Season 4 Loot Reborn is a paradox; simultaneously Diablo 4’s best season (in gameplay terms), and the strongest argument against the seasonal model yet

For all the complaints from players who don’t care about seasons there have been, Season 4 is ironically the best season for them, for a simple reason: practically everything it introduces to the game can be experienced without needing to engage with any seasonal mechanics.

Blizzard knows how to operate live service games, perhaps more than any other studio in the industry. Yet for all that pedigree, it never truly made a compelling case for seasons in Diablo 4. The idea of ladder seasons – where players compete to reach the endgame with customised builds – has always existed in Diablo, of course. But the modern meaning of seasons; the limited-time quest that comes with a battle pass and carry some sort of theme, that is new.

There was a lot of hemming and hawing when Blizzard first explained that players would need to start a new character for every season, even before we’d known what to expect from seasons. It caused such a stir that some players simply refuse to engage with the concept to this day. In the year since, Blizzard made that transition a lot smoother by being generous with what it’s allowed players to carry over from their existing characters. But that won’t matter much if you were never onboard with the idea of a starting a new character every three or so months.

We’ve now witnessed four seasons, meaning Blizzard has had four chances to make a case for it, and I am not sure it pulled it off. More than that, I worry that Season 4 Loot Reborn is a sign it stopped trying.

Now lore goblins can be… actual goblins? | Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment.

Loot Reborn is a fantastic descriptor of what to expect, but a terrible one for a new season. In essence, following public beta tests and extensive developer messaging about the whys and hows, Blizzard revealed an overhaul to almost the entirety of the systems that govern loot in Diablo 4. The developer moved away from the clutter of drops, opting instead for a more succinct approach whereby players get fewer, but more meaningful drops.

The items they like the most and decide to stick with can be further tuned, thanks to new systems like Masterworking and Tempering. Players now have a path towards their desired builds that relies much less on chance. Most players seem to like that, but some miss the showers of loot the game launched with (even if they don’t miss having to pause and sift through them).

Stratengly, however, none of that requires participating in the new season to experience. That’s right; all of those changes affect the Eternal Realm just like they do the Seasonal, meaning you’d only be doing it to progress through the Season 4 battle pass. I’d usually add “and play the new story quest” to that, but Loot Reborn’s laser-focus on revamping Diablo 4’s itemisation has seemingly left no room for one.

Well, there technically is a seasonal quest, but it’s nowhere near as elaborate as the (already anaemic) stories we’ve seen in previous seasons. More than that, there is no new mechanic to engage with or a gimmick to grouse about.

As fun as it is to have a smooth path towards level 100, and revel in the feeling of power that’s particularly strong this season, the lack of any meaningful seasonal content makes that climb hollow; there’s really nothing to chase once you’ve spent enough time with the changes and felt their effect in action.

Helltide reborn, indeed. | Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment

I’ve logged on every season, created a new character or two, took them as far as I could, and finished two of the three battle passes. I’ve always loved Diablo 4’s core mechanical feel, warts and all. The battle pass and seasonal content were really only the icing on the cake. With Season 4, I don’t feel the same way.

This isn’t a comment on the quality of rewards in the battle pass, it’s more that Blizzard seems to have dropped the pretence. However flimsy, the fresh questline and mechanics were that pretence. Why would I bother creating a character in the Seasonal Realm when the overwhelming majority of “new things” in Loot Reborn can be just as satisfying to experience in the Eternal Realm?

I really have to wonder whether Blizzard has a solid plan of making something of Diablo 4’s seasons going forward. In the two years since Diablo Immortal’s release, the game received two new classes and many new areas. I know it’s built on the bones of Diablo 3, but those classes are entirely new to Diablo.

Indeed, the sheer volume of new content Immortal gets every season often tempts me to jump in. The expectations and production requirements obviously vary massively from a free-to-play phone game to the realms of big-budget triple-A, but the point is that Immortal’s seasons consistently look exciting while Diablo 4’s have been going through the motions.

Will any of these cosmetics matter if ActiBlizz fumbles the bag? | Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment

Zooming out even further and looking at Activision Blizzard’s other franchises, Call of Duty’s army of developers produce enough content every season to turn heads. Several new maps, new mechanics in Warzone, new weapons, and sometimes even additions to perks and killstreaks.

Why can’t Diablo 4 access some of those resources to make its seasons more eventful? The game’s first post-launch class, and its first post-launch zone won’t be here until the release the Vessel of Hatred expansion later this year – that’s well over a year after launch. Is that really it? Can we only expect Diablo 4 to be exciting every 16 or so months?