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Diablo 4 Open Beta: 9 Things We Loved & Hated About The Action RPG

Update: Video review-in-progress added.

Within the 10 years since Diablo 3, the action RPG genre has seen its fair share of takers to the throne. Notable ones born out of Diablo’s gaming DNA include Path of Exile (which is still going strong) and Grim Dawn (the Titan Quest successor). Other entries that literally changed perspectives and beat-to-beat gameplay and level structures include the Borderlands series (the latest being part 3 and Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands) and both Destiny entries (which hammered home the online-only and games-as-service tropes).

This means Blizzard needs to up its game in standing out among its action RPG peers beyond just brand name: the Diablo franchise has been a genre-definer since 1997 and 2000, but that was a long time ago. Can the title be usurped by the original action RPG franchise with Diablo 4?

After two weekends of trying out the Early Access and Open Beta, I’d say that Blizzard’s next take on the action RPG is a pretty solid effort so far. Let’s break down what we loved (and hated) about the game and its open beta weekend sessions.

Loved: The Action & Feel

This is probably one of 2023’s most solid action RPG efforts in terms of controls (click things and move around; easy stuff) and the feedback whenever you attack or receiving a pounding. Given the big team working on the game, it’s expected. But it’s a helluva sight to see and hear, as well as play with a keyboard-and-mouse setup. The game is going for its dark and moody vibe ala Diablo 2 but with a richer palette while maintaining its dread. Yet the game’s trademark loot sounds, potion bubbles, and the plethora of confirmed attacks and the following death throes/flesh rip are all prevalent and amplified.

Part of the action RPG’s fun is the sound design akin to how slot machines reward players; Diablo 4 has no problems with that bit with the sound of loot dropping, enemies dying, and even the ambience when wandering all around one of Sanctuary’s snowy/foresty areas. Or in the hellish dungeons filled with “cockroach legs” and flailing tendrils as described eloquently by my colleague Xandria. In any case, the core gameplay loop just feels good to control and experience from the get-go up until the beta’s level cap of 25.


Loved: The Dark Storyline

If there’s one thing to comment on Diablo, is that its story isn’t all that fleshed out unless you keep digging up its lore with the Book of Cain or Book of Tyrael in bookstores. Even Diablo 3’s attempt at telling a story fell flat since it’s all done with talking heads and the same isometric perspective that just takes you out of the moment to feel invested.

Diablo 4 changed all that with in-game cutscenes. Throughout the game, you’ll come across Lilith’s insignias that you can activate to see what happened moments before you arrived at the proverbial scene of the crime. At one point early in the game, your character was drugged and was about to be dragged and slaughtered for a ritual just to prove that Diablo’s story will take you to dark places.

The whole game’s objective boils down to “find Lilith and stop her plans”, but the game does its best to share Lilith’s motives, hints of familial issues between Lilith, her ex-lover, and her son, and also how Horadrim survivor Lorath Nair enters the fray to help you somewhat. Kudos to the voicework portrayed in the key scenes and how they’re framed and presented: I suspect that stars like Ralph Ineson (who probably voiced Lorath) and Marina Sirtis (notable Star Trek actress who probably voiced Lilith) are involved; it’s not like Activision Blizzard doesn’t have the money.


Loved: The Necromancer, Rogue, and Sorcerer

It’s no secret that I love to blow stuff up in action games. So when Diablo 4 presented me with options to use a Rogue who can chain shadow explosions with her dash slashes, a Sorcerer who summon Hydras with ample firepower to go with her large AoE fireballs, and a Necromancer who has a Contra spreadgun-style Bone Shard with a ton of minions at his disposal, I’m spoilt for choice.

These three classes showcase the fun to be had during the game’s two difficulty tiers, and a peek at how powerful they can get when at level 25 and with their Class Specialization skills sorted (after doing a class-specific quest in the Act 1 region). The Necromancer starts out with the Book of the Dead where he can customize his skeleton army. The Sorcerer can use Enchantments to power up their attacks passively via using one of their unlocked spells; for example, using Meteor as an Enchantment means there’s a 3% chance a Meteor will fly down if I hit something.

The Rogue has three different fighting styles; two of them for now in the open beta are Combo Points and Sightless Eye. Combo points are gathered with your basic skill, in which you can use points to buff up your core skills; a Barrage with max combo points means more damage and arrow spread, for example. Sightless Eye allows you to gain “Sightless” energy by killing randomly-marked foes; when your energy gauge is full, you gain unlimited energy for a limited time. This means you get rewarded for being quick with your metaphoric trigger finger, killing things on sight and getting unlimited Barrage opportunities.

No matter which of the three you pick, they’re all great to play as and they all showcase how fun the loot grind can get, especially with friends.


Loved: The Customizable Skill Tree

You can respec from the get-go, provided you have a bit of money. And you’ll get more than enough to change up your build on the fly to your heart’s content. Want to go melee Druid with the Werewolf/Werebear shout and groundpound melee combo? Go ahead. Want to change to a Storm and Hurricane/Tornado ranged build because too many enemies have keepaway options? Just find a safe spot and respec everything from scratch.

