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Monday, April 17, 2023

‘Diablo IV’ Open Beta Thoughts – Previewing the World, the Story, and the Franchise’s Evolution

So Diablo IV had its open beta a few weeks ago. Like many other folks, I decided to partake in the slaughter of the hordes of hell and walked away with some thoughts.

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a proper Diablo release. The disappointing mobile game Immortal released last year and Diablo III released all the way back in 2012, so a lot is riding on this new entry to pull players back and keep them hooked for years to come. 

Here are some thoughts on the Diablo IV open beta…

Diablo is evolving with the times… for better and worse.

Diablo itself has never really existed in an age of battle passes and microtransactions. Sure there was the infamous auction house in Diablo III that was eventually removed, but for the most part players have had to rely on seasons and massive expansions to keep coming back for more. Coming up on the heels of its 11th anniversary, I still find myself going back to the third game’s Reaper of Souls expansion to grind out new loot and paragon levels in the fantastic Adventure mode. I think by this point I’ve logged well over 1,000 hours, not even counting the time I’ve played on other consoles such as the Switch. Point being, Diablo III has kept me hooked for well over 11 years without the need for constant live-service elements.

Diablo IV brings in battle passes and a constant need for an internet connection for it to be playable. Though PC players are no strangers to this, it’s the first time the internet mandate has been made for consoles; and if the recent launch of Overwatch 2 is anything to go by, we can probably expect a plethora of issues at launch. Hell, in my brief time with the beta I came across such severe lag that my character started rubber banding across the entire environment despite me having the best internet connection offered in Southern California.

Blizzard has gone on to say that Battle Passes in Diablo IV will only offer cosmetics while regular story content drops will be available for all players. After the fiasco that was Immortal I’m honestly not holding my breath. I don’t see how players can be enticed to buy regular battle passes for a game that already costs $69.99 to play. If the game was free-to-play like Overwatch 2,  maybe I could understand, but as it stands there’s too many unknowns other than knowing the game will be asking for my money at some point.

On the other side of the coin, regular updates could prevent long content droughts that have plagued Diablo games in the past before expansions dropped.

Enough about live-services and battle passes. Tell us about the game already!

I played the beta on my PS5, and one thing is clear from the jump: this game is borrowing a lot more from Diablo II than Diablo III. Characters feel far more weighty than the lightweight speed machines of the previous game. With this change, combat feels more methodical like it did in Diablo II, which is a very good thing. In the previous game, I found myself speeding through Hard and the first few levels of Torment difficulty whereas in Diablo IV I found myself having to think about when to use my skills and proper attack timing to survive on the beta’s harder difficulty. A great addition is in the form of more robust character customization. Unlike the previous game where you were tied to a look based on your class/gender, Diablo IV allows you to edit your character once you choose your class. Having a Barbarian that I crafted myself, I felt a far deeper connection to my character than ever before.

Inspiration from Diablo II not only comes through in the combat and gameplay design but in the art style as well. Diablo IV brings back the dark gothic look that was sorely missed in the third game. While that game was bright and colorful and felt at times like an ARPG spin-off of Warcraft, Diablo IV brings back the dark blood-covered dungeon designs of the second game while applying it to an open world formula. Probably the biggest change in gameplay is that the entire game takes place on one map with tons of randomly generated dungeons, which means no more using portals to transport to different hub areas anymore. It’s a very welcome and ambitious change. While only a small area was available in the beta, players were given a glimpse of the full map which appears to be massive. For the first time ever I’m excited to explore a Diablo game’s world.

New gameplay adjustments have also been applied to the health potion and dodge mechanics. Diablo III had traditional health potion pickups where you could just stockpile an enormous amount and go about your merry way. This was updated eventually to turn the health potions into a cooldown ability and while sometimes a hindrance, health pickups were constantly being dropped from enemies to make up for it. In Diablo IV the health potion now has 4 charges max and enemies drop more charges. This is a smart design choice because it allows players to have a reliable way of healing but not an infinite resource of it and encourages exploration and aggression to refill charges. I’m a big fan of this change and it seems like Blizzard has finally solved the health potion problem that has been plaguing this series for years.

A change I’m not a fan of, however, is the new dodge mechanic. When Diablo III was ported to consoles, a new dodge was added to the game that allowed players to quickly move directions with the flick of the right thumbstick. Now the dodge is mapped to the circle button on PS5 and has a cooldown after every use. It feels needlessly clunky and I wish there was a way to map it to the right stick. As for the dodge cooldown, I’m torn. On one hand, I loved how fast and fluid it made combat feel in the third game but I get how that wouldn’t fit into the combat design of the fourth game. I almost wish they went the Diablo II route and took away the dodge button entirely.

Diablo IV features a robust skill tree as compared to the rune equipping system of the previous game. When skills are unlocked, you’re able to assign them to any button you please (except the dodge button) and it seems like player builds are about to have a lot more freedom than ever before. A welcome return to form. One worrying aspect is the UI, especially on consoles. The previous game featured a great console port replacing PC menus with radial menus designed for controls. Unfortunately the same can’t be said here as it seems the same menus from PC are here, virtual mouse and all. It’s not all roses but I’m willing to accept this as it didn’t entirely ruin my gameplay experience.

Final thoughts?

I liked my time with Diablo IV’s beta. While the gameplay and art direction are huge standouts and improvements from the previous game, the monetization and always online requirement are something I’m going to have to warm up to. With a fully explorable world, intense story, and large content plan, I can’t wait to lose hours and hours of my life to Diablo IV.

Diablo IV is currently set for a June 6 release.

The post ‘Diablo IV’ Open Beta Thoughts – Previewing the World, the Story, and the Franchise’s Evolution appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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