DIABLO IV: BETA - Our first impressions

Today (24/03/23) opens the Open Beta of Diablo IV, where everyone will be able to try out all the classes the game has to offer (five in total) and also tour the areas that make up the first act (Act I), both thematically and plot-wise. We had the opportunity to see the game during the Closed Beta and we bring you our first evaluations. For the record, I have to share that despite being a fan of Diablo (2) and having spent more hours than I'd like to say on Diablo 3, I was cautious to borderline pessimistic of what Diablo IV would bring. The announcements of "seamless open-world", mounts and various systems that were periodically announced to the public in Quarterly Updates didn't thrill me.

This changed dramatically after the Closed Beta Weekend. Blizzard managed to bring Diablo back to its roots, or rather, the aesthetic it had established. While we only managed to get a small taste of the overall package, I can say with relative certainty that Blizzard managed to achieve their goals and likely deliver something that is very close to what the public envisioned with Diablo 3, but never received. Let's break down the individual elements below.

The real bosses of the game make an early appearance.


Atmosphere (5/5): A short browse through the images in this article will convince you of the quality of work and the attention the developers have paid in rendering the world of Diablo. The story takes place after the events of Reaper of Souls where 9/10 of the population of Sanctuary have died after Malthael's actions. This void has led to an atmosphere of gloom, all structures are abandoned, people are trying to find a way out. This is reflected to an extent in the dialogue (more below), but mostly in the environments. Photorealistic shadows, dungeons that are practically mausoleums, every area we visited had elements of the recent Diablo II: Resurrected.

Music (4/5): At first I was disappointed by the background music. Having (always) expected to hear something close to Matt Uelmen's compositions, the musical sheet that coats the game is once again more instrumental. However, over time I realised that it fits perfectly in conveying the feeling of a ravaged world (I would argue that I could marginally discern some patterns that might well have suited Max Richter). Subtle, it serves the purpose of not tiring the player out. Somewhere in there I put the soundtrack from Diablo 1 and 2 back in and appreciated that in those games they tried to incorporate ambient sounds and aesthetics within the music tracks, a practice that may have been abandoned now with the advancement of technology. Good enough.

Stronghold quests are one of the most interesting events on the world map.

World (4/5): Gameplay is based on the open-world element that Blizzard is promoting. It's an achievement that they've managed to seamlessly transition from area to area with no loading times. This has been achieved in a number of ways-smart tricks (e.g. verticality between areas) without making navigation a tedious affair. Additionally, completionists will have enough goals since there are collectibles in the form of Lilith statues that give small bonuses to the character or the player's account (for all characters on the respective servers). A big plus is the existence of strongholds, areas that need to be freed from Lilith's influence, which have their own self-contained scenario structure and usually push players towards group-play. Despite the isolation and harshness of the world, each corner has a little story. Cities now seem much more alive with the interactions/dialogues between NPCs. I expect even more in the remaining acts.

Character customisation (5/5): Completely unimportant element for the editor, let alone in a game like Diablo where I've clung to the original lore before it was retconned as much as it is. However, I have to acknowledge the plethora of options players now have to shape their own digital avatar as they wish.

Glam-metal Manowar themed Barbarian. As it should be.

Room for improvement

Plot (3/5): I'll probably be one of the few people away from the internet consensus who will say I'm a bit disconnected from the plot. There are little details that make a difference, especially for someone looking to get everything from dialogue etc. in their first playthrough. The game's intro is one of the best scenes I can remember recently, reminiscent of good old Blizzard. There are awe-inspiring parts for those who have followed the lore (one look at the gallery will convince you). Still, I think Diablo and any isometric action-RPG should integrate its plot into the gameplay, not pause it to put in this or that cinematic, because it distracts from the player who is the action. For the latter there are the necessary breaks when e.g. visiting the main hub. I'll wait to see the plot development in the final product to judge, but for now I find it makes a transition that is far from my (subjective) expectation. The introduction of in-game cutscenes as I progress through each act or before a boss work more intrusively for me.

