The seasonal release approach to the magnificent Diablo IV is starting to really hum with the announcement of the Season of Blood, where vampires come out of the age old Sanctuary lore and shift from being a rather annoying trait of enemy elites, and becomes something far more terrifying and fun.
There is plenty to get excited about in the trailer for Season of Blood, and I personally can’t wait to plonk myself on the couch and play a dark, bloody, moody, and mechanically faster season of Diablo IV. We were fortunate enough to sit down with the Blizzard team this week and find out a little more about what players can expect when the new season releases on October 17th.
Season of Blood: creating a vampire themed season that doesn’t suck
The Diablo world has had vampiric as a trait for a long time (shout out to all my comrades who have been on the cusp of an unlikely fight victory, only to have their last bit of health sucked from them by a sword stab), but vampires haven’t really played much of key character role thus far. When asked about why the team chose to go with a vampire season, Lead Designer Timothy Ismay said:
It is mostly a thing you run into, you know, monsters are vampiric or are vampires and you kill them and move on. We actually wanted to to dive into that because there is a more robust lore here. Vampires have existed for a very long time in Sanctuary, you know, thousands of years, back to the ancient early men. There were influences there that we haven’t really dived into it. So, this is the first place where we’re actually touching on that a bit. Where we’re actually saying, ‘You’re going to meet a vampire lord, someone who is very ancient… very powerful, leads and controls other vampires, and has decided that this is the time to make his move’.
Creating the Season of Blood storyline and characters and central driving force really feels like a step up for the Diablo production team compared to season one. From what we’re seeing so far, it’s more of a seasonal expansion with a new boss (and, if you check the release notes, more bosses!), versus a thematic season wrap on the same game using all the same tools and kit.
As we’ve said in our two reviews of Diablo IV (pre-release and post-release) this game is completely and utterly fucking gorgeous. From day one, the art team has done an amazing job in creating a world that is both beautiful, dark, moody, and also does not impose itself between you and playing the game. I was therefore so excited to hear that Lead Artist Kymba Plushner (Diablo III and Diablo IV) was also joining the call to talk about how she and her team helped provide the visual brilliance for Season of Blood. When asked about the challenges of working in a creative behemoth like Diablo IV and the Season of Blood, Plushner said:
I grew up loving a lot of dark gothic fantasy… and I feel like a lot of the artists here also have that sentiment that it’s an aesthetic we really dig. One of the big things is being able to have a shared creative vision, you know, a dozen different people will come to you with a dozen different ideas of how things could and should look, and you have to be able to try and find that kind of concentrated cool and what fits the world and the stories that we’re trying to tell, as well as to make sure that the various art styles and disciplines seamlessly blend together.
Based on the current game and the release trailers and the short depictions we’ve seen Plusher’s team develop, I am really looking forward to seeing how they depict the new mechanics, characters, and gameplay styles that Ismay’s team have designed.
Speeding up the game even more
In Diablo I, you walked everywhere, and if you ran out of Town Portals, you settled in for a really long walk back to a waypoint. In Diablo 2, all of a sudden you could run, and in some cases jump. The game needed speeding up so that you could focus on killing things and searching for items, and they delivered that. In Diablo IV some absolute legend took that a step further and created horses so you could get from location to location even faster, and could burst through or run around masses of enemies you may not want to invest time in fighting.
Ismay and his team have made this season even faster again, doing their best to focus on removing the hurdles, “players (are) actively calling out as pain points–so, things that they have to do that are tedious and not particular immersive.” If you look through the release notes, you’ll see a laundry list of changes that impact game speed, such as 15% faster baseline speed for horses, the Purveyor of curiosities moved closer to waypoints, removal of dungeon missions outlasting the final boss, 40% faster levelling up to 100, and many, many more. When asked about the decision behind this need for speed, and in trying to find a balance between speed of play and enjoying the environment, Ismay said:
We want there to be things found in the environment. We want players to explore. We want them to feel rewarded for seeing something important… but sometimes players just want to get where they are going. You know, they’ve already decided exactly what they are going to do–they want to be able to just run to that point… So players have called out a bunch of pain points, and we fully agree. (For example) Mounts should be a little bit faster; the barricades are not fun, we just want you to be able to smash through those when you hit your spurs. And mounts getting stuck on stuff–that was certainly not by design. It’s not like (the team thought) ‘Oh, it’s great getting stuck on a rock!’ So, it’s literally been about fixing bugs (in this instance).
