What Diablo 4 means for the fate of all Hack’n’Slays

Leksand extended the winning streak beat AIK

MeinMMO editor Benedict Grothaus is looking forward to Diablo IV like a child to Christmas. But with every moment of joy, the worry also grows, because the future of the entire genre may depend on the ARPG. Fans have been thirsty for fresh, usable hack’n’slays for years.

“Looting and leveling – that has to be in a game.” That’s what a wise man said, whose damn catchy tune buzzes around in my head every time I play Diablo or any other hack’n’slay.

Because dammit, Trant’s right. A really good game doesn’t actually need much to be entertaining. If I can improve my character and thus be able to smack the nasty pugs on the cap better, I’m happy.

No other game does that as well as Diablo. No wonder, because Diablo invented the loot in video games. Huge “Lootsplosions” or secret Loot-Caves throw around with dopamine, as if they were camels at carnival.

Diablo IV is finally here – a game that fans and I have been waiting for for over 10 years. Diablo 3 was released in May 2012. How badly loot nerds want a sequel was easy to see from the emotional outburst at the announcement of Diablo Immortal.

This is not a wonder. Because since Diablo 3 there have only been a few action RPGs that can quench this thirst for loot in a satisfying way.

I have a deep love for role-playing games, which I like to live out in entertaining ARPGs and dungeon crawlers. I’ve been a fan of Hack’n’Slays since my youth, starting with Sacred and Dungeon Siege, and I fell in love with the Diablo series with its dark gothic style early on. Diablo 4 is definitely my highlight for 2023.

Hardly a good big ARPG in the last 7 years

When I revised our list of alternatives to Diablo in early 2023, I noticed that almost all the games that we recommend are either really old or do not have absolute top ratings.

Of course, I would never recommend rubbish to you, but the problem is: there really aren’t that many good, up-to-date alternatives to Diablo. The best fallback options from the list, as rated on Steam, are:

  • Torchlight 1 from 2009
  • Torchlight 2 from 2012
  • The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing from 2013
  • Grim Dawn from 2016
  • The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is considered to be particularly innovative. Here the trailer:

    The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: The Extended Edition Trailer

    Even Diablo’s biggest competitor, the free Path of Exile, was released back in October 2013. That’s almost 10 years ago now. If you look at the newer releases, they’re all bobbing around somewhere from “balanced” ratings – or worse.

    The acclaimed Wolcen, for example, crashed terribly quickly on Steam after it was initially well received. ARPG fans have been reaching for every thread, hoping to get the next Diablo. But they didn’t get that.

    After a comparative look, Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr still performs best among the “newer games”, but that was also released in 2018 and with 75% positive votes is just “mostly positive”.

    Minecraft Dungeons is probably the most successful, but with its playful look it just doesn’t appeal to every chop and loot fan. Most recent action RPGs have been okay at best, but they’re not blockbusters anymore.

    People who should know better fail

    The worst thing about the whole thing is that an enormous number of studios seem to recognize the potential. Gearbox, the publishers behind Torchlight 1 and 2, released a third part in 2020 – but from a different development team.

    Torchlight 3 was miserable and disappointed fans of the series enormously. On the other hand, the original maker of the series has designed a new, small game with “Hob” and has received significantly better reviews with it.

    And then Blizzard came around the corner with Diablo Immortal. I want to be clear: Diablo Immortal’s gameplay makes it the best “game like Diablo” in at least 7 years, maybe longer. It’s fun, it’s diverting, it feels rewarding, and it’s action packed.

    But if you really like playing ARPGs, you grind a lot. In Diablo Immortal, however, there were certain limits to the grind that could be partially – not entirely – overridden with money. Not a good approach and a pity about the really damn solid framework. Because I still wish that Diablo 4 takes over the gameplay approaches of Immortal:

    I want Diablo 4 to be like Diablo Immortal

    Usually indie games and AA productions step in where big publishers fail and provide fans with new content. But even that didn’t happen here. If you look at Vikings – Wolves of Midgard, Last Epoch or Wolcen, you can see that even here there is a lot of room for improvement.

    To me, that’s a really bad sign, because it reminds me of my not-so-secret love for video games, which has deserted me on a number of occasions.

    The latest trailer for Diablo 4 really grabbed me – hopefully the level in the game will hold up:

    Diablo 4: The release date trailer

    I’ve seen a genre die quietly before

    Real-time strategy games are my passion and would probably still be my top genre today if there were good current representatives. Because with them I experienced exactly what the ARPG genre is heading for: a drought that is so intense that good games are no longer delivered.

    The only RTS series that was consistently continued at some point is Age of Empires. And even here the third part was controversial and I uninstalled the fourth after 2 weeks.

    There haven’t been any new real-time strategy games for many years, at least not well-known AAA productions. The best RTS for me to date is still Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War from 2004 and the RTS with the greatest potential is basically an indie clone of Command & Conquer.

    ARPGs are not at the same point as strategy games yet. For one thing, hack ‘n’ slays appeal to a much larger audience than the full-time nerds into RTS. On the other hand, games like Diablo have always evolved and improved.

    Strategy games almost always got worse with the sequels or maybe just kept the quality of the first part, see Stronghold. If you take the Diablo series as a comparison, the gameplay of Diablo 3 today is simply worlds better than Diablo 1.

    DIablo 4 has to be good – and so far everything looks like it will work:

    Diablo 4 takes the best features from its predecessors – This is how it looks so far

    There are already first play reports about Diablo 4, including from my colleagues at GameStar and GamePro. I thoroughly enjoy everything I know about the game so far. The classes all have a deep gameplay with unique skills and builds, optically I finally have a nice, dark flair again and the story already grabs me.

    But Diablo 4 has yet to prove it’s going to be really good. You won’t see that until after the release. Diablo 4 is so important because it can keep the genre alive. I don’t want to see another genre die that I like – I’m not Jürgen after all:

    I have a superpower: I can kill games and Marvel’s Avengers is my new victim