Diablo IV BlizzCon 2023 Q&A – ‘We Have a Big Vision; Microsoft Is Very Committed, so We See a Bright Future’

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Following the successful release of Season of Blood, Blizzard's Diablo IV team unveiled the first expansion at BlizzCon 2023: Vessel of Hatred.

Due to launch in late 2024, Vessel of Hatred will build upon the base game by focusing on the fate of the Prime Evil Mephisto. Adventurers will head to the Torajan Jungle, which Diablo II players will recall due to their visit to the city of Kurast. The developers have also promised a class addition never before seen in Diablo games.

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Meanwhile, the live service will be updated with Malignant rings coming this week. Next month, a patch will introduce the seasonal endgame event Abattoir of Zir, while the Enchanting Preview window will be added to the Occultist NPC. Looking even further, Season three will introduce the Gauntlet weekly challenge dungeon and leaderboards.

At BlizzCon 2023, we joined a roundtable press interview to discuss the future of Diablo IV with Blizzard, including their first thoughts on how Microsoft's acquisition can be a boon.

One of my Barbarian coworkers asked if there's any plans on creating new uniques that cause skills to be fundamentally altered to create entirely new builds. Like something that might cause you to become a throw Barbarian. Is that something you considered?

It's been really cool to see both players embrace builds that we designed many uniques for and also to discover new ways to create builds, including ones that we haven't always anticipated.

Throw Barbarian is a cool idea. We've also seen companion Druids. I was in Scosglen and there was a Druid with three buddy werewolves. We know that there are those kinds of builds that maybe don't quite have as much support as they could have, so we want to continue adding uniques and Legendary Aspects with every season.

I wanted to ask a little bit more about the upcoming expansion. Since we're going to be revisiting a place from Diablo II, I was wondering if you could give us a little bit more details on how the biomes have evolved. From what we saw, it is very much a jungle. What kind of biomes can we expect?

The main focus is obviously on the jungle. If you know much about the region, the whole heart of it is under the canopy. Most of the focus is on that right now, but just like you see in all the other zones, we're going to have different parts of that. So, imagine you have a jungle and then you have these subcomponents of the jungle that you'll be able to explore as well.

We're not ready to talk about all of the places we're going to go, but you're going to see variety all along the way. You can expect to see a lot of diversity in the biomes.

During the opening ceremony, Blizzard's evolution towards the future was touched upon. From your perspective on Diablo, how does that philosophy shine through in the game as it is today and as it might be tomorrow?

The first step was just launching the base game. Diablo is known as a big dungeon crawler and we added this huge open world to it. That's a pretty big evolution for the franchise as a whole and it's a wonderful platform for us to continue to experiment with a lot more things.

You're going to see some of that stuff happening in the seasons. The hope is that we take larger steps when we go into the expansions as well, so really it's about creating a platform to do more. I think Diablo as a franchise in general is extremely poised to do that.

It's been four years since we announced Diablo IV at BlizzCon. At the time, there was sort of one game that most people were playing with Diablo 3. Today, there are four Diablo games that people can play with D2R, Immortal and D3 (the most recent season is really cool), and D4. It's been really cool to have the support of our team and Blizzard and now Microsoft in continuing to bring more and more Diablo to fans because there's so much more we want to do.

How do you think that Microsoft buying Blizzard will affect the company in the future?

Well, we're happy to have the support of Microsoft. It was really cool to see Phil at the opening ceremony. I think it's a statement that he came out to BlizzCon, which is a fan convention, and really supports Blizzard. We're really excited to have them help us continue to do the things that we're good at.

Now that you guys have the support of Microsoft, have you started to maybe open up possibilities, like, oh, we can now have the financial banking to do this or we have the manpower to start developing this that wasn't available before? Are you starting to see any benefits of that so far?

Well, it's early days in terms of it, but what is really cool is that because of the way that we build the game in order to get all of this content out.
We build elements of the game in parallel with each other. We sometimes call them swim lanes. That allows us to develop seasons and expansions in parallel. It takes a dedicated team to do that, and it's incredible to have Microsoft support to do that. Microsoft is very committed to Diablo 4, so we see a bright future there. I love that Phil Spencer is a Diablo fan.

WCCFTECH: Following up on the flow chart that was presented during the fireside chat for the Abattoir of Zir. Do you intend that to be a sort of endless event?

it's not an endless progression in so far as like, there are 25 tiers of the dungeon, so if you beat tier 25, that is the hardest tier. Now this is a seasonal event, so it runs for a limited time. In our internal testing, which is never as good as the top players, people are getting to tier 3, tier 7 maybe, so we know players will get much farther than that, but it is limited in terms of that and it's also limited in terms of the reward.

