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Why do Diablo 4’s seasons and battle pass require starting a new character?

Blizzard is trying to reconcile Diablo tradition with its new business model, and players are confused

A classical-style painting of a barbarian warding off pink-hued demons in Diablo 4 Image: Blizzard Entertainment
Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

Diablo 4’s release seems to have gone very well for Blizzard, which boasted of its biggest launch ever after a huge (and weirdly scattershot) marketing blitz. But as the game approaches the introduction of its first season and its battle pass, a thorny communication problem looms.

New Diablo players (and those who didn’t get involved in seasonal play in earlier iterations of the game) have been shocked to discover that, in order to participate in seasonal content and make the most of the accompanying battle pass, they will have to make new seasonal characters and start leveling them from scratch. Not only that, but they’ll need to do so every three months if they want to join in future seasons.

Diablo general manager Rod Fergusson has been working hard in the replies on Twitter this week, attempting to clear up the confusion. Among other things, Fergusson has been called upon to explain that players’ current characters won’t disappear at the start of a new season — they’ll live on in what Blizzard calls the “eternal realm,” as will seasonal characters once a new season rolls around. He also stresses that players only need to complete the Diablo 4 campaign once, and can skip it in favor of more free-form leveling on subsequent characters.

But many are still confused and disappointed. “I’m a new Diablo player and a new dad. I only have maybe an hour a day to game, if that. So my current character is only level 11,” said one. “You’re saying I should basically not even play this game then right?”

The problem has arisen because seasons mean something different in Diablo than they do in the new generation of live-service games that Diablo 4 is attempting to join — and by combining these two things, Blizzard has set itself on a collision course with new players’ expectations.

A menu screen showing achievement-style objectives and rewards in Diablo 4, with some masked with TOP SECRET signs
An example of Diablo 4’s season journey — a set of seasonal objectives that only new characters can access.
Image: Blizzard Entertainment

For Diablo players, a season is a competitive clean slate: an opportunity to test themselves against each other, and against the game itself. Originally called ladders, they were introduced as an online feature of Diablo 2 in which players would compete to be the fastest to level up their characters and climb the leaderboards. For Diablo 3, Blizzard renamed them seasons, and added a reward structure offering some cool seasonal loot to make participation more enticing for those who weren’t interested in competitive grinding.

This all fit into a wider culture in action role-playing games — especially the breed of dungeon crawlers, of which Diablo is the most famous example. Devotees of these games often focus on exploring the nuances of the various character classes and experimenting with builds over multiple restarts, rather than getting heavily invested in a single character.

But this culture runs counter to what many new Diablo 4 players expect. In particular, the game has seen an influx of players and content creators from the Destiny 2 community. In Destiny 2, as in many other live-service games, the focus is very much on continually advancing a single character through seasons of new content. To those players, the new character requirement is extremely counterintuitive.

Exacerbating this problem, Blizzard has said there will be content — including new quest lines and game mechanics — that will be exclusive to individual seasons, and therefore to seasonal characters. That means that with a single character, you won’t be able to see everything Diablo 4 has to offer.

And that’s not all — there’s a financial element to this, too. Blizzard has explicitly tied Diablo 4’s battle pass (the first in the series’ history) to the game’s seasons, meaning that only players who commit to starting new characters will be able to advance the pass and claim rewards. The battle pass has a free tier, but two premium tiers as well. If you purchase a battle pass, you won’t be able to get any value from it without starting a new character. (Or, to put it another way, Blizzard has limited its market for the battle pass to people who want to engage in seasonal play.)

A battle pass screen from Diablo 4showing some weapon cosmetics, a series of rewards at the bottom, and some details masked with TOP SECRET lettering
Progress in Diablo 4’s battle pass will also be restricted to players with fresh seasonal characters.
Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Some players have been calling for Blizzard to reverse this policy, while the rest of the Diablo community is reacting with a baffled “what did you expect?” Still, both have a point. The ritual of starting new character after new character is baked into Diablo’s game design and into the habits of its long-lived and very sizable community. (I already have three Diablo 4 characters, and I haven’t even finished the campaign yet.) There’s no reason for that tradition to change just to accommodate an influx of new players who’ve been trained by other games to expect something different.

But by tying battle pass progress and monetization to seasons, and by gating exclusive content within them, Blizzard is placing a very firm emphasis on what was, in Diablo 3 and before, merely an optional play style. Seasonal play will appear to be at the heart of the game, and will be where the most exciting updates happen. Players who prefer to stick with their original character are likely to feel that they’re missing out (even though the game undeniably gives them plenty to do in pursuit of its distant level 100 cap).

Blizzard isn’t likely to back down on this. The decision to inextricably link Diablo 4’s seasonal character resets to its new service-game structure strikes me as bold, and very intentional. These developers know where the strength of their game lies and what it is that Diablo players love to do most.

The studio’s plan for battle passes and seasons is tailor made to maximize engagement from Diablo 4’s core community rather than please everyone, and that’s probably a good choice for the game’s long-term future. But to get there, Blizzard will have to weather a storm of cognitive dissonance from a very confused audience when Diablo 4’s first season launches in July.

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