In particular, Ismay spoke about the 40% reduction in time to get from level 51-100:
We saw a lot of feedback from players, and were experiencing it ourselves, that one of the goals people like to set for themselves in a season is to get to level one hundred… We thought that one-to-fifty feels pretty good, but fifty-to-one hundred takes a very long time. Since more people are expressing that this is a (seasonal) goal they want to hit–add in to that we’re actually adding more things to do in the end-game; we’re adding in those additional end game bosses in season two–we really want more players to be able to experience this. Now, was it an easy decision? No. We can make that adjustment fairly easily in the game. But there are a lot of other systems that interact with this, so we have to carefully assess or even adjust those other systems to make sure they still interact in a way that is fun and compelling for the player.
When you consider the complexity of such a game, and the amount of adjustments made for Season of Blood (refer to the release notes here), this would be no small feat to adjust. While personally I generally start to mentally switch off on a game once the storyline is completed (one of the reasons I’m so excited about some new story villains in this season), Diablo’s fans are renown for their commitment to grinding out the long term game win, and I’m sure there will be plenty of players very happy with this change.
Improving upon an artistic masterpiece with Season of Blood
As we’ve said again and again, Diablo IV is visually gorgeous. I knew this was something special when, during my first play through, I wound up on a beach and for the first time thought that an art team had managed to get past the beach version of the uncanny valley. This was made more interesting when Plushner commented on my love of that environment that the beach art scenes started out as their team going to beaches and creating oil paintings of the locations.
Needless to say, the art team has an incredibly high benchmark to meet when depicting Season of Blood due to their incredible work leading up to this point. Plushner spoke about what her team was most proud of creating for this new season.
For this season specifically, I think some of the things we did with the vampire culture is just really fun and compelling… One of the things that we did this time that really sunk into Diablo (Season of Blood) was this combined feeling of, okay, it’s a very ancient race, so you’re having these sorts of vibes as well as this sort of rich gilded opulence that I think you don’t usually see there, and having this blend of this beautiful macabre kind of feel with the gold and you also have places where there are these elegant marble statues filled with blood that is pouring like a fountain… It creates this fun contrast of realising a deep-rooted culture that has a lot of pride in itself and is really trying to rise. I think we’ll see that both in some of the vampire areas as well as the boss arena where you’ll have your final stand against Lord Zier, which I don’t want to spoil, but it’s just beautifully, beautifully tricked out.
Being able to see the sheer level of excitement Plushner had for her team’s work in bringing the story of Sanctuary’s vampires to life was incredible, and just has me itching for October 17th to get here.
Time to reconsider your playing style
Season of Blood is going to give you the opportunity to change. And to me, that is awesome. New game and character mechanics to take on a new kind of foe is likely to force you to rethink your build, and I feel that Diablo players new and old are going to love this aspect of this season as it breathes genuine new life into your purchase.
It’s always fun to give the player new power in a unique way that they haven’t had before. So, the vampiric powers that we’re giving them (the players) do give them a chance to hopefully have a little bit of that vampire fantasy. You don’t fully become a vampire, but you get some of that power, and finding ways to integrate that into your build can be exciting.
Knowing the Diablo community, it won’t be long before peak characters are back in play making best use of all the new opportunity this season brings.
What else do they have in store for us?
Being the Diablo II tragic that I am, I also asked if mercenaries would be coming back. Ismay said:
I can’t speak to any specifics. All I can say right now is that I also am a big Diablo II fan and played thousands of hours of it, had a chance to work on patches when I joined the company early on. We are looking at lots of different systems, including things that were in previous Diablo games to see what could make sense for future seasonal content or content that might come out in an expansion to the game.
I’m taking that as a secretive and tentative “yes”, and while I wait to get my Iron Wolf back, I’m going to have as much fun as possible getting stuck into Season of Blood on October 17.
(ed: a big thank you to Nathanael at Blizzard for organising this interview, and to Sally Berrow for her help with the questions and quote choices.)