At long last, the beta for Diablo 4 has arrived, and while it requires a pre-order (or KFC chicken sandwich) to access this first weekend, the game has enough people clogging the servers to make its initial launch here a sadly familiar sort of disaster.
The good news is that when you can play the Diablo 4 beta, it absolutely lives up to expectations in its early hours in terms of gameplay, aesthetics and shockingly, even storytelling, rising above past installments. The bad news is that at least in some regions (like mine), you are allowed maybe 30-60 minutes of gameplay for every 60-120 minutes of re-login queue time.
It was an endless pattern all day yesterday, I’d get in, play for a while, then get booted (usually in the middle of a dungeon with no checkpoints). The game would freeze up, I’d quit and log back in only to find an hour or two of wait time ahead of me. It’s maddening for a game I just want to play by myself, but this is 2023, and such games barely exist without online login requirements anymore. And certainly not a quasi-MMO like this.
I don’t think I need to remind everyone of the disastrous Error 37-laden Diablo 3 launch where the game was rendered non-functional. Blizzard has already begun damage control for long queue times and server issues, and while this “is a beta,” this is also a beta that was sold through pre-orders. At the very least, it should be extended, given these issues. And if the game launches like this, that will be a problem.
But I’ll be damned if the game itself isn’t fantastic, so far.
I’ll admit I rolled my eyes a bit back when the dev team was always going on about returning to the “darker” tone of Diablo 2, as I never had nearly as many issues with the color palatte/themes of Diablo 3 as many extremely loud fans did. But what Blizzard has done for Diablo 4 here is nothing short of extremely impressive so far. In the first thirty minutes of the game, they’ve already given us two of the most horrifying, impressive cutscenes of the entire series so far. I am genuinely interested in Lilith, the Daughter of Hatred who inspires unsettling devotion in humans, and seems removed from the eternal Demon vs. Angel war with something…else planned.
For as many hours as I’ve sunk into the Diablo franchise, I have never much cared for the story. That has immediately changed, albeit admittedly, things do start getting into more traditional territory with less interesting sidequests and main storyline progression with fewer creepy cutscenes. But the tone here is on point, without question.
It’s always hard to judge Diablo gameplay in the very early stages before you have many skills and good loot, but at level 15 (I’d probably be beta max at 25 right now without all the server errors), I’ve unlocked a good amount of Rogue skills, who plays like an expected mix of the original Rogue class and D3’s Demon Hunter, and have even gotten a few legendary drops, indicating perhaps D4 won’t be as stingy with those as D3 was at launch (I remember going 70 hours before my first Legendary drop in D3, an unusable quiver for my Barbarian). When my game last crashed I was in the middle of some sort of Rogue-specific specialization quest that seems somewhat interesting in terms of how it will modify my potential build. Also, they really killed it with character customization:
Monster slaying feels…great. As good as it ever has in this series. My current build is setting a poison trap down, double slash dashing through enemies caught in it, then unleashing arrows on the survivors. If I wanted, I could be doing dagger-based melee antics instead, and while I know you can respec, I haven’t looked into that process yet.
In terms of how Diablo 4 has evolved from past games, I am getting a whole lot of Lost Ark vibes here, the Korean, Diablo-ish MMO that Amazon recently brought to the US, but one laden with I would argue just…too much stuff and too many potentially pay-to-win elements. But you can see some of the DNA here, particularly with achievements tied to exploration of areas in the game that reward players for doing everything in a given zone. And there are a lot of things to do. Public events where you will come across random other players already engaged in them. Tiny cellars with small encounters and rewards. Larger dungeons, that are among the most interesting areas in the game so far, and where I’ve found nearly all my legendaries. The most impressive thing I did was an elaborate “Stronghold” I randomly found out in the world that culminated in the toughest boss fight I’ve seen in the game yet. It certainly seemed like a level beyond anything else I’d seen so far, even if it wasn’t a true “world boss,” which spawn at set times and need to be mobbed by loads of players.
So far, I’m not seeing any warning flags. We have been assured, repeatedly, that all microtransactions in this game are cosmetic, and we are not going to have a Diablo Immortal situation on our hands where it could cost tens of thousands of dollars to max power a character in that mobile monstrosity. It’s fun, it very much feels connected to the roots of Diablo, and if it would just work for an extended period of time without kicking me out, I would already be very much addicted to it.
I’ll hit max level once I can, finish the early campaign and report back with the full experience. Hopefully things get fixed soon.
Follow me on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Subscribe to my free weekly content round-up newsletter, God Rolls.
Pick up my sci-fi novels the Herokiller series and The Earthborn Trilogy.