This kind of capped progression is important for us because we want players who are able to demonstrate their skill to be rewarded for playing but also to make sure that the players who are able to figure out the best builds and bring the most skill are the ones who are getting the highest reward.

Are you looking at monster strength as well as world boss difficulty? A lot of people are clearing world bosses extremely fast, which is part of the power progression. Is the Abattoir of Zir kind of an answer to that? Does that play into it?

It's interesting with Season of Blood to see some of the boss ladder bosses and the world bosses. In World Tier 3, they take a little bit longer, in World Tier 4, you start to put together a lot of those unique powers. What's really great about that is that in Season of Blood, players feel powerful and that's something that's so important to capture because that's a key part of the fantasy of any Diablo game.

When we think about Abattoir of Zir, of course, because it is meant to be an incredibly challenging place and it's positioned as something that you take on after you've completed other challenges in the season, we have the opportunity to position the difficulty in a place that's very, very difficult, because we know that the players who are going to attempt that are players ready for that challenge.

I wanted to ask about the Midwinter Blight season coming up. What has that wintery theme opened up to you from a design standpoint? 

The Midwinter Blight is a seasonal holiday event. We've got Season of Blood and then layered on top of that there are seasonal events within the season, so we'll put some seasons on top of the seasons. Abattoir of Zir is a seasonal endgame event that's part of Season of Blood and Midwinter Blight is a seasonal holiday event that's part of Season of Blood and they are occurring almost at the same time.  It's going to be really incredible to you play in December and experience all that stuff.

This is our first big holiday event. We've done some small events here and there. It's really cool to be able to transform the Fractured Peaks in which Kyovashad, the capital city, is present. We're just talking about tone, and with a holiday event like this, it's really fun to think about how we can translate things that players can relate to in the real world.

We were trying to talk about that in the campfire chat with Snowman for example, what that looks like in Diablo and what kinds of stories we can tell there. It's been really cool to see the red-cloaked horror. That's a character based on some European mythology.

One of the things that's most exciting about seasons is we get to experiment a lot. When the team sits down and looks at themes, they're able to take a look at a theme and say, how can you reinterpret this in design? What does Snowman mean to the design, what does an angry, not-to-be-named holiday person mean to a dark world? It allows us to actually take a good look at our solid mechanics that we have in place right now and twist them a little bit.

Because it's an event we can take a little more risk and do something a little more interesting. If it works, awesome, we're going to bring it back, people are going to be really excited about it, if it doesn't work, then that's okay, we tried, good job, red-cloaked horror, we're moving on. But I'm really excited about this one in particular.

So talking about that transition, the things that work well, like hey, we can do that again, is there a philosophy in terms of seasonal content and the possibility of some of that becoming evergreen, part of the base? What are you looking for as part of the things that you might just want to make part of that core Diablo experience?

One of the great things about the seasonal model with Diablo IV is that players can jump into a season even if maybe they missed the last season without feeling like what's going on, what was happening before, and feeling like they can never catch up to their friends. It really excels at that. Now what it also does is it allows us to try out mechanics and allows us to bring things that are fun and it also allows us to bring forward things in an evergreen or persistent way.

You saw some of that with the Malignant rings. That Necromancer power, I think every player who was playing Diablo IV asked for that, including the rogues even though they can't use it. That's kind of a small example of it, and we want to do more things like that in terms of looking at things that are really working well in a season and should be carried over even if they were planned as part of the season.

I'll give you an example for season two. Players are responding very positively to Blood Harvest. They're making comparisons between Blood Harvest and Helltide and saying Helltide could probably benefit from things like Blood Harvest being up all the time.

We know as well that we need to continue to increase the foundation of the permanent endgame in Diablo IV, and so when we talk about things, the boss ladder in season 2 of course is not going away. It's part of the game, it's in Eternal as well. Gauntlet and leaderboards that are coming in season 3 will also persist into future seasons. That's starting in seasonal, although it'll come to Eternal later and it will absolutely carry forward into future seasons. We were talking about how you've got a fixed seed dungeon and it changes every week. Well, in season 3 you're going to get new Gauntlet dungeons.

We're going to start with the leaderboards that are tied to Gauntlet and we're going to see that as the first foundation of our leaderboards. We know how much players love leaderboards and where it makes sense to add leaderboards to things, we'll certainly do that.

Can you speak a little on keeping a throughline of the seasons that are going to lead up to the expansion and whether the expansion could affect seasons in the future?

