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Essays 30 April 2024, 10:00

'I Believe That Everybody Who Talks About Diablo 4 Wants It to Be Fantastic' - Interview With Blizzard Devs

In the eyes of many, season 4 of Diablo 4 is the last call to make the game great again. We’ve spoken with a dynamic duo of creators from Blizzard about upcoming changes and how they’ll affect the troubled juggernaut of the hack’n’slash genre.

Diablo 4 had a rocky start, to say the least. On one hand, Blizzard has shown a lot of love for the story enjoyers with a superb campaign, mood, graphics, script and general feeling of the game. On the other hand there’s constant lack of offline mode or at least private realms. I may be one of those weirdos for whom the initial state of the game was pretty enough, but I see where problems are and why many people were simply enraged. Players got bored with itemization and lackluster endgame, while seasons were a mixbag of ideas. We found there hits (especially in Season 2) and misses (welp…). Not to mention some controversial ideas about optional microtransactions and battle pass.

Yeah, we know, that Vessel of Hatred is coming and it may be the gamechanger like Reaper of Souls was for Diablo 3, but it would be too little too late. Though, Diablo 4 is still one of the biggest initial wins for Blizzard. That’s why I’m not surprised that all hands are on a board to deliver as many improvements as soon as possible in order to save the game that had the best press for Blizz since maybe Starcraft 2.

We had the the opportunity to talk with men leading the charge for now - Joe Piepiora (Associate Game Director) and Deric Nunez (Lead Live Events Designer). We’ve talked about players reception of the game and mostly about what’s coming next for Diablo 4. And ho boy, there’s a bit of that.

Diablo 4 changes

Hubert Sosnowski: A lot of changes is coming to the game in Season 4. Why now?

Joe Piepiora: Because it's bigger in scale than previous seasons. We needed this time to gather the feedback. With season 4 release we’ll have a ton of changes like Loot Reborn. They will affect both the eternal and seasonal realm for players of all kinds. We've been gathering feedback about the player experience and how players have been interacting with our various endgame features. We were developing the way to think about rewards since the launch period. And we've been coming up with plans and things we wanted to do.

In Season 2 we made a number of changes to the way that resistances work for elements and we changed the way that the vulnerable damage type worked. That represented a batch of changes we had to have come out together. There were a lot of itemization changes we made there. We wanted to resolve some player issues that we were finding and some balance things that we didn't like.

Blood MaidenDiablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2024

It was important that we did that because these things were tightly connected. Changing resistances affects a number of other stats and items throughout the game, as well as paragon nodes. So then look at season four, season of Loot Reborn and all of the changes that we're making there. We wanted to dig down deep into items, crafting and progression features as one of the core tenets of the feature. We knew we're gonna be touching a lot of parts of the game between the way that combat works, the way that classes interact with certain stats, and the way that monsters interact with certain CC effects. There's all kinds of things that had to change in unison to really be able to bring home and land this really a major, major update.

So, yeah, we've been reacting to feedback and preparing one major release that we think is going to be a huge, huge bonus for players who've been playing Diablo 4 since launch. It's a huge step forward in the direction, where items will become more of a journey as players are progressing through. We're very excited about it.

Deric Nunez: As Joe mentioned, the changes were so interconnected that this was definitely a moment that we wanted to measure twice. We wanted to be sure that we're making all the right calculated choices for the release.

Itemization BeforeDiablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2024

JP: Yeah, actually. I talk a lot about items, too, but we also made sure that we were getting feedback from players while they were progressing through seasons. Sometimes the level up progress would slow down a bit as you got deeper into the level 50 and 60. We really want players to be able to get to more of the end game experience more quickly. Within a season, they can start to experiment with all these features and try to chase these really fun rewards.

We made a number of changes to the Helltides to make sure that there was a great experience within that feature. We also changed the bonus XP that you gained from certain world tiers to let you progress a little more quickly.

Developing changes and backlash from previous seasons

HS: You mentioned something interesting about leveling from 50 to 60 level. When you play the campaign, the progress slows down a lot, when you reach the 50. Will it be fixed or will it stay that way for upcoming seasons? Because some people just want to start the whole campaign. I mean, they are freaks and they are rare, but they are there. And I’m one of them.

JP: They're not freaks. [laughs]

HS: It’s okay, I’m one of them.

JP: That's fine. We did make it easier to get to 50 as part of the campaign experience. If you want to step up into the next world tier like Nightmare and Torment, do more side quests and other content as you're progressing through, that's going to be a very natural transition for you. You’ll get a lot of XP to help players bridge the gap.

Previously some players might go through the entire campaign and hit level 35 or 37. They'd be around there trying to find some whispers or things to do to level up on the side. As for now… We took the bonus XP from world tier 2 from 20% and pushed it to 50%. You'll be much closer to 50 after you finish that campaign and be ready to immediately make that transition into world tier 3 and continue your journey.

