Today marked a new quarterly development update for Blizzard's Diablo 4, another glimpse at new and updated features headed to the dungeon-crawling sequel. The team showed off how the different style of cinematics for this version of Diablo, how the open-world experience works, and a brand-new region.
Cinematics have been a strong part of the overall Blizzard brand for some time, especially the pre-rendered cinematics shown in games like World of Warcraft and StarCraft 2. Diablo 3 featured a series of lavishly-produced scenes to detail its story, and the early trailers made it seem like Diablo 4 would do the same. Today's update shows that the sequel will also be using in-game cinematics to fill out its story experience.
Some of these scenes will be slight, pulling the camera closer for basic conversations, but others will present a more cinematic viewpoint, while still utilizing your character. "Having these be real-time has great advantages—we can show your character with their currently equipped armor as part of the scene, for example. But we can also display them at your current resolution and with your currently enabled graphics settings, so they end up feeling more seamless and like a part of the game," writes Director Luis Barriga of the Diablo 4 team in the development update post.
Blizzard briefly showed some images of one of the in-game cinematics, albeit without a visible player character. Still they look far beyond any of the in-game cutscenes in World of Warcraft, for example. Blizzard looks to be going all-out.
That's not the only expansion in Diablo 4's storytelling chops. The update detailed a new open-world region, the Dry Steppes. As part of the theme of Diablo 4, the player is fighting back the darkness created by Lilith. The Dry Steppes represent a fully-working slice of Diablo 4, with all planned features implemented.
"For our most recent milestone, we focused on blocking in all the elements in a region known as the Dry Steppes, complete with campaign content, open world elements, itemization, a PvP subzone, dungeons, and a cinematic to cap the completion of the region’s narrative," writes Barriga. "It’s worth noting that the playtest also didn’t represent the entirety of our progress. Other regions of the game are underway. The Dry Steppes is just the region where we made a concerted push to create a complete and cohesive experience that we could draw observations from."
At the BlizzCon 2019 panel, creative director Sebastian Stępień pointed to the towns and settlements that you'll save along your journey, with friendly NPCs to interact with. Today, Blizzard showed off Camps, which are separate from towns, but still offer non-player interaction. Camps are locations in the open-world that are overrun by enemies, each with their own micro-narrative. By defeating all the foes in a camp, you can cleanse it. Once cleansed, that camp will act as an outpost, with a fast travel point and friendly NPCs. It's part storytelling, part progression, as players get a chance to actually reclaim the world from the horde of demons and monsters.
The rest of the development update talked about the multiplayer experience, which sounds closer to Destiny or an MMO, and itemization. It's cool to hear that Blizzard has a version of Diablo 4 up-and-running, even if the game is still clearly in a pre-alpha state.
"Of course, we still have a lot of work ahead of us and to be clear, we are not at an Alpha or Beta stage yet," writes Barriga in the post. "We don’t typically discuss our early milestones publicly during the course of development, but we think it’s especially important to continue to share our progress during a year without a BlizzCon. Also, this was an important milestone for the team as we feel it corroborated that we have all the key ingredients for a great Diablo 4."
The current version of Diablo 4 is closer to its predecessors, rather than the Dark Souls-style action RPG it apparently was in an earlier iteration. Former Gears developer and noted fixer Rod Fergusson left The Coalition last year to head up the project and bring Diablo 4 to market. As today's development update notes, Blizzard is being more transparent and open with how it makes Diablo 4, including allowing players to rebind the mouse left-click for the first time in series history. Sadly, this means Diablo 4 has a long road ahead to release.