I played Diablo 4 for the first time about 15 months ago, at BlizzCon 2019. The original demo struck me with its dark mood, which framed me perfectly as the hero, feeling like there were souls to save everywhere I went. I played through the demo three times that year, once as each of the hero classes available. I left excited for the action-RPG because I couldn’t name a favorite of the classes. Each one felt unique, like playing all three would result in three different experiences with Diablo 4.
The Rogue, which Blizzard just announced at BlizzConline, takes that to another level. Ahead of the Rogue’s announcement, we spoke to Diablo 4 game director Luis Barriga and art director John Mueller about creating unique identities for the game’s classes, and about what makes the Rogue so special.
The Rogue is Diablo 4’s first dexterity class, and offers play styles similar to those of the beloved Demon Hunter from Diablo 3 and the Assassin in Diablo 2. But while the Rogue evokes those class identities, it operates as something else entirely, according to Blizzard.
“The class actually feels really fresh,” said Barriga. “We took the Diablo 1 rogue as an aesthetic and fantasy starting point; we took some of our favorite elements from other dexterity classes; and then we added some new ideas that we felt specifically appropriate for the Diablo rogue.”
The Rogue is a hybrid class, allowing for both melee and ranged builds. Barriga and the Diablo team want Demon Hunter and Assassin fans to recognize some of their favorite abilities within the Rogue, so players who love stabbing demons from the shadows or raining arrows from the heavens should feel comfortable in this new class. But more importantly, the Rogue needed its own identity that aligned, at least thematically, with its Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 cousins.
Weapon Imbue is the first of the Rogue’s unique systems, and it allows for players to unify their abilities to one elemental style. If players need a specific damage type for a particular encounter, they can imbue all their abilities to deal only that type of damage.
“The Weapon Imbue system is something that’s brand new, [that] we haven’t done in any class before,” said Barriga. “And it’s essentially a button that you hit it, and whether it’s frost or poison or shadow, it now makes all of your attacks take that characteristic.”
The Weapon Imbue system is interesting on its own, and already seems like enough to combat some of the abilities of the other announced classes. But Rogues will have another feature, something that drastically changes everything about their gameplay: specializations.
“You have these kind of like different groups of NPCs that are Rogues in the world,” said Barriga. He continued, “And if you complete a quest with them, you unlock a specialization that you can now choose to spec into. They are mutually exclusive. So you can do all of the quests, but then you have to pick one to currently activate.”
The Rogue offers three different specializations: Combo Points, Shadow Realm, and Exploit Weakness.
“[Combo Points] almost makes a rhythm game out of combat,” said Barriga. With Shadow Realm, “you build around an ultimate that lets you slice the field of battle. And basically, you can use it offensively or defensively.” As for Exploit Weakness, it works like this: “Basically, as enemies wind up for their bigger attacks, you see an indicator pop up that you will do additional damage. So it’s a twitch-based mechanic.”
Barriga went on to explain how different each of these specializations make the Rogue feel in Diablo 4. He and Mueller said they both like running Rogues with the Rain of Arrow skill, but Barriga opts for Combo Points while Mueller enjoys Shadow Realm. Barriga said that Exploit Weakness isn’t a play style he excels at, but that others on the team refuse to use anything else. These specializations — combined with the Weapon Imbue system — make the Rogue one of the most flexible Diablo classes ever made.
What’s impressive about Diablo 4 is Blizzard’s decision to make each class feel so unique. Flexibility is for the Rogues, while Barbarians bring every weapon to the table with their Arsenal mechanic: Different skills use different weapon types, and the Barbarian keeps them all equipped at once. The Sorceress has the Enchantment system, which lets her slot some unused active skills into a passive slot, giving her other abilities new effects. And the Druid can turn into a giant Werebear — what else is there to say?
“We want every class to feel like they have their own identity,” said Barriga. “For example, the Sorceress’ Enchantment system is something that was really popular with the team. Everyone was like, We want this for all the classes. And then as we talked more, […] it’s like, No, it’s even better if you feel like ‘that’s bullshit, I want that’ for your class. And then when you switch to [a different class], you realize that your class has something really cool.”
Diablo 4 is still a long way out — it won’t arrive until at least 2022. In the development time remaining, Barriga and the team are still investigating cool mechanic ideas for the Druid. And we may see improvements to other classes to bring them more in line with the Rogue’s very clearly defined fantasy.
But before Diablo 4 makes its way into the hands of hungry fans around the world, each class — including the still-unannounced fifth class — should offer something special to latch onto.