Yeah, I pre-purchased Diablo IV. I was tempted to buy it thanks to one of the Messenger group chats I’m in, which is full of aging gamers like me who still yearn for the nostalgia of old Blizzard games. A decade ago, Diablo III turned out to be a disappointment, not only due to its disastrous launch, but also because it didn’t have the same magic that Diablo II had. This latest iteration is perhaps the last gasp of a dying company or the beginning of a resurgence. I got my first glimpse of it with the early access beta from 17-19 March 2023.
Despite what you may think of what used to be one of the best video game developers in the world — a past accolade that has long lost its relevance — Blizzard still holds onto the last vestiges of its legacy. Once the Warcraft and Diablo franchises finally lose all of their remaining power over their dwindling audiences, Blizzard either makes something entirely new that actually does well or it just lives off of Activision’s business, whether Microsoft is actually able to successfully acquire Activision Blizzard.
However, even with all the controversies, Blizzard still has a lot left in the tank. They still make the best cinematics in the industry, they have some of the most well-known intellectual properties in gaming history, and they’re getting close to replacing their goblin of a CEO. Seriously, the only reason why Bobby Kotick isn’t at the top of my games industry asshole list is because Randy Pitchford is legitimately made out of dick cheese.
Anyway, let’s take a look at what I paid $70 for with this early access beta of Diablo IV. Since I took so long to publish this blog post because it ended up going over 4,000 words again, the open beta should be right around the corner at this time.
NOTE: These are mostly half-baked thoughts on the limited experience I’ve had with the Diablo IV early access beta as of this publishing. It doesn’t help that it seems like my brain has subconsciously suppressed my memories of playing Diablo III for some reason.
I’ll likely correct whatever mistakes I made here if I ever write a full review of the full game. If you see mistakes here, please inform me in the comments section. You can even call me a fucking idiot for it. Thank you.
Things I Liked in the Diablo IV Beta
After playing this game for approximately 8-12 hours, I’m mostly optimistic about the full game. I want to know more about the story, I want to try out other classes and builds, I want to see more of the in-game world, and I want to try playing it with friends.
The intro cinematic starts with a subtle throwback to the trailer of the first Diablo with the swinging wooden windows in a dilapidated town. It then eventually introduces a new antagonist — Lilith, the daughter of Mephisto, Lord of Hatred.
It then transitions to the player character’s perspective, stranded in the midst of a blizzard. You then rush to the first town to escape the cold and meet the townsfolk, who are being terrorized by demons. You help them out by slaying the demons, only to find yourself in a bit of a twist.
That swerve definitely caught my attention, and the cutscene makes sure to have that moment sink in. You may then realize that the setting — the world known as Sanctuary — and its characters are quite distinct from those in previous games, although I don’t know yet how to feel about them having pseudo-Slavic accents.
But what truly gripped me with the story so far was an NPC who comes off as a throwaway character at first, but then comes in later with a redemption moment. That character does more to pull my heartstrings in that moment than Jackie Welles in the first act of Cyberpunk 2077.
I remember how I felt about Diablo III’s story, which was mostly ‘Meh.’ I didn’t even care much about the death of Deckard Cain because of how it was set up and executed. But in Diablo IV, even with only this beta, a couple of characters I knew for less than half an hour hooked me.
If I didn’t pre-purchase this game already, instead playing the open beta a week later, this likely would’ve made me pony up my money anyway. Yes, I’m actually liking Diablo IV from what I’ve seen so far in the early access beta. This is the strongest introduction to a game Blizzard has shown in a very long time.
The last time I felt this with a Blizzard game was StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, which came out almost 13 years ago.
It also helps that the player character has even more characterization in this game. That was one of the few things I liked with Diablo III, but it still felt like the player character was on the outside looking in. But with the little chunk of the main storyline I’ve seen in Diablo IV so far, the player character is much more involved.
At first glance, the graphics look a bit too similar to Diablo III, which got me worried. But then, night turned to day and the world opened up. Diablo IV does what Diablo II did by bringing light to the world of Sanctuary, which greatly helps in making you feel like you can be a savior of this mortal realm. It doesn’t have the ARPG disease of being so dark that I’d think I’m blind.
