What we thought of the Diablo 4 early access beta
The doors to Diablo 4 finally flew wide open this past weekend, ahead of the game's release in a couple of months' time, and more than a million people stampeded through. The purpose was to test Diablo 4 under load and after a rocky start, the game and service held up. Whether it'll hold up again when the doors open even wider this weekend, for the open beta, we'll have to wait and see.
But the other purpose was to show everyone first-hand what Blizzard had been cooking up and to see what everyone thinks of it, and as with players, a wide range of opinions flooded in. Here, I gather a couple of them from within Eurogamer, from senior guides writer Jessica Orr - who's a Diablo 3 regular - and guides writer Marie Pritchard, who comes to Diablo for the first time. What did they think? And with it, what did you think - was it what you were hoping for?
It's an exciting moment but it's worth remembering, too, that Activision Blizzard is still a company experiencing significant turbulence. As the release of Diablo 4 approaches, concern over working conditions and crunch deepen, and the undecided future of the company, and who owns it, looms large. We should, however, know the outcome by the time Diablo 4 comes out on 6th June.
Bertie: Hey Jessica and Marie. I'm intrigued to hear what you thought of the early access Diablo 4 beta. But before we launch into it properly, can you tell me what your experience is of Diablo as a series? Because a lot has been made by Blizzard about Diablo 4 being a return to darkness, by which it means a return to the darker tone of the earlier games, and I wonder whether that has any influence on you.
Jessica: Hello! I'm a more recent Diablo player, as I came to it when it was (mostly) fixed of all that Auction House controversy. I had no idea it was considered a less dark game, as it looked plenty dark to me! I've played a few Diablo 3 seasons since starting it a couple of years ago with a regular group, and also dipped my toes into the Diablo 2 remake, but its inventory management sent me packing back to D3 before I even finished the campaign.
Marie: Hi! Like Jessica, I'm more of a recent Diablo player with the early access beta being my first experience of it. Usually I try to avoid horror games simply because they aren't something I gel with, but I was drawn to Diablo 4 and, though I skipped a few cutscenes, I am ultimately pleased I hopped onto it.
Bertie: I love this idea that you skipped the cutscenes! Did you really?
Marie: I made it through the first one, but the second one was the beginning of me skipping every cutscene in there that was remotely spooky.
Bertie: Was that the one in the church?
Marie: The one I've named the dead body barn. Never take a drink from a friendly townsperson in this game. Ever.
Bertie: Oh I see! Jessica, did you get a feeling coming from Diablo 3 to Diablo 4 that this one is darker?
Jessica: After playing the beta, yeah I see what people mean now. It's got a little bit of a creepier tone, but it all still feels too over the top for me to take it seriously. That barn scene was spooky though! Proper folk horror stuff.
Bertie: I'll be interested to see where the story goes. I remember playing Diablo 4 back in December and feeling quite pulled into the story, but I felt less pulled in this past weekend. It seemed to settle quicker for me into a familiar Diablo feeling, by which I mean I wasn't particularly bothered by what was going on as long as I was whacking something. Did the story interest both of you - were you pulled in by it? Because I know this is something else Blizzard is trying to do better this time around: make the story less skippable, as it were.
Jessica: It's certainly less skippable… but I still skipped some of it. It's the co-op that always makes me do it. It's exactly like you say Bertie, I just want to get back to that loot loop when I'm playing with friends. When I'm playing solo, I didn't skip anything though, which is different from my D3 experience. I am more invested in the world than I ever have been with Diablo.
Marie: Though I did skip a fair amount of it, it was still easy to follow the story as I travelled around from mission to mission. The small bits of commentary from random NPCs and the moments of unskippable dialogue seemed to show that Blizzard understood that people would inevitably skip longer cutscenes to get back to the ol' whack and grab. As for being invested in it? Not so much from the time I spent on it, but it did feel like we saw the prelude to a deeper and more complex storyline.
Bertie: How hard did you both find it? Challenge is something that ties to this idea of fear, I think - it's something that earlier Diablo games had in spades. And I suppose within this question, I want to know what class(es) you played as and what World Tier you had the game on. And did you die at all? Lots of questions in one.
Jessica: I played as BigBarb, the whirlwind Barbarian. Her tribe would be pretty disappointed in her though, as I did die a few times playing on my own - and this was just on the easiest difficulty! I did go in blind build-wise, however, and she started wrecking things easier by the end of the beta. I know you played as a Sorcerer, Bertie, and I'm curious what you thought of it?
Bertie: Well! Technically, I was a Rogue and my partner was a Sorcerer - that was until her friend came over and took my Rogue over and I watched helplessly on. But couch co-op was actually one of the big things I wanted to try this time around, and it works wonderfully. I'm particularly fond of the way Diablo 4 lets players independently bring up their inventory and ability menus rather than having each player take over the whole screen to do this. The trade-off with this is that you can't have more than two players in couch co-op now, because there isn't enough space for all the menus. This game also being always online and linked to Battle.net accounts means a bit of faffing as you assign Battle.net accounts to PlayStation accounts and so on, and you're not able to have more than one player locally on PC at all because of it, for "technical reasons", Blizzard told me, which is a shame. But a slight benefit is that all of your progress should be stored in a cloud ready for if you go to a friend's house and want to play there.
But I digress! So the game does seem to favour ranged classes early on. I actually spoke to Blizzard about this in an interview after seeing similar kinds of feedback from other people playing the beta. There's one boss in particular, the Broodmother werewolf, who hits like a steam train - a furry steam train - and if you have to go toe-to-toe with her as a Barbarian, it's double-tough. Whereas, if you're a Sorc or a ranged Rogue and you can kite her a bit, you're dodging some heavy damage.
