I just spent a massive amount of hours in the Diablo 4 Beta and I cannot stop thinking about it. So here is my attempt to put things into word in me Diablo 4 Beta Review.
First a small story and a bit about my gaming tastes
I think this is important, so you can consider if my opinion on a game will be similar to yours. If you think this is unimportant, you can just skip it.
I do not normally play in betas or PTR servers. It is simply not my jam. But I make an exception when it comes to Diablo betas and that history goes back to the Diablo 2 Beta. I randomly got a key in my inbox and was super stocked.
As I remember it, you could only go as far as Tristram and save Cain in the D2 Beta, so it was fairly limited. But oh man it was great. Since then I have been a massive Diablo fan and have played all the games religiously.
Diablo 2, Lord of Destruction and D2R
Played it as a kid and had no idea what I was doing. No guides, no Runewords and no nothing. In spite of that, I got a Sorc to lvl 89 with Frozen Orb (which has since been my favourite skill in any game). When Lord of Destruction came, out guides and the internet was starting to become a real thing. I started multiboxing and trading… And the rest is history. I thoroughly enjoyed D2R and the various updates that came with that. But I am not a D2 nostalgic, in the way that I just want D4 to be D2 with a reskin.
- Love the itemization, but also loathe it. Too many crap items no one is going to use. Builds use the same items over and over again.
- Like the levelling experience and going through the story multiple times. Great story!
- Hate potions, Charms and inventory management
- Love runewords
- The grind is maybe 30-40% too long before “end game”. Got my first Enigma in D2R and that was only because I was extremely lucky. Builds game online too late in the process
- Trading is fun, but mainly because without trading putting a build together is just so damn hard.
Played it on release and found it… lackluster. History was pretty poor and itemization was horrible. Remember grinding the pony level with a static charge hack to get any items. Couple that with the real money auction house and yeah, that went bad. I think the game has since redeemed itself very much. Looking back I have played in more than 10 seasons of D3 and have a max level for each character in various end-game builds.
- While Adventure mode was a nice way to skip the horrible story, it was also a lacklustre bandaid. The game quickly became random dungeons with random stuff over and over again. Rinse, repeat.
- Builds came online too early in the process. From there on it is just a matter of boosting stats and things become boring.
- Like the potion system better than D2, but not a big fan of health globes all over the place
- Itemization is okay, but not great. You can quickly get the gear you need for a build and after that, it is all about getting finding the same items with slightly better stats. Not very exciting.
- While most systems in D3 were great, it quickly became system on top of systems on top of systems. The scaling was insane and power spikes were a real deal. Way too many multipliers on top of multipliers.
- Paragon levels was a big miss and never really worked. Just more stats.
Ouch. Behind the ridiculous pay-to-win, I think might be a good game hidden away. But just… So much pay to play and pay to win!
My Diablo 4 Beta Experience
Just a quick summary of what I did in the D4 Beta. I went in pretty blind, so I alot of things surprised me.
- Played the Sorceress to level 20 on World Tier 2. Absolutely wrecked the game, found unique items that worked well together and everything was a cakewalk. Mostly played a frost build. Was part in a World Boss Ashava run.
- Played the Barbarian to level 15 on World Tier 2. It was hard and rough, just like I love it. Died on my second Dungeon Boss. Got smacked by a random spawn Butcher. Played various builds and changed it up when I found unique items.
- Toyed a bit with the Rogue and looked at the skill tree.
Diablo 4 Beta Review: The Things I Really Loved
The feeling and story
While the core gameplay is super important to me, what is more important is the feeling and story of the game.
As I said earlier, I found D3 lacking in this area for multiple reasons. I am happy to say that, at least for the prologue and Act 1, D4 seems to be much closer to D2 in storytelling and feeling. Maybe even better? Time will tell.
The prologue was sweet and the new “Cain” character has… well a lot more character really! Lillith seems cool as a villian and Inarius is a bad-good-guy if I ever saw one. Lightning is good and sounds of combat is spot on.
While the music was okay, it was not something I noticed as amazing.
Most of the quests were okay. Some were a bit daft and MMO-like. As in, walk over here and use an emote (sigh…). But other than that I was pretty engaged and the voice work was okay to great.
