Diablo IV closed beta preview – horror given ARPG form

Diablo is a franchise that doesn’t really need any introduction. If you ever played video games, then at some point, you have partaken in the senseless violence against demons.

What started as an iconic PC game eventually landed on consoles and turned into a multi-media franchise, spawning books, comics and more. The franchise is slowly recovering from its third entry, which divided fans due to some of the core philosophies that Blizzard was carrying at the time.

Other Blizzard games were also suffering around that time, like World of Warcraft, which received one of its weakest expansions around the time Diablo III released. But World of Warcraft had expansions every two years or so, while Diablo III had been expected for a decade.

After a handful of expansions, Diablo III was in a better state, and things slowly started kicking back into gear, we eventually had Diablo II: Ressurrected in 2021, Diablo Immortal in 2022 (I know everyone hates it, but it still counts), and Diablo IV in 2023.

But you aren’t here for a series retrospective, you want to know about Diablo IV.

The tone of Diablo IV is unlike any other game in the series, the very first opening cinematic is masterfully crafted and gives us a really bleak look into the world that we didn’t have before. Diablo establishes the concept that encountering a demon, at any point, is enough to corrupt anyone, but the games refuse to use it for major story beats, and only the books seem to remember these facts.

Demons have the power to corrupt anyone effortlessly, and this premise is never explored fully. The traitor that we had in Diablo III pretty much chose to betray everyone willingly, and I’m honestly struggling to remember if Belial, the lord of lies and deceit, actually lied and deceived anyone on-camera.

Diablo IV actually allows the camera to get up-close and tells its story for real, instead of relying on narrations over comic book “cutscenes” and dialogue that you would rather skip. There’s a really interesting story being told here, with interesting characters and real stakes.

Check out the character creator here:

The game starts out with the player getting lost in a snowstorm, and eventually finding a small village that is nursing a man who is babbling incoherently. The villagers ask the player to go kill some demons, and since that’s our bread and butter, we go do just that.

As soon as the player gets back to the village, they are invited to celebrate, and all seems fine, people are dancing, cheering and playing music, until the player suddenly collapses. The music stops, everyone ceases to pretend, and you are loaded onto a wheelbarrow, and thrown onto an operating table.

The game tries to pretend that we are going right back to the generic “go kill demons because you are the good guy” story, but then hits you very hard with some tonal whiplash.

The man we saw earlier frees us from an unwanted surgical procedure, and we get a glimpse of what actually transpired, with a horned woman showing up to this small village and turning the people against each other, corrupting them with a small speech and by simply looking into their eyes.

Lilith is this game’s big bad, and she has a fantastic presence in every scene she’s present. She’s extremely imposing and calculated, towering over everyone in the room, in a way that makes her supernatural presence very intimidating.

The facial expressions, delivery, and dialogue on this scene are fantastic, it solidifies her as an actual, tangible threat. She can show up and plant her seeds at will, slowly expanding her reach.

It really helps that we get to see her machinations up-front, instead of being told “oh yeah, she’s a master manipulator”, but never being show anything.

It makes the story so much more real by grounding the player in the shoes of these people who did not have a chance to fight back against her temptation.

The man who was speaking incoherently before had actually been poisoned, just like us, and we interrupted whatever brainwashing ceremony these people had planned for him.

After this first introduction, we are thrown for real into the open world, so it’s time to talk about the gameplay.

The evasive move that was only available in console versions of Diablo III is back, and now available as a short dash for all classes. Alongside it, we also have controller support for the PC version, which feels really good to play.

Combat is way more grounded and not as arcade-y as it was in the previous game, for now it doesn’t seem like you will be scoring kills in the hundreds in one combat encounter.

Enemies have more health, but come in lesser numbers, with the player being squishier and short on resources, which emphasizes positioning and kiting a lot.

Gameplay has more planning and positioning than just spamming whatever skill is off cooldown. There’s some real thought behind it as skills synergize with each other and sometimes you’ll have an order to your rotation, depending on your build.