Itemization AfterDiablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2024

HS: Awesome. But what was the hardest part in developing upcoming changes? How did you feel about the backlash from previous seasons?

JP: As I mentioned, we did get a lot of feedback as we went through the first few seasonal releases for the game. And now we're getting closer to the one year anniversary, though they're certainly not there yet at time of writing. So, yeah, I think whenever we're seeing feedback from players at various parts of the game, it's really good to be able to gather a broad cross section of different people. And review it all together. I think that different player types value different parts of the game differently and have different needs. We could see that there were certain players that that didn't have their needs really met when they were playing Diablo 4.

There were things they were missing, like rewards didn't feel satisfying. The chase for unique items didn't feel satisfying. They were looking for more goals and more challenges. More thresholds to reach, more things to push for.

I deeply believe that everybody who talks about the game, wants Diablo 4 to be fantastic. They want it to be THE game. They want it to be their favorite Diablo game. Whatever the tone is, I always interpret it the same way. People are saying these things because they want the game to be better. Season 4 represents us trying to address a lot of these concerns at once.

We aren’t resting on our laurels now that the seasonal Loot Reborn is coming out to players. There's a lot more coming down the pipe soon as well. We’re able to take all of the endgame player feedback from our super loyal players, interpret that and provide them more interesting things to do with these items, more interesting rewards to chase and challenge the scale more with them as they continue to progress through the end game experience. Then, there’s the Artificer’s Pit, a massive endgame dungeon feature for players to get into once they get deeper into the nightmare dungeon system. We're very excited about all these things.

The lack of progression after level 100

HS: So this is your way to fix the lack of progression after level 100? I read about the Pits and masterworking items, ever unique items. Can we assume that this is your way for laying the foundations for playing Diablo 4 over and over after you hit the level 100 and Uber bosses?

JP: You call it out right there. Foundation is the word, right? Artificer’s Pit extends players experience so much further beyond level 100. We’re also introducing the idea of the greater affixes that can randomly roll on certain ancestral items. Greater affixes are going to increase the value of that stat so dramatically when they appear. There are chances to not just get one greater affix, but to get two or three here on item. Or four on unique items. These are really, really tremendous upgrades.

You’ll able to take some of these items, bring them back into the masterworking system. Then you can try to grind to get the exact affixes you're looking for. It can really lower that cooldown reduction rate on your helmet or whatever it is that you really need for your build. Now you can really hone your items and make them super-powerful to go after these really, really deep endgame challenges.

MasterworkingDiablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2024

Additionally, we have the tormented bosses that we've added at the end of the experience. They’re like level 200 bosses. And we’re happy to introdce Andariel. Team’s and fan favorite, is also added into the mix as part of the season. So these things together, along with the tempering and other features, are major changes to the way the endgame is meant to play.

We do intend to build upon it by adding more things over time, particularly in response to player feedback. That's not all we've done either. While there's a lot of changes we've made for the endgame experience, there's also a lot of things we've just done across the experience. There's a ton of changes we made with the Helltide feature. Deric probably wants to mention some stuff about Helltide.

DN: Yeah, I wanted to tack onto that. To me, the excitement for experimenting and empowering yourself in the endgame really starts along your leveling journey with season four. The upgrades to the Helltide systems and introduction to the tempering systems – it all really helps to onboard you and build up to the excitement of being able to fine tune the gear of your dreams. As for the Helltides - we really wanted to streamline and just make the the most fun and efficient thing possible.

That is what really inspired taking all the feedback that we got from the previous seasons. We looked at the Blood Harvest and all the other open world activities that players really enjoyed. That was our opportunity to say: hey, we have this Helltide system. It is a part of the game! This was the perfect moment to maximize the fun. That was what inspired the addition of all the new activities, like the new push-your-luck style, demonic events, the inclusions of the Doomsayers, which are one of my personal favorites. They're kind of like a kinder egg. Surprise of joy. They just pop into something that you don't really expect. And the’re always fun. Like a treasure goblin, pop out of one of those things.

And then there’s the inclusion of the Iron Wolves into the fray again. We’re trying to make sure that the total experience of leveling in Diablo and onboarding to these later game systems is just efficient, fun and that it’s what we all want as players and fans of the franchise.

HS: Will the Helltide be relevant once you hit level 100?

JP: One of the changes that we made with rewards in the season of Loot Reborn is that, when you fight monsters of level 100, or higher, they always drop the highest power level items possible. So now you have choices. If you really enjoy going and grinding through Helltides and playing with your friends and summing the Bloodmaiden, killing the Hellborn. Doing all these various things builds up threat that accumulates on you until the Horse of Hell comes and try to kill you. If you really enjoy that experience, that's awesome, because the items you're getting are all totally relevant for the endgame experience as they are all max-level power items.

