We did participate in the early access review period Blizzard offered for Diablo IV. However, this remains a review in progress rather than a scored finished review for two main reasons. The first is Diablo IV is an entirely online experience; there is no playing it if the servers aren’t running. Additionally, running into other players in Sanctuary is one of the key aspects of the complete life cycle of gameplay. Without experiencing how the launch goes and what that means for the stability of Diablo IV, we can’t give a complete picture of what to expect while playing.
Secondly, the cash shop wasn’t active, and although we did have some information provided to us regarding how things will work, it’s hard to give a final verdict on that until it’s out in the wild. What follows are my spoiler-free impressions from the review period, and the final review will be posted after Diablo IV has fully launched.
With the early access beta weekend and the early access review period, I had the opportunity to play both Barbarian and Sorcerer. Barbarian is all-around solid and, from the first moment, was a ton of fun. I didn’t get into the late game with that class yet, but unsurprisingly it felt fun from the first moments. I always tend towards melee classes in every game, and when it comes to Diablo, Barbarian and Crusader are the main two I routinely go back to. So, the fact that I had fun with the Barbarian isn’t saying much since I am predisposed to enjoying the Barbarian playstyle.
When it came time to start the review process with unfettered access, I chose a class I’ve never played in any Diablo game: Sorcerer. As I mentioned, I tend very strongly toward melee, and the Sorcerer is always the poster child for ranged control and burning things down. It just didn’t seem appealing to me. With the early review period, where I knew everything would get wiped, seemed like an ideal time to try something completely new. Imagine my surprise when I realized it’s not only possible to build a viable melee sorcerer spec, but also it works remarkably well.
Since I was particularly interested in building a melee Sorcerer, the first basic skill I chose was arc lash. This skill is neat in that it sends an arc of lightning through multiple targets, and it did appear to be the one melee basic skill, so it was an obvious choice. It also has the chance to stun enemies that are hit by it, which is beneficial. Early on, it was handy and particularly helpful when fighting multiple enemies.
However, sometime around level 25, I realized that having a melee-only core skill wasn’t serving me well in various situations. There were several times when I wanted to take advantage of the time it took for mobs to get to me, and spamming chain lightning wasn’t the best option. At that point, I decided to change my core skill to spark so that I would have a spamable ranged attack. I was delighted to discover I could unlearn arc lash without resetting the entire skill tree. I just right-clicked on it and then spent the point on spark instead. This can be done with any of the talent points. As long I also unlearned any subskills, and if removing the points I wanted to reallocate wouldn’t cause me to lose access to a hub further down the tree, I could move points freely.
I also appreciated that some gear that dropped while playing would give me points in various skills. For some, it improved skills I was already using, while others unlocked the ability to use a new skill, letting me try it without sinking points into it. This is how I discovered I liked how the Flame Shield functions more than Frost Nova as a defensive skill. However, Frost Nova was excellent in my first Enchantment slot. For Sorcerers, these two slots allow specific skills to take on a passive aspect. Slotting in Frost Nova meant that conjuration spells could cause a Frost Nova to happen spontaneously. Since I was nearly always surrounded by many mobs, this was incredibly useful, and it felt like it happened a lot.
My biggest fear when first creating my Sorcerer was that I would feel squishy. I found that not to be the case at all. Generally, when I died, it was because I did something dumb or ignored a critical mechanic. Outside of that, I felt pretty close to invincible which reminded me of playing my Crusader in Diablo III. At one point, I killed a major boss at the end of one of the Acts at full health and having used no healing potion. It was an incredible feeling. Granted, this was in world tier 2, and things definitely will get harder from there. It did feel good to make up a build in a class I didn’t know much about, without doing any real theorycrafting, and to be quite viable.
Once Diablo IV goes live, I am looking forward to delving into the Paragon trees and digging into how I can dial in my style of play on the Sorcerer. I’m also looking forward to moving to the harder world tiers and maybe trying my hand at some hardcore play as well, which is already saying a lot. I generally don’t enjoy playing more than one or two characters in Diablo games, but I’m already thinking about multiple characters and perhaps playing every class this time.
Respecting Your Time
One of my biggest surprises with Diablo IV is how much it felt like I wasn’t being asked to repeatedly waste my time doing the same things. The first significant change is that once I finished the campaign story on one character, new characters I made had the option to either replay through the story or skip it altogether. That’s fantastic. There are some games where I can happily replay the story repeatedly, but I’ve never been like that with Diablo games. The option to skip right past the story on subsequent characters is fantastic. That said, I am looking forward to replaying the story at least once more in this case.
One aspect I found frustrating was that it wasn’t very clear in-game how long it takes to unlock mounts. There was some text when I went to the stable, which said to continue the campaign and complete a quest, which mentioned a specific character in the quest’s name. Looking around the map after completing the intro, I quickly concluded that if I finished Act 2, it would unlock mounts. So, I decided to skip Act 1 and proceed directly through Act 2. Yes, although the events in the first three acts seem to happen sequentially, you can play through them in whichever order you wish. So, imagine my surprise when I finished Act 2, and nope, I didn’t unlock the ability to use mounts.
As it turned out, mounts don’t unlock until early in Act 4. I alternated between doing a bunch of side stuff and focusing on the story, so I reached Act 4 at level 32. This seemed like a long time to go without a mount, especially considering the amount I was traveling all over the map before then. All of the maps are fairly sizable, to boot. However, after I realized this only needed to be done on one character, I was far less concerned with how long it took to get to that point. I also often opted to run around on foot because I tended to bypass more than I wanted to while mounted. It was an astonishing change in perspective for me.
Another thing that initially frustrated me was the system for upgrading the health potions. The first couple of upgrades were simple enough, and I was quickly finding the needed materials as I wandered. Later the items required felt harder to come by. I’m not sure if it was because I was focusing the story more and doing fewer side quests, and that is why I suddenly had more of an issue with it, or if the drop rates on what I needed were just much less than they were for earlier upgrades. Either way, potion upgrades also carry over to subsequent characters. Knowing I only need to find all those random ingredients once makes it much less annoying.
All this is in relation to subsequent regular characters, not hardcore characters. Any hardcore character you make must unlock mounts and upgrade potions independently. I’m not sure if hardcore characters can skip the campaign if you’ve already done it once, that’s something I still need to check on. Likewise, I’m not sure if hardcore characters get access to legendary powers that other characters on your account have unlocked.
The road to a scored review
As I’ve mentioned a few times, there are still several things I haven’t had the chance to mess with or get into yet. There’s a ton of content in Diablo IV and digging into it all will take some time. Additionally, seeing how everything goes on launch and immediately after will significantly impact how enjoyable it is. Lastly, seeing the shop's actual impact on everything is also a considerable aspect that will need to play out. We know what we’ve been told, and looking at the information given to us, it should be fine. Certainly nothing like Diablo Immortal. Seeing all these aspects in the live game will be the final bits needed to put a score to Diablo IV.
That said… ever since the review servers were shut down, all I can think about is getting back in there. Diablo IV has captured my interest more than any of the previous games, and I can’t wait for early access.