Here at Grimdark Magazine, a lucky few of us obtained Early Access to the highly anticipated Diablo IV, Blizzard Entertainment’s latest instalment in their phenomenally successful Diablo video game franchise. Initial Early Access was granted on March 17th-19th, with a fully public Open Beta occurring the following weekend (24th-26th). Being fortunate enough to play across both weekends, I’m pleased to report that I’ve been very excited by what I’ve seen so far.
Thirty years after the events of Diablo III—where the Eternal Conflict between the High Heavens and Burning Hells has left humanity scrabbling to rebuild their lives in the dirt—a legendary name emerges: Lilith, Daughter of Hatred, Creator of Sanctuary and Our Blessed Mother. Once banished to the void by her angel lover Inarius for slaughtering both angels and demons to protect their Nephalem offspring, Lilith has been summoned once more to Sanctuary: to reclaim her power, enthral the hearts of humankind, and consume the world with hatred.
The nature of Diablo’s hack-and-slash, dungeon-crawling gameplay has always been an addictive one. Diablo IV is no different. Although there’s absolutely nothing new in this category for veteran players (except a few extra moves such as climbing walls and sliding down slopes), truthfully, there’s only joy in that familiarity.
Meanwhile, players for whom Diablo IV will be their first foray into Sanctuary will have absolutely no problems getting sucked in along with the rest of us. The storyline is nebulous and tropey enough to be almost completely ignored in favour of having enormous fun: completing side quests, plundering dungeons, levelling up and laying waste to your literal legions of hellish enemies.
Overall, my main impression is how visually stunning everything is. The opening cut scene is brutal, gory and deliciously creepy, and there is a very a real sense of bleak, desolate hopelessness clinging to the environments you’re exploring. Tonally, Diablo IV feels reminiscent of Diablo II (and for those who relish a little gore and evil in their fantasy worlds, this is a very good thing). Character customisations have also been greatly improved upon, with players having far greater control over the appearance of their favourite weapons and armour without having to pay too terrible a price. I loved having my character look so fashionably fierce early doors without being forced to trade off aesthetics in favour of keeping my buffs.
Early Access players were given the entirety of Act 1 to play on maximum difficulty of World Tier II (Veteran), although we could only initially choose from 3 of the 5 available classes: Barbarian; Sorcerer and Rogue. Druid and Necromancer became available during the Open Access weekend.
Between us, my partner and I managed to test out all but the bear-shifting Druid, although Grimdark Magazine’s Adrian chose Druid on his playthrough and confirmed they were a lot of fun. Of the five classes, the Sorcerer—a ranged attacker—was my personal favourite, especially when paired with the melee Barbarian, which made for varied and challenging gameplay.
Sadly, the skeleton-raising Necromancer is ridiculously overpowered, to the point my partner and I were able to leave the game running for an hour on top of a world event where enemies were constantly spawning. Whilst we ate our dinner, our characters remained alive, completely unharmed and protected by my partner’s Necromancer skeleton army. Without having to lift a finger ourselves, we returned to a pile of steaming corpses in the snow. It is my sincere hope the Necromancer class gets nerfed in time for the full release in June, along with the excessive item and coin accumulation system, which left us both feeling pretty god-like far too early on.
As expected with Early Access experiences, there were multiple benefits and drawbacks to the testing weekends. For example, players could earn the Beta Wolf Pack Cosmetic Items, to be accessed upon Diablo IV’s release, if their characters successfully reached Level 20 (all characters maxed out at Level 25).
However, many players were unable to fight certain co-op bosses or participate in featured global events due to server lag issues. Incidentally, it is a source of great frustration that Blizzard continues to insist that players must be permanently connected to their Battle.net account—particularly for those with patchy internet connection, or when Blizzard’s servers crash or are overloaded (which they did multiple times during the beta period).
In conclusion, Diablo IV has all the makings of yet another tour-de-force instalment of the franchise. I know I certainly spent much of the layover between testing weekends itching to get stuck back in, and ever since the Open Beta period ended, all I’ve wanted to do is play more of it. Simply put: 6th June 2023 cannot come soon enough.