I suspect the game will get more interesting with its builds once players hit level 70 and go through a couple of Paragon levels (extra levels with perks for non-Diablo fans), especially with the game’s Imprint system (find a Legendary skill or Aspect, imprint it onto your gear of choice). Still, the first 25 levels prove that you can come up with effective playstyles, provided some proper balancing is done.


Loved: The Surprises Along The Way

When the Butcher greeted me during an Aspect Dungeon quest, I was scared s***less because I was not prepared to deal with him. For a big guy, he is really quick. Obviously he took me down, but it did teach me not to take your questing lightly.

Ditto the Treasure Goblin chase-down; yes, they rarely appear, but hunting them down while dealing with an ever-present mob is one of the most dangerous yet exhilarating things I’ve done. While the random World quests are fun and all (the ones with the orange radar), it’s these random moments with elite bosses and literal loot goblins that remind us why action RPGs can still thrill us.

Oh, and the World Boss are fun to take down, though this isn’t without its issues.


Hated: Melee & Overall Balance Seems Underwhelming

We will have to address the elephants in the room: the Barbarian and Druid’s melee options. They suck, and the game’s first Act seem to feature a lot of ranged enemies and keepaway foes who have evasion skills. The aforementioned Necromancer, Sorcerer, and Rogue have no issues since they have projectiles and minions -hydras, skeletons- to deal with mobs and said evaders. For those who want the Werewolf Druid or Whirlwind Barbarian? I had a rough time going through Tier 2 difficulty just because the zoning deck is stacked against me.

On the flip side, I feel that the Necromancer is pretty overpowered. To put things in context, the Barbarian and Druid’s class specialization quests are locked away in the beta. The Necromancer already has his class specialization perks at the start of the game; he only has to unlock his Golem-summoning skills at level 25, and even then I’m not sure if he even needs it in the short run.


Hated: Level-Scaling Nonsense

This ties in with the first time I played the game with a Barbarian. The enemies feel like they have more hitpoints and are more sponge-y when compared to past Diablo titles. Perhaps the reason why is because it makes scoring a powerful legendary all the more rewarding, mowing down foes once you have a good number of high-tier gear. This may be fixed and would feel a lot more apparent when the loot drop rates are balanced (they are increased just for the beta), but it feels like the developer want to have us experience a slightly tougher time with the game just like how players felt when playing the first two Diablo titles.


Hated: Several Quality-Of-Life Downgrades

There’s a huge number of quirks to address here. Let’s go through them in bullet point form:

  • Why do we need to scrap items just to get transmog skins? The last game let us get transmog by just getting the item via random drops. Why go through that extra step?
  • Why isn’t there a map overlay for everything beyond the linear dungeons?
  • Why can’t we zoom out further to see the whole class skill tree in one screen?
  • Why can low-level players enter the World Boss arena? There should be a stricter cap for players who can fight World Bosses because low level players who hang around and do nothing while everyone else does the heavy lifting is a griefing tactic.
  • Why can’t we see all possible rolls at the Occultist? I would like to know what my ability chances are without wasting so much gold on a crapshoot. Blind picks for these sort of mechanics aren’t fun.
  • Why can’t I ping my friends to go to a specific location? Diablo 3 had the banner system to ping other players; why can’t you just bring that to Diablo 4?
  • Why should gems take up as many slots as gear and items? Why not have a separate tab for gems, especially when you’re going to get a s***ton of them in Tier 3/Tier 4 post-level 70 grinding?
  • Why isn’t there a loot filter option? It’s 2023 and past action RPGs have this already.
  • Why is it hard to spot Elites from regular enemies in this Diablo title? Give them an aura or something to make them stand out.

Hated: The MMO-ness Of It All

So we have our non-staple for a Diablo game: a World boss that pops up at specific intervals of the day. While the boss itself is fun with a dedicated party, it does make Diablo as a whole feel like it’s trying to match the MMORPG ecosystem that’s already laid out by World of WarCraft.

This is a bizarre decision if that’s the case, considering that Diablo and World of WarCraft are two different types of RPGs and shouldn’t be cross-streaming with one another. The open-world approach to Diablo is great and all, but just keep the action RPG flavours preserved and don’t turn it into a mess of a hybrid like Lost Ark or some other South Korean MMO garbage.

For the most part, Diablo 4 is a fun action RPG and its new-yet-kinda-old mechanics feel like a good and fresh step forward. Even with the usual beta kerfuffles -lag spikes, disconnects, what-have-you- the experience so far seems promising and is leaning towards the positive. However, there are a good number of quirks and amateur-level nonsense still plaguing this version of the game. Let’s hope that they’re all ironed out in its launch month, because this might be Blizzard’s last stand if its early reception turns sour.

Diablo 4 will be out for PC and consoles on 6th June.

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