I am going to lose so much time to Diablo IV...
This line permeated through my head as I played Diablo IV, and you'll find that many people think the same. Now, I had a healthy dose of skepticism going into the open beta for Diablo IV, as I do with all live service titles. Almost immediately, any trepidation I had disappeared as I became absorbed by Diablo IV's familiar-yet-fresh gameplay and shockingly good visuals. Blizzard is definitely coming out swinging with this one, folks.
The Nitty Gritty of Diablo IV World
Having spent a lot of time with Diablo III over the years, trudging through its many seasons and building a plethora of characters, I wasn't sure what to expect with Diablo IV. The graphics resemble Diablo II more than anything with an oppressive, dark, and hopeless atmosphere. Indeed, Diablo IV's graphics are a huge departure from its previous title, but nevertheless, I've fallen in love with the look. The lighting is used spectacularly in Diablo IV, creating a creepy and sinister look just about everywhere.
Up close, everything is richly detailed. The beta took place within a snowy environment and your character makes noticeable tracks through the snow. There are times when snow is slightly melted and turns into a brown mush, and with the little light there is in Diablo IV, the reflections on the mush and other areas are just spectacular. Environments such as dungeons are varied and offer quite a spectacle in their own right; in fact, I remember admiring one horrendous dungeon that seemed to be alive as I trudged through these ruins with what seemed to be moving spider legs wiggling from different corners. Other dungeons, like decrepit jails and old ruins, are equally sinister and the potential variety for future delves excite me.
Diablo III relied on reusing assets through the procedural generation of its dungeons and environments, whereas Diablo IV takes a more handcrafted approach. The entire overworld is pre-made. There seems to be meaning behind every stone and tree making the world feels more alive. Some might find this a disappointment since the randomness of the previous game's environments meant each playthrough has something new. I wouldn't worry about this too much, though, since the world appears to be massive. But, if you really can't live without some level of randomness, it appears that enemy placement is erratic. I'm not quite sure if dungeons are or not, but there are plenty of these scattered throughout the world so again, you're not going to get bored or run of out content any time soon.
There also seems to be plenty of story-related content. Players are given several main quests and the freedom to choose which they wish to pursue, for the purposes of this beta, some areas were restricted. In particular, however, the prologue for Diablo IV impressed me with improved cutscenes and excellent voice acting. Blizzard certainly doesn't shy away from the hopelessness and despair that plagues the world of Sanctuary, and that much is clear from the start.
The new antagonist, Lilith, is a welcome inclusion to the series' cast of villains. Her motivations seem to be independent of both the High Heavens and Hell. Her relationship with the rogue angel Inarius will certainly play a pivotal role in the plot of Diablo IV. The story may very well go beyond a conflict between Heaven and Hell, as we now have a demon and angel who aren't affiliated with either realm. The world of Diablo is one that is rich in lore, but the presentation seems to be a much larger focus this time around.
Breaking into Diablo IV's Combat
For the duration of the beta, I focused on one class -- the barbarian. Hitting beta's max level of 25 grants the players with enough skill points to create a solid foundation for the future, and I found that once I nailed down my build, Diablo IV was just too much fun. Diablo IV uses a large skill tree, which deviates from the overly simplistic "pick your ability and its modifier" style of play in Diablo III. Those looking for a deeper, more rich experience in crafting a character will certainly find a lot to love. Everything is much more versatile, so while you might not be spec'd into the most "viable" build, you will certainly find something to work. Thankfully, refunding points while leveling is easy, so you're not locked into what you're choosing.
Each class in Diablo IV has some unique feature to make them stand out among the rest of the game's roster. In particular, barbarians use an Arsenal system that allows the class to use a variety of weapons to perform different abilities. Hearkening back to vanilla World of Warcraft, weapon type proficiency is increased as you use them and makes your attacks all the more potent. There appears to be an ability to allocate certain weapons to specific skills, though this was locked out of the beta. Either way, the class fantasy is much deeper this time around; for example, rogues can choose a specialization and presumably stick to either ranged or melee attacks, and the necromancer (which wasn't featured in the Early Access) can customize their undead army of minions.
Combat really shines Diablo IV's many dungeons. The enemy density is at its highest in dungeons and exploring these underground labyrinths is especially fun. There's usually an objective to complete in these dungeons to proceed further, which makes it a bit less monotonous than previous titles; as was the case with Diablo III, you'd explore a dungeon and that'd just be it. There's a final boss at the end of most dungeons that grants players different rewards and loot upon completion. As a melee class, bosses seem to be quite difficult and require a bit of strategy. These aren't bullet sponges, so to speak. The use of a dodge skill is needed to avoid as much damage as possible. Often, these bosses will have several different attacks that are telegraphed ahead of time. Player feedback I've seen indicates these bosses are much easier as a ranged class such as sorceress since attacks are much easier to dodge right away. I'll be interested to see how Blizzard balances these encounters because on the beta's highest difficulty, I definitely ran into some very troublesome boss encounters.
Though Blizzard's shown it off in various marketing and announcements, there is a larger social aspect to Diablo IV than ever before. You'll see players within cities and out in the wild facing foes. Various activities in the overworld incentivizes greater interaction between players. Certain events might require a player to defend a caravan -- presumably, the game places you into an instance with other players doing the same objective. Whatever the case may be, Diablo IV would often put other players in my path. A fellow barbarian asked if I wanted to go into a dungeon with them after I helped them complete one of these objectives. It's not quite an MMO like World of Warcraft, but the future Blizzard has in mind for Diablo IV is one with a strong sense of community.
There is so much more to see in Diablo IV. It felt like I could spend dozens of hours within the beta before completing everything it has to offer. Mind you, this is a look at but a fraction of the story and leveling experience offered in the full release, so I can't even imagine how grand the end-game content might be. For the time being, we'll just have to see what happens, but boy will it be an agonizing wait for June.
Diablo IV was previewed on PC with a code provided by the publisher over the course of 15 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of preview.