It's one of my gaming blindspots, Diablo, given that I've known about the series for pretty much my whole teenage and adult life, yet really haven't played the series that much. Diablo IV might just change that when it fully releases this June, as the Early Access beta going on this past weekend has made me finally feel like it's time to get hooked on an ARPG.
I am, by all intents and purposes, a Diablo noob. Sure, I've known about the game and its history since I had a girlfriend break up with me for getting their end-game Necromancer permakilled in Diablo II because I had the gall to call her while we were in high school. From there I really didn't play too many ARPGs.I dabbled in Torchlight and Torchlight II, though Path of Exile is the only ARPG to keep my interest for any length of time (and still does).
However, Diablo never really clicked with me early on. I played Diablo II Resurrected when it was in alpha, and I did enjoy it just fine, especially coming to one of the most iconic games with entirely new eyes. I also tried a little bit of Diablo Immortal when it was released last year, but it just didn't click, though it ran just fine on my iPhone.
Diablo IV always seemed like a natural entry point when it was first announced a few years back. The tone of the ARPG, as well as some of the design changes the studio has talked about, including the open-world design compared to previous Diablo entries made me intrigued.
So I was pretty stoked to jump in and give it a try this weekend, especially since it's going to determine whether or not I purchase the title come June.
Diablo IV's Atmosphere Is Sublime
Blizzard mentioned that Diablo IV is aiming to get back to the tone and atmosphere of Diablo II, and even with my limited experience with the seminal ARPG, I feel like Diablo IV's atmosphere is deliciously dark. Each pixel is oozing with character, from the fluorescent glow of the ruins in The Darkened Way to the cold stone and wooden shelters that make up the Kyovashad settlement early in Act I.
The world inbetween settlements, dungeons and more are windswept, desolate and ravaged by the forces of Hell in a way that makes the world of Sanctuary both pitiable but also a place I feel an urge to save. Each of the ruins are dripping with so much character, especially the ones that are tied to the main story and Lilith herself I can't help be feel somewhat transported to the world - and my old Sunday School classes oddly enough, the gloom seeping into each corner of the world fully realized on screen.
It helps that the introduction to Diablo IV is the dark, gritty, and horrifying reveal trailer which was shown off at BlizzCon 2019. The gore, horror, and more don't slow down from that point forward, especially with some of the early content in the prologue giving me enough to squirm where I sat at my desk.
Diablo has always been atmospheric, even an outside observer can see that. While Diablo III seemed to struggle with this, Diablo IV feels like it's fallen right back into line with its history, giving a sense of place everywhere I turned in-game.
Grinding Doesn't Feel Like A Grind (So Far)
It helps too that Diablo IV is a ton of fun to play from moment to moment. I've never been a huge fan of looter shooters or anything that sees me chase rare loot. I know, I work for MMORPG, a genre that has been defined in large part with grinding for rare Raid-tier loot drops. But it's true, it's not my favorite thing to do.
It's one of the things that made me really love Path of Exile. That grind can be there, but the ARPG always felt generous with its drops as well. Diablo IV feels that way for me too, as so far I've been pleasantly surprised at the slow power creep my Sorceror has enjoyed over the weekend.
This is helped by the sheer fact that facing off against hordes of ghouls, demons, spirits, and more is just sheer fun. Right now I find myself taking our large groups of enemies with the Sorceror's Chain Lighting skill, lightning arcing from enemy to enemy, cleaning up large zergs of monsters before they even reach me. If they do, I clean up by popping on a fire shield, jumping out of there with the Teleport skill, and more.
It helps too that controller support is really, really good as well. While I know the mouse/keyboard combination is something veteran players might swear by, Diablo IV is simply more accessible - and more enjoyable - with my DualSense controller.
While the beta only allows for players to reach level 25 out of the level 100 level cap, this beta cap doesn't feel rushed. I feel like I'm steadily gaining power through the Path of Exile-esque skill tree as well as the slow accumulation of more gear over my journeys through the frigid world of Sanctuary. I especially love the powerful explosion that overtakes enemies when I level up, giving a satisfying exclamation point in the world when my Sorceror literally becomes stronger.
There are undoubtedly going to emerge build guides to maximize your power as the full game releases this June, but I'm enjoying experimenting with my build as well. Respeccing to see if a different approach would be more fun and impactful is rather easy to do, and the sheer amount of skills even up to level 25 you can unlock is pretty large. While it's not nearly as complicated or as confusing as Path of Exile's skill tree can be from the get go, it's still thankfully complex enough to foster some imaginative builds.
Story Dripping With Character
I'll admit - I don't really know the first thing about the world-building of Diablo other than the struggle between Demon and Angel. When friends would talk about Diablo, they wouldn't necessarily mention the story, rather just the awesome character they built or a dungeon they cleared.
Indeed, when I played Diablo II: Resurrected, I really couldn't tell you anything about the story I encountered in my entire time in the ARPG. However, Diablo IV, and most especially Lilith, are driving a lot of my interest here.
Lilith is instantly charismatic, her charm and simple arguments for why humans should shed the shackles of the Cathedral of Light seem to drive the humans that make up the world of Sanctuary towards her. Indeed, it feels like she is the gravitational center of Diablo IV's story and everything is pulling towards her.
This is on display in an early cutscene during the Prologue where a village rises up and does her bidding, while later on in Act I you see it as you aim to stop a ritual written in the blood of another because she's trying to follow Lilith. I'm eager to see where this goes, see how Diablo IV tells its new story, as well as start to dive into the history of the world so I'm up to speed when Diablo IV launches in June.
As a new player to the franchise, relatively speaking, Diablo IV feels like a good starting point as well. I don't feel lost, the gameplay is easy to pick up but will take quite a bit to master it seems, and the world is dark, but inviting. I'm eager to see more as I play more classes next weekend during the Open Beta test, as well as jump into the full experience come June as my first proper Diablo game.
It seems the Blessed Mother has drawn me in, too.
Full Disclosure: No, we did not buy a KFC Double Down for access, instead we were spared as access was provided by Blizzard's PR for the purposes of this preview.