Diablo 4 quest designer explains how they put the RP in RPG with one simple choice

An early Diablo 4 quest lets you pick what troubles you the most for a cleansing ritual. Your choice doesn't change how the story plays out, but the quest accomplishes two important goals early in the game, according to one of its designers.

After meeting Horadrim (Diablo's ancient cult of mages) fanboy Lorath Nahr, you both set out to enter the city Kyovashad. A guard asks you to perform a cleansing ritual before passing through the gate. Nahr refuses and stomps off into the city, but your character is forced to make a decision.

No matter what you inscribe into the firewood, be it "fear" or "greed", your choice doesn't affect how the story plays out. Instead, the quest quickly introduces you to the Cathedral of Light, a prominent and powerful religion that is the focus of the game's first act.

"Right away you get a strong sense of how important their religion is to them, and by extension you see how powerful the Cathedral of Light is. Everything in Kyovashad revolves around it," senior quest designer Harrison Pink explained in a recent Twitter thread.

Lorath Nahr, who you just met, calls the ritual meaningless and is let through by another guard. The cranky old man ends up ditching you to go look for a member of the Horadrim, but the quest helps illustrate his attitude about the city before he disappears, Pink wrote.

You, however, have to do the ritual.

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"We teach the player that even though they are the protagonist and hero of the story, they are not omnipotent," Pink said. "There are other people, cultures and groups in the story that have their own desires, and you don't get to just blow them off because you're the main character."

But the quest isn't just a moment for you to imagine the best answer for your character, it also solved a technical problem:

"On a technical level, we needed Lorath to leave the player and enter the city ahead of them. This was the original problem that we needed to solve that created this moment. We were able to turn it into a narrative beat that (imo) very efficiently teaches you a bunch of things."

Later, Nahr accurately guesses what you chose, which Pink says was "a page from my time at Telltale Games," (Pink was a designer on The Walking Dead Season 2) and a way to show how observant the character is.

Despite some speculation from players, the cleansing ritual quest doesn't cause the story to branch in a different direction like a Telltale game. It presents you with an opportunity to role-play as your character—or not, if you're five classes deep and just want to get on with it.

I sped through the tutorial on a number of characters in the beta and it was hard not to spend a second and think about what they would choose regardless of its impact. There are plenty of ways to do a lot of that work in your head, but it's encouraging to see an action RPG nudge you to think about who your character is and how they fit in the world right at the start.

The Diablo 4 beta impressed many players for its storytelling, dark art style, and satisfying action. As long as Barbarians get their needed buffs and frost Sorcerers get a slap on the wrist, Diablo 4 seems well on its way to its June 6 release date.

Associate Editor

Tyler has covered games, games culture, and hardware for over a decade before joining PC Gamer as Associate Editor. He's done in-depth reporting on communities and games as well as criticism for sites like Polygon, Wired, and Waypoint. He's interested in the weird and the fascinating when it comes to games, spending time probing for stories and talking to the people involved. Tyler loves sinking into games like Final Fantasy 14, Overwatch, and Dark Souls to see what makes them tick and pluck out the parts worth talking about. His goal is to talk about games the way they are: broken, beautiful, and bizarre.