The Brutality Behind the Diablo IV: Vessel of Hatred Cinematic

The Brutality Behind the Diablo IV

Hello, Xbox community! It’s so nice to be here – very green! Everyone at Blizzard Entertainment is so excited to be a part of Xbox Showcase 2024, and we are thrilled to announce that Diablo IV: Vessel of Hatred will be bringing us all to the lush jungles of Nahantu on October 8, with pre-purchase is available now!  

You can choose from our Standard, Deluxe, and Ultimate editions, with each version rewarding you with Alkor the Snow Leopard – a pet who will accompany you as you slay your way through Sanctuary! For more information about what’s available in each edition, as well as what’s new for Diablo IV in Vessel of Hatred,  check out our blog on the official Diablo website.  

During the Showcase, we premiered our cinematic trailer for Vessel of Hatred. Our cinematics both in-game and out are a particular point of pride for us at Blizzard, created by our Story and Franchise Development (SFD) team. Think of this department as an in-house linear-media studio: SFD looks after our animations, shorts, in-game capture, books, and more, bringing writers, artists, directors, and animators together to help bring our universes to life in partnership with our game development teams. 

Neyrelle and her mother Vhenard. Here we see the progression from storyboard, to previsualization, to the final shot in our cinematic.

The cinematic we premiered at Showcase picks up where Diablo IV’s campaign left off, and has no shortage of Diablo’s dark, brutal themes. But as the cinematic director Doug Gregory explains, brutality needs context.  

“The brutality is there, but if you don’t believe in the relationship between Neyrelle and her mother, the other stuff is fluff,” he says. “The real pain is the torment of believing your mother is alive for a second, having that ripped away from you, and knowing the person riding shotgun with you – Mephisto – can easily play with your state of mind.” 

A previsualization shot, where Neyrelle lets her guard down and Vhenard takes advantage. 

When the physical is framed by the emotional, this is where we hope we are making real connections with our audiences. “This demon is playing with the fact you feel guilty about your mother’s death – Neyrelle is carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders,” says Doug. “She’s young, she’s watched a lot of her friends die – she blames herself for it – then her mother dies. She carries that weight, and now she’s carrying this Soulstone. The two people in her life she was looking up to for leadership couldn’t handle it, so this young lady is carrying the weight of the world by carrying Mephisto.” 

A rough, in-progress look at our surfacing treatment on Vhenard. 

So, when it comes to conveying these complexities in a cinematic that is used to open the campaign of a brand-new expansion, where does our SFD team begin? “As storytellers, we look for contrasts we can give the audience, and the goal remains that we really want to affect people emotionally,” Doug explains. “So, we need to catch up with Neyrelle – what has she been going through since the last time we saw her? What is the Soulstone doing?” Doug says the team thought about the stone and its effect on everything and everyone around it as something like plutonium. “She’s carrying something destroying everything around her, while it’s slowly eating away at her inside. You are literally watching everything you love be taken away as you. Still, you carry it. And that’s where we start – she’s in a fever, sweating, desperately trying to say this prayer to keep the demon locked away.” 

A piece of concept art showing where our look for Vhenard covered in ichor started from. 

As Neyrelle tries to hold on, she slips. “She falls asleep at the wheel a little bit and catches herself. At that moment, the boatman is trying to help, but he’s distracting her from doing her job, and that frustration builds up: that’s an opening for Mephisto. He sees a crack in the door and takes advantage of the fact that you don’t have control over your emotions. That’s useful to him, he feeds on that. So, you start on a high – she is with her mother again. Let her settle, and she lets down her guard. When he rips that out from underneath her, that is a big emotional swing – hopefully for the audience as well!” 

Some work-in-progress concept work showing the start of our Mephisto chamber environment. 

Doug explains that one of the most striking images in the cinematic is the final shot of Mephisto’s colossal form with Neyrelle acting as his heart. The despair she feels becomes the black blood that fills his veins, reawakening his lungs. He says that this image was the inspiration for the whole cinematic, and that he and his team worked hard to make it meaningful and impactful. 

“The idea is Neyrelle is the heart of him, the fuel station of his body. That’s a neat idea, like a billboard. So the writer and I had to figure out, okay, that’s one image – how do you earn that image and make it emotionally resonant for the viewer?” explains Doug. “If you can make the journey to that image be about a relationship she has with someone she loved, and how this giant thing she is fueling is using her love and her insecurities to rebuild itself–now we’re tying emotion to the image, maybe we earn that image. We love going on an emotional adventure, not just a visual adventure. If this piece resonates with people, we are excited by it!” 

Some early concept work showcasing what would become of Neyrelle. 

For Doug, his greatest joy in releasing this cinematic is seeing the culmination of working alongside talented teammates in amplifying each other’s creativity. “Honestly, I’ve been at it for 14 years here at Blizzard. I started as an illustrator, working in comics and card games, and I did that all on my own, in my own little room by myself. At Blizzard, the journey is about understanding how to bring people along with you on that journey,” says Doug. “With directing, it’s all about taking a boy who used to work by himself in a corner and letting people into that space. Taking the journey, and taking it with people that I love, respect, and enjoy getting the chance to work with–that is the real reward. We all got here together, and I couldn’t have done it alone in a room without them. That’s what’s most important to me, and what I see directing as. The fun part is you don’t have to go it alone – you build with people, and you build something bigger than you could’ve ever built by yourself.” 

As Doug says, “we are a massive society of creators,” and the story of Diablo IV is only the beginning of what’s on offer in Vessel of Hatred. Play as the new Spiritborn class, recruit Mercenaries to fight by your side, explore the jungle region of Nahantu, and join forces with your friends in a new cooperative PvE feature. Today we also announced and released pets into the game for free, so log in and meet your new friend! 

Check out the blog on the official Diablo website for more information about today’s announcement and stay tuned in the lead-up to October 8. We’ll see you in Sanctuary!