Diablo 4 Beta Hands-On Impressions – A Return to Sanctuary

diablo 4 hands-on preview

With the Diablo 4 beta already in its second and final week, many players have gotten the chance to witness the horrors of Sanctuary once more, this time in a quest to take down the Mother of Sanctuary herself, Lilith. Despite only having access to Act 1 and various other limitations (such as the level cap being 25), you get to do a lot in the beta, especially considering the fact that it’s only set to run for two weekends.

But was Diablo 4 just as good as players made it out to be, or did it fail to meet the ever-growing expectations of Diablo, ARPG, and Blizzard fans alike? Here’s our beta preview for Diablo 4 and our first impressions after giving the game an honest go at it.

Back to the Grind

Like many other ARPGs, Diablo 4’s gameplay revolves around a core loop: take down enemies, loot gear, improve your loadout, and repeat. It’s a simple, yet addicting system, rewarding players with gear that either improves their current build or entices them to try out a new one. In truth, it’s difficult to comment on Diablo 4’s gameplay at the moment, given the fact that games such as Diablo 4 are more heavily reliant on their endgame activities than anything else. Sure, the leveling process is important, but with players just barely able to unlock their Ultimate Skills at level 25, you really can’t get a feel for what a finalized, optimized build plays like until the full game releases this June.

As such, let’s talk more about combat encounter design in Diablo 4, particularly when it comes to boss fights. I played both Barbarian and Druid during the beta weekends, mostly on Barbarian, and the simple truth is that unless you managed to nab an insanely good Legendary that can serve as the core of your build, some of the bosses can be pretty difficult to beat on melee classes. There are bosses that can move around quickly throughout the arena, shove players away from them and deal massive damage, or simply prevent you from getting on top of them with DoT puddles. This results in a somewhat frustrating experience for players who are so used to just hacking away at enemies non-stop. 

When playing through the main quests, I did have to respec my character twice in order to take down a couple of the bosses. I ran a Whirlwind build for my Barbarian, which is great when doing dungeons, but not so much against individual bosses. Thankfully, it was very affordable to respec during the beta, so I didn’t mind it that much, but it felt a bit disappointing nonetheless. I find it difficult to recommend playing through the story for the first time with a melee class or build unless you really want to because of this. 

In terms of class design, I’d say that Blizzard did a pretty solid job at defining various playstyles for each class. For Barbarian, you could go for a Berserking build, a Whirlwind-focused build, or a Bleeding build, to name a few. And you aren’t pigeonholed into sticking with the obvious playstyles, either, giving you a bit of flexibility with your loadout. Some builds will do certain things better than others, with some better at dungeon clearing and others better at boss DPS, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles with ARPGs.

A Darker, More Detailed Sanctuary

Diablo 4 takes the visual quality of the Diablo series to the next level with impressive character models and textures. Its in-game cutscenes are realistic and allow your characters to be part of them, which really adds to Diablo 4’s overall immersion. It can be a bit jarring to see your character from different angles after being so used to the isometric view during gameplay, but when equipping transmog, swapping gear, or inspecting other players, the character models really show off their improvements over Diablo 3.

While Early Access and Open Beta only allowed players to access the Fractured Peaks region, there was quite a bit of variety among the zones that you could explore. Snow-filled mountains, damp caves, and stony cliffs litter the area, and even with lower graphic settings, they look stunning. The dungeons are also just as detailed, with churches, basements, mines, and much more, making even the most tiresome of grinds a visual treat at the very least. 

And then there are the demons. Diablo 4’s enemies range from the goat-like khazra and undead revenants to the more classic succubi and Pit Lords. With so many of them appearing on your screen at once, it can be easy to miss the details found in these models. Bosses, on the other hand, are much more in-your-face, as they unleash attacks and spells that look just as powerful and imposing as they do. Of course, the bosses during beta were only up to level 30, so one can only imagine what awaits players in endgame.

An “Open”-World ARPG Experience

Diablo 4 has done away with the usual zone-based maps that we’re used to in other ARPG titles. Instead of leaving one area and entering another with a loading screen as a transition, moving around the Fractured Peaks is seamless—or at least, that’s what it’s supposed to look like from the surface. In truth, players are still leaving one zone and entering the next one, but by using some clever coding, your character will seamlessly move like both areas are connected.

That is, of course, if the system works as intended. During both Early Access and Open Beta weekends, I often found my character rubberbanding during transitions, and when my connection to the servers wasn’t great, it would take seconds before I could actually move into the next zone. This is something that Blizzard will hopefully address come launch.

A Rough Start

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that during the beta, players ran into a multitude of bugs and issues that made playing through the beta weekends a bit of a challenge. Aside from the long login queue times, with wait times usually reaching an hour or more during peak hours, players were plagued with various connection issues, ranging from fluctuating ping, to rubberbanding as mentioned earlier, to sudden disconnections while playing. In the worst of cases, you’d disconnect entirely and have to log in again, forcing you to sit in the queue for another hour or so. Performance issues are also common across lower-end PCs despite the somewhat mild PC requirements, given modern video game standards. 

To their credit, Blizzard is aware of the issues and posted a list of known issues during the Early Access beta. While some of these issues are still present in the game, there are still a few months before the game fully comes out. By then, Blizzard will have (hopefully) ironed out the kinks.

Final Thoughts

Diablo 4’s an ARPG, so it’s not a game that everyone can pick up right away and enjoy. But for those who enjoy grinding hours of content and improving your character’s gear as much as possible, Diablo 4 seems to be a solid entry in the Diablo series, as long as Blizzard is able to address the various issues that plague the beta at the moment.

MP1st was given access to Diablo 4’s Early Access and Open Beta weekends. Diablo 4 is set to launch on June 6, 2023 on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

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