Underground. Dirty, dark, trapped. A sigh of fresh air penetrates from a crack in a wall. We gather our strength and make our way through the rocks. In front of us, a narrow, completely flooded tunnel. We get on all fours and try to climb the passage. Our hands sink into the slimy water and cling to what appears to be a root. The horror is painted on our faces: there are no roots at the bottom of this cave, but only dead bodies, and what we have grasped is the backbone of a corpse in an advanced state of decomposition. We are in Hell. Or, perhaps, we are just in its antechamber because, as soon as we manage to escape from this sinister cave, the world on the surface is an even bigger nightmare: a corrupt, desolate, putrid, dangerous land. This is Sanctuary. This is Diablo.
Luis Barriga, the game's director, declared it straight away; Diablo IV is a return to the darkest origins of the series, to its most hidden aspects, to its violence, and to a gothic medieval vision of Hell. In fact, the squalor in the corrupt world of Diablo IV emerges from our first look at the game. The land of Sanctuary is a sunless place, where hope has given way to despair, where people struggle to live and, even more, to stay sane.
After crossing the first labyrinthine land, our journey takes us to the village of Corbach. This place is a settlement surrounded by a palisade, and it's here that some remnants of humanity survive the hostility of the world around them, practically besieged by the horrors surrounding their homes. Desperation dwells in the hearts of all of its inhabitants, and those who have seen the many faces of death bear an unmistakable sign; Corbach is not a safe place in the midst of Hell, it's just another manifestation of it.
Our task is to meet the head of the village, Nora Corse, who soon tells us about some mysterious bells that resonate north of Corbach and that seem to call all kinds of abominations. We are determined to investigate and thus we head towards the village gates. We are not alone: around us we see the other heroes leaving the village and heading towards a plateau to the northwest, in the Scosglen region. In that moment we realised that the multiplayer component of Diablo IV is present from its earliest stages, and the villages are instances populated by other heroes. Do not worry: the loneliness and abandonment that has always distinguished the Diablo series is still present, but at certain moments players will meet to face world events.
This is exactly what happened to us when, having left Corbach, we decided to follow a couple of companions. Soon, we found ourselves in the middle of a huge battle, during which dozens of other BlizzCon attendees tried to stop a giant monster with long, sickle-like arms, which was capable of knocking down a level 20 character with just two blows.
It was a real baptism of fire, which put a strain on our skills and allowed us to take a look at our character's abilities. For our test we chose to play as the Druid, and our abilities were associated with fury (the "mana" of our hero). These abilities allowed us to turn into a bear; to summon two wolves; to throw heavy boulders that push enemies back; to charge towards the most intense points of the battle; and, finally, to summon a lightning storm. This is one the Ultimate moves, an extraordinarily powerful ability with a very long cooldown timer and fantastic animations. In general, the combat of Diablo IV seemed extremely fluid and enormously satisfying; the enemies react differently to each of our moves, and at times the chaos we are creating between enemy lines is tantalisingly perceptible. The combat system is responsive and makes you feel powerful as you explore the violent reality of Sanctuary.
Skills are divided into various categories. In addition to the aforementioned Ultimate, the Druid can develop Basic, Spirit, Defensive, Wrath and Companion abilities. There are therefore 6 skills mapped to the buttons, which can be combined together to rain down a storm of blood on the creatures of Diablo IV. Furthermore, there's a passive skill tree divided between abilities that improves the damage dealt and defence or regeneration - the player can, therefore, shape their hero and decide whether to make them more aggressive or more tactical, an idea that should prove very useful in the announced PvP component.
After defeating the huge enemy, we were able to collect some legendary items that we immediately equipped. We noticed a certain resemblance to the Diablo II loot system, without all the junk items that characterised Diablo III at launch. We also found some socketed items and some runes: the runic words of Diablo II return in Diablo IV, and we are really curious to find out what enhancements we can apply to our items by combining the runes in creative ways.
Finally, Diablo IV will feature mounts, and the entire game map will be explorable with a steed. It was enough to open the map to understand the reason behind the addition of mounts; Diablo IV is huge, noticeably larger than any other game in the series.
Our short time with Diablo IV at BlizzCon 2019 has left us with one certainty: we want more. Our earliest impression was more positive than our most optimistic expectations, and we came away feeling like this return to the origins of the series will prove particularly effective. At the moment, in addition to the Druid, the Sorceress and the Barbarian, we don't know what other classes will be available at launch, but we are almost certain that the final experience will be even richer and more varied. When will that be? Well, the developer has confirmed that Diablo IV will arrive on PC, PS4 and Xbox One and, since we're getting new consoles next year, it could well mean that the game's release is not too far away - we'll just have to wait and see.