Diablo 4’s biggest risk paid off in a huge way

Blizzard took a gamble by ditching procedural generation for Diablo 4's overworld, but that decision has birthed a Sanctuary that's actually worth fighting for.

Diablo 4 Sanctuary: A woman in red armor and a large bow on her back, set against a blurred image of a temple in a desert

Taking risks is not something that is viewed lightly by any game developer and, with Diablo 4, the stakes are even higher due to the weight of expectation that has been sat on Blizzard’s shoulders. When taking on a game in any franchise, let alone one with decades of history, the main issue you’re likely to run into is that change won’t always be received with open arms. Still, the developer had grand plans for Diablo 4 and only sought to create a stronger bond between the players and the world we inhabit. The Sanctuary we experience in Diablo 4 is outstanding and my personal connection with it could only have been made possible thanks to Blizzard taking a big gamble: the removal of mass-procedural generation.

In the lead up to the release of Diablo 3, the procedural generation of the world was a key talking point. No dungeon you would visit would ever be the same because the system effectively stitched world tiles together to create a randomized environment. Just like the map, the monsters would be randomized too, as would many above ground areas which meant I was constantly fighting a losing battle against the fog of war each time I logged in.

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Often, dungeons would become so obnoxious that dead ends were the true enemy of the game. I can remember endless instances of frantically trying to complete rifts as quickly as possible only to run into barren dead end game tiles which would crush my momentum and dispel any immersion immediately as I backtracked to where I actually needed to go.

Diablo 4 still maintains randomized dungeons, and that is great, but there is a renewed focus on the overall design of these dungeons and the monster placement within them. Dead ends are virtually non-existent now and instead, each dungeon will make you decide which way to go, but the end point is still the same regardless of which route you choose. Any backtracking you do encounter is usually down to your own actions, such as missing a previous section that’s essential to progression.

While procedural generation remains (albeit in a more refined form) in dungeons, things couldn’t be more different in the sprawling overworld of Sanctuary.

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For anyone who is using Diablo 4 as their introduction to the series (if that’s you, definitely check out our Diablo 4 tier list for the best class to use) it may not be clear how passive the worlds have felt in previous titles. Outside of safe areas and the visual differences between locations on the map, it was genuinely hard to build any kind of relationship with the game world in old Diablo games. Everything had to be forced through cutscenes and conversations with NPCs.

Thanks to the fixed, hand-crafted nature of the aboveground world, this is now a worry of the past. Every inch of the Diablo 4 map is now its very own character, bursting with personality that you won’t truly appreciate on your first playthrough but will start to shine each time you stop to smell the roses. I love nothing more than ditching my mount and simply walking across the landscape either to uncover the darkest corners of the map that I am yet to visit or just casually wandering, looking for missions to complete or mobs to eviscerate. There are a lot of aspects that make Diablo 4 one of the best RPGs of recent times, but for me this is right up there as one of the most crucial.

Diablo 4 sanctuary map: A top down view of the Sanctuary map with some blue icons marking points of interest

The added benefit of being able to see other players out in your world is also another feature that breathes life into Diablo 4. No longer are you having to take on these desolate lands by yourself, but other players can be there to lend a hand – or better still, you can group up and take on world events together.

The treatment that Blizzard gives this world shows that it understands what was missing from previous games and that mostly ditching procedural generation was a risk worth taking. With a story that puts the fate of Diablo 4’s world in your hands, I’m glad Blizzard finally made Sanctuary a place (or should we now say, a planet) worth caring about.