Following the lessons of transitioning Diablo from PC to Console and adapting it for regular new content and seasonal activities, the team at Activision-Blizzard set out to build a new experience from the ground up for the current generation of game systems. The result is far from just a new coat of paint on an old dungeon crawler. What begins with a hint of the familiar during character creation around a campfire quickly leaps into something new, something bigger. These are my impressions, followed by some feedback from both my wife and I.
Diablo 4 establishes itself right away as different, from the way the story is told to the scale of the world we arrive in. To say that the game is darker is both an understatement and an oversimplification. The world is more detailed and densely populated, both with foes and things and places to discover. Familiar enemies seem more dangerous, and the puzzles feel fresh.
My wife and I both chose the second tier of difficulty as we had played the previous titles on higher difficulty and found the challenge was worthy. It felt tuned to be just on the cusp of too difficult to play solo, and ideal in a party of two. The dungeons, bosses and some elites are significantly harder than Diablo 3, requiring much more attention to gear and skill choice earlier in the game. It adds up to gameplay that is immediately engaging and difficult to put down. We spent most of the weekend playing and felt like we had barely scratched the surface.
Diablo 4 is also a feast for the ears. I love the choice of haunting music and ambient sounds. The effects feel more dramatic, the hits land harder. The audio team really outdid themselves in weaving a vibrant atmosphere.
As for the gameplay itself, it was evident the game was still in beta. There were numerous minor bugs, although neither my wife or I ran into excessive crashing. She played first a Barbarian and found that the difficulty for melee characters in the early boss fights was very steep compared to ranged characters. This evened out somewhat later, although the toughest encounters still seemed extra punishing for characters that rely on sustained close-range attacks to fuel their stronger abilities. I played a Rogue and enjoyed the challenge, although I feel some of the abilities when combined with the right gear were probably overpowered in all but the toughest encounters, especially how shadow-imbued attacks scale with gear that augments the core damage attacks.
It was nice to run into as many players in the world as we did, which made the world feel that much more alive. The above world encounters scaled well to the number of players, leading to unprecedented mayhem in challenging encounters. The variety of these was also refreshing, and they were frequent enough that it was not hard to find something to do when you ventured away from the safety of town. It was also not uncommon to discover an overworld boss or challenge far more difficult than a small group can manage, which encourages groups of players to work together.
Between side quests, overworld events, world bosses, numerous dungeons and other things to explore for, we felt like there was no shortage of things to do. By the end of the weekend there was a staggering number of side quests available on top of a quickly growing challenge by level 20. I felt very attached to my character after two short days. He was not just another rogue. With the level of customization and depth of the skill tree and gear choices I felt strongly that he was my rogue, and this is a pretty big step for the Diablo series where characters once were nearly indistinguishable from one another. Our heroes get more screen time than in the past, too, including improved cutscene mechanics where we get to see our customized characters up close, and in speaking roles.
I believe this is one of the ways Diablo IV shines the brightest. Even at the title screen, our hero is close enough to admire the detail of the armor, tattoos and even the glean of sweat on their skin. It is not just a gritty, dark world. It is further removed from the arcade feel of its predecessors. From an early point in the game, it makes it easy to customize your armor and weapon appearances based on items you have found without punitive cost. We could tell this was a popular feature based on the number of strangers we ran into near the first area where your wardrobe can be managed.
I hope the teams that planned and built these areas and experiences looked down on crowded Kyovashad with pride. It was certainly a sight to behold.
My wife and I eagerly await our return to Fractured Peaks when the game is released later this year.