Visual clarity has also been improved a lot, since the enemies don’t come by the hundreds they are easier to see, especially since the camera seems to have zoomed in a bit too. They don’t glow or have some outline around them, but still are able to be seen clearly.

Diablo IV is very big on visual clarity, making use of detailed environments that are shaded to perfection, it may be the nicest-looking ARPG currently available.

My impressions of the beta were really good, I enjoy this more horror-focused approach that Diablo IV is taking, and I’m excited for the open beta, where I’ll be able to preview the Necromancer and Druid.

Diablo IV is shaping up to be the golden standard of what a main entry in the franchise is, aside from the fact that this $70 dollar game has a $10 dollar battle pass, that fact still irks me beyond belief.

But still, I can’t deny how solid the environment, gameplay and storytelling are, I’m cautiously excited.

I’m also not the only one who played the closed beta, below you can read some of our staff’s impressions of it as well:

Matt’s Sorcerer Impressions

Early in the game, playing as the sorcerer can be a challenging thing. Unless in 1 v 1 combat, the player needs to kite enemies or they will die quickly. As the sorcerer levels, the spells available become more powerful and effective. Oddly, some spells feel more impactful than others especially when gear buffs come into the equation. Some spells did not damage like their description indicated, putting out a lot less than it was supposed to. Just like in other fantasy games, as a character levels the more damage they are able to put out.

For the majority of the Diablo IV closed beta, I played on World Tier I wanting to experience what the game had to offer. After the early levels, the sorcerer felt strong no matter what spells you chose as long as you controlled the combat environment. As long as you could kite the enemies, you can stay alive through spell vamp. On World Tier II, this was not as easy of a task, enemies hit harder and take less damage; obviously, at a higher difficulty things are going to be more difficult, but it does feel like you need a second player in the party in order to survive.

While on the subject of partying up, co-op within the Diablo 4 beta was no easy task. Even when playing on the same platform, players needed to add each other on Battle.net in order to invite. Sadly, the demo’s Battle.net system did not work properly requiring us to sign in on our PC in order to add one another. Once together taking down waves of the undead was an easy task until the game kicked out your partner during a cutscene.

Diablo IV feels like it is meant to be played with partners but hardcore fans should be able to take down demon waves on their own with the right gear. Hopefully, balancing and co-op issues will be fixed by the game’s release if not sooner.

Jonathan’s Barbarian Impressions

Barbarian was fairly close to expectations from the beginning, but in Diablo IV he comes equipped with an Arsenal. This allows your Barbarian to equip a Two-Handed Slashing, Two-Handed Crushing, and Duel Wield two single-handed weapons. This meant that I didn’t have to worry if I had the right weapons equipped, I’d simply attack with whichever weapon each attack requires which made determining which skills I wanted to use considerably easier; especially when in the heat of combat.

Early on, the Barbarian didn’t struggle much at all to hack and cleave his way through anything that stepped in his path, but around level nine I hit a bit of a brick wall when I encountered my first boss. There isn’t enough armor or health to keep the Barbarian alive long enough to deal with their fairly lengthy cooldowns and their DPS is fairly trash unless you invest in bleed damage skills like Rend or Flay, and at that point you’re basically left running around hoping things die from the bleed damage before you get stomped into the dust.

After I hit level 25, I decided to refund my abilities and simply put one point in a few basics and opted to dump my skill points into passive abilities that granted fortification and thorns, and the difference was night and day.

I went from struggling to survive against a regular pack of mobs to using Iron Skin’s fortify and healing to power my way through fights and watching the thorns absolutely shred anything that attempted to touch me. Barbarian definitely feels like they’re still meant to be a support class like they were in Diablo II, but at least now they feel like there’s a somewhat decent alternative to being little more than a Battle Order bot.

Will the thorns and build carry us to end game? I’m not sure, but at level 25 with the proper spec, nothing at all was much of a challenge except the world boss Ashava that only spawns twice a day. I was basically Inarius incarnate, and since he refused to bless us, I’mma keep calling myself that through Open Beta until we get to play the full game.

