video games

‘Diablo IV’ early build preview: A dark, gorgeous return to Sanctuary

Gelo Gonzales
‘Diablo IV’ early build preview: A dark, gorgeous return to Sanctuary

LILITH. Lilith is the daughter of Mephisto, Lord of Hatred, and serves as the main antagonist in Diablo IV

Images from Activision Blizzard

'Diablo IV' sets a sinister tone, boasts a compelling villain, and the classic Diablo gameplay loop that make it hard to put down

MANILA, Philippines – As someone who grew up with Diablo II, whether soloing at home at night or doing LAN sessions at internet cafes after school, I was incredibly excited when footage of Diablo IV first started to come in. It was dark, creepy, and sinister – noticeably different from the more purposely colorful, almost cartoon-like take of Diablo III.

While Diablo III sought to appeal to a wider base with the aforementioned art style, along with more accessible gameplay mechanics and a faster action pace, I missed the atmosphere of Diablo II, and I’m glad that they’re bringing it back with Diablo IV.

We were given some time with a beta version of Diablo IV, and I feel quite hooked already, eager to unpack its lore and story, and get into the nitty gritty of the game’s many mechanics.

One element that got me into it right away is the game’s main villain, Lilith. As you’ve seen in the trailers, she just sports a badass design – a very interesting take on our classic idea of Lilith, a great evil, an ancient demon existing since time immemorial. Blizzard has always had amazing villain designs from the original Diablo, and Lilith, with our few encounters with the character so far, has been very promising, and compelling as a villain. 

So far the baddies we’ve encountered are well-designed too, which is important since you’ll be bashing on so many of these during the course of the game. With such great-looking creatures, it’s just extra motivation to find more loot and weapons to destroy them with. The armor and weapon designs are looking good too, sporting a very realistic look to them. It’s great to see favorite characters such as the Barbarian rendered realistically (seen below), along with the gears they use, after years of looking at them as blurry sprites in the original Diablo II

It certainly helps that the presentation has been topnotch so far. These are cinematics you wouldn’t want to skip as they are very well-edited, and beautifully framed. The scoring is just as dire and moody as the visual style. Amazing cinematics have also always been a tradition at Blizzard, and Diablo IV looks like it will live up to that reputation. 

The dynamic lighting looks pretty too, and this game just might set the beauty standard for isometric CRPGs (computer role-playing games) or action RPGs in this generation. 

While it has a darker tone, I notice that there are a few, nice moments of lightheartedness, and humor that breaks up the game from being overly serious.

The action feels as fast as Diablo III, if dialed down just a little bit. I’m not yet sure if IV reaches the level of chaos of III, but Joe Shely, game director tells us that they’re likely toning down the information being thrown at the player during combat such as damage counters that go up to millions in Diablo III. The rate of loot drops may be toned down as well. 

The environments are beautifully rendered in Diablo IV.

I also feel like Diablo IV can be extremely popular for people who love the medieval fantasy look and lore of games like Demon’s Souls or Elden Ring but do not have the patience or the time to work on the skills or timing needed for its combat system. Diablo IV will certainly be challenging too, and fast fingers do help with the many skills and the potion use, but a big part of the battle is thinking up of ways to create the most efficient build to deal with waves of enemies, while also using the continually better loot you come across. 

All in all, it also surprises me how enduring Diablo’s gameplay loop is. It’s still as addictive – I want to bash more enemies to get even better loot – and what’s great is you get to do it in a dark, beautiful world with a rich lore and story. 

Rod Fergusson, general manager for Diablo, explains what each title in the Diablo series brings to Diablo IV: “The way that I think about it is that it’s the dark tone of Diablo, paired with the progression systems of Diablo II, paired with the visceral combat of Diablo III, and then obviously with the paired with the overworld and the freedom of choice you get with Diablo IV.” 

The player will have many customization options to choose from.

Fergusson also mentions that the current TV pop culture milieu wherein darker, more violent shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have become mainstream dovetails with Diablo IV also taking on a darker route, coming from Diablo III.

“When Diablo came out, like that was the the occult, and you’re using the word Diablo, and it was a little bit, I might get in trouble for playing this game, and don’t let my parents find out, and it was a little bit of a cult classic niche type of game. Diablo III becomes much brighter and becomes much more mainstream because of that – in terms of its feel, faster pace, a lot more colorful, a lot brighter.

Wherein now, that sort of darkness of tone and theme is now mainstream when you look at gaming, [or shows like] A Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead or Squid Game. [They give] that notion that these darker edgier stories and visuals are as popular as anything else out there.” –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.


Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.