One criticism you’ll often hear about Diablo III is that its visual style, which included 3D models for the first time and a new infusion of colour into what had previously been a technologically limited and drab world, wound up being too ‘cartoony’ compared to the previous games. Blizzard says Diablo IV’s art design is meant to “chart a new course” for the series, but by making a bit of a return to the grim darkness that characterized Diablo II.
“Darkness does not mean bleakness,” John Mueller, Diablo IV’s art director, tells us. “There’s a lot of games that do very good dark, Gothic, bleak – almost like a horror movie. Which works, for kind of a narrower experience. But we know with Diablo, this is a game that players are going to play for thousands and thousands of hours, and so we use colour very purposefully.”
Launching a new Diablo game a decade later, when the action RPG game genre is far more crowded than it’s been in the past, poses a new kind of challenge: how do you maintain Diablo’s distinct visual identity while responding to criticism of the previous game, when newer games like Path of Exile, Victor Vran, and Grim Dawn have taken clear cues from the visual themes of the original Diablo games?