After finishing the last available mission in the Diablo IV beta, I sat back in my chair mindlessly looking at the map as if I were looking in my refrigerator hoping for food I could snack on to magically appear. I devoured everything. Like the various NPCs stricken by Lilith’s persuasive notions to embrace sin, I wanted more. More. More. The story enraptured me. The loot fell often and made me feel like a kid presented with random gifts for no particular occasion. I obsessed over finding a Rogue build that I enjoyed, and felt delighted with the smooth combat. I will say, the dungeon designs could be better, but first impressions matter, and by Inarius, did Diablo IV give a fantastic first impression.
I won’t talk much about the story. There isn’t much meat to chew, but the flavor made me want to consume the entire platter. The gist is: Lilith, the Mother of Hatred, is back and she wants to destroy humanity. What’s drawn me in is seeing the ways in which she seduces people – combining her divine nature with convincing, logical human ideas – the failed relationship dynamic between Lilith and Inarius, and where the rest of us mortals fit between all of it. Are we pawns in a bigger game? Are we part of the bigger game? Do we have decision-making power? Can we make our own destiny? Or are we simply helpless to the gods and their endless war? The story presents all of these questions and within Act 1 (the length of the demo), we’re teased with just enough answers to keep us wanting more.
I chose the Rogue as my class. I was intrigued by the combination of close-quarters combat and mid to long-range combat. At first, I wasn’t sure if the class fit my style since it felt too weak and a little squishy, but after unlocking skills, I thoroughly enjoyed my time. I played on Veteran, which is the hardest difficulty available during the beta, and the second hardest when Diablo IV launches. It was challenging, but not impossible even though the world levels up with you. The world leveling with you helped keep drop rates satisfying. You’re always going to find duds, but because backtracking to different areas seemed common, you weren’t stuck with constantly finding duds in areas you were over-leveled. When I felt my skill tree wasn’t providing the power I needed, weapons, armor, and jewelry dropped at times that felt perfect. I was never desperate for gear but I liked that gear wasn’t so abundant that I never had to think about what I was doing. One side quest dungeon boss forced me to rearrange my skill tree so I could have a chance. It’s an important balance to nail, and it seems Blizzard has done that.
It’s too early to tell if you’re able to build the kind of character that fits your playstyle. 25 levels didn’t provide enough points to determine if build diversity will be a problem, but based on what I saw, I’m concerned the skill trees don’t have enough variety. Shift, for example, was an early mechanic I tried to build upon. It’s not an official skill but it does have modifiers you can build upon like other skills. Shift allows you to pass through enemies and provides bonuses based on what modifier you equip. The problem was, there were only one, maybe two, viable uses for Shift, partially because the modifier wasn’t great, but there weren’t other useful synergies between gear and other skills on the tree. Meanwhile, I discovered far more possibilities with Vulnerable, which lets you deal 20% more damage to enemies. The Paragon (the tree that’s available after reaching level 50) tab wasn’t available so I couldn’t see more options, but it’s situations with something like Shift where I’m concerned the trees may lead us down strict build paths. You can build on certain styles like Subterfuge or Imbue, but it’s hard seeing a scenario where I could make reasonable use of both. It seems Blizzard is relying on you to find a character that fits your style, rather than using a character that might not fit your style and you have to figure out a build. It’s a strategy that’s good for novice players or players who don’t have the time to be creative, but it might end up too restrictive for veterans.
That’s not to say they don’t work, though. By level 20, I saw potential. Legendary weapons dropped and I could feel my brain light up with excitement about what I could do with gear and skills, and it feels even better when respecing your tree costs pennies, and you can do it at any time. There are lots of ways to redesign weapons to make them stronger – take modifiers from a legendary, stick it on a rare, upgrade specific gear, insert gems into gear with sockets, etc. Once you get to that point, if you’re designing a decent build, the level scaling doesn’t matter as much because the synergies you create between your gear and skill tree will begin to push ahead of the difficulty. That’s the sign of good design. And I imagine that if you’re creating great builds, you’ll need to either increase the world difficulty. Or if your build isn’t cutting it anymore, try something else.
I found many of my best weapons within side quest dungeons. Most of them give Aspects specific to classes that give passive abilities to your character. I also found lots of useful gear specific to the Rogue class in the one dungeon that was dedicated to the Rogue class. That could mean those dungeons are good for farming for your character. If that’s the case, that’s a great way to help new looter players understand where to go for specific gear. If not, I’m not sure why it’s designed like that if you don’t plan on playing lots of characters. Personally, I tend to master one character for a really long time. Perhaps it would be useful if I completed dungeons of other class Aspects, but I’m not sure I’d waste my time doing that unless I was desperate for experience. But perhaps that’s the point: options. I’m not mad at that.
One element of dungeons that could use improvement – and this didn’t bother me that much, but I did notice it – is dungeon design. I felt like I walked the same paths in a few dungeons over and over. It wasn’t a maze, or an illusionary trick, just uninteresting dungeon design. It didn’t make me stop wanting to traverse the dungeon, but it did diminish my interest in fighting through it. The combat is satisfying enough to play through it, but when nothing is happening, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Thankfully, the combat is as good as it is. It’s extremely responsive, works well on a controller, and it’s not hard to target specific enemies you want. It’s a little harder to target enemies when there are mobs, but it’s no more difficult when trying to do that on PC. In contrast, most of the boss battles weren’t that interesting. They all consist of the same ideas: they shoot something at you, it causes some area-of-effect damage. During the next phase, they shoot more of their primary attack at you, and they have a really powerful attack that you must dodge. Oh, and they’re also always faster than you so running is hardly a good option to avoid damage. It’s something that’s harder to deal with in the early game, but by the end of Act 1, it was easier to predict and dismantle bosses. However, one boss near the end of the game shook things up by introducing a one-hit KO mechanic as well as creating moving dangers on the field, forcing me to focus on positioning instead of just running in circles. I appreciated that.
If this feels like glowing praise for the Diablo IV beta, I hope it is. Diablo IV seems like it will have a lot of legs to it. My biggest concern is what happens by level 50. This doesn’t seem like a game where you finish the campaign and retry again at a greater difficulty. The fun here seems to be changing the difficulty as you go, finally reaching level 100, and then creating the build of your dreams to take on the biggest challenges at the highest difficulty. I’m not seeing anything that would keep players for that long, but judging by how polished this beta is, I have a feeling Blizzard has thought about that.
Blizzard is hosting one more open beta that anyone can participate in March 24-March 27. Diablo IV is coming to PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms June 6.
Anthony Shelton hosts and produces the Gaming Trend podcast and creates opinion videos occasionally on YouTube. He carries some of the strongest opinions among the staff and is generally harder to impress. But if impressed, he sings developers' praises just as loudly. He typically plays everything except horror and most RTS, but genres he gravitates towards are platformers, FPS, racing, roguelikes, fighting, and loot-based games. He has quit Twitter and uses Threads. Follow him at iamashelton.