If you’re a fan of fantasy video games, then you’ve probably heard of “Diablo IV.” Released just last month, it’s already become the fastest-selling game in Blizzard Entertainment’s 32-year history. And there’s a good reason for its success: the game boasts an incredibly captivating and visually stunning world design that sets it apart from other fantasy games released this year.
The Diablo series is known for its simple yet addictive gameplay, where players control a character by clicking a mouse button to move and fight. This straightforward approach, often referred to as the “mom principle,” aims to make the game accessible to anyone, including your mom!
In the past, the map design in Diablo games was relatively simple. Players were presented with an isometric view of the world, with 3D characters and locations placed on a 2D canvas. While “Diablo IV” retains these familiar controls, it introduces a revolutionary map design for the series. Unlike its predecessors, this installment features an open-world environment where all areas are seamlessly connected, offering a much larger and more immersive experience. Players have the freedom to explore the vast world of “Diablo IV” with fewer boundaries, allowing for a truly immersive adventure.
The game’s map introduces a new way of navigating the screen. Although the movement is still confined to a 2D plane, it creates an illusion of depth and height. For instance, moving up on the screen might mean descending in reality. Players standing on a cliff can enjoy breathtaking views of buildings below, and with careful exploration, they can actually reach those areas that were once mere background details.
According to game director Joe Shely, the goal was to create a more realistic landscape that feels rich in cultural and geographic history, while still ensuring an engaging combat experience. This meant overcoming various challenges, such as adjusting the collision between a fireball spell and an incline so that players wouldn’t cast fireballs into the ground.
In terms of scale, “Diablo IV” dwarfs its predecessor, “Diablo III.” While I don’t want to diminish the achievements of other fantasy games released this year, I truly believe that “Diablo IV” stands out in terms of map design and innovation.
Comparing it to another highly anticipated fantasy game, “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom,” we see a stark difference. While “Tears of the Kingdom” is a monumental achievement in game design, much of its world is based on reusing the map from its 2017 prequel. Although it introduces an underworld area and sky islands, the sky portions are underutilized, and the underworld’s aesthetic remains monotonous.
In contrast, “Diablo IV” offers smooth transitions between different parts of the map. For example, as players leave the snowy mountains, they can witness the ice melting and the environment changing accordingly. This attention to detail and cohesive world-building sets “Diablo IV” apart from other fantasy titles, such as “Final Fantasy XVI,” which, despite its smaller yet highly detailed world, lacks the natural transitions found in “Diablo IV.”
Lead game producer Kayleigh Calder explains how the team incorporated weather and lighting to indicate gradual changes as players move from one area to another. Even if the landscape itself hasn’t transformed yet, players can sense the hints of a new environment through subtle visual cues.
With its handcrafted scene direction, “Diablo IV” not only offers the most captivating world in the series but also presents one of the best worlds to explore in 2023. While upcoming games like “Starfield” promise an expansive universe to explore, it’s difficult to imagine how any game could match the sense of place and storytelling found in “Diablo IV.”
In summary, “Diablo IV” redefines the boundaries of its own franchise by introducing an open-world design that seamlessly connects all areas. It combines simplicity with innovation, offering players an enthralling experience as they navigate the screen in ways they’ve never seen before. With its grand stage and mesmerizing world, “Diablo IV” sets a new standard for fantasy games in 2023.