The interface retains much of that signature Diablo look with the health and mana orbs amid the stone. It’s pretty similar to the Diablo III interface, but is bolstered by quality of life improvements like a town portal key, bottomless potions, movement key, and so on. But the way the interface relays information isn’t the best. More of that in the next section.
Character models look great on the character customization and select screen, but then gets wasted when you go in the game and they look like an ant since it’s an isometric ARPG. You can transmogrify your gear in your wardrobe to make your look suit your taste, whether you want to be decked out with badass gear or just have the unequipped look.
But then, you’ll have to either zoom in or just imagine that your character looks good while vanquishing demons. That’s just how it is with top-down ARPGs. At least it’s not as zoomed out as Nox was.
However, the sound design is a mixed bag. At first, the impact was good, which helps with making combat more engaging. However, the sound mixing still needs some fine tuning as some crucial sound effects tend to get drowned out by others. Perhaps you can just turn sound effects down because what you wouldn’t want to turn off is the music. I’m a fan of strings in fantasy RPGs, and this soundtrack adds so much to the atmosphere of the setting.
You also wouldn’t want to mute the voices because the voice acting in this game is pretty good. All the NPCs you can talk to are voiced, and the major NPCs sound great. The standout is Lorath Nahr, a minor character in Diablo III who has since aged and now given a more prominent role. The player characters are also very well-voiced.
A Brief Rant on Logos
This part got too long in the draft for me to delete or even truncate as I do feel somewhat strongly about this. The first thing I noticed with this game is how strikingly different the logo is from that of the previous game. Perhaps you’d think pointing this out is a bit of a stretch, but the logos of each game help set the tone for what to expect within. Let me explain.
I remember how the Diablo cover art and logo made me feel. It looked like a forbidden game I wasn’t supposed to play, especially since I went to an ultra-Christian school that demonized Magic: The Gathering and Harry Potter. That taboo quality made me want to play it more, and I had a blast exploring the game back then.
Diablo II had a fairly similar quality to its logo, with a ‘II’ that was clearly written and the logo as a whole looking like an improved version of the original. Perhaps it was just how things were during those times as the turn of the millennium was both a great time and a bad time, depending on where you were in life and in the world in the early 2000s. We had this game, and it was great fun.
Diablo III had those three rays of light as the ‘III’, which didn’t really make it properly look like ‘Diablo III’ when viewed from afar. In hindsight, it symbolized the mess that the game would become, from its initial launch to the real money auction house and game director Jay Wilson’s lack of social media hygiene.
With this logo, there’s hope. It’s more legible, but it’s also different from the rest. It had to be different in order to evolve both the franchise and the company. With everything Blizzard had to go through in recent years, and still going through at the moment, this game has no other choice but to succeed.
I personally think if it fails to bring back the former Diablo fans who were turned off by Diablo III, then there’s no hope for this franchise as the action role-playing game genre has long since moved on from the foundations set by Diablo. It’s the last realistic chance for Blizzard to show that they still know what they’re doing.
The world feels more open with more than one town in each zone you can stop by to buy and sell items, as well as multiple quests and world events to finish. All of this stuff is nothing new to ARPGs, but they’re somewhat new to the Diablo franchise.
I’ve casually played other games like Path of Exile, and the good ones tend to have something for both casual and hardcore players. From what I’ve seen so far in the gameplay of Diablo IV, they’re looking to incorporate more of those gameplay features that have been made standard in the ARPG genre by other developers who had taken inspiration from Diablo.
The fundamentals of Diablo combat are still there, but with added features and quality of life improvements that make it a lot better than that of older games. It’s not that different from Diablo III, but is like night and day compared to Diablo II. You can and are supposed to do more in Diablo IV combat, mostly to your convenience.
Being able to dodge makes combat a lot more engaging, letting you avoid attacks, close the distance, or move to a better position. This continues the evolution of ARPG combat from just repeatedly clicking on things to being more tactical and active, with great emphasis in understanding and exploiting enemy bosses’ attack patterns.
