Someone stabby is heading to the dark world of Sanctuary. At BlizzConline, Blizzard pulled back the curtain on the fourth starter class for Diablo 4, revealing the throat-slicing, ear-collecting rogue. Like the Barbarian and Sorceress, this class is a throwback to the original Diablo, further emphasizing the designers’ intent to bring Diablo 4 back to the series’ grimdark roots. Rest assured, however: what is known of the Rogue so far suggests she will be a completely unique addition to the franchise, featuring fresh tricks, two customization systems, and a blend of up-close blade work and artillery-grade archery.
Blizzard’s Rogue class reveal came with a cinematic trailer where the leading lady delivers the world’s least contrite confession to the world’s most sinister priest of Akarat. Little about the character’s lore is revealed, save that she is delivering gruesome payment in exchange for information: a name that is left unspoken in the trailer. The cinematic is followed by a blitz of gameplay footage showing off the class’s new talents. Admittedly, much of the footage on display seemed similar to Diablo 3‘s Demon Hunter, and Diablo 2‘s Assassin, but the customization systems Blizzard detailed sound promising.
The new class is a hybrid fighter, meeting the franchise’s need for a second melee class while also introducing a character who can serve as a dedicated ranger into the mix. This also raises interesting questions regarding the game’s final starting class. Another melee-focused character seems likely, since there are now two casters, a dedicated tank, and a hybrid fighter, but only time will tell.
Diablo 3‘s Demon Hunter was one of the best-loved additions to the series roster, nailing the satisfaction of playing a ranged death-dealer while strafing, rolling, and laying down traps to devastate foes. And while Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction‘s Assassin expansion class had a few ranged tricks up her sleeve in the form of traps and shadow disciplines, she excelled at up-close and personal, dexterity-based combat. The trailer also shows off a host of mobility options, recalling both of the above classes.
Thematically, Diablo 4‘s Rogue seems very similar to the one in the original Diablo, though there is no word yet as to whether they have any relation to the Sisters of the Sightless Eye. This incarnation should have a much more distinct identity than Diablo’s original Rogues, as in the original game, players were fairly free to develop their character however they saw fit, apart from base abilities and stat value level increments. It is likely the case that Rogues will be comparatively fragile to the Barbarian’s inherent brawn, or even the Druid’s fearsome werebear form.
The weapon selection available to the Rogue in Diablo 4 will be narrower than in the original Diablo, where every character could equip every item provided they met the stat requirement. In Diablo 4 rogues can use paired swords and daggers, as well as bows. This is notable because certain abilities are tied to specific weapons, affecting the total number of combat options a Rogue has at their disposal.
One of the Rogue’s chief customization options is the Elemental Imbue system, which allows the Rogue to affix a specific element to all of her attacks. Like Diablo 4‘s dedicated spell-damage-dealer, the Sorceress, the Rogue can trigger the frost element to repeatedly apply stacks of chill to foes eventually culminating in a full-on freeze effect. Rogues could also switch to poison to apply a damage-over-time effect. Unlike specializations, the Elemental Imbue system can be shifted on the fly, allowing Rogue-players to tailor their elemental damage output to exploit enemy weaknesses in specific encounters.
This is actually remarkably similar to certain spell and elemental-damage heavy Rogue builds in the original Diablo, as character building was more open-ended, to such an extent that the classes could easily lose their identities. That will not be the case with Diablo 4‘s Rogue, especially relative to the other classes that have been revealed:
The Sorceress’s enchantment system, which allows her to slot unused active abilities for passive benefits. Or the Barbarian’s all-weapons-available-all-the-time arsenal system, the Druid’s mix of spellcasting and shapeshifting, and the Rogue’s high-mobility kit paired with the ability to switch hit between close-range and melee attacks are all extremely disparate.
The full array of elements at her disposal and all of their unique effects are still unknown, but they promise to synergize interestingly with the Rogue’s other new customization system: Specializations.
By completing quests for Rogue-affiliated NPCs, the class can choose between three specializations: Combo Points, Exploit Weakness, and Shadow Realm. Combo Points are intended to give combat a rhythmic quality, which sounds similar to the fighting-game-inspired mechanics of the Monk from Diablo 3. Shadow Realm is built around a battlefield-dominating ultimate ability, which could be the enormous deluge of arrows featured toward the end of the trailer. Or perhaps the mirror-image style ability that creates shadow clones to fire arrows alongside the rogue. The final specialization, Exploit Weakness, forces players to read enemy attack patterns, and strike at specific, highlighted points in their wind-ups to deal disruptive damage.
While players can unlock all three specializations in a given playthrough, they can only have one active at a time. These customization systems all constitute enormous departures from preceding titles, and also serve to highlight Blizzard’s emphasis on asymmetry between core classes. Diablo is a series that involves a lot of repetition in its core loop. Each title’s longevity is often determined by how much mileage players can get out of the game’s varied classes, so the emphasis on making each class feel genuinely distinct is welcome and vital to the game’s overall staying power.
Unfortunately, the wait to try the mistress of cloaks and daggers will be a long one, as it has been confirmed Diablo 4 will not be releasing in 2021. Fortunately, it seems like the game will be well worth it.
Diablo 4 is currently in development. A release date has yet to be announced.