A mechanically perfect romp through a shallow world

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The scale of “Diablo IV” often works against its goals.

In an interview with The Guardian more than a decade ago, Warren Spector, the director and producer of Deus Ex, said his dream game would take place in one city block. “There are people who are trying to simulate massive worlds at a level of an inch per mile,” Spector told journalist Keith Stuart. “I don’t get it. I really want deep worlds that you can interact with.”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those comments while playing Diablo IV. Blizzard’s latest is easily one of the best games the studio has released in about a decade, but I can’t help imagining what Diablo IV could have been if it were a smaller, more focused experience.

The story of Diablo IV opens decades after the end of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, with the world of Sanctuary still reeling from the events of that game. Structurally, the narrative that unfolds is similar to Diablo II. Following a visit to a remote village, your character sets off after the demon Lilith – who is the daughter of Mephisto, one of the Prime Evils you defeated in Diablo II. More often than not, your character finds they’re one step behind Lilith, leading to predictably dire results.

I won’t say much more about Diablo IV’s story other than to note Blizzard smartly grounded it in the tragedy of its human characters. When the narrative calls on elements from past games, it does so in ways that feel natural and earned. Lilith is also a great antagonist. Every time she appeared on-screen, I felt a sense of unease waiting to see what kind of calculated cruelty she’d inflict on those unlucky enough to cross her path. If you only end up playing Diablo IV for its story, I think you will enjoy the experience, but if you decide to veer off its critical path, be prepared to play through a lot of uninspired content.

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