Blizzard Entertainment’s next Diablo may still be a long way off, but a new look at the game’s artwork, ranging from character classes, to new and reimagined monsters, to smaller details like armor dyes, shows how Diablo 4 is progressing. In a blog post published Wednesday, Diablo 4 art director John Mueller, lead character artist Arnaud Kotelnikoff, and associate art director Nick Chilano offered new insights into the dark fantasy world of Blizzard’s sequel.
Speaking with Mueller over Zoom, the art director told Polygon that the content on display is “pretty polished” and “a good representation of where we’re at today” with Diablo 4’s development.
Some of the highlights from the blog show off characters like the Rogue and Barbarian, and how players’ gear will look on Diablo 4’s variety of body types.
The gear shown reflects the dark, grounded, and more realistic art direction for Diablo 4, but Mueller said that players can still expect plenty of flash from armor and gear acquired in the endgame.
“I do feel we’ve kind of created a lot more room for contrast between the very high level and, you know, your starter gear,” Mueller said. “We want to have that that really strong, iconic feel of the high-level barbarian, you know, at the top after you’ve explored the entire world of Sanctuary, you’ve been into all the dungeons, and your gear should reflect that. So it should contrast with what you start with, right? So I feel we’ve taken a much more toned-down approach, knowing that it’s a very long runway we’re trying to create.”
Mueller added, “It was a huge investment to get this level of fidelity across the board with hundreds and pieces of armor and gear and [multiple] body types and characters for five classes, and to have those all kind of feel like they’re of the same quality.”
The art team is also aiming to make Diablo 4 “a very inclusive experience,” in terms of character creation and customization, Mueller said. “We’re really happy with the variety of options we’re giving to players,” he said. “If you just sit sit there and hit random, you know, I’m really happy with what I’m seeing. I feel like it’s like a very broad spectrum, which if you think about previous Diablo games [...] like, Diablo 3 has very, very fixed looks and body types. And I think in in Diablo 4, we’ve really dramatically opened up this part of the game.”
Diablo 4 will also bring back classic enemy types, like the demonic Succubus and reanimated skeletons, as well as “nature family” threats like wasps, tree spirits, and bears. The game will also introduce new terrors, like the Blood Bishop and a reimagined Skeleton Lord. Mueller spoke about bringing balance to the world of Sanctuary, noting that “It can’t just be nonstop demons and skeletons.”
“It’s fun to take these very traditional Diablo themes, like skeletons, and really blow that out,” he said. “There’s all kinds of things that you can do with that that feel really good. That’s sort of the bread and butter of what we do, and there’s a line between the natural world — like the tree spirits and the wasps and the boars or bears you might encounter — and the sort of demonic and horror themes. That’s something from the very early days of Diablo. So I think we’ve always tried to have … the grounding of the universe.
“Through the Diablo 4 lens, this open medieval world that you could explore was just such a compelling idea that we felt it’s no longer a series of just connected dungeons, it’s now this very vast, open world. And that requires you to have a sense of believability.”
One enemy type that Mueller called out is the Spider Host, one of the classic “exploding” Diablo enemy types that taps into players’ disgust for and fear of swarming creepy crawlies.
“I knew we had to have [something] explode, and lots of things need to come out of it,” he said. “The spider hosts [are] actually one of those things and you know, I’ve probably killed thousand and thousands of spider hosts at this point, but it’s still a joy to me [to see it explode].
“Spiders are one of the funnest monster families in the game, because they’re just hardwired in our brains to be creepy,” Mueller added. “You want to find a way to treat these things where it feels like dark fantasy, and if it starts to feel too high fantasy, that’s where we try to kind of rein it in and say, well, that idea was really cool in Diablo 3 or Diablo 2 ... How can we put that into Diablo 4 and have it like work with the aesthetic and what we’re trying to do in the new game?”
As for how that realistic approach could work with, say, a theoretical cow-filled level in Diablo 4, Mueller said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Cow level? What?”
Mueller, Kotelnikoff, and Chilano share more details about Diablo 4’s art direction and the technology that makes it possible in Blizzard’s new blog post, which offers an additional look at characters in motion. Mueller told Polygon that the team’s new tools, and its drive to create something grounded and realistic looking, he hopes hasn’t overshadowed what players love about the aesthetic of Diablo.
“When we started out, I think our primary goal was to make something that felt very handcrafted and to make something that felt very artistic,” Mueller said. “Blizzard has [an artistic legacy] that’s super important at the studio. My fears were, that embracing a lot of new tools and technology, we might lose some of that soul. We might lose some of that energy that people connect with through our art.
“I’m very close to the work, but I’m immensely proud of the work that the team has done, and I think the advancement in tools and technology has not overwhelmed our desire and our goals to at our highest priority, create art that we’re proud of. This is always for the audience to decide how we’re doing, so I do look forward to hearing what people have to say about what they’re gonna see.”