This is emphasized early on when you fight the first boss in the singleplayer campaign. You will learn quickly there’s a time when the boss is completely vulnerable, and you must take advantage of it without hesitation in order to finish them.
Coupled with the game having been designed to also be playable on console, it makes for gameplay that makes this play less like the old Diablo and more like more modern ARPGs like the games of FromSoftware. Boomers may think it’s unsightly or even borderline disgusting to think that a Diablo game could be played on console, but they’ve done well with this experience.
While Diablo III was also designed to be quite playable on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, it’s recommended that you try playing Diablo IV even once on a controller to see for yourself. Even I, who has long been controller-phobic until very recently, found it quite impressive what they did here.
Another minor thing I liked is how killing a Fallen shaman kills its resurrected minions. I don’t remember if that’s also true in Diablo III (or if there were Fallen in that game, it’s a blur to me), but I remember how annoying they were in Diablo II, so I appreciate this, even over 20 years later. I haven’t found any other annoyances from the enemy types in Diablo III so far.
Character Classes (So Far)
The character classes are barbarian, rogue, sorcerer, necromancer, and druid. More will likely be added with expansions, as it was for Diablo II. I got to play the first three, and I’ll add necromancer and druid once I play them in the open beta.
The barbarian is likely going to be very gear-dependent. A lot of people found the barbarian to be pretty weak, but I think it’s because that class will get most of its power from the gear. Barbarian players will have to make the most of the character progression systems available throughout the game and respec abilities to have the right ones with the right gear.
The rogue feels alright at first, but it has abilities that are a chore to play around with like Inner Sight. I found ranged combat to be engaging, but some people may find it boring. I come from StarCraft, so I like kiting enemies while hitting them with dashing melee attacks to do more damage. The mix of ranged and melee abilities makes rogue — my class of choice in the first Diablo — a fun experience in its own right.
However, the sorcerer will likely be my favorite in this game, like in Diablo III. I like all the lightning spells except for Ball Lightning, so I’ll likely go with mostly lightning spells and replace the dud ones with Hydra and other fire spells. I can then name that sorceress some variant of ‘Azula’ as my first character in the full game.
EDIT(26MAR2023@10:30AM): I’ve finally played the other two classes — necromancer and druid.
I might go for necromancer instead of sorcerer because of blood surge and corpse explosion. This class is the god of clearing in this game, and I won’t be surprised if Blizzard ends up nerfing these abilities, but that will be at the risk of making necro a lot less fun. Also, you can make your necro look like they were abducted via time machine from a 2000s Hot Topic.
Meanwhile, druid basically lets you create your own Avatar character (the elemental kung fu one, not the blue space alien one). You can even customize your wardrobe to look like your druid is ripped out from the show. Seriously, they were likely rewatching Avatar and started adding whatever they saw into this class. Also, with the druid looking Polynesian, you can make yours look like Gibraltar from Apex Legends. However, this class didn’t feel that strong, so there’s that.
Character Progression System
This is where Blizzard should really pay attention and be diligent with. If this character progression system is even a tad bit wonky, it will turn players off from the game. With how enemies level scale in this game, if they’re unable to hit that right balance in character progression throughout the game, not only will it make certain parts of the game nigh impenetrable, but it will also make the player feel like they’re getting weaker.
I’m liking the skill tree, which visually looks more interesting than the stylized spreadsheet we got in Diablo III and even the slabs of stone in Diablo II with a lot of useless skills. Almost every ability you get with every character class is applicable, and it’s up to you to find a synergy between them so you can come up with a good build that lets you clear screens and plow through runs as efficiently as you possibly can.
Each character class has different weapons equipped for different abilities (except sorcerer). This adds more variety to looking for the best possible gear and makes you think more about which abilities you should use because you have a really good weapon equipped.
There are now a lot more ways to improve your gear other than just slotting gems or runes into them. You can level them up with the blacksmith with crafting materials gathered from items previously gathered, as well as improve them with essences taken by the occultist from legendary powers of past equipment.