We have so much story we want to tell. It doesn't necessarily mean that every story is interconnected, but every story can have connections, and it's about really building up that base. We know that with Vessel of Hatred, we're picking up where we last left off from the original main campaign of Diablo IV. As we're finding and discovering characters and storylines in the early seasons, I would not be surprised if something gets hot and the fans are really excited about a particular character or not, that's a perfect opportunity for us to continue to grow. You can expect continuity in places, but I wouldn't necessarily say it's a very continuous throughline.

Have you looked at improving the consumables inventory tab?

We have a lot of elixirs and some of the elixirs... I need to talk to the team about this. There's an elixir that reduces your evade cooldown by 7%. That one might not be the most valuable elixir. I think we have a lot of opportunities in the consumables tab.

Do we have a date on the loot filter feature?

We don't have a date to announce on the loot filter. When you think about the changes we made to experience in season 2, when we talk about that, we say 40% faster leveling, which is correct, and we have data that shows people are leveling faster. But we didn't just go in and change a number and say, oh, times 1.4x. We had to change a variety of systems to do that, right? There's the changes to Smoldering Ashes in terms of the actual number that we did in season one. We made some of those things multiplicative like with elixirs, bucketing of things that are additive versus.
multiplicative. So a bunch of things had to come together so that it would result in a coherent experience.

The same is true in itemization. We see opportunities for improvement in things like how easy it is to compare items, opportunities for depth in terms of building on top of items that you have, crafting and modifying your items. The feeling that the decisions you are making on items actually result in a meaningful difference in power. So when we think about a loot filter, we want to get these revisions to the way that our items work in the game and then the loot filter needs to be informed by those changes.

It's something that we're we're working on in tandem with that, so I can't give you a date for that because every perceivably simple decision has some kind of crazy cause and effect, ripple effect across the whole game. Sometimes there's a low hanging fruit and it goes pretty quickly. Sometimes it's like, wow, that change is actually 120 changes.

You mentioned that Diablo IV is a game that you're looking to support for years to come, does that mean that the Vessel of Hatred expansion won't be its last?

Yeah, we're looking way out into the future. As I said before, we have a vision of where we're heading and that is a big vision. This is the first step with Vessel of Hatred. I'm pretty excited about it, like the beginning of the Age of Hatred. I love Mephisto as a keystone villain for this arc, and yeah, we are planning for the future.

WCCFTECH: There's a very active community that's been exploring a specific metagame within Diablo IV. Most recently, they've completed the steps to unlock the Forlorn Hovel. Can you provide any guidance or tips for the next step in the chain since they are at a loss on what to do with that stamina potion?

That seems like a lot of steps. Look, I don't know anything about that, but if I had killed that many cows, which certainly I wouldn't have done last weekend, I would absolutely hang on to anything I got out of that.

You said that you have a good conversation with the community now. How did you develop that? What changed?

We listen in a whole host of ways. First, we have our community group, they spend a lot of time on social media, going through all the forums, consolidating all the information, making sure that we're sorting through topics that come up often and frequently versus some outliers in that conversation.

The community team manages a lot of that. Also, at an event like today and yesterday we spend time with hundreds of people, talking with them in that way. All ears are open to every single media outlet that we possibly have. We take great care with the information as well, because like we were talking about before, what the community is looking for, it's our responsibility to find a way to really implement that in the best ways possible.

This is the best part. With a shipping game, we can't really talk about what we want to talk about and now it's like the game's out, it's not our game anymore, it's your guys' game, and so having the opportunity to hear what you guys think is important is really interesting, and then blending it with some of our future visions that we want to do. This is where the magic happens, this is where games get really good, so I'm excited to be in that spot.

In the future, will we be able to explore places like the city of Kurast?

There's several nostalgic places that we're going to be going back to. Travincal is one of them, and  Kurast is another.  This is one of those regions where there's a lot of lore, so for any of the fans who are really into that, this is the Diablo IV expansion you're going to want to check out because we're dipping way back in the timeline. Read up if you haven't because there's going to be a lot of things built into the whole thing that I think they would appreciate.

At the end of the main game, we see Neyrelle leaving with the Soulstone. It's kind of open-ended what she should do. Will we see what her master plan is with the stone? And Inarius dies. Are we going to see any repercussions of his death and how that affects the world?

You're definitely going to learn the fate of the stone. The cliffhanger was very deliberate. This is not a disjointed story. You're not going to go in the campaign, we're going to take a hard right and just go tell some other story. This is a direct continuation of all the things that are happening, so you're going to learn things about the characters that you've already been introduced to. You might be introduced to a couple of new ones, so yeah, it's all connected.

