Diablo IV’s Free Weekend Demonstrates Beta’s Devilishly Good Gameplay

Over the past weekend, Blizzard opened up Diablo IV to anyone who wanted to experience the title on the PC, Xbox or PlayStation platforms. This followed a similar weekend where those who pre-ordered the game along with certain invited guests were able to play for a couple days. The fully open beta this past weekend was likely as much about stress testing the support servers as it was seeing how well it played.

Because Diablo IV is still very much in development, we won’t be scoring it here. However, we will go over the features and improvements that we discovered so that players can decide if they want to go ahead and pre-order the game, or at least pick it up when it officially launches, which is currently supposed to happen over the summer.

As predicted, there were some issues with connectivity and long lines waiting in the que during the beta. This was not unlike what happened when Diablo II: Resurrected was launched, and it took a few weeks before Blizzard got a handle on how to balance their server loads. Those Diablo II problems were made worse because Diablo II: Resurrected required an always-active connection, just like Diablo IV. So, with such a highly anticipated open beta for Diablo IV and thousands of players wanting to get a look, those connection issues were bound to happen again. Hopefully, they will be resolved by the time it officially launches over the summer.

Expected connection issues aside, the beta gave players a surprisingly deep look at how Diablo IV will ultimately be played, and what it has to offer. Players were able to adventure through the prologue of the game and the entirety of Act I, which Blizzard says is about twenty percent of the entire world. There were even some prizes offered like a free wolf pup pet (cradled inside a backpack) for those who reached level 20 during the beta period. And that pet will carry over into Diablo IV when it launches.

Right up front, it has to be said that Diablo IV is incredibly fun to play. At its core, Diablo IV plays very much like other Diablo games. If you enjoyed the smooth combat while battling endless mobs and bosses in Diablo III Reaper of Souls, which was released way back in 2014, then dropping into Diablo IV will be pretty seamless. Let’s face it, nobody wanted Blizzard to completely reinvent the Diablo formula, which is widely considered to be one of the best, if not the best, of the action RPGs. Other titles like the Torchlight series, DarkStone, Victor Vran and so many others call themselves Diablo-like or even a Diablo clone for a reason. Yes, we are looking for some good tweaks that improve upon Diablo III, especially regarding things like the loot system, but we also want to keep the core gameplay intact, which Diablo IV thankfully does.

One of the first improvements that players will notice in Diablo IV are the visuals. When playing on a next-generation console or a beefy gaming PC, the visuals are really stunning. Again, these graphics are similar to what was experienced in previous Diablo games, just in higher resolution and with many more visual effects. It does seem like, at least in the part of Diablo IV that we were able to play, that the developers opted for a much darker color scheme and more dreary worlds, more like Diablo II than Diablo III. This could change as the rest of the world opens up for players at launch, but for now it looks like darker color palettes rule the day.

The next thing most players will notice is that there is a lot to do in Diablo IV. Yes, there is a main quest to follow, but along the way we would often encounter handfuls of side quests as well as optional dungeons, abandoned ruins and even some of those cellars with mini adventures like would occasionally pop up in Diablo III. All of these optional areas can be explored for fun and to see what loot can be uncovered. The cool thing about these dungeons and mini encounters is that many of them are procedurally generated, so every run is going to be a little bit different. And they often have different goals as well, like killing a boss or solving a minor puzzle like putting an object or objects in the right place to open a vault or trigger a battle. Random dungeons and those belonging to side quests are generally pretty quick to clear, which keeps things exciting. Most of the dungeons that we played during the beta took between five and about 30 minutes to clear, with most of them falling well on the short end of that range.

If you want to learn more about how and why the dungeons were created, there is a nice video of the developers playing some of them.

In the beta, the five classes which could be played were ones from previous Diablo titles. They include the Barbarian, Druid, Sorceress, Rogue and Necromancer. There may be more when Diablo IV launches, but those five were the only ones in the beta. While all five classes basically play like you would expect from previous games, they are also backed by a brand new and incredibly detailed skill tree that looks more like something from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla than a typical Diablo game. This gives players a huge variety of character customization that almost makes up for the limited initial character selection. Two separate Druid builds will more than likely be very different between two players.

All of the characters are fun to play. I had an amazing time with the Sorcerer because it was very cool swapping out spells and seeing how each one performed. And it was also amazing seeing how the targets of those spells reacted. For example, when enemies were killed with a fire spell, they would often turn into burnt skeletons and collapse in a pile of charred bones. The Druid character is also surprising.  They can transform into a werewolf and really mess things up with powerful melee attacks, or they can also become a werebear. There are also even more Druid options, with players concentrating on ranged spells and making their Druids more of a traditional wizard. The complex skill tree really makes custom builds possible, which is nice, and it was fun to specialize in different areas to see how effective a build we could create with the different characters.

One of the coolest things that we were super excited to test out was couch-co-op play. Yes, it’s nice to be able to join others remotely, and it’s also nice that Diablo IV has cross-play. However, not a lot of titles these days allow friends or family to join together on the couch (or at least in the same room) and play. That used to be a lot more popular back in the PlayStation 2 days, probably because there was not much internet connectivity. But even so, couch co-op was a lot of fun, and it was nice to see Diablo IV supporting it. We played for hours with two people in the same room on the PlayStation 5, and it was an amazing experience. There were quite a few dropped connections and other errors like that, but that can probably be attributed to the crazily popular beta. We also noticed that as the beta pushed on into the second day, the number of errors and problems (as well as the wait times) began to drop. So, maybe Blizzard was bringing on more servers and learning how to handle the load that the full game will certainly produce.

After spending the weekend with Diablo IV’s beta, I’m certainly looking forward to its full release. The developers have improved gameplay from Diablo III in all the right ways. The graphics are better, the combat is smoother and there are much deeper character build-out possibilities. Plus, the loot system seems much more natural with occasional rare and powerful drops happening more often from powerful enemies instead of low-level mobs, and less vendor trash all around.

It will be interesting to see what other improvements that Blizzard makes to Diablo IV before it officially launches, but there is no reason to think that this is going to be anything other than another monster hit for the franchise. It’s definitely worth a pre-order, and I almost never recommend doing that.

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One thought on “Diablo IV’s Free Weekend Demonstrates Beta’s Devilishly Good Gameplay”

  1. I may have only played about an hour or two of the beta (as I usually don’t mess with pre-releases) but my experience with D4 on the Series X was very promising, and this was coming from someone who played D2 Enhanced just a few days prior

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