Diablo 4’s Open World Is More Checklist Than Adventure

Diablo 4’s Open World Is More Checklist Than Adventure

Highlights

  • Diablo 4’s open world design is bland and lacking in visual diversity, with each zone feeling nearly identical.
  • The map layout goes against the sense of realism it aims for, creating a superficial and maze-like experience.
  • The game lacks a sense of adventure and exploration due to its focus on ticking off tasks and clearing points of interest.

My love-hate relationship with open-world and Diablo-like games has been a wild ride so far. At one point, each of them was my go-to genre until I reached a saturation point. When Diablo 4 promised to combine both these approaches, I had my doubts but decided to dive in nevertheless. Fast-forward nearly 30 hours, and I’m left feeling mostly disappointed.

I’m a druid, level 50, finishing Act 3 of the story campaign now, and I don’t feel compelled to carry on. It’s not just because of the game’s questionable itemization that feels unrewarding, or the constant feeling of being underpowered, which are among the most common complaints within the community. My primary concern with Diablo 4 is the way its open world is designed.

Sanctuary, although vast and visually appealing, happens to be one of the blandest open worlds I’ve ever seen. Each new zone feels nearly identical, lacking any special touch. The seamless transitions between regions, be it snowy mountains, scorching deserts, or lush forests, lack the visual diversity needed to set them apart. To make matters worse, the game’s somber aesthetics, characterized by dark shades of gray and green, tend to blend everything together, making it difficult to distinguish sand from dirt or snow beneath your feet.

Diablo 4 Coop Players Riding Horses

Think of that striking feeling you got when entering the new area in earlier Diablo entries. Everything, from the architecture to the enemies, the colors, and the overall vibe, was entirely different, inviting exploration. With the new pursuit of “realism,” this unique sensation is lost among endless swamps and nearly identical dungeons.

Diablo 4’s map layout also goes against the sense of realism it’s aiming for. Just look at it—it’s an intricate maze stretched endlessly, with very few expansive open areas, which makes it feel extremely superficial. For comparison, check out how the seamless open world of Ancaria looks in Sacred—a game released some 20 years ago.

But my main issue isn’t how Sanctuary looks. Unfortunately, Blizzard has chosen the classic Ubisoft-style approach, presenting the world as a series of zones you have to “clear” to earn progression rewards. As I attempted to explore this world and discover unique events or rewards, it actively resisted, creating a constant sense of having an endless to-do list. There’s no sense of adventure in Diablo 4; instead, you’re simply ticking off tasks from progress categories and “clearing” points of interest, from dungeons to strongholds, with not much else in between.

Sure, there are a bunch of unmarked side quests you can stumble upon if you’re paying attention, but that’s not enough. The random events you can discover and complete for a chest spawn become tiresome rather quickly, as there are only a couple of repeated scenarios, which only add to the superficial feeling of this world.

Diablo 4 Necromancer In A Graveyard

Don’t get me wrong: games like Diablo have never prioritized exploration over character leveling and treasure hunting. Nevertheless, I believe there’s untapped potential in this aspect that Blizzard isn’t fully exploring in its game. The way the world is presented in Diablo 4 could open doors to numerous unique possibilities, puzzles, and secrets that are currently absent.

For instance, Diablo 4 could benefit greatly from injecting more randomness into its design, rather than sticking to a static MMO-inspired shared world. Think about the recent Remnant 2 as a source of inspiration. The way this game generates unique areas and rewards to enhance the sense of adventure has already captivated thousands of fans, and I believe it could be a valuable addition to Diablo as well.

Instead, I bet many players, myself included, are systematically working through the map with the heavy reliance on step-by-step guides, either for locating all of Lilith’s altars as fast as possible or focusing solely on the dungeons with the most valuable legendary aspects. Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I think just a simple shuffling of the locations for these points of interest could lead to a much more engaging Sanctuary; one that demands more exploration and awareness from players. This, in turn, could positively impact your immersion into this realm.

Enemies populating this world leave much to be desired, too. While I haven’t cleared out the entire map yet (and I’m skeptical if I ever will), during my 30 hours with the game across three out of the five large regions, I feel like I’ve spent most of my time battling nothing but bandits, spiders, and wolves. At times, Khazra (goatmen) or a horde of undead are thrown into the mix, but still, wherever I go, I mostly have to deal with dem spiders. I got tired of spider-slaying in RPGs long ago. Can we please have a bit more variety?

Diablo 4 All Characters

Also, I’m 30 hours in, and I’ve yet to unlock a horse for my druid character. Who thought that getting a mount at the end of the game was a good idea? I could understand if the world of Sanctuary was captivating to explore on foot, but alas, it’s just time-consuming. Imagine reaching Skellige in The Witcher 3 only to finally acquire a horse, or clearing out half of the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla‘s map on foot—that sounds like my personal hell.

My time with Diablo 4 has been uneven thus far, to say the least, and I’m not sure how much longer I’ll stick with it. This vast world, though impressively large, carries a load of questionable decisions that just don’t resonate with me. I wish Blizzard had made a smaller game that prioritizes depth over sheer breadth. Perhaps, it’s time for some substantial changes in the elements surrounding this refined gameplay formula.

Next: Why I’m Holding Off On Playing Baldur’s Gate 3 For Another Year

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