Loads of cutscenes and ohh boy was that a great feeling. Cutscenes were bar none the best thing of D2 and pretty bad in D3. They are back in great form in D4.
The Skill tree seems super good (at least for levelling)
The first thing that struck me in the game was the skill tree. Now, I intentionally had not done any research prior to the beta.
The skill tree works as a hybrid between D2 and D3.
In D3 you just got specific skills at specific levels. So you had to be a level 5 wizard to get Arcane Orb. At certain levels, you would unlock “Runes” for skills, that changed how they worked. So you had to be a level 55 Wizard to unlock the Frozen Orb rune, to be able to cast the Arcane Orb as Frozen Orb instead. There was nothing you could do about it, that was how it was. On top of that, you had passives, where you had to select passive buffs. But no skill tree.
In D2, you had the branching skill tree where you had to put points into a skill to get access to that skill (or have an item that give +points into a skill). You could put 20 points (!) into a skill in order to raise the damage or stats of the skill. On top of that, you had other active skills that passively would raise that skills damage or stats. It would not be abnormal to max 3 or more skills, in order to use one primary damage skill. That is a lot of levels where nothing new really happens…
In D4 we have a hybrid between these two systems. A system that I thoroughly enjoyed while playing. It works like this:
You get 1 skill point for each level (unlikely that will happen all the way to level 100. Maybe stopping when the paragon starts at 50?). At level two you can pick between the basic damage skills for your class.
For my Sorcerer that meant picking between:
- Frost Bolt
- Fire Bolt
- Arc Lash
Once you have a skill point in a skill you can use that skill. If you do not have a skill point (or an item giving you + to that skill), you cannot use that skill and will not get it. You can pick all of the Basic skills if you really wanted to (but that would not really make sense).
In each skill, you can put in 5 points as a max. This will raise the damage and stats of the skill. I think 5 is a much sweeter spot to be that instead of 20 like D2.
Beyond each skill is an upgrade you can pick. After that upgrade you can pick between two potential upgrades, but you cannot pick them both.
Once you have added 2 skill points into this “Basic Cluster” you will unlock the “Core Cluster”. In the Core Cluster for the Sorceress I could pick between:
- Chain Lightning
- Charged Bolts
- Frozen Orb
- Ice Shards
- Two different “passive” skills
The same pattern repeated, with one upgrade for each active skill and a branching upgrade from there where you can pick between two options.
When you have allocated 6 points, 11 points, and 16 points into the tree, you unlock a unique cluster for you class. At 23 points you get the “Ultimate cluster” and at 33 points you get the Final Cluster with sweet passives. You can skip clusters if you want to.
Long story short:
At level 3 I was casting Frozen Orb and felt like the levelling experience was great from there on out.
At multiple stages, I removed points from skills and put them into other skills. This had me testing out all of the different skills and upgrades until I found a sweet build.
This build changed multiple times, as I found unique items that boosted certain skills or boosted damage against enemies with certain conditions.
The skill bar of max 6 active skills is back
If you are familiar with the skill bar of D3, it will look much the same in D4.
In D2 you could have all the active skills you wanted, but it was a nightmare to activate the once you needed to use. It got better in D2R, but still super janky.
In D3 it was solved by having a cap on how many active skills you had available. This is the same in D4 and it hits a sweet spot for me. You have to make some choices here, as only 6 things can be on the bar at once. You could of course swap in and out outside fighting.
Itemization looks closer to D3 than D2
So, for some this will be a deal breaker. Itemization looks much closer to D3 than D2.
At level 20 I had found or made 9 Unique items. At least half of them had a serious impact on how I wanted to use my skills in the skill tree. It had me feeling like the items mattered and that my decisions in the skill tree mattered.
I could likely have played the same character to level 20 and found different items that would have led me to use a vastly different array of skills.
Items drop like in D3. That means it is personal loot (at least the unique) and there will be a much, much higher chance that it will be specific loot for your class (“Smart Loot”). On my sorceress, I also found items that matched the elemental type I was using. That could be a coincidence, as I did not feel like the same thing of getting items for active skills happened on my Barbarian.
The game seems very well optimized
So this was a beta, so I expected to play a beta version of the game, and not some polished finished product. Other than a queue time at launch (if you did not see that coming, you are new to Blizzard games), I had no bugs, glitches or anything.
