Diablo is the most heavy metal video game series in existence. Not because of its music, necessarily, but because of the Prime Evil Vibes it puts out into the world – familiar to any who had the good sense to rebel while wearing a denim patch-jacket adorned with the artworks of iconic illustrators like Ed Repka, Larry Carroll, Joe Petagno, and Derek Riggs. It took fewer than 60 minutes for my Sorcerer to begin stalking hell-touched corridors in Diablo 4, and not much longer for them to be force-fed Petals of Blood in a blasphemous ritual. That's thrash metal as fuck. And I only wish my character looked a little more like a reflection of me as I endured the Daughter of Hatred's new reign over Sanctuary.
Your adventure in Diablo 4 begins with a campfire, five classes, and a light character creation toolset. It's more robust than anything I have seen from this series before, which is certainly appreciated – although there's less depth than you might expect from an otherwise forward-thinking role-playing game. That's a shame, because Diablo 4 is doing its best to make you believe that there's more to its heroes than a series of statistics stuffed into Legendary armor sets. The story is more cinematic and character-driven, while the presence of other players in the shared-world only heightens the opportunity for meet-cutes / expeditions into the catacombs of hell with a party of strangers.
Let's stay on that 'forward-thinking' track for a minute, because it's worth praising Blizzard for its overall approach to character creation and customization, even if I do believe the studio could have pushed it a little further. For starters, body types are predefined – each class has two options, and they are justified non-negotiables. "Body type is something we consider to be part of the class fantasy," Rod Fergusson, Diablo's head of franchise, remarked in a roundtable interview. "We wanted to provide as much variety as possible in terms of there being a ton of different ethnicities and hair and markings and eye colors, but there were certain things that made the class the class, and for Diablo 4 it was body type."
Jump in and give the character creator a try for yourself while you still can. Here's the Diablo 4 open beta release date and unlock times.
This is a great decision, with muscular Druids, slender Sorcerers, and emaciated Necromancers helping to define a specific power fantasy within the world – and ensuring defined silhouettes in messy party compositions through dark dungeons; another great decision sees everything from hairstyles to makeup to body markings made unisex. The problem is that there isn't enough variance to really dial in a true sense of personalization, at least in the beta build. There are just four preset faces and 11 hairstyles – besides some ponytail and bun options, there seems to be a strict no loose hair beyond the shoulders policy in place, which is high school for me all over again.
Long hair has always been tied up in my personal identity since I tumbled into heavy music as a passion – a form of expression, for sure, and a marker of kindred spirits when out in the wild. It's long been an annoyance of mine that RPGs with otherwise in-depth character creators restrict hair length to gender, and while that isn't the case here, it's still equally frustrating that Diablo 4 doesn't support an array of straggly long hair (and facial hair) options befitting a lone-wanderer of the wilds of Sanctuary.
Blizzard gave an inch by introducing character creation in Diablo, and I want to take a mile. I want to build a pyromaniac mage with flowing auburn hair. I want a hulking Barbarian with big mutton chops, the sort I shaved in as a joke and then unironically rocked for years that followed. I want to call upon a Necromancer with a long, dirty-blonde bob, leaving them looking like they just stumbled off of a themed MTV Unplugged stage from the '90s. Is that so much to ask?
Dressed to kill
I think this sense that character creation doesn't quite go far enough is only emphasized once you get your head around customization. While it's easy enough to miss in the beta, you can visit wardrobes in any of the towns to access the Diablo 4 transmog system to alter any of your gear. It's great. You're able to hide any piece of gear that you're wearing and, better yet, it will stay hidden even as you're rapidly switching out gear throughout dungeons. That means I could hide my helm permanently and still enjoy the benefits of its stats, showing my horrible mid-length haircut off for all of Sanctuary to see.
Or I could remove my chest armor and show off one of the 21 full-body markings which are available in the creator and leave them uncovered for the entire game. I also love that you're able to apply a pigment to any item in your outfit, or all of it all at once – making it easy to permanently color coordinate your gear. This allows my dressed-in-all-black Sorcerer vibe to stay intact no matter what piece of ridiculous clothing I put on my body. And should I like the look of a new piece of equipment, I could always scavenge it at a Blacksmith, which adds the look to your transmog wardrobe for future use.
It's a great touch, and one Blizzard was keen to pursue as a focus. "It provides so many opportunities for players to really express themselves through the visual appearance of the armor, through the fashion," game director Joe Shely told GamesRadar+ last year. "We're really happy that our characters and the armor looks so cool… and that you can mix and match those items to focus on particular looks that you think are cool."
Appearance matters in Diablo 4, more so than it has mattered to any game in the series that has come before it. You're stumbling across players all of the time in the open shared world, there are cutscenes with a greater focus on your character, and plenty of opportunities to party up with strangers to take on powerful world bosses and challenging dungeons. I think Blizzard has done a good job with what it has put forward in terms of customization, but I can't help but wish the studio went a little further with its character creation systems to really allow each and every one of us to live out our dream of slaying demons in an Ed Repka album cover with long heavy metal hair.
Diablo 4 is one of the most anticipated new games of 2023, and it's set to launch on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One on June 6.