Diablo 4’s Illusion of Choice is Steadily Becoming More Obvious

Some ideas need to stay in Hell.
Diablo 4 Lilith Closeup

Finishing an action RPG’s campaign is typically when the “real game” begins; you’re no longer limited by the constraints of story missions and progress-gated content, and the avenues for which you craft your perfect build are all at your fingertips. At least, that’s how it should be.

Recommended Videos

Post-campaign Sanctuary appears expansive at first glance; Helltides and Whispers cover various regions of the map, World Bosses and Legion events give incentives for random players to team up, and Nightmare Dungeons allow you to push your build to its limits. The problem is that, after continuously questionable hotfixes, Diablo 4 can’t seem to decide how it wants you to play the game.

Or maybe it can, and it simply won’t accept that you’re not as excited as it wants you to be.

A Chalice Half-Empty

Diablo 4, on its surface, gives fans the return to tradition they’ve wanted for decades. Its dark and bleak world reminds me of the miserably violent Sanctuary from the late ‘90s and early 2000s, where corpses line the walls of dungeons and demons smash the heads of peasants before you’re able to intervene. Seeing returning faces from Diablo 2’s roster had me in a state of indecisive excitement until the moment of the game’s release and, after three beta tests and a gorgeous campaign that took me deep into the bowels of Hell, I was more than excited for the fun to begin. Time to grind, baby.

But once the honeymoon period ends and the cracks in Diablo 4’s design begin to show, the efforts to stray far away from Diablo 3’s repetitive and dull endgame loop show that Diablo 4 is much closer to its predecessor than it cares to admit.

Diablo 4 Barbarian in Hell
Screenshot by Prima Games

The class diversity is there, at least on paper, but the skill tree seems eerily similar to Diablo 3’s, only broken apart and glued back together in a different fashion. The Paragon board and Aspects are huge steps forward but, ultimately, don’t really provide deep enough experimentation to create truly unique builds. We’re all sort of chasing the same equipment, it seems, as everyone opts for whatever pieces give them the highest critical strike damage, armor, and cooldown reductions. With Aspects and gear affixes being as unambitious as they are, every upgrade towards gear and Paragon feels like nothing more than “big number is bigger now.”

Diablo 4 is intended to be a simpler ARPG, I get that, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with catering to a wider audience. But in swinging the pendulum so far to that side, there’s little room for advanced theory crafters and sweaty ARPG enthusiasts to sink their teeth into – which, I believe, is a bigger portion of the player base than people may imagine.

Aside from Nightmare Dungeons, level-scaling the majority of the game is a pretty contentious decision, but certainly has its benefits. Sure, you’re able to play with friends and randoms despite wide gaps in levels, but you’re also in a constant arms race against the game, never truly being able to reach that power spike you’d expect in an ARPG. As your character levels up, enemies do too, and those Fallen grunts you were one-shotting at level 10 suddenly require additional resources and abilities to dispose of quickly. Ironically, you’re technically the strongest you’ll ever be when you’re at your lowest levels.

Your stats may increase when you level up, but your overall experience never changes. So, what’s the goal for the grind? What exactly are you accomplishing by farming incremental increases in gear? Other games in the genre have a clear path of why you’d “chase the carrot”, but Diablo 4’s most challenging aspirational content rewards… a horse skin?

Diablo 4 Inarius in Hell
Screenshot by Prima Games

Related: Diablo 4 Microtransactions are Way Too Expensive

Nightmare Dungeons toss out level-scaling, instead allowing players to choose their own difficulty levels through the tiered Sigil system. This would be great if the amount and rarity of loot drops corresponded with the dungeon’s tier level – but it doesn’t. The frequency and power of gear you’ll receive simply depends on your current level, the World Tier, and how many enemies you can kill in the shortest amount of time, effectively making Nightmare Dungeons nothing more than an occasional stop for some Glyph experience.

Naturally, this means players will opt for the path of least resistance which, at this time, appears to be spamming the most mob-dense normal dungeons they can find before Blizzard catches on and guts them. They don’t want you cooped up in one or two specific dungeons and, instead of lifting the less-desirable dungeons up, they reduce the more popular dungeons down to the same slog-fest as the rest of them. Stop trying to ride the roller coaster you’ve been enjoying and get on the damn carousel like everyone else, kid.

My Way or the Highway (to Hell)

Diablo 4 seems to really want your feet planted in its open world. As if to remind you, “Hey, this is an MMO now, remember? Just look at your map; there’s always something happening around the corner!” Always a Helltide coming up, always Whisper events to farm, and – oh, look at that, there’s a World Boss spawning in 30 minutes. There’s always an excuse to keep you in the game. An unsettling reminder of Blizzard’s hilariously out-of-touch perspective that “more engagement equals more fun”.

Diablo 4 Lilith in Church
Screenshot by Prima Games

So, why is Diablo 4 hamstringing players every time an effective leveling route is discovered? Why, with every day that passes, are players being stripped of agency and led toward activities they have no interest in doing? Maybe they just want you to experience the vast and detailed world they’ve created alongside the players you’ll naturally run into. Perhaps they’re worried you’ll get tired of running the same dungeons repeatedly. Or maybe discovering unintended grind-quick schemes exposes just how boring it is to run from one barren zone to another for the same repetitive events.

Diablo 4 has its fun moments, and it’s certainly not a bad game. The bones of a great and innovative action RPG are in there, but the flesh surrounding it has more blemishes than beauty marks. Its decisions to limit how fast players can get stronger and how insane they can make their builds just reeks of live-service influence to me – sure, you can complete those Seasonal Journey missions fast, but not too fast! Its future, for me, rides heavily on how Season One is handled and will determine if Diablo 4 cements itself into my library for good or becomes a cheap thrill until Path of Exile 2.

related content
Read Article Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Interview: Naoki Hamaguchi Talks Minigames, Queen’s Blood and Heartbreak
Screenshot of Fort Condor in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.
Read Article 10 Best Steam Next Fest Demos (February 2024)
#BLUD Fight With Vampire Bats
Read Article Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Preview | Gaia Reborn
Screenshot of Cloud and his team in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.
Related Content
Read Article Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Interview: Naoki Hamaguchi Talks Minigames, Queen’s Blood and Heartbreak
Screenshot of Fort Condor in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.
Read Article 10 Best Steam Next Fest Demos (February 2024)
#BLUD Fight With Vampire Bats
Read Article Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Preview | Gaia Reborn
Screenshot of Cloud and his team in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.
Author
Matt Vatankhah
Matt's writing career began when he joined Prima Games in 2022. As an Associate Editor, he tries to make sure everything you read looks as pretty as possible. He's had a passion for video games all of his life and really loves Final Fantasy, retro FPS, roguelikes, and metroidvanias. He will absolutely stomp you in Tetris.