Over the last decade, it’s been fantastic to see the relatively simple concepts that are at the core of the Diablo-like continue to be iterated and expanded upon as the industry explores the wild world of loot. What was once a landscape of simple leveling and looting has now transformed into complex crafting, alternate advancement post-leveling progression systems, procedurally generated endgames with myriad modifiers, and more. While the satisfying core still involves crushing hordes of monsters and watching gear explode out of enemies with pleasant chimes, letting the dopamine flow into your mind as various color-coded candy caches wash over you, developers continue to refine gameplay mechanics and add layers to the potent core.
While many games have taken some features and mechanics from the classic template and applied them in other ways, the isometric layout with its health and resource globes, potions, and paper dolls is still a force to be reckoned with. Here are some of the Diablo-likes to watch as we head into 2021 and beyond.
Why not start with Diablo IV? Expectations for the follow up to the father franchise are sky high. After playing some demo sessions and keeping up with the updates, there’s a great recipe in the making, but it’s probably going to be a while before we see all the swirling elements coalesce into anything tangible.
With Covid-19’s massive, sweeping effects on the industry and the inherent development time with a beast this massive, we may not see Diablo IV for a while. That said, the base elements that we’ve seen include some highly interesting fare for loot hunters, including open world elements that have players running into each other as they take on goatmen and demons and teaming up to take on big world bosses for powerful rewards. The motif is grim, dark, and depressing – a return to the gothic doomed sensibilities of earlier Diablo fare and a bit less of the colorful infusion that Diablo III brought to the series. Recent updates go into what a skill tree could look like, respec options, and item philosophy.
My play sessions with the game left me craving more, but the big question for Diablo IV is how the endgame is going to shake out. Campaigns for Diablo-likes are blasted through in moments of playtime compared to how much time is spent meticulously tailoring and perfecting characters for top-end gameplay against big bosses and tough-tuned encounters.
Most of us are familiar with the leveling processes and infinite rift grinding, and Diablo IV’s dungeon/key system looks like it may give another layer to randomized dungeon crawling. Of course, what we’ve seen so far could (and probably will) look very different later this year and next. Is Diablo IV coming in 2021? Well, we can dream, but it’s probably not going to grace us with its evil presence for a while yet.
A merry mix-up of Magic: The Gathering cards, lore, and casting with Diablo-style battles and bosses? Yes please! We were excited to chart Magic: Legends’ path when we did a big cover story blowout on it a while ago, but we haven’t heard too much in terms of updated release timeframes for a bit. Rumor has it that the game is currently in an alpha test state, but we’re still not sure when we’ll be building decks to summon giant green creatures to stomp on goblins. We’re all doing that, right? Delays are going to be a common occurrence this year as the resonating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we’re hoping that Magic: Legends was far enough along that it could still greet us in the beginning or middle of this year.
While Magic: Legends is steeped in everything Magic: The Gathering, don’t confuse it with a deckbuilding game like Slay the Spire or a traditional collectible card game like Hearthstone, Legends of Runeterra, or Magic. It’s all about the action as you rapidly shuffle through your assembled deck, conjuring up an army of mystical minions and powerful spells to tear through wave after wave of enemies.
Expand your collection with new options and upgrade your spells, mix and match class abilities, and formulate your own plan for tearing your way through the fantasy world. Oh, and if PVP is your thing, you can do that too in wizard duels against your fellow players.
Path of Exile 2
Path of Exile has had a long, run run from its early roots to the sprawling game it is today. It’s my opinion that Path of Exile has the best endgame system that any Diablo-like has come up with yet, with the massive map-based Atlas begging players to explore an expansive quest full of discovery. And loot, of course. The Atlas is slated to continue to be the endgame model for Path of Exile 2, while many other extensive changes are going to occur.
Path of Exile 2 features a seven act campaign that differs wildly from Path of Exile, but feeds into the same endgame loop. What does this mean? It basically means Path of Exile and Path of Exile 2 will continue alongside one another, with the decision essentially boiling down to choice of campaign options (from what we know so far). Of course, that wouldn’t really merit a sequel designation would it? No, there are other sweeping changes coming to the game. One of the biggest is to the skill gemming system, which allows players to link support skills to abilities to create powerful combinations.
For instance, it may make sense as a summoner to load up your zombie gem with minion damage support, speed, health, melee multistrike and AOE damage. That’s simple stuff. But if you want to get more complex, Path of Exile also allows you to make deep combos by having spells cast spells out of totems and other wild and wacky combinations that turn you into a battery of abilities that all chain off each other. The skill gem system is being completely redone for Path of Exile 2. In addition, we’re expecting changes to the giant passive tree and other major mechanics and features, but Grinding Gear Games hasn’t revealed everything just yet.
Last Epoch is currently in Early Access, and shows some promise. While you’ll find many of the same staples that exist across the genre here like class archetypes and skill trees, Last Epoch adds a time travel twist to the equation.
Instead of maps or rifts, you explore Echoes to find piles of potent loot and craft up the best options available. There are still endgame systems that have yet to appear, and as mentioned in previous entries – the endgame is the lifeblood of these kinds of games.
While the path from Early Access to real deal release can be unknown waters, Last Epoch currently looks like it has what it takes to sail ahead into the Diablo-like future.
Lost Ark has already shown itself off for years in other markets, leaving players wondering when – and if – the Korean Diablo-like MMORPG would make it to North America. Under the radar news announcing a publishing deal between Amazon Games and Smilegate set the stage for the rumor mill and expectations to turn to Lost Ark.
For years, North American players have utilized VPNs and other methods to play Lost Ark in other regions, but the title may be making its way over at long last. Not all games require reading to succeed, but with a game in this genre, knowing exactly how abilities work and scale is a major element.
The Lost Ark thirst reminds me of Dungeon Fighter Online fervor in some respects, a mega-popular game finally coming over with a new publisher. I definitely played (and enjoyed) DFO before it was available here, even though I couldn’t read any of it, so it makes sense to me. Due to the wording on the press release, Lost Ark is not confirmed, but it’s definitely a reasonable guess.