There are many cases in the release version of the game where if you interact with characters after those events in the campaign have taken place, the interactions are actually different. For example, I was just in Kyovashad doing the side quest where there's an exorcism under the city, and when you do it after, there's a whole interaction there with what the reaction of the Church with Inarius is and what's going on. The side quest still plays out, but the context is different, and the characters respond to that. It's been so cool to see that level of detail that our quest designers have put in, and we want to do a whole lot more of that.

Was the new class due to be added in Vessel of Hatred something you were thinking about when you made the original Diablo IV class selection and it's sort of been back of mind since then, or is it something that has emerged as you built the game, figured out what you've got, what's missing or what sort of power fantasy you want to deliver?

It's hard to really recall where the line is. The way we develop the classes is that we want really distinct player class fantasies, very specific power fantasies, and the class team has more fantasies that they would love to go after. To a degree, they all have things on the back of their mind all the time while we're developing, which is why it's hard to recall where a line is. Many of the memorable things about classes that we do just kind of emerge, so I don't think I can actually put my finger on a line. But it's continued to evolve. We're really excited about it. I wish I could share it with you guys. We were talking about it just when we got done with the panel.

Pertaining to character balance changes, what's the most surprising thing you guys have learned about player behavior, and how does that coincide with community feedback when it comes to the balance? 

I think the first thing is, when we shipped the game, we saw the levels leading from 50 to 100 as an opportunity to continue leveling into the end game. You might not reach 100, but it's no big deal.

But Diablo IV players were like, no, this is a very big deal. I want to reach 100. Why does it take so long? We reacted to that and said you know what, level 100 is a goal that players are setting for themselves, and we need to make sure that that is an attainable goal. The changes to experience are the direct result of that. We also see that with build creativity. Players discover many builds that work in unexpected ways.

What is your philosophy in terms of abilities that are overused or underused? Are there times when you look at it and go, we don't really want every person who's playing a Sorcerer to have the same thing; we want them to feel like they have more meaningful choices? Are there abilities where you're like, oh man, nobody's taking this, why is no one taking this?

Certainly we saw, especially in season one, that there were lots of situations where it felt like you needed to have 100% uptime on unstoppable skills. We made some changes to how CC. We have an intensity system that determines when monsters are allowed to cast CCs and so forth. We made some changes to that, it's sort of an under-the-hood system.

We also made some changes to some specific abilities that were particularly egregious like the spiders that root you, they slow you now, and some of the bosses as well. That's the monster side of it. We also are looking at it on the class side in terms of making sure that the effect of CC being meaningful is not diminishing the opportunity for choice among builds too much.

We want CC to be meaningful. There's really cool interaction with unstoppable, but we don't want to sort of take up all of your buttons dealing with that. Of course, when there are lots of cool abilities that aren't being used as part of the meta. Every season you can expect to see, like with Season of Blood, new metabuilds that become valuable changes. We rebalanced I think almost all of the uniques in Diablo IV with season two. We probably won't rebalance all of them in season three, but you can expect to see new meta builds, and that'll affect the overall balance of the game from season to season.

At the same time, a key way that players play Diablo IV is they'll set a goal for themselves. Maybe they are reading a build guide and when they've finally got their build together, they're like, all right, now I'm going to crush Duriel. if we come in and say, oh, there's a balance problem with this... Of course we want a wide variety of Sorcerer builds and we saw that with the Malignant ring for the Sorcerer, which is not a ball lightning ring. We want to encourage that, but we want to do it in a way that's not coming in to that player right as they finish their ball lightning build and say, oh, just kidding, we nerfed it.  We want to be conscious of that.

I would love to hear more about the gauntlets. Will there be a lot of changes between weeks? Will there be different monster families? Will we have to be playing a lot with resistances? I think a worry is that it is going to be a one-shot. How are you working to challenge players skill-wise and not just numbers-wise? 

When we wind up in a situation where you are one-shotting the monsters and the monsters are one-shotting you, we end up narrowing the opportunities for skill and narrowing the use of many of our abilities and the builds get narrower as well. We don't want to end up there. We do want it to be difficult. Each week's dungeon is handcrafted. That affords us the opportunity to have really interesting challenges that vary from week to week.

Do you have a hard limit on the number of classes you could add to Diablo IV, or is there a possibility of adding even more new classes in future expansions?

If we're given the opportunity to continue making more game, we're going to take the opportunity to make more game. With what we're doing now, we're taking it one class at a time. We're learning so much. I can't believe we just shipped the game six months ago.

