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Diablo 4 developer update showcases UI changes and 'darker, more gritty' monsters

Diablo 4 was finally made official during last year's BlizzCon, and in the first of a planned series of quarter updates, Blizzard has revealed some behind-the-scenes information on the state of the game's development. The update begins with a look at the game's interface and controller support options, and then moves on to showcase at the "darker, more gritty" monster designs, including a new monster family called the Cannibals.

The inventory design in Diablo 4 has been changed since BlizzCon, to move away from a "painterly style" in favor of something more visually realistic. The brightness and saturation of icon backgrounds has also been dialed back, while border decorations have been added to provide "secondary visual cues for indicating rarity." The layout of the inventory has also been changed for better visual balance.

Of course, Diablo 4 is still long way off, and this is still a work in progress at this point. "We hope to both home in on our goal of a gritty, realistic UI, while balancing ease of use," lead UI designer Angela Del Priore said. "As the inventory screen is something our players will probably interact with the most, we really appreciate your feedback in this area."

The action bar has also undergone some changes. Blizzard moved it to the bottom-left corner of the screen to make the center more visible, but based on testing and feedback, it was moved back to the center on PC. PC players will have the option of shifting it to the left corner, however.

"The preferred position changes to the left-corner when people play further away from the screen. This doesn’t come as a surprise given the shift in viewing angle (illustrative diagram below not to scale), but it does mean that the center configuration isn’t a majority winner on PC since we’re supporting controller input," Del Priore explained. "So, while we will only stick to the corner configuration on consoles, we will offer both left and center positions as options on PC."

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Blizzard is also putting an emphasis on optimizing two-player couch co-op: While Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls halted the action when one player had a UI screen open, in Diablo 4 they'll be accessible independently.

The "stuff to kill" part of the update is a bit more abstract, digging into the changes in approach to enemy design from Diablo 3 to Diablo 4.

"Every monster has been reimagined, but in a darker, more gritty art style. We have lovingly handcrafted every creature you’ll encounter from the ground up: that includes demons, NPCs, Act Bosses, and even the skittering critters you can crush underfoot. Though we still pay tribute to some hallmark gameplay—such as Fallen Shamans resurrecting other Fallen—we have completely reimagined things in other places," senior encounter designer Candace Thomas said.

"To have these creatures feel more sophisticated and robust, we designed them in what we call 'monster families' and archetypes. Each family has a different combat style and feel. For example, the Drowned family has five members in various archetypes: bruiser, ranged combat, melee combat, swarmer, and dungeon boss."

The update also reveals a new monster family called Cannibals, a melee-exclusive group that moves with alarming speed. "Some may close the gap by leaping over obstacles and would-be competitors, while others will swiftly and deftly maneuver through other monsters to get first blood," Thomas wrote. "This provides a very different experience and gives the player less time to make thoughtful positioning decisions, thus making combat with these flesh-eaters feel frenetic."

Unsurprisingly, the update includes absolutely no hint of a release date. We do know that it's a long way off, though: When it was announced at BlizzCon 2019—just a few months ago, remember—director Luis Barriga said it's "not coming out soon. Not even 'Blizzard soon'."

Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.