My game ran above 100 frames per second with everything maxed. Granted, it is a new machine but it looks like the game will play great on even older gear. This a breath of fresh air coming from a slew of poorly PC optimized AAA titles.
Various elements I noticed and that I really liked:
- Inventory is very similar to D3. No janky juggling of items like in D2 and that is better in my book.
- I am not much for melee characters, but the Barbarian felt much more crunchy than melee in previous Diablo games.
- The barbarian is wielding 4 weapons at once (one 2-handed slashing, one 2-handed bludgeoning and two one-handed weapons). For each skill, you can pick what weapon he is attacking with and some skills are locked to specific weapon. While slightly funky and FF7 like, it was actually pretty cool!
- The potion system is an evolved form of the D3 one. You start out with 4 charges for your potion. Bosses and mops can drop charges for you. You upgrade the potion along the way. Worked better than D3 system and much better than the insane D2 Potion system.
- There are no attribute points to spend on level up. While people might laud the D2 system, I found it insanely frustrating. “enough in strength for gear, dump dex and int, all in vit” for basically all builds was just a stupid mechanic in the end.
- The fact that your character speaks more made it feel like they were more part of the world
- The butcher randomly spawned and kicked my butt. Amazing!
- The Fractured Peaks ice region was a cool environment to play in, albeit a bit “classic”.
- While there is some scaling in D4, at least the levels did not scale down to accommodate my character. I could go places where I got wrecked. Sadly, it scaled upwards, so no going places where things were just a cakewalk.
- At level 15 my characters felt super powerful. At about level 20 I felt like I had a proper build and was playing the game and not just “a levelling build”.
- The holy peeps faction was super cool and not something I expected.
- While character customisation was cool, it is hard to see all of that detail while zoomed out and playing the game.
Diablo 4 Beta Review: What I did not like
A big disparity between playing the Sorcerers and the Barbarian in terms of power while levelling
One of my biggest gripes with the Diablo games, and ARPG’s in general, is that efficient often means killing mobs very, very quickly. Raking up the difficulty to a point where the game feels difficult, is most often “a waste of time”. This a shame in my opinion and should be a play style that is less penalised.
I started out playing the Barbarian on World Tier 2 and found the pacing and difficulty super great. I had to think about how I handled different types of mobs and died on my second dungeon boss. Great, I thought.
Now I roll up the Sorceress and it was a completely different experience. So melted things. Literally!
I found the pacing with the Barbarian much better and much more enjoyable. It was simply too easy on the Sorceress. This is likely because of several elements:
- The Sorceress is frontloaded in damage with her mana. She goes into combat blasting her most powerful spells at range. The Barbarian has to build up Rage to be able to use good skills.
- The Barbarian had very little AoE that did not require rage. Super slow on mobs. Sorc? Loads of AoE.
- The Sorceress is ranged and had several ways of doing damage while moving around. This was a big plus against bosses, where there is a lot of “damage stuff” flying around and on the ground that you had to avoid. Fights where I had to use ALL potion stacks from the boss on the Barbarian, where fights where I did never use a single potion charge on the Sorceress!
This will all be different at max level and at end game. But my hope for a more slow-paced, hard slug to be viable in terms of efficiency is likely not going to happen. The disparity in levelling experience is what it is, but the gap here was immense. I hope it is less stark in the final build.
While your character has a voice, each character says sorta the same lines
This is super sad for me. While there will be a lot more voice coming from your character in D4, and this makes them feel much more part of the world, all characters have the same voice lines they say. This felt artificial in my experience, as the attitude of the Barbarian towards the world and what happens would be much different than how the Sorceress would react and speak. And right now, there is very little difference.
I get that it would be massive work to do, but it is a missed opportunity for sure. All that said, the voice acting is quite good (as expected for a Blizzard game).
Challenges galore and the Renown system
I have never been into achievements. They are simply not my jam. D4 is packed with “Challenges” that constantly pop up in give you a small cache of rewards. On top of that you have a big checklist of things you can do in each zone and you “level up” your renown in each zone.
