Impressions | Diablo IV Beta

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The Diablo IV Closed Beta arrived on Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, and PC over the weekend. Thanks to Blizzard PR I got to spend nearly 20 hours playing it, and Lilith be praised is it fantastic. The game utilizes an exquisite mix of Diablo 3’s gameplay, and Diablo Immortal’s shared worlds, all wrapped up Diablo 1 and 2’s look and feel. There is an open beta that adds in two more classes coming up this weekend, so let’s break down what you’ll find in the cursed world of Sanctuary.

Miserable Darkness

Diablo IV is a dark game, set in a world that is falling apart.  As best I can tell from old interviews the game appears to take place a few decades after Diablo III: Reaper of Souls.  The world of Sanctuary has been abandoned by the Heavens and left to decay following the dreadful war with Hell. Lilith, the mother of Sanctuary has been summoned back to life, and a showdown with her former partner the Angel Inarius feels inevitable.

The game begins with our character alone and lost in the wilderness.  The Closed Beta saw three of the five classes available. These are the Barbarian, Rogue, and Sorcerors. Necromancers and Druids were unavailable the first weekend but should be able to be played in the Open Beta coming this Friday, March 24th. No matter which character you choose you’ll have a small but impactful number of customization options to choose from for their appearance.  Male or female you can choose the skin color, hair type, scars, tattoos, and more. There are not a huge number of options but it is a welcome addition over Diablo III’s complete lack of choice on how your player character looked.

You’ll awaken in a cavern surrounded by a warm fire and make your way to the nearest town.  A local castle is full of demons and the townsfolk beg you to clear it out. After successfully murdering every skeleton and imp you’ll return a hero and find that things aren’t what they appeared to be. This is a mature game, and the cinematics take full advantage of that with intense gore and truly unsettling themes. Lilith is a temptress, using her powers to seduce the humans of Sanctuary into becoming her unwitting army. The writing is excellent, a true step above Diablo III’s cheesy and easy-to-guess narrative.

This is all enhanced by excellent cinematic camera direction.  We pull right up into the faces of people and the models hold up at all times.  Diablo IV is absolutely gorgeous, despite its muted color palette.  One of the biggest complaints of Diablo 3 and the more recent Immortal was the almost bright, vibrant colors used. Diablo takes place in an angry, mean, desolate world, and IV is a perfect marriage of modern graphical power and the old sense of dread constantly present in the first two games. You can play through all of Act I, which is a meaty amount of content in itself. Add in clearing out each of the zones present in the massive map and this is one of the best betas I have ever seen content-wise.  The fact that it’s gorgeous, the music is incredible, and the also has fantastic gameplay?  Let’s hit up the gameplay next.

Diablo Perfected

I put over 3000 hours into Diablo III on PC and Console combined.  It is one of my favorite games of all time, and Diablo IV is better than it in every way. I started off as a Sorceror playing in co-op with my brother for multiple hours on the first day of the beta. While playing solo I ended up getting a Barbarian up to 20 and clearing the first act.  I got a Rogue up to level 12 and all three characters felt great to play with. The Sorceror felt the most OP on the harder difficulties, but with a little work on my builds and some luck with legendary drops they were all viable.

A lot of the game’s systems, such as mounts, are not available in the beta. That being said what is here is still substantial. Barbarians for instance have all the usual item slots:

  • Head
  • Chest
  • Wrists
  • Legs
  • Boots
  • Amulet
  • Two Rings

Where Barbarians differ is that they have 4 different weapon slots.  Slashing, Bludgeoning, and Dual Wielding. These are all tied to your various move types, so you’ll always have weapons equipped to match that attack type.  Rend needs a slashing weapon, while Hammer of the Ancients needs your Bludgeoning, and Frenzy needs dual wielding.  The Skill trees are massive, and you can reach up to level 25 in the beta which gives access to at least one of all of your different move types. Every class starts with a core ability.  For Barbarians, this ability generates the Fury that their harder-hitting moves will need.  Sorceror and Rogues passively generate their resources so their core moves end up being more about setting up combos, procs, and passives.  It should feel right at home for any fan of Diablo and from the start, you have full freedom to level up whatever you want. 

Respeccing your abilities is free up until level 15 which works great for testing things out.  Every move has one set upgrade and then a choice for a 2nd upgrade. Some trees have passive buffs alongside the abilities, and each ability has five ranks to pour points into.  Once you’ve reached the level cap, in the main release, there are Paragon points to further enhance your character and it is a massive system that seems like it will give far more choice in customizing your playstyle than Diablo III ever did.  Everything about this game seems enormous, and even in a small slice of it I nearly lost myself for dozens of hours despite knowing that none of it carries over to the full release in June.

Rogues are interesting in that you can choose to play two different styles. There are your melee-focused moves and ranged ones in every tree.  I stuck with mostly melee until I found a legendary bow, that had me mixing in a ridiculously cool looking and powerful ranged attack. I love the variety, and by the endgame, I wouldn’t be surprised if nearly no two characters were exactly alike.  There may be only five classes by launch but I don’t think that is an issue here with just how many options there are available.

Everything Else is Great Too

You will need a account if you want to play co-op as this game fully supports crossplay. I tried inviting my brother before we were friends and it simply didn’t work.  This is most likely due to the fact that they never turned the Xbox club on for this game, which makes sense as it is only a beta, but a word of warning for the Open weekend. There is a clan system as well which was easy to set up, and the biggest change of the game is the shared world.  At any time in any city or most open-world locations, you will be in a server with other randomly selected players. There are Destiny-style public events to take part in as well as more rare and incredibly difficult World Events.

The Public Events are pretty easy and give solid rewards for your time spent.  They seem to pop up randomly and start the moment you get there.  The World Event we got to try out in the Closed Beta though was on a set timer and was incredibly difficult.  It was tuned for level 25 players, the max allowed in this beta, and I was nowhere near that.  Every hit killed me but I was able to at least do damage to the boss.  After our group of 10 people killed him I ended up with 6 different legendary drops that were all upgrades.  Depending on the amount of content like this, and nothing in the beta has led me to believe it will be lacking, this game is going to be absolutely massive at launch.

There were issues with the servers on the first day, with massively long queue times and constant disconnects.  By Saturday things were stable and I haven’t had an issue since.  I do expect the Open Beta to draw in far more players, especially as the word of mouth has been so positive online. The last thing I’d like to touch on is the music. Diablo III had great music, and somehow Diablo IV’s few tunes have raised the bar even higher.  The main town music has no right going as hard as it does, and I’ve found myself standing around listening to it for hours as I absentmindedly work on my build.

Wrapping Things Up

Diablo IV is excellent and barring falling off a cliff quality-wise in the rest of the game, it is going to be one of the biggest releases of the year. The story is engaging, the writing is excellent, the gameplay is exquisite, and the amount of content is already ridiculous. It has gone from one of my top five most anticipated titles this year to being tied with Starfield for the most.

Jesse 'Doncabesa' Norris

Proud father of two, lucky to have a wife far too good for me. I write a ton of reviews, am a host on the You Had Me At Halo podcast, and help fill out anywhere I can for our site.

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