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Blizzard Entertainment announced Diablo IV at last year’s Blizzcon with an impressive cinematic trailer. But if you’d like to learn something a bit more concrete about this upcoming action-RPG, you should check out this quarterly update dedicated to Diablo IV’s UI design and co-op functionality, as well as its monstrous cannibal tribes.
Let’s start with a quick video:
And then read a bit about Diablo IV’s cannibals:
MONSTER FAMILY & DESIGN HIGHLIGHT: CANNIBALS
Candace Thomas, Senior Encounter Designer
If you had the chance to watch our World and Lore Panel during BlizzCon, you learned that monsters in Diablo IV are classified into “families.” In our various panels we covered different monster families such as the Fallen, who are returning to once again terrorize Sanctuary, and the Drowned, who are a brand new threat plaguing the shores of this world. We touched on their story, combat abilities, the regions they inhabit, and how they interact with one another in a meaningful way. Now, we would like to give you a look into another new family: The Cannibals.
What is a Monster Family and Why Does it Matter?
Before we dive into the specific mechanics of the Cannibal family, let’s take a moment to talk about our design philosophy when it comes to monsters.
In the bestiary of Diablo III, we classified monsters into broad categories like demon, unholy, undead, humanoid, or wildlife. These monsters served as an anchor to the story by adding to the overall setting and tone, which made the whole game feel complete.
In Diablo IV, the vast and seamless world we created necessitates a slightly different approach to worldbuilding and storytelling. It requires building Sanctuary as a living, breathing character—especially through its creatures. Since we have everything from serene ocean cliffsides to the gaping maw of Hell itself, what does that mean for the bestiary? Well, to fill those areas and make them feel real, we definitely needed to have more non-aggressive wildlife than in Diablo III. But never fear, we still have plenty of monsters to fight.
Every monster has been reimagined, but in a darker, more gritty art style. We have lovingly handcrafted every creature you’ll encounter from the ground up: that includes demons, NPCs, Act Bosses, and even the skittering critters you can crush underfoot. Though we still pay tribute to some hallmark gameplay—such as Fallen Shamans resurrecting other Fallen—we have completely reimagined things in other places.
To have these creatures feel more sophisticated and robust, we designed them in what we call “monster families” and archetypes. Each family has a different combat style and feel. For example, the Drowned family has five members in various archetypes: bruiser, ranged combat, melee combat, swarmer, and dungeon boss.
Each archetype plays a different role in combat. Swarmers strike in groups, making AoE attacks feel satisfying. Bruisers are larger monsters with high health values, which will make damage over time abilities feel good. Melee combat units act as shields by standing in the way of projectiles for their ranged counterparts. Situations like this provide the player with interesting positional dilemmas if they want to focus fire on ranged units. When adding all of this together, each encounter with the Drowned will be slightly different with regards to player positioning and choice of attack. These rich and varied combat experiences are the power of a monster family.
Who Are the Cannibals?
“Corpses riddled with bite marks. Splintered bones scraped clean of marrow. Tongues sawed off and eyes gouged out of their skulls. These are the bloody fingerprints the Cannibals leave behind—if they leave behind anything at all. No one is certain where they come from, but some legends claim they are a former tribe of barbarians, banished from Arreat years ago. Whether their cannibalism led to their exile or developed out of desperation afterward is unknown. The outcasts brought their endless hunger to the Dry Steppes, and from there spread to the far corners of the world to prey on lonesome caravans and unsuspecting villages.
The few who have survived encounters with these butchers share the same stories. They tell of the mad fire that burns in the eyes of all Cannibals, of how eating the flesh of their victims in battle only fuels their hunger for more. They whisper of the unlucky souls spared in the attacks, hauled off like livestock for the raiders to pick clean until their next hunt. And then, they say no more. The silence speaks for them: sometimes it is better to die than to live and remember.”
A Battle for Survival
Now that we’ve introduced some new lore about this family, we can dive into how we try to use them to give a cohesive experience narratively, while also providing the peaks-and-valleys of combat expected in a hack-n-slash ARPG. So what does this mean for Cannibal combat design? How do we convey their story through combat? We took a couple of approaches:
The Cannibal family has four members. They each have their own unique weapon and a significantly different silhouette or stance to help differentiate them from one another. There are two standard melee combatants: one wielding a two-handed greatsword cleaver, which delivers a slow, sweeping frontal attack; and the other using a lightweight halberd which allows them to leap at players from a great distance and crash down with a devastating attack.
The bruiser uses a spiked club in each hand to deliver intense blows that will stun players if they aren’t paying attention. By contrast, the dual-axe-wielding swarmers can unleash a flurry of frontal attacks that will quickly kill if left unchecked. However, this is a less binary pass/fail than the bruiser’s stun attack. If the player finds themselves surrounded by flurrying swarmers, getting hit by the bruiser’s dazing blow would remove all possibility of escape. It’s combinations of attacks like these that make this family so deadly.
Earlier, we explained how different monster archetypes play different roles in an encounter. For example, players who want to efficiently kill ranged monsters will need to learn how to reposition their accompanying melee attackers so that a cleverly dropped area of effect ability will target both clusters of enemies. This makes for interesting on-the-fly decision-making, and skilled players will be able to spot the optimal positions for these attacks very quickly.
By design, the Cannibal family has no ranged units. Instead, they spring at the player with supernatural swiftness. Some may close the gap by leaping over obstacles and would-be competitors, while others will swiftly and deftly maneuver through other monsters to get first blood. This provides a very different experience and gives the player less time to make thoughtful positioning decisions, thus making combat with these flesh-eaters feel frenetic.
That’s it for today. Thanks for staying a while and listening!