Masterworking CompletedDiablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2024

Now, Hubert, as you're playing through the experience, you're looking for items that have greater affixes on them when they drop. And you're still getting vital resources you could be using to go and do crafting and enchanting on your items as part of the Helltide experience. You're still getting the other regular crafting material drops you need just for monsters as roll around. So there's a lot of benefits to going and fighting in Helltides.

If you're looking for masterworking materials, you'll need to go through the masterworking loop. Then you're going into the Artificer’s Pit and try to spend some time there to find the things that you're looking for. So there's now this push and pull through various pieces of the endgame. Helltide generate lots of really good loot. In Artificer’s pit and you'll still find loot, but it's a little less efficient than hunting for loot in Helltide. But in the Pit you will also get the masterworking materials that you need. Again, there's a really good balance between these activities.

DN: Joe reminded me that in addition to all that, we also have the seasonal realm exclusive content, the Call the Wolf seasonal activity. While in the Helltides, you'll be accumulating this new reputation track with the Iron Wolves and earning your way through 18 tiers of rewards that really overpower your leveling journey. These rewards are really relevant from the moment you start to level 100 and beyond. I’m really kind of excited for players to get their hand on these overjuiced rewards. There may be resplendent spark to earn in that track as well.

Reputation system

HS: You did part of my job right now. I was wondering - is this reputation system a one-season gig or is it an experiment that can lead to faction system? I mean the reputation systems and some rivalry between groups. Have you ever considered something like that? Maybe these Iron Wolves are some sort of test field for that?

DN: Right now we're taking it for season 4 specifically. I'm just excited to spend more time with the Wolves because I just love that faction in Diablo 2 and 3. They have more of a presence in the world of Diablo 4, especially given the dramas that are going on this time.

JP: Seasons are an opportunity for us to experiment. In the future we could be looking at things like multiple factions. We're always like spinning on ideas. We want to make sure that the experience feels a little different every time the players come back for a season. That's part of the magic of it.

Is story still as much of a focus as it was in previous seasons and in the campaign?

HS: Before we dive deeper into Iron Wolves, I need to know one thing. It comes from a player who needs a story to play even Dirt Rally. You're focusing on mechanical changes, streamlining and experimenting with all the systems. But I'm wondering, is story still as much of a focus as it was in previous seasons and in the campaign? Or is it taking a backseat for now before Vessel of Hatred?

JP: That's a great question. In Season 4, we did spend a lot of our emphasis and development energy on trying to build that foundation and parts of the game experience, particularly the end game and reward experience for players to make that second to none and fun for players. That's been our guiding light. But there is still a storyline. There are still things you’ll be doing as part of working with the Iron Wolves, but it’s not the same sort of experience we’ve done in previous seasons.

Tempering RecipeDiablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2024

As I mentioned before, seasons are a place for us to experiment to see what players are really excited about and the things that we can really engage with. But I can assure you that were not done with the idea of big stories that we’re telling as part of seasons. We know that Diablo players love story. No matter what kind of Diablo player you are, players want to know more about the world of Sanctuary. Players want to know more about the primes. They want to know more about the events of the total conflict. They want to know more about Diablo. Regardless of your other interest in mechanics in the game, that's just the thing that binds us. So I think that you'll have things to look forward to in the future. And again, there's still a really cool story in the season, but it's not quite the same as what we've done in the past.

HS: So what's the role of Iron Wolf in the story of Season 4? Will there be some Iron Wolves themed villain? Are we cleaning some of their past masses or is there a redemption arc ahead of them? And who is Soudeh, the man we know from a data mining?

DN: Due to The Call of the Wolf seasonal activity, we will be spending more time with the Iron Wolves and meeting Sudeh. This is a new character, hardened leader of the Iron Wolves that enlists the players or assistance with getting to the source of these intensifying Helltides. We also go on a bit of a journey to uncover the mysteries of phenomenon that's threatening to consume the Iron Wolves from within.

Joe teed up here. It's very Helltide-themed focus since we will be learning more about the new mini boss that's included in the Helltide experience - The Blood Maiden. She definitely has a role in the, Call of the Wolf seasonal arc. As the seasonal realm players are playing through the quest line, they will get that added bit of context of what's going on behind the surging Helltides. We’ll spend more time with the Iron Wolves and their inner dramas.

JP: We simply thought this is a great time to bring Iron Wolves back. It's the season of Loot Reborn, it's about rewards. It's about getting treasure and killing monsters. So who better to talk to than sellswords, right? It's perfect. That’s why we're very excited to bring them back, right?

Mercenary mechanics and the core mechanic

HS: Damn right. But, you know, when I hear Iron Wolves, I think “mercenaries”. Are you laying the foundation for mercenary mechanic from previous games?

