Diablo IV: First 2020 Update
Couch Co-Op, Inventory and New Monsters!
Back when Diablo IV was first announced, Blizzard promised quarterly updates on the progress being made. The first of these updates came on 26th February 2020, and its only driven excitement for the game right back up. Although it remains unlikely that we’ll get a release date anytime soon, it’ll be worth the wait if Blizzard continues to listen and act upon the feedback they are receiving from fans. Without further ado, here is what we learned from Blizzard’s first quarterly update.
In Diablo II items of different sizes took up a different number of slots in the inventory, with larger items naturally taking up more slots. This was changed in Diablo III, but some fans feel it should be brought back. Those who want it to return feel that the multiple-slot system not only brought a sense of realism to the game, but also made the larger items feel more impressive and rewarding. Others feel that the old way was too tedious, and the User Interface (UI) team had to agree. The current plan is to keep the single-slot system to prevent stagnant pockets of inventory management, and instead explore an art-based approach to make items feel more impressive.
Items will be given an icon based more closely off their 3D models to give them natural texture and realism. Meanwhile, the icon backgrounds have been toned down in terms of brightness and saturation, as well as secondary visual clues being added to indicate the rarity of the item. This makes the rarity indicator more subtle, but the hope is that users will find it more accessible.
Layout changes are also being tested, from the colour spread and contrast levels to the general composition of the inventory/character screen. Lead UI Designer Angela Del Priore describes their goal as achieving a ‘gritty, realistic UI, while balancing ease of use’.
2) Rebinding Skills and Placing the Action Bar
Creators were surprised at the number of PC players who asked to rebind their primary skill to anything but the left mouse button. Why the option to separate moving from attacking came as a surprise is beyond me but, credit where credit is due, the issue has been one of the first to be tackled by the developers. Del Priore said in her update that ‘adding more flexibility to our binding options had already been on our radar for a while, and the demo feedback helped confirm that this was a customization feature that players really wanted.’ The team is committed to giving players the freedom not only to assign any skill to any slot from the get-go, but also to supporting key rebinding on both keyboard and controllers.
Another feature under scrutiny is the action bar which, according to Del Priore, has been put through a lot of iterations. The left-corner configuration was put in place to try and clear the central combat area and free up the bottom of the screen, where the isometric camera already sees less. However, based on usability test results and feedback from both the design team and demo players, it has been decided that the action bar’s default position should return to the bottom centre for PC players.
That’s not the end of the action bar modifications, though. With the ability of PC players to use a controller instead of their mouse/keyboard, it has been decided that the position of the action bar can shift to the bottom left when playing further away from the screen. In short, while the bar will remain in the corner on consoles, both options will be offered on PC.
3) Supporting Controllers
You probably noticed in our previous point we mentioned the use of controllers on the PC. This is the first time a Diablo game is being developed simultaneously for both PC and consoles, but it’s the decision to support controller input on the PC that caused developed at Blizzard to clock in some overtime. Aiming to allow PC players to switch between the two options freely, it was important to unify the UI enough that swapping the inputs on the fly wouldn’t squash player’s rhythm too badly. The UI team have opted for a grid-based layout for ease of navigation, though there will still be some differences between interactions. Del Priore explained; ‘we try to maintain this sort of approach, of keeping established keyboard and mouse conventions while creating controller-friendly shortcuts or alternate flows, throughout the game. Controller support shouldn’t be a limiter on how complex our game can be; it just means we have more paths that we need to consider. It’s not a simple undertaking, but we’re really striving for a native feel for both types of inputs.’
4) Couch Co-Op
Those of you who have read my previous game reviews will likely know that most games I play are couch co-op. As such I was thrilled to the point of squealing out loud in public when I saw the news that couch co-op was remaining an integral part of the Diablo series. Developers noted that many players enjoyed co-op in Reaper of Souls, and the biggest complaint was the inability to do anything while one local player had the UI screen open. Early on in the development of Diablo IV the topic of couch co-op was analysed by looking at the number of people utilising the feature in Diablo III. The result was the discovery that the 2-player set up accounted for an overwhelming majority of players, making it a feature that Blizzard simply can’t afford to mess up.
Hence, for Diablo IV the UI team have decided to focus on improving the couch co-op experience and set up the core progression UI screens so that they may be opened independently of each other, allowing players to use their UI screens at the same time.
In the bestiary of Diablo III, monsters were classified into broad categories such as demon, undead, humanoid or wildlife. These monsters served as an anchor to the story by adding to the overall setting and tone, which made the whole game feel complete.
Candace Thomas, Senior Encounter Designer, describes the new Diablo IV Sanctuary as a ‘living, breathing character – especially through its creatures’. Each location, from the serene ocean cliffsides to the gaping jaws of Hell, needs its own occupants to bring life and a sense of realism to the area. Along with including a larger variety of non-aggressive wildlife, Thomas promises a whole host of interesting monsters to fight.
‘Every monster has been reimagined, but in a darker, more gritty art style,’ Thomas wrote. ‘We have lovingly handcrafted every creature you’ll encounter from the ground up: that includes demons, NPCs, Act Bosses, and even the skittering critters you can crush underfoot. Though we still pay tribute to some hallmark gameplay—such as Fallen Shamans resurrecting other Fallen—we have completely reimagined things in other places.
To have these creatures feel more sophisticated and robust, we designed them in what we call “monster families” and archetypes. Each family has a different combat style and feel. For example, the Drowned family has five members in various archetypes: bruiser, ranged combat, melee combat, swarmer, and dungeon boss.’
These archetypes play a different role in combat and allows players to include a dash of strategy into their hacking and slashing. It will also allow a more varied combat experience, with different combinations requiring a slightly different combat approach.
One monster family that Thomas is eager for fans to meet is the ‘Cannibals’, a new monster line-up with a rich lore that you can learn more about here from Thomas’ own update.
That’s all for now, though it won’t be long before the next update is released (we predict around the end of May). What do you hope to hear about next time? I’m looking forward to finding out what the final two classes are that will be included in the initial game release, alongside the Barbarian, Druid and Sorceress.
May all your quests be fruitful.