Forget BK — you can also have it your way in Diablo IV, too. Blizzard released a video highlighting the various customization options available to players to ensure every new arrival to Sanctuary is unique. The Verge also had the opportunity to speak to some of Diablo IV’s developers about what went into the Diablo franchise’s first character customization feature and the dizzying choices available to ensure no two sorcerers, necromancers, druids, rogues, or barbarians are the same.
I am a connoisseur of character creators, and one of the first things I noticed in my time with the Diablo IV betas was the all-new character creator. In previous Diablo games, whichever class you chose dictated your physical appearance throughout the game. That was fine for me as Diablo III was my first Diablo and, as I recall, the first one with a class that had a Black female appearance — the witch doctor.
I didn’t mind her at first, but the stereotypes the witch doctor class evoked started to grate on me, so I’m glad Diablo IV gives me control over my appearance. I asked the developers what they were hoping to achieve with the game’s first-ever character creator and what lessons they had learned from the player characters of Diablo games past.
“We set out with the goal of trying to be as diverse and inclusive as possible with all of our options while also kind of bringing a Diablo flair to it,” said lead game producer Melissa Corning.
I remember being pleased with the available hair choices. Hair is important to me, and I recall from the creator that it had more than the bog standard choices Black players typically get, like fade, dreadlocks, afro, or cornrows.
More than hair, I also wanted to know if Corning and her team took any lessons or considerations from previous Diablo games with respect to representation. Body markings like tattoos or scars can seem cool, but to other cultures, they’re sacred practices.
“Diablo is a fantasy world,” Corning said. “Our goal is that these designs should feel like they’re from Sanctuary. Not that they’re from any real-world culture.”
I hope Diablo IV’s character creator can strike the necessary balance between inclusive choices for a range of cultures and peoples without verging on appropriation. It does seem that the character creator accounts for a small but decent range of different body types and conditions. D4’s character creator will let you make a character with vitiligo — a condition that causes skin to lose its melanin. There are also different body shapes to choose from, so your necromancer can be as sickly thin as the skeletons they command.
Class customization is also a big highlight of Diablo IV. There’s an extensive skill tree, a paragon board that unlocks at max level, and aspects that augment your gear, granting you all sorts of passive abilities. Not to mention all the loot, accessories, and gems you’ll encounter to enhance your character even more. In short, it’s a whole helluva lot that might be overwhelming to new or lapsed Diablo players. (It’s me, I’m lapsed players.)
Adam Jackson, lead class designer on the game, understands how intimidating the class system can seem and said it’ll be something the team will continue to look at long past launch. And, to help curtail the potential wide-eyed fear a new player might experience, Jackson explained how his team designed the first few branches of the skill tree.
“When you very first start the game, you have very few choices that you can make,” he said. Making skill tree choices, he said, was like picking the fantasy you want to chase. “I log in and I’m a sorceress,” he explained as an example. “I can be like fire, ice, or lightning. Then after that, we introduce a little bit more of the fantasy: what kind of a fire sorceress do you want to be?”
And so the skill tree slowly opens up, giving players more and more complex and intricate choices building on the foundation of a few critical early ones. And in case you’re like me and don’t quite know what fantasy you want to chase, Diablo IV can help you with that, too.
“When the characters are around the bonfire and you’re picking what class you want, we added a pop-up that shows you the kind of the fantasies that you can chase for that class,” he continued. “For druids, you could be a werewolf, werebear, an earth caster, or storm caster. We spell it out for you there so you have an idea of what you can chase.”
The paragon board opens up at level 50 and adds an additional layer of fantasy chasing. It reminds me of Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid. There are nodes you unlock with each level up, snaking your way through a web of stat increases until you get rare or legendary nodes that significantly upgrade a type of spell or ability.
“Rare nodes, for example, could do something like increase your burning damage,” Jackson explained. But unlike the sphere grid, the paragon board will let you choose where you start, and you can change the orientation of the board to get to the rare and legendary nodes that pique your interest.
There will, inevitably, be players (again, me) who will blindly stumble around the skill tree and the paragon board picking skills that sound good on paper but don’t really synergize well. While Jackson did say the boards were designed for the disparate choices to mesh as well as they can, it will also be easy for players to respec.
“The idea is you’re forging your own path to make your build. That’s kind of the fantasy we’re going for,” he said.
Diablo IV launches on June 6th.