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'Diablo IV' success may lift Activision Blizzard out of controversy

"Diablo IV." (Courtesy of Activision Blizzard)
"Diablo IV." (Courtesy of Activision Blizzard)

“Diablo IV” officially released this week, and it’s already one of the hottest games of the summer.

It became Blizzard Entertainment’s fastest-selling title ever, a notable feat for the brand behind the juggernaut “World of Warcraft.”

The fantasy roleplaying game is the latest in a series that transformed PC gaming back in 1996. But despite that storied history, its immediate predecessor, 2022’s “Diablo Immortal,” courted controversy over its monetization model, as did 2012’s “Diablo III.”

“Diablo IV” bucked this recent trend. After months of early access opportunities and extravagant marketing collaborations with KFC, Hot Ones, Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao, and popstars Halsey and SUGA, “Diablo IV” debuted to rapturous reviews. NPR’s Alex Curley called it “a near-perfect action RPG experience.”

“Diablo IV” features seamless multiplayer, which I enjoyed with NPR colleagues. (James Perkins Mastromarino/Here & Now)

The reception is welcome news for developer Activision Blizzard, which has faced perennial fan outrage and lawsuits alleging sexual abuse (which the company settled). CEO Bobby Kotick recently denied that the company fosters a toxic work culture, while an internal transparency report outlined an uptick in employee-reported harassment.

But for the moment at least, “Diablo IV” has stepped up as a franchise messiah. Its mechanics haven’t changed all that much from my days co-oping “Diablo III,” but the unmatched production values and darker tone have won over diehards and newcomers alike.

Though I don’t love the dizzying rate at which you’ll acquire and discard items, I’ll admit that no other series offers quite so refined a “kill, loot, level-up” loop as “Diablo.” It was an absolute blast to play with my colleagues Alex Curley, Haitrieu Nguyen and Nina Fill as I prepared for this piece.

“Diablo IV” is the latest in a long string of hotly-anticipated sequels gracing us this year. It followed the sensationalTears of the Kingdom” and series-revitalizing “Street Fighter 6,” and launched weeks before the behemoth “Final Fantasy 16.”

It’s going to be a busy summer.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.