I think before we can start making even more steps forward, we need to learn a little bit more before we get to that point, but like I said, our team has boundless creativity. They would like to see this world grow, so you know, who knows where we're going to take it.

A few of the other Blizzard teams have done a roadmap to let the community know what they were doing. Will we be getting that for Diablo IV?

We have a roadmap that talks about season 2 and season 3 that we shared in the campfire chat. We also talked a little bit about expansion one. We're kind of taking it in a little bit organic way i would say we definitely want to be as transparent with the community as possible. We've learned a lot, it's impacted a lot about the priorities of things that we want to go after over the course of
the next several months. It's hard to put a roadmap out that's as definitive as some of those established games until we start getting that rhythm with the community and the things that are being more commonly asked for. We want to get there. If we had a roadmap of season two two months ago, it'd be completely invalidated immediately.

WCCFTECH: Do you have any comments about adjusting the item trading limitations in the future?

It's been really cool to see players trading the materials in season two. Also, this is not actually trading, but we've been really happy with how the Blood Lures have played out in Blood Harvest. We want to continue to embrace those aspects of trading, we want to do it in a way that is positive for all players. We know that there are players for whom a key part of how they interact with the game and make their builds is that trading interaction with other players.

Also, players can often rely on trading as a way to deal with situations where maybe they didn't get some rare item. Trading is a way to limit how uh random it can be. We want to find good ways to embrace that while continuing to make sure that great loot drops off of monsters and that we're building trading in a way that doesn't create degenerate loops outside of the game itself.

Are there any plans to do Diablo IV competitive events, like competitions for pros?

Well, we're going to make Gauntlet first, but yeah, it's been cool to see all the kinds of events that have sprung up in other Blizzard games as well. It's cool to think about opportunities to do that in Diablo IV, too.

I like the fact that we're leaning in the right way to competitive. I'm very curious about what the community does with that and how much traction that gets. If that becomes the thing where everybody streaming is just trying to one-up their friends and that competitive nature catches fire, I could see a thousand ways in which we could do something cool with it.

When the Vessel of Hatred expansion hits, does the seasonal model pause? Because I guess the expansion being premium couldn't be tied to, say, the Battle Pass progression.

We are not going to pause it. When we launch Vessel of Hatred, we're going to have stuff for seasonal players, we're going to have stuff for the eternal players. Every player type that we have, they're going to have something there for them to play with. That's important to us. There's so many play styles out there right now with our very, very large game. We don't want to alienate any groups who want to play.

Are there any quality of life improvements coming for Diablo IV hardcore players?

Hardcore is a really interesting game type because players who engage with hardcore want to play. in a way that maximizes the fantasy of it. When we add things that address problems, we need to do it in a really careful way. I think that the Scroll of Escape has been really successful at that. The elixir of Cheat Death is probably not as successful. But we want to continue to support that hardcore community. We want to do it in a way that doesn't try to take away the feeling of accomplishment that hardcore players crave.

Is there anything that got cut from the final game that you wanted but just couldn't finish on time?

We had the shot in the campfire chat with Midwinter Blight where you can pet the dog and that was something that was kind of a joke on the team. It's like, we need to be able to pet the dogs and like, yeah, okay, but we need to build more endgame. Some of the folks on the team then just went in and animated it and hooked it.

It's really cool when moments like that happen, even when we have things that are cool ideas that aren't necessarily the highest priority, it's cool to see opportunities for those to get in. You're going to see this in Vessel of Hatred and maybe we'll talk later next year about this. Some of the things that we cut from the main game have a better fit somewhere at some other point in time.

The expansion, for example, is a combination of vision, opportunity, and feedback at the same time. The short answer is, yeah, there's lots of things we cut from Diablo IV. The long answer or the slightly longer answer is that with a live game, we're going to continue to re-implement and bring a lot of those things back.

We saw some of the Midwinter Blight rewards. Can we expect more stuff akin to the Hunters' board that we have in Season of Blood? Is that something you're working on?

It's been very cool to see players interacting with the Hunters' board, and it's also a testament to the kind of different player types. I know that our Art Director, John Muller, is like, my favorite thing is the Hunters' board. Like, really? There's so much cool stuff in season two! He's like, no, the Hunter, I'm getting my reputation! Whenever we see something like that it gives us ideas for ways to uh integrate that kind of mechanic in future seasons.

I don't have anything to announce on that right now, but it's such a cool feature and we want to bring more stuff like that. On Midwinter Blight specifically, it's not unreasonable to assume that there would be some kind of reputation-like system involved there.

Thank you for your time.

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