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Diablo 4's open world is as Diablo as it gets

BlizzCon 2021 has come and gone, with the eerily online-only event leaving us with a splattering of new Diablo details. There’s the long-overdue announcement of a Diablo 2 Remaster and the reveal of the Rogue class for Diablo 4, as well as insight on the new PvP mode (maybe you’re even open to the new details surrounding mobile game Diablo Immortal, now that enough Diablo-related good news sits between us and its disastrous debut in 2018).

But during my interview with Diablo 4 art director John Mueller and lead designer Joe Shelly at BlizzCon 2021, I wanted to find out more about the game’s oft-repeated claims to being an open-world game. We know from everything we’ve seen that in the nitty-gritty of combat, Diablo 4 is going to be nittier and grittier than all Diablos before it, but how does that fit into an open-world structure? Will Blizzard delve deep into open-world design and take on board the great ideas of the past generation, or is it paying lip-service to the popular buzzword in a bid to garner more attention?

Diablo 4

(Image credit: Blizzard)

The answer is ‘a bit of both’, but those who are intrigued by its open-world stylings should understand that this is still very much a Diablo game only bigger, using that extra space to grow into a moreish service game.

Open-world is a broad brush of course, conjuring certain tropes that aren’t things I usually associate with Diablo – non-linear progression and exploration, engaging interactions with the world beyond the main campaign, surprise encounters and side-stories. Diablo’s world of Sanctuary in previous outings was largely made up of hubs linked by vast barren killing fields containing dungeons. The environments were essentially arenas that happened to be seamlessly linked, and you were usually doing just one quest at time, pushing through the story at pace.

Diablo 4

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Structurally at least, Diablo 4 is dropping the linear Act progression for something more akin to open-world design. “There’s an entry point in the game, then there’s a point when things diverge and you have a lot of options about which way you can go”, says Mueller. “For the first part of the game there’s a path in, then a lot of options about where you can go from there. At a much later point it converges back together for the final act”.

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