Diablo 4 is the first in the series to dip its toes into an open-world game design, and Joe Piepiora, Lead Systems Designer on Diablo 4, walked through some game design philosophy in an interview with IGN.
Piepiora explained Diablo 4 won't split up its areas into separate acts. Instead you'll travel through most places in Eastern Sanctuary, like the forests of Scosglen and the deserts of Kehjistan, without an awkward loading screen.
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What Diablo 4's open world really means
“There's so much out there in the environment just to stumble across as you're wandering around,” says Piepiora. “Small little stories, like that one hermit's hut in the middle of the forest that's far off the beaten path, or the misty valley in Scosglen that you go inside and people don't return from. There's all these interesting little places all throughout the world.”
Piepiora also reassures players that the open-world design philosophy won't take it to the extreme like some games have. So you won't encounter the same "disruptive" gameplay mechanics throughout the world as you would a traditional open-world game. Essentially, Diablo 4 will have the same action-packed gameplay, but just be more present within a living and breathing open-world.
Blizzard wants to ensure that everything you encounter will feel natural and normal, as opposed to checking things off of a list (I'm looking at you, Assassin's Creed Valhalla).
The world will even have different instances based on what you've done so far. “You're not going to see a bunch of other players around you when you enter one of these camp locations,” explains Piepiora. “But when you manage to finish it, and you've cleared the camp and liberated it, then it turns into a public version, where you now will see other players nearby.” It reminds me of the tiny hub areas that are spread around The Division 2's open-world, where you would see players hanging around in a safe space.
I highly recommend reading the full IGN interview, as it provides wonderful insight into what the game will feel like. We're excited to get our hands on Diablo 4 when it launches whenever the heck it does.