Diablo 4 dev says players 'want open world and free choice, but they also want to be told where to go'

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Diablo 4 (opens in new tab) will have an open world, but Blizzard hasn't been very clear about what exactly that means. In a new interview with IGN (opens in new tab), game director Joe Shely and Diablo general manager Rod Fergusson went a bit deeper on what players can expect when they return to the world of Sanctuary.

"One of the concerns about putting 'open world' in a big neon sign and flashing that sign is that people have that notion of the Breath of the Wild kind of, 'Oh, it's completely organic and I can go anywhere and do anything and eventually I can figure it out for myself'," Fergusson said. "That's not really our story. Our story allows for non-linearity, but there is a story. We wanted to have a beginning, middle, and end. We wanted to start a certain place, we wanted to end at a certain place."

Diablo 4 is "more of a branching story," he said, and players can choose the order in which they play its major parts—and then play them in a different order in a replay, to get a different sort of experience as a result. Naturally, there will also be plenty of opportunities to horse around with other things and ignore the main quest if you want.

"That's the nice thing about the open world, there's a lot of side quests, there's a lot of things in the world that you can go and do that aren't on the campaign golden path," Fergusson said. "And the fact that the golden path is a branching path that you can decide when you want to do those branches and what order."

Game director Joe Shely said Blizzard actually had to dial back some of the content in Diablo 4 because the game world was "too dense."

"As you're going through [the game world], there's lots of stuff to do, whether you're mounted or you're navigating through on foot," Shely said. "We actually had so much stuff that getting through it on a mount was challenging, and so we had to say, okay, let's make sure that the roads actually are connected to good places, are a good way to travel through this area so that you can get through, get to places that you're going expediently, and also have the opportunity to go off the path and see interesting things."

Giving players a sense of freedom while simultaneously ensuring their journey takes them from start to finish in a relatively predictable fashion is a fairly familiar approach to game design, and Fergusson shared an interesting insight into why the approach is so popular and successful: While working on Gears 5 (before he moved to Blizzard), the development team met with open-world designers from other games, who told them that the whole idea of open worlds is "a little bit of an illusion."

"[Players] say they want open worlds and free choice," Fergusson said. "But they also want to be told where to go."

A release date for Diablo 4 hasn't been set, but it's currently expected to be out sometime in 2023.

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.