Blizzard Builds Sanctuary in a "Much Darker Lens" for Diablo IV

Published: May 30, 2023 12:30 PM /


diablo iv world

The world of Sanctuary, home to the Diablo series, is vast and full of rich lore. With Diablo IV, we have a huge chunk of the Eastern continent to explore, which is divided into five separate regions. It's nothing short of massive, and players will spend hours on end seeing everything Diablo IV's handcrafted world has to offer. From the swampy wetlands of Hawezar to the dreary, snowy Fractured Peaks, each region offers a new experience for players.

In order to learn more about Diablo IV's approach to its open world and dungeon design, we talked with Associate Game Director Zaven Haroutunian and Senior Dungeon Designer Dini McMurry to learn more about the creation process for these two vital components of the game.

Want to learn more about the game? Read our Diablo IV review here.

diablo iv fractured peaks

Diablo IV's a Dark and Dreary World

As a live service title, what ways can we expect to see the open world of Sanctuary change during the duration of Diablo IV's life?

Zaven Haroutunian: So kind of, just to recap some of the stuff we've talked about recently, we are planning to do seasons. And the expectation here, and the intention is, every time we have a season, there's some kind of narrative content and context for what's going on in the season. There's new seasonal features and mechanics, and we're also looking at what can we do that the game potentially just needs outside the confines of a seasonal idea? So this means just as the game goes to the live service, it's like, OK, what are the quality-of-life features we've discovered? Right? The main benefit of shipping the game that we're so excited about is for the game to start telling us what it needs, kind of like, in the live-service landscape. So when it comes to the evolution of the open world, that is functionally, that is the place where the things happen, right? So it's not going to be that every single season, it's going to be identical, right? We're not trying to do paint-by-numbers here. But certain seasons will stress different parts of the game in terms of hey, we're going to really advance gameplay in this section or this section. And that's going to change over time. And we're going to, again, be listening kind of to what the players say and what the game tells us as we play it.

diablo iv open world

What was your decision to make the open world a static, non-randomized environment, whereas dungeons are more randomized?

Haroutunian: Speaking on the world side, and I'll let you, Dini, chime in on dungeons, but like, Diablo has always actually had a mix of both. There's always been some mix of static environments and randomized environments, dating all the way back to Diablo I, right, Tristram in the cathedral -- it's not randomized, didn't need to be. The dungeon is where we kind of put all that kind of stuff. And then we've kind of fluctuated on exactly which parts are random, which parts are not throughout the years, the decades and the games in the series. But in this case, we really wanted something that felt like a, you know, here is Sanctuary as a character. And part of that is giving it those very clear identifying marks and giving it very clear geography and historical connections within that geography. And that set -- and that felt something that was very appropriate to do as the open world that we have today, right? And there's a very logical connection between things because they exist in what feels like a very real space.

The example I've given here is Fractured Peaks is north of Hawezar. Fractured Peaks is an icy, mountainous wasteland, basically, with people like huddled together for warmth and a few cities, and Hawezar is just like a gross swamp. Why is Hawezar a swamp? Well, the ice melts from Fractured Peaks and flows all the way down the mountains, all the way and empties into Hawezar, and you can actually, in the game, go to where that water melt happens, that ice melt happens and see it transition between those two zones. And that gives you know, reasoning. Why is Hawezar a weird swamp in the context of this as a world, as a character? And it's like, oh, because it's bordered on the north by Fractured Peaks, and all the snowmelt drifts down and gets stuck in the swamps of Hawezar.

Dini McMurry: I mean, the dungeons are pretty standard Diablo random, the experiences that you have found in, you know, previous Diablo titles. The primary difference in our side is, we actually have like objectives to kind of give you something more to do in the dungeon. As much as everyone loves running around and killing monsters, sometimes it's nice to have something to do.

Dry Steppes Diablo

We get to explore regions of Sanctuary that have existed within the Diablo world, but haven’t been explored by players. What was your research process in faithfully creating regions like Hawezar so they live up to the descriptions we’ve heard from other games?

Haroutunian: Yeah, so some of these things don't actually have names. Like we never actually named Hawezar in the past that's something you know, we had to figure out like, "OK, what's this place even called?" And we named it Hawezar and some of the other stuff is like, well, we've always known there's Scosglen, right? But you know, the past maps have been kind of, you know, or past information has been kind of unclear. So whether it's a deserted wasteland, or if it's a lush forest, and we're like OK, well druid so we're gonna pick. So we've had to make decisions and calls like that kind of throughout the development where there's conflicting information. And sometimes it's a judgment call. And it's also just like which one actually makes most sense, in the context of the world that we're trying to make.

... So in terms of research, it was lot of playing the old games, looking at what we've done, poring through all the, kind of, work that we've done in the past to explain parts of the games. The only part of Diablo IV that we're actually revisiting that we've been to is Kehjistan, all the other parts are actually functionally new in terms of visiting those locations. So when it came to Kehjistan, you know, that was last seen in Diablo III. And so it was great, because, you know, a bunch of people on this team worked on Diablo III. And so we're like, oh, hey, you know, let's put Alcarnus back in there. Let's [put] Caldeum back in there. These are the places we're going to be visiting. And we built it once and we're going to build it through the new lens, the much darker lens of Diablo IV.

diablo iv dungeons

Is there a philosophy behind dungeon design? We see wide open fields, claustrophobic corridors, winding labyrinths, and more. When you sit down to design one, what does the process look like from start to finish?

McMurry: Wow, I mean, there's a lot of stuff to think about. I mean, for starters, we kind of look at like, well where is this dungeon? You know, because that's gonna determine like what kinds of like tile sets are we going to use. Is it in, you know, if it's Fractured Peaks and we're making, you know, a cave, well, we're obviously going to use something that's more like you know, ice cave, but if it's in Kehjistan, then now we're looking at like sand cave. So we look at kind of like, you know, where is it going? What monsters are in the area, you know? ... And then we'll give the dungeon like, just kind of like a brief little story. ... And then from there, we look at the kinds of things of like, well, what do we want to do in this dungeon? ...  And we tried to make sure that what we're using are not things that are like being used a lot so that we are not running into five dungeons in a row that are all 'kill all monsters' kind of things. So we just kind of look at all the different pieces. And then we look at like, you know, additional things to randomize it, like what kind of a dungeon events can go in here?

...and then from there, designers will just kind of like, take all that stuff, and just put it together and start playing around with layouts and see what works well, and it's, you know, and then sometimes people get cool ideas like, "Oh, it'd be great if this like, you know, started as like Keep and then all of a sudden you find a hole in the wall, and it goes into like Cave or something like that."

diablo iv dungeons

Another aspect to dungeons are Nightmare Dungeons. They feel like a replacement to Rifts -- or perhaps not replacement -- but another way to challenge players in a similar fashion. Rifts were a popular aspect of Diablo III, but aren’t present in Diablo IV. Because of Nightmare Dungeons, are rifts something we might expect to one day see in Diablo IV, or is it out of the question?

Haroutunian: I wouldn't rule anything out. Again, the game will launch, we'll see what the game tells us, what the players tell us, and we'll go from there. But in terms of like, you know, an endgame dungeon system, Nightmare Dungeons are where we're starting, which is again all new. We've never actually shipped a Diablo game with a fully fleshed out endgame before. But that doesn't mean everything is done and we're gonna put it done. Part of being a live service is, we're going to make updates, we're going to make changes, and we're going to potentially introduce new things as we go along.


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More Info About This Game
Learn more about Diablo IV
Game Page Diablo IV
Release Date
June 6, 2023 (Calendar)
Action RPG
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