The Diablo 4 closed and open betas have run their course, and we must admit, we're fairly impressed. Boasting a sizable amount of content alongside a level cap of 25, the beta provided the perfect opportunity to see how Blizzard's upcoming action RPG is coming together. For the sake of clarity, we had already played much of what was present in the beta via a limited preview build last year — and it was great to see just how far the project has progressed.
That previous build was very much a work in progress, complete with placeholder dialogue and developer workarounds for parts of the adventure that simply didn't exist yet. But even with those drawbacks, we still enjoyed our early trip to the world of Sanctuary, and the potential was clear to see.
With the beta, much of that potential seemed realised. We're looking at an evolution of the Diablo formula here — an ambitious implementation of a massive open world map and the introduction of an always online, shared experience. That latter point is something that we're not totally sold on, but it does feel like the developer is finally able to capitalise on the richness of Sanctuary by opening it up to freeform exploration.
In this article, we're going to run through our main takeaways from the beta, and what we're now expecting from the full release — which is still targeting the 6th June.
A Step Up in Storytelling?
Diablo 4 still has a main campaign that tells a suitably dramatic story, but it's now spread across the aforementioned map, broken up by loads of side quests and optional adventuring. The beta featured a large chunk of Act I, and it's abundantly clear that Blizzard has poured a lot of resources into in-game cutscenes.
Simply put, this is the most cinematic the series has ever been. A good thing from a storytelling perspective, but we did find ourselves skipping through longwinded dialogue here and there. Perhaps it's because we knew that we were in a time-limited beta, but it's always been difficult to fully invest in a Diablo narrative — especially when there's such a heavy focus on the addictive action.
We're also a bit worried that the plot will quickly devolve into a very predictable series of events. In the beta, our eyes rolled when supporting character Nyrelle — a talented but naïve young woman — decided on finishing her mother's clearly corrupted plans to commune with a demonic entity. Always a good idea!
The thing is, we could stomach the predictable plot points in Diablo 3 because they were over so fast. But if Diablo 4's keen on pushing a more involved story, then it's got to keep us engaged with intriguing twists and likeable characters. Anything less, and we might be reaching for that skip button...
A Better Sense of Adventure
We've already touched on this, but there's an enjoyable sense of adventure to Diablo 4 — arguably something that was missing in its predecessors. Your character's a wanderer, and you certainly feel like one when you're trudging over snowdrifts and wading through swamps. The world is still broken down into what are effectively zones, but they're now seamlessly connected to one another, with towns and villages peppered in between.
Diablo 4's open world manages to feel both freeing and quite oppressive. Tracking down an elusive objective marker as you battle through hordes of monsters makes for some fun journeys, especially since the map itself is only revealed as you progress. Throw in optional dungeons and side quests, and it starts to feel a bit like an isometric Skyrim; there's always something that's trying to tempt you from the beaten path, and so it's all too easy to get sidetracked for hours on end in an impressively organic fashion.
Deliberations Over Dungeons
Blizzard says that Diablo 4 is absolutely stuffed with dungeons, and based on the beta, we believe it. However, there is a concern that these handcrafted delves will start to get a bit... tedious in the full release.
Past Diablo titles have built their endgames around dynamic dungeons — locations where your character's build will be put to the test, rewarding you with powerful equipment upon completion. And so actually playing through them needs to be engaging, even when you're on your tenth run of the day.
In Diablo 4, dungeons seem to be rather static. The same enemies, the same layout, the same objectives. Now, again, there are supposed to be over 100 dungeons in the finished product, but even in the beta, we were starting to notice the copy and paste nature of these locations. This was especially true of the 'cellars' — one-room dungeons that barely seemed worth the effort of going through a loading screen.
Taking the game's open world structure into consideration, it's possible that our dungeon concerns are premature; it does feel like Diablo 4 is built to encourage exploration, instead of running through the same environments over and over again. But for hardcore players, we do wonder whether the dungeon design will be a sticking point.
The Art Direction Is Immaculate
The art direction and the sheer amount of detail in Diablo 4 is seriously impressive. From the atmospheric lighting and painstakingly made assets to the mouth-watering weapon and armour equipment designs, this is absolute peak Diablo.
Blizzard has basically crafted a fully 3D world that boasts a level of detail you'd find in a AAA release... and then it's zoomed the camera out. The result is an almost diorama-like presentation, where zooming the camera back in reveals all kinds of tiny visual touches. It's a truly gorgeous game at times — despite the decay and disrepair — and we're very excited to see more of what Sanctuary has to offer.
