Over the past week or so, we’ve spent about 20 hours creating a preview of Diablo 4 on PS5, with near-full access to a large (and often snowy) portion of the game’s open world map. Complete with a series of main story missions and a bunch of side missions, it’s fair to say we’ve got a pretty good idea of what the next RPG is all about.
The short version is that Diablo 4 is more ‘earthly’ than Diablo 3, while being more ambitious in scope. There is no doubt that it still is Feel Like Diablo, but it’s Diablo in the mold of a fairly traditional role-playing adventure, as you travel from village to city to city, solving people’s problems and beating up all sorts of monsters along the way.
You still have hub areas – in the build we played, our central port of call was the distinctly gray city of Keuvachad – but there’s a clear focus on exploration in this long-awaited sequel. Once again, Diablo 4 is set in an open world, filled with mobile teams of monsters, procedurally generated events, and bumbling quest-givers. You’re completely free to go and do whatever you want, though some areas require a higher player level than others, so you don’t get cannibalized by much stronger enemies.
Based on what we’ve played, the game does a great job of coaxing you off the beaten track. It almost feels like an isometric Skyrim at times, thanks to a map full of dungeons and points of interest, intentionally teasing you away from your current target marker. And of course, that’s without mentioning the promise of the all-important loot, which is found in treasure chests and dropped by dead enemies.
Despite playing an unfinished — and covered in content — build, we couldn’t help but invest in our character progression. Diablo’s addictive qualities really shine through, as the game keeps you hooked with low gear and an almost constant stream of experience points. Even the branching design of the skill tree draws you in, forcing you to choose between different abilities and then disagree versions of those capabilities. It wasn’t long before you considered character builds with increased potency, resetting your skill point allocation for a small amount of gold before committing to an entirely new and exciting style of play.
In fact, there’s plenty of room for experimentation here, especially since you can always roam the open world and test your combat prowess without restrictions. We only had access to three character classes – Barbarian, Rogue, and Mage – but each one feels as unique as you’d expect, and that becomes more and more evident as you make your way through the aforementioned skill trees.
However, level 25 was the max in this preview build, which means we can only get a taste of what the all-powerful protagonist might be playing. However, we’d say there’s definitely a more tactical advantage to Diablo 4’s combat. Perhaps the biggest change from Diablo 3 is that battles don’t just crush your stats against your opponent – at least, not in those opening hours. You still cycle through your abilities and make the most of your gear, but the lack of automatic health regeneration means you need to take advantage of healing potions when things get dicey.
As such, combat is about efficiency. Correctly positioning yourself before unleashing a high-damage ability can make all the difference, and that’s where the game’s new dodge mechanic comes in. Evasion has a five-second cooldown now, so it should be used sparingly, as when you have no choice but to dodge a boss’s special attack. The result is that Diablo 4’s combat has a more deliberate flow, and on top of that, everything feels heavier. Not to the point where responsiveness is hampered, but if you’re familiar with the arcade-y style of Diablo 3, you’ll notice the added harshness.
This heaviness is present in animation as well. Each attack has its weight, and the visual effects can be very satisfying. One ability in particular, “Barbarian Revolt,” is a perfect example: a warrior slashes his weapon or hands on the ground, hurling slabs of rock and earth at the enemy. The entire animation is amusingly brutal, especially as the projectiles crush your enemies.
But the most important thing is that Diablo 4 feels great to play, even at this early stage. Once you unlock a set of abilities that you can mix and match, there’s a wonderful sense of rhythm as hordes of creatures make their way through.
However, facing the bosses wasn’t very rewarding. In an apparent effort to differentiate proper boss fights from normal skirmishes, the big bad guys have clear attack patterns and chunky health bars. This isn’t necessarily anything new for Diablo, but the bosses we fought in this preview build used to rely on bullet-hell sequences that didn’t. so far click. Dodgy results boxes and poor readability often made these sections a bit of a chore, which isn’t ideal when you’re working with a limited number of health potions.
Hopefully, the boss fights will improve before the game is fully released, because outside of these somewhat awkward encounters, our brief stint with Diablo 4 has been a blast. The addictive loot and character progression systems seem to be in place, while the move to an open world structure seems to bring a new appreciation to the setting for the experience.
In some ways, this fourth installment in Blizzard’s long-running series is a mix of Diablo 2 and Diablo 3. It’s the latter’s approach to solid combat and dizzying energy flights, but it’s also the former’s love of fantasy horror. This is especially true of the game’s main story – which we can’t say much about – but it definitely leans into that darker side of the series. And the art direction plays into this, too — it’s an unabashedly dark adventure, but a much more engaging one to make.
Diablo 4 is one to watch out for in 2023, then. While there are some parts of the game that long-time fans might not like – like the MMOs that are more like co-player games, this Feel Like an inevitable property development, complete with promises of long term direct service support. The proof, as always, will be in the pudding – but based on what we’ve played with Diablo 4 so far, we’re excited as hell and back.
Are you looking forward to Diablo 4 next year? Are you a big fan of the series? Start planning your character in the comments section below.
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