But in terms of difficulty: I really liked it. I was on World Tier 2 and I thought it was challenging from the beginning, which I wanted. I particularly liked the size of the groups the game throws at you, and the mix of the enemies within them. It felt like Diablo at its most frantic, almost immediately - and I can't wait to see what it scales up to later on. Mayhem, please.
Marie: The couch co-op is something that's quite exciting to me considering the majority of games now rely on online co-op, and the fact your progress should carry over means there's little to lose by doing so despite the faff of getting it set up. In terms of the classes and death, I died a few times on the easy mode (thank you very much Ghouls). I was a Rogue class myself which really leaned into my preferred strategy of sticking to ranged combat but having the option of close quarters combat when it's needed. I'm curious Bertie, how did you think that your class partnered with the Sorcerer class? Did it feel like the classes complimented each other?
Jessica: Boom! In bursts Jessica like the Butcher to steal your answer, Bertie! I played in a group of three with all three classes on the go: Barbarian, Sorcerer, and Rogue, and they all played brilliantly together. I never died playing as a group, and one of my abilities to group enemies together then let the other two classes use their skills to completely wreck mobs. It was a lot of fun! And something I think is always done well in Diablo games.
Bertie: I didn't get much of a sense of group tactics to be honest - I think it's tricky in Diablo games because you're always so individually powerful and that's absolutely the point, so the limiting factors you need other people's help for don't seem to be there. But clearly there are crowd-control abilities and debuffs mixed into the skill trees with exactly this kind of combination potential in mind, either in setting yourself up for big attacks, or priming a pack of enemies for someone you're with.
I'm curious to see what happens here as the game starts introducing raid bosses - Ashava is the world boss in the beta build. Will there be more expected kinds of group or raid builds, I wonder? I don't suppose either of you saw Ashava?
Marie: I didn't get the timing right to see Ashava unfortunately, but I've watched gameplay footage of others trying to fight them and it does seem like you need to work with other players to have a chance at bringing them down.
Jessica: Same, I missed it every time.
Bertie: And what did you think in general about the game world being shared with other people? Did you notice other people being there? Did it intrude on your sense of the game revolving around you? And were there any other side-effects you experienced because of it?
Personally, I didn't notice it enough to have much of an opinion either way. And on the one hand, I quite like seeing other people around town because it makes it feel a bit more believable and less empty. On the other hand, a small part of me wants it all to myself. It'll be interesting to see what happens as you approach the endgame, towards level 50 and into Paragon levels, and the game wants you to work with other people more.
Jessica: Yeah, pretty much the same. It's quite unobtrusive right now. In Diablo Immortal (which I completely forgot to mention that I played quite a bit of!), it was annoying when I got a bounty to kill a certain type of enemy and people would snipe them before I could - but there doesn't seem to be any of that here, or at least nothing that I noticed. I did find it fun emoting with strangers after taking on World Events though, because I am very easily pleased.
Marie: You both had other people? I didn't see any other players, I expected to see a few on Saturday but I didn't see anyone, even in the large settlements. Though part of me was fine exploring alone I do think that further into the game that having other people with you could be beneficial. Plus, there's something quite cool about seeing how other people design their characters and build their chosen class to suit them, then seeing how their build determines how you work together. I'm excited to see how/if the player count changes for the open beta this weekend and if the world feels different with more people in it.
Bertie: Yeah. I guess what I don't always want to see are reminders that people have already achieved everything I want to, and I'm still far behind - that always bugs me.
I played Diablo Immortal quite a lot too, actually, and I thought it had some great ideas, but philosophically and fundamentally, I felt like it wanted to push people together to grind, and I hope beyond all hopes that doesn't happen here. And I suppose, piggybacking that thought, it's worth remembering there's still a lot we haven't seen in Diablo 4, most notably the in-game store stuff which we can't access yet, and which remains controversial and divisive. How Blizzard handles that will be crucial.
Let's pull out to some more general feelings as we wrap this up. Jessica, I'm particularly keen to hear what you thought of Diablo 4 having come from Diablo 3. Were you impressed?
Jessica: I don't think it's a mind-blowingly great sequel, but I had a fantastic time in the beta. It feels like a lot of systems have been tweaked, rather than being the next step forward. I love the changes to couch co-op, the loot management seems quicker when you're in town, and something I really adored was the art style - I can't wait to see what other environments look like.
We'll have to wait to see what the live service elements shake out to be when the game launches, but at the moment it kind of always feels like Diablo has been a live service game, and it's slotting into that model quite well, if that makes sense? Not the monetisation stuff, but the whole design philosophy I guess.
Anyway - I like it! I just hope it doesn't go the way of Diablo Immortal, and sticks to cosmetic in-game purchases, with nothing affecting that core gameplay that people love so much.
Bertie: It does make sense. And Marie, what did you think coming to Diablo for the first time - is it what you expected it to be? Did it live up to whatever hype that surrounded it for you?
Marie: I didn't expect to like it as much as I did, I mean I put the controller down and five minutes later I picked it back up again because I had to know what else I could do. I also spent a ludicrous amount of time creating my character but it felt like time well spent!
Cutscenes aside, it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be either - in fact I found many of the enemies to be quite comical (looking at you Crossbow Skeletons). I also liked how there is a slight rhythm to battling large groups of enemies, and that finding that balance of using your chosen skill set in a rhythm that ensures you're not vulnerable at any point was like a mini-game in itself. ‘What does this do if I click this now?' ‘Oh I'm dead, never mind that' - the numerous options to get yourself out of trouble kept the intense combat from feeling overwhelming as a new player.
As you said earlier Bertie, the whacking and looting was more exciting than the storyline we were shown but it'll be interesting to see how deep the story goes when the full version is released.