Also, from my experience, Battle.net cross play worked fantastically. I had a friend who was playing on PC and I had absolutely zero issues joining a group and running around with him while playing on my PS5. I was also able to quickly invite him to my party and he was able to jump into my world with the click of a few buttons, so my experience was different from Matt’s on the Xbox.

I’m extremely cautious about Diablo IV given how much similarity I see in comparison to Diablo Immortal. While the gameplay is much more fun, gear itself seems seems fairly worthless without fully upgrading it (which requires both gold and resources earned by salvaging or found throughout the world), often opting more for whatever gives the highest armor upgrades or base attack damage over stats or perks at this point in the beta.

I have a very real fear that we’re going to be locked behind a paywall that determines how often we get upgrade materials or gem refinement, though Blizzard has said that monetization will be cosmetic only, but given the battle passes and expansion promises, I’ll reserve judgement for the future. I saw what appears to be a premium currency in Red Dust, and I have very real fears for how it’s going to be implemented. Here’s to hoping there’s a little more reliance on crafting than simply giving away a fat stack of resources to those willing to pay for shortcuts to the end game.

Brandon’s Rogue Impressions

I’ve been a lifelong fan of the Diablo series, from the original through the tumultuous launch of Diablo III. When the now-released mobile game was announced, I like many others groaned and questioned what the hell Blizzard was thinking. Thankfully, it seems the response has humbled Blizzard and they’ve returned to their roots – I am very pleased with Diablo IV thus far.

From the get-go you’re thrust into a grim and dark world reminiscent of the first two Diablo games, unlike its more grandiose and fanciful third entry that seemed to be aping their other big titles like Overwatch and World of Warcraft. Whatever character you pick, it’s clear from the start that the world is dark and full of evil.

Gameplay feels very solid and tight and like a real mix of Diablo II, Diablo III, and with a dash of Path of Exile. It’s clear that Blizzard did their homework on nailing skillcrafting and letting players experiment, I actually lost count of how many times I slightly respecced or fully respecced while figuring out the best bow DPS as a rogue.

The regions you can traverse and slay through are definitely gorgeous, visuals overall have been very impressive and I only saw a few texture pops when the game went between gameplay and in-game cutscenes. Detailing, actions, skills, violence, and lighting are all immaculate – this is possibly Blizzard’s best looking games to date.

Overall questing, leveling, exploring, and slaying feels like a breeze in Diablo IV and the series’ formula has never been better. Gear does feel a bit useless in the beginning but that’s somewhat expected of any gear-focused ARPG, so I do hope the really cool stuff gets dropped later on. Will we get the Buriza-Do Kyanon again?

My buds here at Niche Gamer also played the beta and noted the concerns of premium, in-game currency that as we know – has the possibility of ruining games. Blizzard has attested that premium currency will only be for cosmetic stuff, like most devs that do this practice, but regardless it’s a huge concern to any gamer that just wants to buy a game once and get the full experience.

I have to also point out that none of my colleagues here noted how absolutely awesome the soundtrack and atmosphere in Diablo IV feels. If you’ve been pining for the dark and ambient feel of the first two games and really couldn’t stomach the third game, you’ll feel at home with Diablo IV’s haunting and grim world, paired with equally haunting and dark music.

I have so much hope for Diablo IV after these early impressions but I do have lots of concern because I truly loved my time with the original Diablo and Diablo II (the original and the remaster) and Diablo III. It seems like the worldbuilding in the fourth entry is a return to the darker storylines that made the first two feel more like “horror RPGs.”

I went into playing Diablo IV with low to medium expectations and I came away very impressed. I too have been very disappointed with the decisions Blizzard and parent company Activision have made recently. I think Diablo IV could possibly be game of the year material if it follows through with my initial yet very positive impressions.

Here’s a full half hour of us playing the beta:

Diablo IV is set to release on June 6th, 2023, for the PlayStation 5, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/ S and Microsoft Windows. The next beta is scheduled for March 24st, until March 26th, and will be open to the public, we’ll see you there!



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