As I take the somewhat rickety elevator up to the business floor of one of London’s classiest hotels, my heart is in my mouth. I emerge from the elevator to be led down a winding mahogany corridor, then ascend a small staircase into a room whose main feature is a huge statue of Diablo 4’s Inarius and a BAFTA-style Diablo 4 photo backdrop. Cream curtains hang from high, wooden ceilings, and before me stand two pillars in the RPG game development community: Diablo general manager Rod Fergusson and game director Joe Shely. Lilith has answered my prayers; dreams really do come true.
Conversation flows naturally; Fergusson is charismatic and playful, while Shely is quiet but full of personality. We talk about the Druid and Necromancer classes, the design of the Butcher encounter, and so much more, but there’s one thing that stands out: both of these men are so proud of Diablo 4.
In fact, Fergusson claims that it’s “the best Diablo of the Diablo games” – quite the statement given Diablo 2’s legendary reputation. Is there any game that can truly top the best dungeon crawler ever made? Both Fergusson and Shely are confident that Diablo 4 does just that, but how?
“Diablo 4 is a perfect place to start, or if you’ve been out for a while it’s the perfect place to come back because it’s all of the things you loved about the previous games, with [even more] on top of that” says Fergusson. “It’s the strongest Diablo story, and so if you play Diablo games for the story, this is the best story by far.
“If you play for the combat, the sophistication around the ‘evade’ system that’s been added, and the way that the potion system works, there’s more thoughtfulness. When you’re playing it’s not just 100% button mashing, but you can still do that to some degree.
“But it’s also that grounded world,” he continues. “At least at the beginning, it’s not just a visual effects bonanza where you’re blinded by purple – you’re in the world and you can feel that, you can feel the characters; you care about the NPCs for some reason now. It’s your struggle, and that’s what makes Diablo Diablo. I think this is the best Diablo of the Diablo games, and if you’re new it’s a great place to start.”
“People have things that they loved about the first games, and things that they loved about Diablo 3,” Shely picks up. “Some of [Diablo 4’s nuance] has been capturing the mechanical fluidness of the combat in Diablo 3 – that quick-moving tactical stuff – as well as getting the pacing right and the number of monsters on-screen, while still recapturing that darkness of Diablo 2. It has been a real journey for us, from the itemisation to the class design, to really capture [both games] in a way that’s satisfying.”
“When you’re bringing something back after essentially eleven years, finding that line between respecting the past and innovating for the future is always a tough balance,” Fergusson states. “It’s been a really interesting design problem to solve, and I think Joe and his team have done a perfect job of threading the needle.”
Given the level of positive feedback around the recent Diablo 4 beta, and the general feeling I got from my Diablo 4 gameplay preview many blood moons ago, it certainly feels like the team has managed to capture the darkness and despair of Diablo 2, but have modernised it with slick but not overly busy combat. I asked the duo about how it felt to finally see the game out in the wild (this interview took place between the early access and open betas), and the excitement was palpable, adding a shimmer to the antique surroundings.
“It feels super gratifying,” Fergusson tells PCGamesN. “When you put in this kind of work on a game like this, it’s different. Sometimes you don’t know what you have, and so you’re like ‘oh we’re working so hard’ and it didn’t get the reception you wanted it to have. Here, based on what we did in December with the previews and what we’re seeing from the beta, we know we’re making something people really like. It’s really gratifying to feel that love back – we’re a better game because of it.”
“It’s wonderful to have something that we love be appreciated by fans,” Shely echoes. “Those kinds of instant reactions that you see from Twitter and things are fun.” The pair go on to recount some of their favourite beta moments, including an all-hardcore raid on Diablo 4 world boss Ashava, and a player who racked up over forty hours on the early access beta alone. There’s laughs and joviality, and a real sense that Fergusson and Shely believe in Diablo 4 as much as the community does.
I leave the interview with a huge smile and a sense that Diablo 4 may just well be the best Diablo game to date. The curtains have fallen on the beta, but my heart and soul yearns for more. Perhaps it’s Lilith’s magnetic attraction that’s luring me back to Sanctuary, or my desire to finally explore the Dry Steppes, but one thing is for certain; I’m unbelievably excited to uncover Sanctuary’s secrets all over again.