Always and Perhaps Unnecessarily Online
We're not sure how to feel about Diablo 4's shared world. Yes, you can play the whole game solo if you want, but in the beta, that didn't stop you from running into other players, both in towns and out in the wild. Diablo's a solemn experience at its core — it's always been about your lonely stand against the forces of hell — and so there's something oddly distracting about stumbling across another all-powerful adventurer.
Now look, it's not like Diablo 4 is overcrowded or anything. These chance meetings appear to be fairly rare, and thankfully, you don't encounter other players in dungeons, where they could potentially speed ahead and kill the boss before you're anywhere close (we're looking at you, The Elder Scrolls Online).
But still, we're left wondering why we have to see other players going about their business in a Diablo game. It doesn't really make Sanctuary feel more alive (if anything, seeing other players dart around actually damages immersion), and let's face it, if we're going to play co-op, chances are that we'll be inviting friends.
You do have world events to think about, we suppose. The beta featured a range of shared-space activities that encouraged players to work together in order to defeat strong enemies or complete challenges. That kind of stuff can be cool, but the cynical side of us fully expects hardcore players to demolish these events before anyone else gets a shot.
Character Progression Concerns
It's impossible to judge a game's character balance on a beta, but we do feel as though some adjustments will have to be made in the final build. Just to recap, the beta featured all five playable classes: the Barbarian, Sorcerer / Sorceress, Rogue, Necromancer, and Druid.
If you spent time with two or three different classes, then you'll have probably realised that some have a much easier time of slaying demons than others — at least initially. More specifically, we found the Sorcerer and Necromancer to be incredibly straightforward and powerful right from the word go, while melee-based classes like the Barbarian and Druid could seriously struggle against certain types of enemies.
There's a disconnect in how Diablo 4's combat plays out between classes, and in the beta, the gap was so extreme that your choice of character could paint your experience in a completely different light. In short, it feels like close quarters combatants are at a near constant disadvantage — at least until you're stacked with legendary items.
Fortunately, the act of mowing down hordes from hell feels great at its core thanks to chunky animations and sound effects, but ideally, levelling up certain classes should never feel like a slog.
And then there are the skill trees, which, while well presented and easy to understand, can come across as a little undercooked at times. In the beta, some skills — across all of the classes we played — simply rose well above others, making specific character builds feel underwhelming almost immediately. Balance is never easy in a game with multiple characters (and it's even harder with branching skill trees), but for the sake of build diversity, Diablo 4's full release is going to have to smooth things out.
This point becomes even more important when you start to consider legendary weapons and armour, and the unique effects that they bestow. In a similar way to how Diablo 3 worked, legendaries look like they're going to be crucial in creating effective character builds — and that's a slippery slope.
The biggest criticism of this kind of system is that your style of play is heavily dictated by whatever legendaries you happen to find, which goes against the idea of forging your own path, relying and building upon the skills that you enjoy using. Hitting the beta's max level revealed signs of this strategy, and we can't see it going down particularly well with some players — not when it was already a point of contention in the previous game.
So, we enjoyed our time with the Diablo 4 beta, but it has raised some questions and concerns ahead of the action RPG's June launch. Obviously, the finished game could well laugh in the face of our potential criticisms — and we're hoping that it does — but what did you think of the beta? Gear up in the comments section below.
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I think that when legendaries wouldn't be that important that they are kind of useless.
The balance at lower levels isn't great but according to Blizzard is the balance made for the endgame. Barbararian becomes much stronger btw after lvl 20.
After reading about "Character Progression Concerns" I feel like visiting a reddit's sub.
It is useless to judge the balance until the full release and endgame - that is the place where all the core players will spend 90% of their time. All classes are viable and can progress through the main story from the very beginning and till the very end.
I guess in a lot of ways Diablo 4 in a couple of years could be quite different to the game we’ll be playing in a few months, as they will inevitably rebalance things in response to feedback. As long as the fundamentals work I am happy, you’ll be waiting 8-9 years for it to be “finished”!
I feel like I will be playing this off and on for years.
I played the beta just to get the level 20 wolf pup, and I will play the game no doubt, but I was not overly impressed with it. The unnecessary occasional lag in the world due to being always online, as well as the mundane graphics (I must be off as on consoles at least it does not look like a current gen game to me), had me feeling like a rehashed diablo 3. The story does seem to be a little more fleshed out, but I was skipping it to hit level 20 before the beta ended.
All in all, a solid game, but not at the top of my wishlist.
