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Diablo 4 looks gritty and dark – so dark you'll need to squint to see anything

It's been a hot minute since we've had some Diablo 4 news – three months in fact. But the devs are back with a quarterly update and a fresh batch of screenshots.

The takeaway from the latest blog post is that Diablo 4's aesthetic is going hard on "dark, low-fantasy gothic horror." Game director Joe Shely (who replaced Luis Barriga) is keen to show the team's progress on nailing the themes, which gives the game its "distinct visual style."

player character at the top of a staircase in Diablo 4

(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

Art director, Chris Ryder, explains that the key to creating immersive environments lies in the two foundational pillars "old masters" and "a return to darkness." Heavy on the darkness, it seems, because I'm struggling to make anything out in some of these screenshots without fiddling with my screen brightness. Or squinting really hard.

"Using these pillars has been instrumental in keeping us consistent and aligned with the visual tone of Diablo 4," says Ryder. 

"The 'old masters' pillar gives us a lens to filter our art through, considering the techniques classical painters like Rembrandt used, with their controlled use of detail, tonal range, and expert use of color palettes.

"The 'return to darkness' pillar is a through-line in everything from dungeons to lighting and embodies the idea that Sanctuary is a dangerous and dark medieval gothic world."

player character in a dark cave in Diablo 4

(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

The environments of Diablo 4 are described as a "darker and more grounded interpretation" than earlier entries in the series. Although the team makes it clear that this is achieved through believability over realism.

This is relayed through the game's architecture, artifacts found in dungeons, and the open world itself. Regional weather conditions and biomes build on these features, which are all firmly rooted in the "sense of history" that the medieval world of Sanctuary brings with it.

Player character in a hazy dimly lit tavern in Diablo 4

(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

While it may look like the lighting director has taken inspiration from Game of Thrones' The Long Night, not every area of Sanctuary is mired in darkness. Lighting plays a huge role in the game, and is crucial in hitting the tone that supports the ’return to darkness’ pillar.   

"As you explore Diablo 4’s open-world you’ll experience a lot of variation in the lighting and weather," says associate Lighting Director, Ben Hutchings. " the Scosglen coast, you can see the foggy, frigid atmosphere taking cues from highlands and moors.

"Across the game we’re striving for a grounded and natural palette, allowing us to create visual space for gameplay that also achieves a gritty tone suiting the world of Sanctuary."

Elsewhere in the game, in the settlement of Kyovoshad, Hutchings explains how "the use of fog, soft shadows, and bounce lighting" are used to "create a softness to the lighting. 

"This softness is a core part of Diablo 4’s lighting aesthetic – providing a natural and grounded frame. We aim to give Kyovoshad a thick and lived-in atmosphere with warm and earthy tones, giving it a sense of reprieve from Fractured Peaks cooler, frigid palette."

A desert town in Diablo 4

(Image credit: Activision Blizzard )

Diablo 4 will showcase a shared open-world with five distinct areas to explore and plunder. As well as the lighting and aesthetic, interactable and breakable props lend themselves to making the world believable; after all, what kind of adventurer can get through a village without smashing up a few pots, at the minimum?

With over 150 randomized dungeons, and a living world to explore, we can't wait to get stuck in. Unfortunately, we're looking at 2023 at the earliest, so these screenshots will have to tide you over until the next update. 

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