The Diablo franchise has been through the wringer in recent years. The much-hyped third entry was perfectly okay, early server issues aside, but the stalled mobile game and that now-infamous quote from Wyatt Cheng (“do you guys not have phones?”) revealed a gulf between Blizzard’s plans for Diablo and what fans actually wanted for the storied ARPG.
Diablo 4, then, could serve as the dungeon crawler’s redemption arc. However, despite getting its first trailer back in November 2019, it remains in early development. The one bit of concrete information fans do have regarding the Diablo 4 release date is that it won’t be coming out in 2021 or, indeed, any time soon. This franchise once went 12 years without a game, after all.
Path of Exile
A fair bit of hype is behind the popularity of Diablo but the fourth game will have an uphill battle to generate the same kind of buzz as its predecessor. Ignoring the reaction to Diablo Immortal, which still hasn’t been released, the marketplace for loot ‘em ups and dungeon crawlers is a crowded one. Borderlands, Torchlight, Grim Dawn, and Path of Exile are all hugely popular ARPGs.
Perhaps worst of all, though, was the fact that Diablo 3 was shallow as a puddle. In this respect, Path of Exile already has Blizzard beat. The free-to-play game has a complex skill tree that features more than 300 active and support abilities. It’s also continuously updated, though Eurogamer described the launch of its most recent expansion – Ultimatum – as “catastrophic”.
In any case, Path of Exile’s grip on Diablo’s market is something Blizzard needs to use to inform the development of the fourth game.
Diablo 4 will almost certainly succeed at launch but the game must have extended replayability – and not just to keep fans amused. Microtransactions are Blizzard’s bread and butter. Its most popular titles, such as Overwatch and Hearthstone, are funded at least partially by small purchases. And, as evidenced by the real-money Auction House in the third game, so was Diablo.
This is where the hype train could derail. Diablo fans skew older than Overwatch players, for example, and they can be traditional to a fault. The reason Immortal flopped the moment it was mentioned is that it’s a free-to-play game funded by microtransactions. Blizzard doesn’t even need to confirm the latter point. It’s the most popular source of funding for mobile apps.
The Auction House was not popular with most fans and it was eventually removed from Diablo 3 as a gesture of goodwill to the players. There was, however, a significant portion of players who ignored the game to trade on the Auction House. Both of these outcomes could shape Diablo 4 in completely different ways but it’s hard to see the franchise avoiding the creep of the ‘freemium’ model.
In summary, Blizzard’s beloved dungeon crawler can’t rely solely on the Diablo name to re-conquer the ARPG market.