Diablo 4 Beta: evolved visuals, same old gameplay
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Featured Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment
The dungeon is full of aberrations. Fire pits illuminate the blood-soaked floors as demons charge at me. Wielding a trio of axes, swapping between one and a dual pair as I see fit, my warrior class character tears through the horde, before putting down a shaman in the middle of their attempt to revive the hellspawn beneath my boots. I pause before realising that Diablo IV has not fallen from the franchise’s satanic tree.
See the trailer for Diablo IV here
Blizzard Entertainment recently held an Early Access beta, giving players the chance to experience the world of Sanctuary ahead of the title’s launch later this year. Of the five classes shown at the start of the game, only three were available to choose: Barbarian, Sorcerer and Rogue. The full release will also include Necromancer (my favourite) and Druid. I plucked for Barbarian this time.
Diablo IV begins with a breathtakingly pretty cutscene. A group of four raiders are searching for treasure in a grand, demon-infested underground temple. While two of the pack are after coin, the apparent monk in the quartet seeks knowledge, and this quest for enlightenment results in the rebirth of Lilith, the demon who serves as the game’s main antagonist. Good one, Monk lad.
Our journey starts out in the snowy wilderness. Our newly created character seeks shelter from the blizzard, and finds it in the form of a small cave. Once the cutscene concludes, we are granted full control, and the gameplay begins. If you played Diablo III then you know what to expect: isometric dungeon-crawling with hack and slash combat. Now, this is undoubtedly a good thing for anyone who loves the previous game.
Playing on PC, you use the mouse to move by clicking the direction you want to go. You also use the mouse to fight, with left and right click managing different attacks. As the player character levels up, more attack slots are unlocked, which are controlled by pressing 1-4 on the keyboard. There’s also a selection of other keyboard commands, from Q to heal, to T for teleporting.
Ultimately though, much of the game is played simply by the mouse, which is fine even if there are occasional moments of the clicks not quite lining up with what was intended. However, it’s worth noting that the friend I played co-op with - an avid PC gamer - much preferred using a gamepad instead due to the repetitive clicking, which I was surprised by because mouse and keyboard is their jam 99% of the time. Take this as a warning that the controls can feel tedious. Personally, I’d go so far as to use the term dated.
The gameplay of Diablo IV is right to be in the same vein as its predecessor, as it’s clearly targeting fans of the series. You walk into a room, click foes repeatedly until they’re down, pick up any and all loot, and rinse and repeat. The nature of these games is the grind, occasionally mixing things up when fighting the more challenging boss enemies.
While the full game looks set to have at least four difficulty options, the beta only offered two, with the tougher mode (Veteran) being the one I went for. With the exception of one boss, which I fought with a human ally, I found no struggle. The Barbarian is not my ideal way to play games like this, but even that was not a disadvantage really.
I’ve never been the type to demand difficulty in order to find a game worthwhile, but it feels necessary in Diablo IV if only to break up the monotony. Hopefully the full release will rectify this with the other difficulties, especially as they can be changed in the centre of Kyovashad, the game’s hub area.
As for the co-op, I only tested it with one friend by inviting them into my world a couple of times, but I found that lag was an issue. More than a handful of times, the game would slow to a crawl for one of us, at least, with stuttering present when larger groups of enemies were present.
In fact, this issue also occurred when playing solo, but not quite so severely. I know it’s only a beta, so hopefully these minor issues will be absent from the final product, but it’s never a good look when even cutscenes can’t run smoothly, especially when it’s running on a high-end PC (full specs here).
The thing that most stands out about Diablo IV is the visuals. It’s such a pretty game, to the point where the isometric camera feels like it's robbing us of the title’s true beauty. Characters are wonderfully detailed, capturing the realistic/gothic fantasy art style wonderfully.
The second most appealing feature is the story, with Lilith’s rise raising interesting notions. She’s Queen of the Succubi, but also the Creator of Sanctuary. This antagonist is also the mother of the in-game world, and that apparent paradox fully gripped me, to the point where I found myself basically tolerating the repetitive gameplay in order to learn more. Like the monk in the opening cutscene, I was paying a high price for knowledge, and that has to mean something in terms of how much I really enjoyed my time with Diablo IV.
An open beta is scheduled for 24-26 March, ahead of the game’s full release on 6 June, 2023, for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Xbox consoles. If you’re a fan of Diablo III, you won’t want to miss out on this as it offers the same classic gameplay with gorgeous visuals and a gripping main story. However, the isometric, dungeon-crawling, loot-em-up style may seem antiquated to newcomers - and maybe even some veterans - so bear that in mind. It’s a Diablo game, it’s supposed to play this way, but it’s not for everyone.