Diablo IV - Beta Preview
There is no doubt, a new Diablo game is a big deal. A big deal in a way that very few franchises can lay claim to. It is one of the most revered and loved IPs in gaming history and every new release has been a watershed moment, for both good and bad reasons. Now, as we approach the release of Diablo IV, I had a chance to jump in with thousands of others to experience the first 25 levels and to see if Blizzard can strike gold once again.
Initially, the biggest challenge for the beta was something that felt all too familiar to long-time Diablo fans: server queues. As I logged in, I was greeted with a 75-minute wait time, which then doubled after the game crashed with 15 minutes to go. I was getting flashbacks to the launch of Diablo 3, with images of stuttering gameplay and laggy action flashing into my brain. Thankfully though, once I got my foot in the door, things were pretty smooth and the team had sorted all the queues by day 2 of the beta, so there were no further issues of that nature for the remainder of my time. In all honesty, though, this is exactly what this Beta period is for, stress-testing servers in a way that only the real world can, so hopefully Blizzard uses this to make sure the official launch is as smooth as possible.
Once in the game, I was greeted by the biggest problem for any Diablo player, what class to choose. In the beta, I had access to three of the final five classes and being a magic-wielding fan throughout my entire history with the franchise, I had to go with the Sorceress. It was then I got the traditional Blizzard cutscene, setting up the story and launching me into the world of Sanctuary. What was immediately apparent however was the focus on the narrative tale. In the past, the Diablo games have had lots and lots of lore, but a fairly basic campaign story. That seems to have changed here, with what feels like a much stronger focus on telling an engaging and entertaining tale about the creators of Sanctuary and their polar opposite desires for how it tackles the ongoing war between heaven and hell while being stuck in the middle of the hostilities.
Gameplay wise, I found that Diablo IV seems to sit somewhere between D2 and D3. The more simplified skill system of Diablo 3 has been replaced with a much more flexible skill tree that allows players to customise their path to power more than has ever been possible in the franchise. Skills are grouped in lots of 5 and by spending a few skill points in each group, I could unlock the next lot of skills. I was never locked into my choices either, with the ability to completely respec at any time I chose. The flexibility was wonderfully refreshing and it feels like Blizzard wants players to really muck around, try out all the skills and find what works for them. This may be a personal thing for sure, but I like this much more than the fairly linear skill progression of Diablo 3
The moment-to-moment is both familiar and evergreen. There is no mistaking that this is a Diablo game, the mouse-destroying heritage is there in every encounter. That being said there are some nice changes that help to liven things up. The first is the new dodge button. By pressing the spacebar, players can do a quick dodge maneuver, perfect for stepping out of the way of a big attack from a boss. It is on a cooldown however, so it isn’t something that can just be spammed constantly, so using it at the right time is essential. There are also a host of new elements that add to the existing formula in exciting ways like some crazy new shrines, a refined town portal system and a much more detailed and useful map and journal that make tracking the myriad of quests, side quests and dungeons a breeze.
But perhaps the biggest change to the Diablo formula is that Diablo IV is an open, persistently online world that will see players running around huge regions with each other, interacting as much or as little with other players as they want. Think about the different worlds in Destiny and you will have a good idea of how it works. I actually had a lot of fun with this, it is how I like multiplayer in this sort of game to work, with the ability to partake in as little or as much co-op shenanigans as I desire. The world events in particular were a lot of fun, with players congregating around them to get some choice loot and then heading their separate ways once the deed was done. Everything can be tackled in a group or on your own so all players should be catered to nicely.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. There are some things that obviously need a little work before release, but nothing that should be worrying fans. There were some definite instances of lag, some glitchy missions and the occasional hard crash in my time with the beta. Things that players should expect with still approximately three months until release. The issues did get in the way a few times but I will certainly be giving Blizzard the benefit of the doubt and say that I am almost positive they will be fixed before we are playing the full version.
There is actually quite a lot to talk about with Diablo IV but I am going to leave it there. I don’t want to spoil too much of the fun as the game’s beta opens up to everyone this weekend. I will just finish off by saying, what I have played so far leads me to believe that Blizzard is onto another addictive winner and a much-needed hit after a few rough years. Diablo IV is shaping up to be both familiar to existing fans, but still quite the significant upgrade with a host of improvements and refinements to the classic formula. I was a little worried about Diablo IV, not quite believing that it would be as good as the past entries, but that concern seems to have been misplaced because after playing it, I feel it is going to be a certified hit when it reaches our systems in a few months. It looks to me that Blizzard, at least this part of Blizzard, will get their much-needed win and we will get another great entry in this classic franchise.