Dungeon design (3/5): It's probably unfair to discuss dungeons when we see them at relatively low levels, and that's because their layout usually gets more complicated as we get to higher levels (level scalability). However, I noticed that there were several dead-ends that led to backtracking. Although the environments were well thought out (more in the gallery) the building blocks that the RNG uses to form the dungeon are not enough to give a uniqueness to each area. They need work in my opinion on map generation, although they have given players an incentive to explore the dungeons (unlocking some passive skills that help the build of each character).

User Interface (2/5): Artistically thoughtful, it ultimately doesn't serve its purpose as it should. My constant complaint is how it behaves on the minimap which is always locked to the right (I prefer something like Diablo 2: Resurrected or Path of Exile which I can have translucent whenever I want in the center of the screen). Regardless of personal preference though, I found the UI to not serve the most efficient interaction with windows and buttons. The merchants have huge button-options and multiple tabs (which probably suit the consoles), the talent tree needs proper presentation (it's currently zoomed-in). Compounding this is the completely ill-placed dialogue window that is bottom-right locked and crashes into the inventory window if the latter is open. Top priority fix.

Great idea about world bosses, but further improvements are needed on who has access to them.

Character archetype balance (3/5): We come to the essence of the game, which is our digital avatars. As part of the closed beta I tested Barbarian (level 25) and Sorceress (level 9). The plan is to test Druid/Necromancer this weekend. The Barbarian now has the ability to carry 4 weapons which he benefits from with bonuses and stats, perhaps as an added incentive for being melee. His gameplay is a bit more strategic (especially in the bosses which now have a stagger meter) but I didn't find it very interesting. Usually melee classes are at a disadvantage as you have to get next to enemies to be able to hit them. This is also the case in D4. Sorceress rips from a distance, with very "snappy" controls that seem to respond to every command. At the opposite end, the Barbarian seems like an old mule that walks/weighs heavily whenever he manages to get going. Mind you, with the latter we tried 2-3 different builds of different approaches. It will be interesting to see Blizzard's plans on this. It will all depend on the following field.

Itemisation (3/5): Very few conclusions can be drawn from the beta, especially when the whole itemisation balance has to take into account the endgame. Judging by the fact that they have carried over almost all systems from Diablo 3 unchanged, it doesn't inspire confidence. The reason is because Diablo 3 suffered too much from the so-called power creep, something that was ended by e.g. Diablo 2 with different treatment of item systems and monster immunities. It may be too late to solve this issue (if it actually exists). It remains to be seen down the road.

The beta was quite generous with items. It remains to be seen if the itemization issues that were present in Diablo 3 will be resolved in the endgame.

Infrastructure-instancing (2/5): To be honest, this is the main goal of the beta: to improve all the infrastructures and see how they are conducive to system interaction. Great strides need to be made in how a player "locks in" to instances, e.g. world bosses. In this example, after attempting Ashava with a few wipes, I went back to town for necessary repairs. When I got back, instead of joining the group that had made significant progress, it put me in a completely different instance. There are a couple of examples of this (e.g. the system can be exploited to someone's advantage and they can drop Ashava 3-4 times in the margin given to them). We won't mention the extremely large queues of the first day of the beta, because they claim to have been solved. From our (cynical) point of view it's probably the only given in the first few days of the game's release.

Provisional conclusion

As I said I was restrained. Now I can say that I am looking forward to June with some impatience. Despite the many "objections" I have, there is plenty of time to resolve all the elements that might detract from the experience. After all, that is the goal of the beta: to identify and resolve any problems. The game is in a very good state and has huge potential if it builds on the systems it already has. We might be talking about the release of the year in the genre.

Go to discussion...

Παύλος Γεράνιος

A native of Hyperborea, Pavlos has long since experienced interaction with the screen. The first games he remembers playing were Gran Prix, Test Drive, Digger and Flight for DOS at a time when most people now had Windows... This didn't deter him and he loved the Mother Platform from the very first moment. He also dabbled in the barren fringe of consoles (always at friends' houses, never his own), but it was the PC that kept him going. A lover of quality titles from all genres, he believes how the story and what the game as a medium wants to say is the main thing, not the label. There are always the exceptions of course...

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