Diablo 4 will take place in a shared open world. You won't have a choice in that, although you won't see other players in your game all the time, such as during big story quests (I wrote about how the shared world works a year ago). You also won't have to participate in PvP if you don't want to. The main parts of Diablo 4's world will be safe, give or take an endless war between angels and demons, and PvP will be contained within clearly marked zones.
You might just be tempted to cross that border, though. There's loot to get.
Prior to the start of BlizzCon this week, Diablo 4 game director Luis Barriga and art director John Mueller gave me a brief overview of how this PvP system will work. A stream following the BlizzCon Opening Ceremony also filled in some details (you can find it here, a little over two hours in), as did a group interview with other press after that.
The PvP zones are called Fields of Hatred. Within them, players can attack each other, obviously, but they aren't arenas where all there is to do is fight other players. There are PvE activities in the Fields, including events and bosses, that players can tackle together so long as they aren't turning on each other.
The reward for venturing into Fields comes as a currency called Shards of Hatred. You'll be able to get these Shards from doing all kinds of things in PvP areas: killing monsters, completing events, killing players, opening chests. They have to be purified at altars before they can be used, though, and during that ritual, you'll be marked as hostile, which allows non-hostile players to attack you without earning the tag themselves. Simply put, you become one of the area's prime targets.
Once cleansed, your Shards of Hatred are safe—you won't lose them if you die after that—and can be spent on items from special vendors, such as costumes, weapons, and mounts. These items won't necessarily be better than other items in the game, says systems designer Joe Piepiora, but they'll be things that "speak to your desire as a PvP player." (I assume that means it'll be stuff that makes you look really tough and cool, then.)
The point is for PvP in Diablo 4 not to be balanced, says Piepiora. There won't be an arena mode in Diablo 4 where players face off on a level playing field. Rather, while mucking about in the Fields of Hatred and fighting monsters, you might be ambushed at the worst possible time, with all your cooldowns active. That's just how it goes, and you'll have to adapt to the situation, and maybe flee. But you might have the advantage in another situation, he suggests.
Mueller says he likes the items Shards can buy, but prefers to avoid PvP, so he sneaks into Fields of Hatred, does PvE fights, and then sneaks out before he encounters any other players. It sounds a bit similar to The Division 2's Dark Zone.
For players who really like PvP for PvP's sake, there's also a king of the hill-type system called Vessel of Hatred, which advertises the location of the most infamous player killer in a PvP area, challenging them to stay on top with a target painted on them. Players who take out the Vessel of Hatred get a bonus (I assume extra Shards of Hatred).
Losing an ear: what happens when you die
If you get killed in a Field of Hatred, you'll lose any uncleansed Shards of Hatred you were holding—which isn't too harsh of a penalty, since all you've lost is the currency you went into the zone to gather.
"It's actually quite casual-friendly in normal mode," says Barriga. "Although we've found that it is a point of pride, like losing your ear in Diablo 2. There's something that stings about it, and you get that desire for revenge in you, even though you didn't lose any major items."
If you weren't aware, the ears of other players could be collected as PvP trophies in Diablo 2. That's returning in some form in Diablo 4. But, outside of the possible hurt pride that comes from letting another player walk away with your Shards and one of your ears, open world PvP in Diablo 4 won't be an enormous risk most of the time.
There are a couple exceptions. For one thing, it is possible that you'll be killed right after winning a big haul of Shards, which would sting.
"The Shard losses can get pretty high," says Barriga, "like if you get lucky and kill someone who's been the Vessel of Hatred for a while, you might get 1,000 of these, and then if his buddy gets you, you might suffer quite a big loss there."
The other exception is if you're playing a Hardcore character. If your Hardcore character dies in a PvP zone or anywhere else in Diablo 4, they are dead and gone forever. Diablo 4's permadeath mode makes no exceptions.
I don't think I'm brave enough to take a Hardcore character into a PvP zone, but I like the sound of the system so far. For regular players, it could add a sort of dangerous mystique to some of their exploring, even if they don't actively seek out fights with other players while they poke around in Fields of Hatred.
During the BlizzCon 2021 opening ceremony, Blizzard also announced that the Rogue class will be one of those available at launch, joining the Barbarian, Druid, and Sorceress. We'll be updating our guide to everything we know about Diablo 4 with the latest info throughout the event.
Diablo 4 was announced at BlizzCon 2019 and doesn't have a release date right now. Back then, Blizzard said it could be a while before it's out, though, and we know it won't be released this year. 2022 is a maybe, then, but 2023 or 2024 might be closer to what Blizzard had in mind when it cautioned that we'd have to wait a bit.