JP: As part of the season, the players are working alongside the Iron Wolves as they're kind of pushing back these Helltides. But we’re not bringing back mercenaries or things like that from previous games. We really want to make sure that the Iron Wolves are this extra faction you're working alongside as part of the experience in the Season.

Looking back at what we learned in Season 3, we thought there was really, really great feedback we got from players. We get to know what it was like to be invested in the, Seneschal Bot and it was a very interesting experience. But that doesn’t mean we're bringing it back.

HS: If not, then was the core mechanic of the Season? Aside from all the changes, what’s the selling point there?

JP: When we looked at the vampiric powers, the Seneschal and Malignant Hearts, those were big efforts about trying to ensure that players could feel more powerful over the season in a new and exciting way. And we think they've been very cool and very successful in different ways with every release. In Season 4, the bulk effort that we've made for engaging players has been on the crafting side and in trying to build up the foundation that we’ve talked about.

Some Extra TemperingDiablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2024

So when we think about Season 4, it’s different than having a temporary, borrowed power feature in that same kind of way. What we're looking at instead is the introduction of the tempering feature. Within tempering, we have the players to inject all new affixes into items. You'll have a legendary item that will drop for you. It'll have three affixes on it, and then you can add two more on top of that item as well that have more specific characteristics you might be looking for. Like dust devil damage or dust devil size, for example.

There are ways you can really, curate your buidls in a very particular way when you go and invest in tempered recipes this way. And it represents huge gains in power for the player. That they can use in a fight with tormented bosses and go dive deeper into the pit. We really put a lot of our emphasis with this release.

As I mentioned before, seasons are a place for us to experiment. We're trying a lot of different things to make sure that the Diablo 4 experience is fun for all of our players, both in seasonal and eternal realm. Or playing with their first character. We want to make sure it's really a great experience for everybody.

Codex of PowerDiablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2024

DN: On the topic of the spirit of experimentation, we do have one seasonal exclusive item, the profane mind cage, which is dropped from the newly added Hellborn in the Helltide. This is really a fun and novel item. When you consume it for the next 60 minutes, it boosts the Helltide monster levels up to ten levels above what their current status is and also increases their aberrant cinder drop rates. It allows players to put their builds to the test in exchange for maximizing their efficiency in the Helltide. I'm just really excited to see how players approach these types of little novel experiments and what might inspire us in the future seasons.

JP: One other thing that we also did for the season of Loot Reborn is that the Season Journey has rewards at all of its chapters like it had every season. We looked back at Diablo 3 and the idea of Haedrig’s Gift, then we made sure that when you get a reward from completing a chapter in the season journey, you're going to get a number of legendary items for your class that are dropped for you and are themed after recreating a build that you're interested in. When things begin to drop for you, you're going to get equipment that you can put right on at that moment and start chasing a power fantasy for that season. Things that get you really excited about and grow with that as you progress through those later chapters in the season journey.

We also did a Codex of Power revamp. When you salvage any legendary item that has a legendary power on it, that's just going to be permanently added to your codex. You're going to carry that with you for the rest of the season once you start collecting all these powers through this way. I think that's going to be another fun way for players to experiment with new builds as they play different classes and level up. And it's super quick.

Codex of Power Tempering RecipesDiablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment, 2024

What about a cow level?

HS: Is season four the last season before the Vessel of Hatred expansion or will there be something more?

JP: I don't think we've talked about this, but I'll say that the season of Loot Reborn is not the last season before the Vessel of Hatred is released.

HS: Okay, so before we finish, every Diablo fan needs to hear the answer to one particular question. Is there a cow level?

JP: I… don't think I know what you're talking about. It's a new one to me. A cow? Like a level for cows?

HS: Yeah, I mean...

JP: I'm not sure I understand. I don't know if I get the reference. Like the cow level. I'm not so sure.

HS: …You’ve played me like a damn fiddle. [laughs] It was really a pleasure to talk to you.

JP: Yeah, it's nice meeting you, Hubert.

Hubert Sosnowski

Hubert Sosnowski

He joined GRYOnline.pl in 2017, as an author of texts about games and movies. He's currently the head of the film department and the Filmomaniak.pl website. Learned how to write articles while working for the Dzika Banda portal. His texts were published on kawerna.pl, film.onet.pl, zwierciadlo.pl, and in the Polish Playboy. Has published stories in the monthly Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror magazine, as well as in the first volume of the Antologii Wolsung. Lives for "middle cinema" and meaty entertainment, but he won't despise any experiment or Fast and Furious. In games, looks for a good story. Loves Baldur's Gate 2, but when he sees Unreal Tournament, Doom, or a good race game, the inner child wakes up. In love with sheds and thrash metal. Since 2012, has been playing and creating live action role-playing, both within the framework of the Bialystok Larp Club Zywia, and commercial ventures in the style of Witcher School.


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