Don’t be knockin’ ESO! I’ll have none of that 💩 😃
I had a great time with the beta, playing druid and rogue (to 17 and 21). I had similar concerns about early balance - but we do need to remember that Diablo end game is typically where it's at so as long as there's better balance later on - all good. Definitely starting with a rogue after my beta experience, all my friends appear to be going for necromancer even though they're convinced it will get hit early with the nerf bat. Even early on there are some amazing melee/ranged combos available to the rogue and it has really strong cc too.
I can't wait for this game. Loved Diablo 3 and I'm sure I will love this too!
Wonder if it is the last entry on PlayStation??
I am sure the internet will have this figured out after I’m done with SFVI and FFXVI around December 😅 j/k aside June is savage
Probably. Although based on Blizzard’s release schedule we won’t get another one until 2034 at the earliest anyway.
The always online crap is he only thing I hate about Diablo 4. That is the reason why I love D3 on consoles. I am not bound to a stupid server when I want to play single player.
But this is the way with all Blizzard games now. They ruined WoW, Overwatch, now Diablo (at least for me) and I am glad that they do not even think of making StarCraft 3.
Let's not forget the WarCraft 3 Reforged fiasco.
Imagine you grind for some nice loot and you have a connection spike on hardcore? Precious!
I hope their server rooms cooling fails ... it will be hilarious
Its a beta..i hope it turns out to be awesome (i'm buying it regardless) and silences the nay sayers who probably wont buy it anyway..
The game looks and plays really well, but I'm concerned that they're basically going the Lost Ark Online way. Having bosses and events that you cannot solo is silly, it's basically forcing you to play online. If I wanted a Blizzard MMO I would play WoW.
@Tomato_Goose I agree, it's too early to be concerned about that bit
Played up to lvl 11 with Necro and had quite a blast.
I rolled with the necromancer and killed everything in sight before any of my co-op melee class mates even got a sniff of the enemies. Proper class balancing needs to be a priority.
will wait till its on GP few month after release with a patch or two.
Looking forward to it, but day1 is between Zelda and FF, assuming they release good diablo loses out.
I installed it, fired it up, saw there was a 4+ hour queue, deleted it, and played something else - because there was no way I was tying up my console to sit in a lobby waiting.
But then, I never played Diablo. I was into other things back when it had its heyday, so I never got into any of the series. But if it's always online AND you're forced to interact with others, that's enough to tell me I'll be skipping this one, too.
Diablo 3 was a turd at launch. It also had the worst thing ever seen in a video game: real money auction house. And it's a Blizzard-Activision game created with another turd, bobby kotick, as the CEO. There is absolutely no way they won't force you to get your credit card to overheat if you want to enjoy endgame content.
@Zuljaras though I don’t wish bad upon them, the always online thing was news to me. Haven’t been following the production of this game at all, but it’s weighing on my decision to get it. Overall loved the beta and agree with a lot of what the article mentions. Diablo 3 gave me hours upon hours of fun.
Plenty of other games to play anyway if this doesn’t end up on my machine.
@Athrum didn’t even think of the idea of aspects of this game only beatable if teaming up. Don’t care for forced multi player bummer
I rolled with a Druid for the 6 hours I played and loved every minute. This is Diablo at it's most distilled and efficient. From inventory management to leveling-up; everything was streamlined. At the end of the day we're playing Ultra-Gauntlet, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
31 hours in. Love it. Can’t wait to play the full version and obsess over maxing out every class.
Wha exactly is the draw of games that revolve around combat but don’t require any skill to perform that combat? Click click click click.
@Rhaoulos yes diablo 3 was quite awful at launch...on the pc..but on the ps4 it was awesome from day 1. The pc version was a lot better after they removed the auction house and your end game comments is a load of rubbish. They charged you for a expansion pack on the pc and bundled it for free on the consoles. The season ladder was a much welcomed addition again for free with free content etc and i dont ever recall having to pay for anything at all once the auction house was removed.
@WhiteTrashGuy aahh gauntlet. I wish they would do a gauntlet game and not like that little thing that was released on the consoles as that was not gauntlet. A proper no thrills monster masher is really needed..
The beta was fine. Not overly impressive or disappointing. Once it was over I fired 3 back up on the Switch. That game is fantastic.
@WhiteTrashGuy Yeah, bring back "Gauntlet: Dark Legacy"!
Wonder who owns Midway Games these days?
Agreed with all points, well balanced commentary there guys. I also loved the beta and am pretty much sold, just going to wait a month or so after launch to assess the reality...
Since enemies level to you I never really felt powerful. always like I had to struggle. Not that fun.
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