Diablo 4 just wrapped up its early beta access and after losing about three days into the hellish world of Sanctuary, it’s safe to say that I’ll be losing so much more when the final release comes.
Everyone remembers just how hellish Diablo 3’s launch was. Instead of saving Sanctuary, gamers were greeted with the infamous “Error 37” for what felt like weeks. Network and technical issues scarred the first few months of the game. If Overwatch 2’s rocky debut was anything to go by, it was looking like the fourth installment in Blizzard’s demon-slaying franchise would suffer the same fate. But even with all that skepticism, I was still excited about Diablo 4.
No other franchise has me kicking back and killing waves upon waves of creatures that remain consistently satisfying even after more than a decade of playing. There are countless games that have been released over the years that show just how much the industry can evolve and yet, it’s the simple complexity of the Diablo games that always has me coming back every now and then.
Diablo 4’s early beta access ending its run was the only way it could’ve stopped me from logging in and writing these impressions. There’s no better way to say it. From what I’ve played so far, Diablo 4 is already one of my contenders for 2023’s Game of the Year. After just a couple of tweaks and polishing, this is shaping up to be the Diablo game I’ve always wanted.
Diablo 4 first impressions
When it comes to Diablo 3, I think about over-the-top hordes of monsters and nearly unlimited amounts of skill spamming. This culminates into an endgame that is equal parts a mixing pot of spectacle and incomprehensible action moments that just works. Seriously, try looking up any endgame content from Diablo 3 and try to pinpoint where the main character is in the middle of whatever it is that is happening. You won’t find a world-class narrative and voice acting will at times, sound like a high-school project but it all somehow still works. Killing demons is fun as hell and very few franchises do it in the way Diablo does.
The first thing you’ll notice about Diablo 4 is just how fantastic it looks. The return to a more dark and dreary art style really harkens back to the excellent atmosphere Diablo 2 had in which the third lost a bit up until the Reaper of Souls expansion. Textures are more detailed and realistic which breathes new life into the environments and character models. All this is helped by exceptional lightning.
The improvement in visual presentation also extends to its storytelling. In-game cutscenes are now more than just simple animations and slight camera movements. Diablo 4 is the most cinematic game in the franchise which makes the narrative all the more engaging. Lilith’s incredible introduction really sets her up as a worthy new big baddie. Seriously, she steals every moment she is in and I can’t wait to see more of her in the full release.
The voice acting seems to be more compelling across the board. I’ve always viewed Diablo 3’s characters as more of an exaggeration of their true selves which works well enough for the tone of the story. It didn’t take itself too seriously. This time, everything just feels like it has more weight to it, and props to the actors for giving their performances the gravitas it deserves. Even the town NPCs are more compelling to talk and listen to.
Diablo 4 still keeps the addicting moment-to-moment ARPG gameplay that has enchanted generations of players over the years. Combat looks, sounds, and feels absolutely fantastic. It’s responsive, dynamic, and filled with multiple build options to mess around with.
I played as a Sorcerer with a lightning and fire build. My primary attack was a bolt strike wherein I had to get up close and personal with enemies to hit multiple ones with devastating swings while my fire-based spells acted as my range options as I chip away at enemies’ health through sustained DPS. This basic early combo had me on my toes given that sorcerers aren’t exactly the best at tanking damage so I was a walking piece of glass that could shatter with just a few hits. The bad news for everyone is that I hit back so much harder.
I played Diablo 4 in a more active way compared to the usual braindead run through hordes of demons and spam special skills gameplay loop of Diablo 3. While I’m sure (and somewhat hope so) that 4’s endgame will be a bit similar, it was nice to at least think about the dangers of combat and what strategies I can do with my build crafting and on-the-spot decision-making during the beta build.
Loot was also given in a much more ideal manner. I felt like in the previous entry, I was being showered with power almost every other encounter. This time, I had a bit more time to use a piece of equipment until something else comes along to replace it. It’s a satisfying drop rate that made me feel like I really had to earn those shiny new gears and the power fantasy that comes after is a feeling that’s unmatched.
But again, all of this is based on a very small slice of the cake. While the first few hours are impressive on both a technical and thematic level, I’m curious to see how Blizzard can keep this consistent throughout what I hope to be a very long and beefy Diablo 4 experience.
I was able to run the beta with high settings comfortably on an ROG Flow X16 gaming laptop with the ROG XG Mobile EGPU. While the game ran relatively smoothly, especially in heavy combat which surprised me the most, there were occasional stutterings that usually start when loading in a new area.
Other than the occasional server disconnected message which happened to me a handful of times and the horror that was trying to even get into the game during day 1 of the early access (which I never got to do), things are looking much better than the previous entry’s launch.
The seamless co-op experience had me slaying through the levels with other players was a very cool thing to experience. Seeing how populated the hub areas were got me excited about all the social features Diablo 4 can have. Fighting through the randomly spawning world boss, or being close to death in a public area only for one player to suddenly swoop in and save the day felt really good to play. Diablo has always been one of the pinnacle examples of just how fun co-op can be and I’m glad to see it continue with the latest installment.
The early access may be done but the open beta will begin on March 24, 2023, at 9 am PDT. As I’m sitting here typing this, I’m already thinking about what class I should pick next given that the Druid and Necromancer will be unlocked to try. I can’t wait to jump back in Sanctuary and when it’s all said and done, it’s going to be such a long wait for the full release on June 6.