Things I Did Not Like in the Diablo IV Beta
While it doesn’t elicit the same “sinking feeling” I got from Diablo III, I do get a sense that I won’t play Diablo IV for as long as I did DOOM Eternal and Elden Ring — both games I’ve played for over 300 hours each, which is a lot for me at this point in my life.
If you don’t like long cutscenes and dialogue, you’ll likely hit and hold the escape key quite a bit in this game. The cutscene on the early twist is a deliberate slow burn to twist the knife in before the relief from pulling it out to reveal that it’s actually a prop knife.
While they do flesh out the story a lot better compared to previous games, they’re also speed bumps in an action role-playing game that most people would typically play with their brains mostly turned off (which isn’t a bad thing). Then again, with how Diablo IV takes from ARPGs like Lost Ark and Path of Exile, maybe you’ll only have your brain be 50% off at most.
The first two games only had cutscenes in between acts, while the third game had more in-game cutscenes that were not that hard to skip. But in Diablo IV, even the NPC dialogue takes a bit more effort to skip — requiring one or two hits of the escape key instead of just a click or two. It’s good to have a story you can care about, but it’s also important to be able to get it out of the way when you just want to play the game.
While the character models do look good, perhaps it’s at the cost of having somewhat limited character customization. It’s not a good look when the mobile game Diablo Immortal actually has better character customization than the PC/console title.
Also, while it’s mostly a good thing that this game goes for a grittier look compared to its predecessor, I do find it pretty rough. At least it’s not as dark and depressing as Diablo III, but dark and depressing is a common theme in ARPGs. Path of Exile is famous for that, while other titles like Lost Ark go for a more edgy look. Diablo IV is also pretty edgy, but at least it’s not super dark all the time.
Below-Average User Interface
The weakest visual part of this game is the user interface. You have to take your time to read the information of each item to then understand whether the item you’re looking at is better or worse than whatever you have equipped. You need to know which has better stats, which has more stats, and which has stats you care for. This interface makes determining all of those things a hardship.
This game is all about bringing your numbers up, so to have an interface that doesn’t relay that information in a more comprehensible manner is a sad state of affairs, especially from the very company that innovated the ARPG genre.
It’s going to be even more important to look at your loot in this game as you’re going to take the good stuff to the occultist to extract a legendary power from them. Blizzard has to come up with a better way to filter through your inventory in order to know which items are worth keeping and which ones you’ll have the blacksmith turn into crafting materials in one go.
It also doesn’t help that the materials and stats are in one screen. Yes, I want to know what crafting materials I have. Yes, I want to know what my important stats are. But no, I don’t want them sharing one screen, and I have to tab through them, and the materials tab is usually the default. It’s annoying and makes me want to punch the wall in frustration every time.
They Removed the Map Overlay
As for the map, it’s nice to have a world map now. However, they turned the usual map overlay in previous games into a minimap. If this were a shooter, that’s the right thing to do. But since this is a top-down ARPG with precedent for a whole screen map overlay set for decades, this change is not only less than welcome, but also borderline insulting.
It also doesn’t help that whenever you have the world map open, you don’t get to see the status of your character. The only hint you’ll have of your character getting attacked while you’re in the world map screen is the sound, which isn’t enough as there may be times when you don’t have your headphones on and you’re looking through the world map only to have your hardcore character die due to your carelessness.
No, it doesn’t matter if it’s stupid to open the world map while there may be enemies around. You’re likely to do it every now and then, no matter how careful you are. That’s just how things go when you’re playing the game.
On the other hand, at least the map now shows where enemies are.
When the beta alone requires 85GB of storage, you know it’s Activision continuing to bleed into Blizzard. No longer will we have games like StarCraft II that can be run on an Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT (which I actually did 13 years ago).
It’s not as much of what I don’t like about it, but what a lot of hardcore ARPG fans don’t like about what they see so far in Diablo IV. Much of the complaints are in the nitty gritty details in systems like gearing, world bosses, and so on.
It’s Nitpicking Time
As ZiggyD pointed out in the video above, it’s clearly far from perfect. From how the game actually plays, it’s looking like a solid 7/10 sort of game — not bad, but not the best either. It’s going to be alright, but it may not be GOTY material, at least for me.
