Diablo 4 First Impressions

A barbarian in Diablo 4 fighting a group of Fallen.

The Early Access Open Beta Weekend for Diablo 4 has come and gone, giving us our first extended look at the game. After a decade of waiting, we finally got our chance to return to Sanctuary for all the hack-n-slashing goodness we could hope for. Still, a decade is a long time to wait, and a long time for expectations to grow.

Does Diablo 4 deliver after all this time? Thankfully I can say that Diablo 4 is definitely on the better side of the grading scale. I’ll go through all the pros and cons below.

The Cons of the Diablo IV Beta

The Diablo IV Beta Is Covered in Bugs

Lets get the obvious out of the way first: The Beta for Diablo 4 was a bit of a buggy mess. Stuttering issues, possible GPU melting cutscenes, crashes here and there, and even a queue issue to remind us of Diablo 3’s release. Personally, I had the game crash on me twice, both times when I town portal back to the main hub city, and I experienced quite a bit of stuttering in a few areas.

These problems will likely be fixed by the time the game fully releases, so don’t hold it against the game too hard, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them, at least in passing.

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Dungeon Deja Vu, Both Literally and Figuratively

Diablo 4 comes at players as more of an open-world experience, and in that way, it definitely delivers. There are random events, strongholds, side quests, and the list goes on, but one of the major draws is supposed to be the dungeons dotted across the landscape. Given that many side quests have you delving into them, you’d expect them to be fully fleshed out and exciting locations, but they’re anything but.

They all have the same general layout, two wings that you need to go down, sometimes to clear all the enemies, sometimes to hit all the levers, but all have the same general cadence, and some even have a copy and pasted layout. Given how prominently they feature in the leveling experience, I wish they provided more individualized experiences.

Skill Depth of a Public Pool Rather Than an Ocean

The biggest possible issue with the game for hardcore ARPG players may be the lack of depth in the skill tree. What at first seems like a solid amount of choice in the skill tree quickly becomes linear and vanilla. Each skill tree seems to have a few obvious archetypes, with only minor decisions to be made around them. Casual players will still have fun trying out the playstyles, but those who have played ARPGs like Path of Exile before will want more to make the playstyle feel like their own.

The Pros of the Diablo 4 Beta

The Sights! The Sounds! The Carnage!

There has obviously been a mountain of technical innovation achieved between now and Diablo 3’s original release. Still, I don’t think I expected things to look and sound as good as they do. The game looks gorgeous, the cutscenes are breathtaking, and the sounds are satisfying on an entirely new level. Using the Upheaval ability on the Barbarian looks and sounds glorious. Swing your ace up, throw enemies back like ragdolls, and listen as you tear the earth out from under them.

Same with the Lunge ability. I made an audible ‘Woah’ sound when I first used it. It sounds so meaty and strong, making the Barbarian feel like a powerful warrior on the most basic level. Blizzard should be proud of their work, as this kind of audio and visual performance might just set a new standard for the genre.

The World Feels So Alive, Even When Surrounded by Undead

From the standpoint of narrative experience, the world of Sanctuary is so far above that of Diablo 3 that I don’t think we’d ever see it even if we looked down. Every bit of the world drips backstory and meaning, making the player feel like they are having an active effect on the world. Side quests all focus on the people of Sanctuary, giving background to their plights and troubles.

Strongholds turn into settlements when you free them, changing the world’s landscape around you. Even the people in the background provide atmosphere, being heard laughing, begging, and going about their day in this world beset by darkness. The passive storytelling in Diablo 4 is at its best, as every action you make feels like it has consequences, and every bit of the world seems interconnected and somehow important. For people that want to feel truly immersed, Diablo 4 delivers.

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Not a Grind Even When You’re Grinding

Many were skeptical of Diablo 4’s move to feel like more of an open-world experience, but I am happy to say the changes benefit the game greatly. Leveling is a blast, and the ways you can do it are so wide and varied I’d be hard-pressed to find a way it couldn’t be fun. Run across the landscape looking for events. Take on some side quests in individual towns.

Take on a world boss that might spawn with your friends. Delve through some dungeons, even if they feel similar, looking for sweet loot. There are numerous ways to level, giving Diablo 4 endless possibilities for progression. The world is full, alive, and exciting, and no matter what way you want to play, Diablo has an enjoyable leveling path for you.

The Same Combat, Just… Better

For all the complaints I had about possible class progression, it really couldn’t sour the fact that the core gameplay is still just so dang fun. The gameplay is exactly what I wanted, still Diablo at its core, but now with changes that allow better enemy design and depth of strategy. You have a healing flask with a set number of charges, which get replenished often through enemy drops and terrain destruction. The actual cadence of the gameplay, especially in the boss fights, is much better because of it.

Now fights seem longer and more methodical, relying on more skill to constantly dodge boss mechanics that will chip you down rather than delete you in one hit. The game is still Diablo. The feel is still Diablo. But now players can feel ready to jump into the fight and take on challenges, expecting something that requires skill and knowledge to defeat. More than anything, readers should take this away: Diablo 4 feels great, and it is for this reason that I want to play more.

Final Thoughts

At the end of it all, while there are some flaws, they are well and truly outshone by the rest of the experiences. Combat is fun, the world is alive, and I’m so excited to experience every challenge and storyline that the game has for me. There may be some questions about the game’s long-term health, but Diablo 4 hasn’t released yet. We can discuss that when the endgame becomes clear.

For now, all I truly know is that I want so badly to play more, and next weekend can’t come soon enough. If you weren’t part of this first beta, try the open weekend. The world of Sanctuary is alive and well, and man, is it worth being a part of.

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