I’ve spent 10 hours with Diablo 4 and I’m hooked – it was worth the wait

I had my doubts. Ever since I first played Diablo 4 at BlizzCon 2019, I’ve had questions swirling around in my head – was it really that long? – and I had questions about the need for a big new Diablo in the first place. But after 10 hours with it since the beginning of the game I can see the shape it’s taking and I like it. I like the tone, I like the mechanics, I like the world. There are some things I can’t see, but overall this is clearly the next generation of Diablo.

Oddly enough, it’s the world that sticks in my mind the most. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that an open world is one of the big new things about Diablo 4, and Blizzard has been telling us at every PR beat how badly they’d like the world to feel dark, like that previous Diablo games. Diablo 3 had a more cartoonish touch, a kind of Warcrafty touch.

And it’s true, Diablo 4 feels darker, not in the literal light sense, but in a more moody sense. It’s dark and unsettling. It’s grumpy and desaturated. It’s a fantasy world where it always rains and winds – a gray world of mud and weather-beaten people. A harsh world full of harsh realities. I can’t think of a better comparison in this regard than Game of Thrones in the North: an unwavering place where people don’t smile much. It feels like.

Zoe also played the preview build. Here’s what she thinks.

More than any other game in the series, Diablo 4 really takes the time to root you in. There are prominent cinematics in particular moments that can be quite disturbing, but it’s the in-game cutscenes where the camera flies down to better frame what you’re seeing. Honestly, I usually never pay attention to that in Diablo games. They are just taste against the background of mass slaughter. But it feels like Diablo 4 wants us to spend a little more time with them here.

One scene that stands out from the beginning of the game was being tricked by a whistling villager, drugged, and then taken to a shed where he clearly intended to cut me up and sacrifice me. What struck me was how leisurely he – and he – was. Its normality made it doubly unsettling, as if the game were saying, hey, that’s the way it is – this is the world you’re playing in.

It’s this leisurely nature that makes Diablo 4 look really different from the latest Diablo game, Diablo Immortal. This game was in a hurry to impress you, throw spectacular encounters at you and shower you with rewards. This makes it so exciting that you can’t look away like a free-to-play game has to before revealing a grind later on.

But Diablo 4 doesn’t do that, it lets things breathe. It lets the world breathe when you’re introduced to it, and it lets you breathe when the world introduces you to things – mechanics, rewards, ways of playing the game. There’s no rush here, which I really like, and there’s a tremendous amount of confidence that comes from the game letting things build up gently.

None of this is to say that Diablo 4 is boring – far from it. I’m particularly impressed with how the game manages to make combat feel challenging and exciting right from the start – something Diablo 3 was hopeless at. This has a lot to do with the new world tier difficulty options that are available. There are two to choose from when you start, and the harder you go, the better your rewards will be. But if you go harder be ready to die, not all the time but I died a few times against bosses and some elite groups. (By the way, world tier levels can be changed in-game from the world tier statues in cities. When you’re grouped, the group leader determines the world state.)

However, it is not just a matter of difficulty. It feels like Diablo 4 better understands how to make enemy encounters more exciting and challenging as a whole. Enemies themselves have been refreshed or redesigned or are completely new – my favorites are the Broodlords’ vampires, who look like floating Nosferatus and teleport around in a puff of smoke and bats, making them really hard to get to. And enemies who knock you down, freeze you, or otherwise render you unable to heal are a particular danger here.

But there’s also a sense of fun – a realization of when Diablo feels best. Take the ghouls: They’re squishy and unremarkable on their own, so the game throws 15 of them at you at once so you can smash them all to bits and feel like a badass.

The character creation is great. I especially love the attention to the muscles in the different models.

This understanding also extends to how Blizzard populates the open world. You’ll find small mini-dungeons for short bursts of action set alongside larger mini-zones for longer indentations. And they will be near ring areas on the map that represent world events, which are usually a variation of wave-based attacks that you must either survive, protect someone from, or defeat in a limited time. And they all get harder, culminating in a mini-boss and then rewarding you with a big chest full of loot that falls on whatever the enemies have dropped. It’s enemies, enemies, enemies, prey, prey, prey. It’s Diablo at its best.

Accompanying this are exclamation mark side quests, which can be picked up in town or out in the world, which often lead to their own instanced dungeon, and the more elaborately written main quests with their own cutscenes and cinematics. And it all adds up to a world of things to do and one to keep you distracted for hours. After 10 hours, at level 22, I feel like I’ve hardly seen any of it. This place is huge and you will be here for a very long time.

This is the world, and my only real criticism of it is that my build didn’t have any mounts available to ride around on, and it seems like it was designed for them. Also not sure if I need to retrace my steps from dungeons after deleting them which takes more time – why aren’t there portals back up?

Bosses aren’t incredibly dramatic at first, giving plenty of room for the spectacle to grow later. But they are also not weedy and undemanding.

A new system in the game called Aspects entices you to explore the world. These are unlocked from a Codex of Power to do things like conquer a dungeon that you will find somewhere. Aspects themselves are buffs like those found on legendary items and, once unlocked, can be applied to items at an Occultist – a new type of vendor in the game. Effectively, this means you can turn rare (yellow) items into legendary (orange) items, and it gives you more versatility when customizing character builds.

The versatility is also clearly evident in the game’s skill system. It’s much deeper than Diablo 3. It’s built around a skill tree system that slowly opens up as you spend more points in it, but there are branching and permutations well beyond the capacity of the points you spend on it you have to specialise. There’s such a staggering amount of choice that you can even filter it by keyword, and I think the game expects you to keep changing your mind because it’s offering you respecs straight from the tree itself.

As excited as I am about what I’ve played, it’s important to remind you that there are things I didn’t see in this build that are critical to the vision of Diablo 4. Namely the shared world, what other players are walking around and playing alongside you. I’ve only seen a few other players in town in the time I’ve been playing, and after performing a few emotes and trading some elixirs, we were on our way.

Here’s a look at the barbarian skill trees I used. You can see in the background how branched and complex they are. You are captivating. I could get lost in it for days.

I haven’t seen any world bosses either, and these are a big change for Diablo. They’re like organic raids—huge encounters that act like a magnet to bring people together. I remember bumping into one at BlizzCon 2019 and it was quite the spectacle. And while one was added to that earlier part of the game for us to see (they usually spawn later as you get closer to endgame, at around character level 45), it was too rare for me to see it.

I also haven’t tried the Adventure Mode-like Whispers system, or the Nightmare Dungeons, or the Helltide areas, or the Fields of Hatred PvP, all of which will shape the endgame in Diablo 4.

What I was trying to do, however, was a soothing single-player Diablo experience. One where you can see a generational difference between it and the previous Diablo experiences. It’s because of how the game looks, but also because of how the game feels: like it’s a big thing, a big world, and one with big ideas about how people play it together. There are still question marks, but there are also some answers now, and perhaps the biggest question is whether Diablo 4 is worth waiting for, and on that basis, yes, absolutely it is.

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