Some might enjoy it, but it makes me feel like I am playing an MMO. And I seriously do not want D4 to be an MMO. Speaking of…
Go away, other people
So in D4 you will see other players. They will be in towns, they will be in outside zones where big bosses are and they will be at small events outside. I can happily say that I saw much fewer people than I had feared, but they were still there. And for me, Diablo is a single-player game that I want to play with myself or with friends that I decide to play with. If I wanted randos running around emoting, I would play an MMO.
And D4 very much felt like an MMO lite when I tackled that world boss in the beta. A bunch of people running around, not knowing what the hell was up. While great fun a few times, I dread that it will become a core part of the D4 end game. I just want a toggle for wether or not I want to see other people in my game!
Power Scores on items
Yeah, I get it. A power score is a quick and efficient way of determining if one item is better than another. But it just feels bland to me. I want to take my time and look at what the item actually gives in terms of stats versus the other item.
The power score gets in the way and things quickly become “just get more power on itemz!”.
The Camera is a bit wonky
You have much the same camera style as D2 and D3. Like in D3, you can zoom in and out a bit.
My gripe is mainly that the camera felt way too zoomed in for my liking. I constantly felt like I should be able to see 30 % more of the screen and was checking if I was zoomed in, if there was a setting I had missed or something. But alas, it seems it is a design decision to have it zoomed in that much,
Speaking of the camera, whenever you talk to an NPC the camera will zoom in and drift around based on who is talking. I did not find it to work at all and just seemed wonky.
Shadows are not acting in a normal way
Overall the lighting in the game looked super impressive, and I cannot wait to see it with RTX on (when it becomes available in the game). But in several instances, the shadow of my character would move around in a funky way. If I turned around 360 degrees on the spot, my shadow would also turn around 360 degrees. I have not been outside for a while, but I doubt that is how it works….
You can only “click to move”
Dear lord. Why do I still have to click to move? Please give me the option of moving with the keyboard.
Diablo 4 Beta Review: Things I am nervous about and we will have to wait and see
The Crafting System
There seems to be a massive crafting system implemented, that you only get a whiff of in the beta. You can extract the legendary power from an item to create that legendary again with the stats of another item. For each Dungeon you defeat you get the ability to craft a legendary item with a power from that Dungeon. You get buffs via elixirs. You can add a socket to an item. You can craft gear. You can enchant stuff (change stats).
It is impossible to see if this system is going to work out or not. In the end, D3’s crafting system was not my favourite. D4 looks to be more of that, but time will tell. Just look at how many different materials there are!
Currencies and trading
So far there is 3 currency types in D4:
- Red Dust
- Some kind of “premium currency” for cosmetics
Obols seem to work like the Blood Shards of D3 and with it, you can gamble for stuff. Red Dust is some kind of PVP currency and gold is used for everything else.
So far you are NOT able to trade items that are Unique. So trading is… not really a thing? Time will tell. Happy about this system so far, as long as it is not bloated or changed in some way. Trading was, for me, a bandaid in D2 for a poor system.
So far only cosmetics are bought with real-world money
It seems like Blizzard learned their lesson with the real money auction house of D3. It is not making a return. It also seems like they got all of the “pay to win” stuff out of their way with crappy Immortals.
So far, you get a “Battle-Pass-style” thing with cosmetics and likely an in-game store with more cosmetics. And you can get exp buffs, but whatevs. Not a fan of these things, but happy that other people are willing to pay for pixels so I can play the damn game without paying extra fees.
Just please, no buying of items via real money currency.
Action RPG or Mini “MMO”?
This is still one of my biggest fears. Blizzard has said that you will not see a lot of people, but no one has seen this game on launch.
Will I see other people every 5 minutes? Every 10? Getting that balance right is crucial for me and could potentially wreck this game for me. It experiences have been different from region to region in the beta.
Enemies felt more like D3 than D2
While this might change once we get towards the higher difficulty of play, enemies felt slightly bland. In D2 I had nightmares about certain mobs against certain classes. So far, I just steamrolled everything. So all mobs where “sorta the same”. But yeah, only act 1 at World Tier 2, so we will have to wait and see what the game brings at a higher level.
Scaling systems on top of systems?
One of the things that messed up D3 was how the various systems interacted with other systems to create truly insane damage scaling. It was not out of the norm to get multipliers to stack with other multipliers. The scaling of D2 was smoother, but D4 could very way go the way of “big damage!”. Please no.