For instance, I do see how the abilities can make gameplay become stale over time as while the abilities included in the game so far are solid, I don’t see enough variety to inspire confidence. Then again, they likely made it like that to ensure balance across the board.
Once I find the one build that suits me best for each class, I’ll be sticking to it like I did with the archon wizard build I used in Diablo III.
I see what he meant with the world boss system. Yes, it’s supposed to be a challenge to kill the world boss. The one featured in the beta, Ashava the Pestilent, is indeed difficult. However, when there’s such a short time limit involved in killing a world boss, it’s no longer a matter of just solving the problem but also gathering as many players as possible to take it down in time.
This is actually a problem as there will be no other good time to fight that world boss other than the peak hour. When the clock strikes that hour, everyone will have to be there. Never mind whoever has work or other engagements at that time. If you can’t make time for this game like in World of Warcraft, then you’ll just miss out. Diablo isn’t supposed to be that kind of experience.
And there’s that problem with repetitive dungeons again. Dungeon design is something that has plagued RPGs forever, and this game is no different. For a franchise that innovated procedurally generated dungeons, this is bad news since this is the one thing that truly made Diablo what it became. Unfortunately, unless there’s a major update before launch, that’s just how it will be.
Most dungeons are either the generic depressing cave, the foundry full of molten metal you’ve seen before in Diablo III, or prisons slash torture chambers from Diablo II. Perhaps the ornate ancient ruins help mix things up, but they still feel a lot like Diablo III: Reaper of Souls with better lighting. Perhaps more quests and events in dungeons can add variety.
But the quests and events you don’t want are the ones with artificial barriers that make you do something tedious to access the next part. This game has that in spades, unfortunately. In some dungeons, it makes you get this key on one side and this key on the other side to unlock the two locks on the nuclear launch console in order to open the giant ancient gate up ahead so you can fight the boss inside.
The events with “kill X number of enemies within X time” are also annoying due to their repetitiveness, but at least they’re about killing things in the game. But the ones that have you unlock the two or three things to unlock the big gate are objectively bad. They’re bad before and they’re bad now; they’ve always been bad game design.
Then again, even with the Den of Evil type of dungeons, they’re not going to be okay if they’re endgame content, where the mobs can kill you. It’ll be the worst thing ever if they’re in hardcore mode at the highest difficulty. It’s good to have a challenge in a challenging difficulty, but it shouldn’t be unfair. It shouldn’t make you want to enact genocide when things go awry.
Is Diablo IV Worth Playing?
Buy this game only if you can check off all these six criteria:
- You’re a big Diablo fan.
- You’re a Blizzard loyalist.
- You play a lot of ARPGs.
- You have friends you can play with.
- You liked what you saw in the beta.
- You want to know how the story ends.
Personally, I check off three out of six in this list, so I hypothetically shouldn’t have given Blizzard my money for the full game. However, since I jumped the gun, I’ll have to deal with it and clock in at least 140 hours in Diablo IV (arbitrary 20 hours per $10) to make it somewhat worth my monetary expense.
The gameplay systems and overall feel shown in the beta is likely how it will come out in June, so hold off from purchasing this game if any part of that bothers you. This isn’t like Overwatch wherein you may come off empty after cheering for whatever team in the OWL only to find the game lacking a certain level of polish — something that Blizzard hasn’t had for the longest time.
But I think it has a lot more of it compared to Diablo III, which definitely felt like the developers were still trying to figure it out even after release. Perhaps the only two bad things I can find in this game’s launch are that it came over a year after Elden Ring and it’s the same time as the release of Street Fighter 6.
On the other hand, it does look like they’re still adding more updates to the game in response to the feedback from the beta. Of course, they’re filtering the hell out of the feedback, so not all the flaws will likely be fixed by launch day, but this is somewhat encouraging. Maybe it’ll be a game I’ll be really into for a good while.
It’ll be really embarrassing if it turns out that Diablo Immortal is actually better than Diablo IV. NetEase recently dunked on Blizzard with their nasty breakup, and it’ll be the cherry on top of the shit sundae if their work is better than the big bad publisher’s shadow of their glory days.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.
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