It’s been over a decade since the last main-line Diablo game, but Blizzard is finally ready to unveil the fourth entry in the series in just a few months. Thankfully, we got to dip our toes into the world of Sanctuary a little bit early through the open beta weekends, and boy, is it a blast. Even though this is just a snippet of the full game, I can already tell that I will be spending many hours farming for legendary drops, perfecting my build, and raiding world bosses with my buddies. In a way, Diablo IV feels like an MMO, with its random events, various players filling the open world, and raid bosses.
The narrative isn’t really the focus in any Diablo game, but I will say that the developers stepped up their game when delivering the premise in Diablo IV. The story here takes place after the events of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, where the world has been abandoned by heaven, and cultists have summoned the daughter of the devil Mephisto: Lilith. There is an emphasis on demon-angel relationships as Lilith must now clash with her former lover: the angel Inarius, who banished her once before, after she wreaked havoc on any that opposed her. The cinematics in the game are beautiful and only reinforced by the addicting gameplay itself.
Blizzard hit it out of the park with the atmosphere and music in Diablo IV, with its genuine approach to a gothic horror tone. I know the game is all about the grind and efficiency, but I couldn’t help but stop and appreciate the scenery and ambiance of the overworld. It’s a dark and gritty game set in a world on the brink of collapse, and it shows through the visuals. The muted color palettes and dreary soundtrack are the cherries on top that add to the overall immersion.
You can choose between one of five classes in the beta: Barbarian, Rogue, Sorcerer, Necromancers, and Druid. It’s currently not known if classes such as the Paladin or Monk from previous games are coming to the full release of Diablo IV or not. There’s a pretty robust character creation screen where you can choose your gender and toggle facial features, tattoos, and whatnot, but you’ll barely be able to see how you look most of the time, given the isometric POV and gear that you’re wearing. I tried my hand at all of the classes, and unfortunately, it seems like there’s some significant imbalance that I hope is sorted out before the launch. For example, the sorcerer class is super strong, whereas the barbarian feels sluggish and weak. The druid is also missing an essential ability in the beta, which doesn’t make a huge difference but is worth mentioning.
Most basic systems remain the same if you played any other previous Diablo or ARPG. You have equipment slots for armor, primary and secondary weapons, rings, necklaces, etc. Mounts, such as horses, are planned for the full release but missing in the beta. The sorcerer still has a teleport, don’t worry. Each class has a fleshed-out skill tree with six branches, and now combat revolves around resource generators and spenders instead of hoarding potions. In previous games, you would stock up on health and mana potions so you could spam abilities in battle. No longer are potions a thing, as particular branches in a skill tree serve as mana regenerators. A flask system now replaces health potions that used to take up space in your backpack with a limit of 4, which can be increased. The developers have also added a dodge roll set on a cooldown providing invincibility frames.
The level cap in the beta is set to 25, but you have enough skill points to play around with different builds, as respeccing is exceptionally cheap and even free at lower levels. Items and junk can be scrapped at the blacksmith or sold at shops. Gold was pretty useless in previous games, given how easy it was to obtain, but there was virtually nothing to spend it on. Diablo IV now uses currency by introducing aspect imprinting that you can bind onto rare items to make it legendary. Strangely, legendary items dropped like flies after I reached the level cap, which I hope is for purposes of the beta and not the case in the full release.
There’s a ton of stuff to do, even though this is just a beta. I could go on for hours if I talked about everything. Diablo IV features a mostly seamless open world that you can traverse through. If you go into a dungeon or fast-travel, there are loading screens. The map contains new towns, random events, strongholds, dungeons, cellars, and world bosses. Exploration is heavily rewarded, given that clearing a stronghold results in an unlocked new fast travel point and new quests to take on. The highlight of my time in the beta was facing the world boss Ashava that spawned at particular times, with over ten people battling it out simultaneously in an all-out epic fight.
Remember that this is still a beta version of the game, and I ran into several bugs and technical issues. First and foremost are the atrocious queue times to load into the game. The first weekend had queue times that took over an hour, and the game randomly disconnects you to perform rolling restarts. I experienced this firsthand when I was waiting for the world boss Ashava to spawn when I got booted out and hit with a queue time of 40 minutes. It’s safe for you to assume that I did not get back in time. The servers got more stable further into the weekend, so here’s to hoping the launch servers won’t be disastrous.
Other performance hiccups involved my character turning invisible on-screen and several latency concerns that resulted in extreme lag and rubberbanding. My friends on PC also couldn’t skip cutscenes, but I had no issue with that on PS5. I had reservations and doubts about playing Diablo on a console since I grew up playing ARPGs on keyboard and mouse, and surprisingly, it isn’t half bad with a controller! The game looks gorgeous on PlayStation 5, and the button mappings are intuitive and comfortable. However, it pains me that Diablo IV is an online-only experience, even if you prefer to play these types of games solo. Because of this, you also need a Battle.net account to play, but the game does support cross-play, so I could play with my friend on PC.
If what I’ve seen in the beta represents what the full game might be, then we are definitely in for a treat when Diablo IV fully launches. It’s a return to form for the franchise that improves upon everything compared to its predecessors. Diablo IV is coming to PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 on June 6, 2023.
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