Diablo IV’s open beta is finally over, which means we won’t get a chance to play the loot RPG again until it releases on June 6. Now that most everyone at Kotaku has had a chance to experience hell (or at least the emissaries you meet at the start of the game), we decided to get a few people together to chat about what we liked, what makes us optimistic and what left us a little wary during our time at Sanctuary.
Ethan Gach, Senior Reporter: I wasn’t really thinking about Diablo IV until 2023. After this beta, it’s probably the game I’m most looking forward to this year after Starfield and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. It was completely unexpected, even if it is, at first glance, much more Diablo.
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Eric Schulkin, video editor: The most Diablo, Ethan. Like you, I hadn’t thought much about Diablo IV this year. It loomed in the background of my mind like the presence of a First Evil. It was nice to get a glimpse with this beta of how hopelessly obsessed I would become with the full release of the game in June.
Levi Winslow, Editor: Obsessed totally describes my weekend with the beta, TBH. Like you two, Diablo IV wasn’t something on my radar. I knew it was coming, of course, but I didn’t think I’d become so enamored with the idea of killing Hellspawn until I had some time with the game. Now, weirdly, it is all I can think of. Guess digging through hell is going to take up a lot of my time in June. What courses did you all take during your time with the beta?
Ethan: I played very briefly with Druid and Necromancer, but mostly just stuck with my Barb, which is extremely annoying but I feel oddly compelled to redeem. I can definitely see the potential at higher levels, but this is definitely the least “interesting” class I’ve tried.
Eric: I played a lot of Rogue which, in my humble opinion, is awesome. Setting up caltrops and traps, choosing when to hang back and use my bow while dashing around added variety to fights for me. We will see how I feel through several acts. I also spent some time with the Necromancer.
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Levi: This time I played with the Necromancer. I still think the Rogue Is Dope, but IDK, something about the Necromancer is really broken. Summon a gang of skulls to aid you in battle (at one point I had seven skeleton warriors with me, dark fools), siphon health from enemies through blood arts, plant curses that deal damage and status effects, which could be paired with passive abilities to deal even more damage and status effects… Necro feels OP at early levels. Some of my power started to diminish as I approached level 20, but even then the necromancer was working! It felt good to be a goth, hellish girl. Possibly my favorite class right now. Speaking of OP classes, what do you think of Blizzard’s comments regarding the inequality of each character at the start? Have you noticed a power difference?
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Ethan: It definitely takes a while for the Barbarian to connect, but I also like that the classes have unique power curves. I’m used to MOBAs like Dota 2 where sometimes it takes a while for your investment in a build to pay off. Much of this will certainly be mitigated by playing co-op.
Eric: Yeah. At this point, some Diablo classes and builds are better suited to being in a group. Especially early in the game, which is what I think this comment from Blizzard was getting at. Don’t expect everyone to have the same level of strength right from the start. The Rogue is your classic damage dealer, but it also has survivability options outside of standard evasion, so I always felt like I could handle whatever the game threw at me.
Levi: I agree that it’s kind of obvious that not all classes would feel equal in power from the start. I’m not sure it would make such a fun experience anyway. That said, I think there are two classes in particular – the Necromancer and the Rogue – that have some early game advantages, particularly when it comes to their damage and handling options. However, things changed around level 20. My partner and I played much of this beta in couch co-op, with me as a necromancer and her as a druid. By the time we both reached level 20, I saw that she was beating bosses a bit faster than me. The damage difference wasn’t astronomical or anything, but I could tell she was hitting a bit harder than me. Still, there’s no such thing as rolling eight-deep hell and just jumping fools. It’s my favorite thing.
Ethan: What else has impressed you in the beta so far? I think my understated favorite thing is the incredible soundtrack that leans very hard into sinister fatalism. Here, I smack skulls and compare rolls of armor while violins cry like I’m in the middle of a black-and-white WWII movie. Diablo III’s mood swing does a lot of work to make me feel like there’s a world worth investing in here beyond the multicolored loot slot.
Eric: You can tell in real time and the care was put into making that mood shift happen as the eerie, dark goth vibes were immaculate. Hearing the goats bleat their last breath never gets old, it turns out. I was very impressed by the overworld. Discovering the dark corners of the Diablo IV map has been a truly satisfying experience. The caves, dungeons, side quests and fortresses added a lot of richness to the gameplay and felt well designed. I didn’t like Destiny-esque world events, as they dragged my frame rate while playing on PC, and I sometimes felt pressured to participate in them as I was funneled through areas of the map while advancing through the main campaign.
Levi: Yeah, I agree, world events have also been the bane of my PS5’s existence. Every time I started one, the frame rate dropped to near stop-motion levels. It wasn’t good, and it probably didn’t help that I was playing co-op most of that weekend. That said, I think the world was the most impressive part. The gravity of the narrative juxtaposed with the lushness of certain environments left a lasting impression on me. The variety of locations, the characters you meet and how they interact, the way the evil slowly unfolds as you progress through the story – Diablo IV has an evocative world I could get lost in . I called it the perfect podcast game. I still feel that way, but that certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t dead roses to stop and smell once in a while. The world is teeming with life in every corner, which inspired me to turn over as many stones as possible.
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Ethan: All of that is why I wish there was a way to play offline, or the social aspects were more siloed. Having random strangers running down a bespoke city street can break the illusion, but most of the time it only led to weird rubber band issues and other connectivity issues in line. Have any of you run into the issue where your character can’t run to the next instance as if caught on a treadmill at invisible breaks on the map?
Eric: Yes, several times. When I tried to flee from the main center of Kyovashad or a small settlement, my character could not advance further. I wish there was an offline mode or even a way to opt out of these world events.
Levi: It definitely needs an offline mode. There have been so many instances where my partner has said to me, “What’s going on right now? as our characters raced in place trying to leave towns and settlements. Knowing the games, I thought it was frustrating albeit hilarious. My partner? She didn’t have the same patience, finding the rubber band more frustrating than hilarious. The dichotomy of the two of us. That said, it wasn’t really a problem after the end of Saturday until the start of Sunday. I didn’t experience the issue as much as the beta slowly ended. Hopefully this will be smoothed out in the full game. Speaking of the full game and as we begin to wrap up, is Diablo IV a day one buy for you all? I think my partner is invested enough that I pick it up when it comes out on June 6th. She’s a fan of Gauntlet Dark Legacy and we’ve played Minecraft Dungeons through hell and back, so another couch co-op dungeon crawler is going to be big for us.
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Ethan: I think the beta, while a good first impression, is just a small preview of what this game could be, so I’m curious to see how the final product will fare. Will the game feel polished or look like an Early Access release? Just a few months ago, some developers told the Washington Post that there was internal pressure to potentially crush to release the game by June. And the biggest question will be about monetization. The real-money auction house was such a bad idea that it initially killed all the goodwill and momentum of Diablo III. The game eventually recovered, but it was a huge misstep. Hopefully Diablo IV avoids this and keeps seasonal microtransactions live as far as possible. I hope that’s what Diablo Immortal was for.
Eric: I’d like to believe I’d have the self-discipline to wait those first few weeks and see what state the game gets into, but really, who am I kidding? I’ll also be a day one purchase, helping the people of Sanctuary with their collective mommy issues. The beta showed me enough of what I was looking for in a new Diablo game.
Levi: And we all have mommy issues, especially when succubus mommy Lilith comes knocking on the door. Yeah, the beta was a good look at the depravity of Sanctuary. I’m glad to see how far this hell goes.
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