Diablo 4 Hands-on Preview – Back on track

Posted on December 8, 2022

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Angels, demons and humanity caught in the middle. With our hands-on preview, Diablo 4 is giving us exactly that. Dark atmosphere, gut-punching gameplay, and honouring the legacy of the franchise.

Sanctuary, a land once ravaged by a war between the High Heavens and Burning Hells, has fallen once more into darkness. Lilith, daughter of Mephisto, Lord of Hatred, has been summoned. In this early build, we experienced the beginning of Diablo 4’s story with the Prologue and the first major map area, Fracture Peaks.

Largest world map in the series

Diablo 4 has the largest world map the series has ever seen. Players can travel seamlessly from zone to zone, travelling the entire map without needing to teleport. It’s essentially an open world, broken up with dungeons and side areas for optional tasks. According to Senior Dungeon Designer, Dini McMurry, “the real adventure is off the beaten path” where elite monsters and champions hide and hold special rewards. No matter where you are in Sanctuary, there will always be something new to discover.

“No matter where you are in Sanctuary, there will always be something new to discover.”

This is the first game in the series with a non-linear campaign. There are many optional missions along the journey with significant rewards that deepen the narrative and enemies that must be dealt with before other main tasks can be progressed. Eventually, they’ll all lead into the final story plot but it’s up to the player to choose how they get there. Fractured Peaks was so busy with tasks before even thinking of venturing to the next zone of Scosglen.

Diablo was welcomed to consoles in recent history and will finally launch a game simultaneously on all platforms. The shared world supports crossplay between PC and console, allowing players at home to adventure via couch co-op. Combining the player bases from all platforms means an emphasis on social aspects in Diablo 4. This includes establishing and managing a clan and facing monstrous demons in world events. It’s great to see this multiplayer innovation.

Unfortunately, the preview build didn’t feature the new player versus player (PVP) zones the Fields of Hatred. The dedicated areas pit players against each other to reap the rewards. Like the mode introduced in the mobile counterpart Diablo Immortal, Fields of Hatred includes leaderboards and various events to incentivise play.

Brutal combat and addicting gameplay

Of course, Diablo 4 has incredibly meaty action. Every single wack of a club makes a satisfying crunch and the whizzing sounds of a Sorcerer’s spells electrify the senses. The squeals of ghouls, the rattling of skeleton bones, and the guttural sounds of impending bosses will certainly take players back to their first time playing Diablo 1 or 2.

Diablo 4 adds the evade action to all characters. Evade allows players to tactically move around the battlefield and dash out of the way from incoming area-of-effect attacks easier. Dodging no longer relies on a player having a movement ability ready to go, yet still requires a cooldown of a few seconds so it can’t be exploited.

Adam Jackson, Lead Class Designer, explained how builds will be personalised and diversify gameplay options. For example, the Sorcerer can choose from essentially three paths of cold, fire, or lightning magic. The development team guarantees players will get what they expect from each and still offer new ways to play within those elements. If picking fire, there are builds centred on burning enemies and keeping them ablaze for ongoing crowd damage while another is all about high-impact critical attacks. It’s great to see this mindset behind more versatile builds.

Customising a Barbarian or Druid for the first time is intriguing. While it demerits the iconic characters Diablo fans know and love, Diablo 4 does an excellent job of maintaining the silhouette and personality of the classes. Regardless of how you make them look, a Rogue still feels like the Rogueؙ—and they look great, too. While the game is still a work in progress, many character models and special effects during gameplay are outstanding.

New ways to craft the perfect build

Loot is ‘make or break’ for Diablo. Associate Game Director, Joseph Piepiora says Diablo will “contextualise the decisions [players] are making to equip one weapon over another”. The familiar coloured tier system is back, with rarer weapons providing more magical effects or bonuses to boost stats. No Diablo game is complete without legendary items and those of significant power. Unique and ancestral items are noted as “build-defining” and the pinnacle of loot for the game when combined with socketing gems and upgrades.

“Significant changes to the skill tree and mechanics will be one of the biggest hurdles for fans to jump over.”

There are undoubtedly changes among the similarities in the loot space. For one, the user interface shows more data about weapons and equipment.  Admittedly, the information is presented in a way that adds a bit of text bloat. Refining the UI would be helpful before the launch of the game.

Significant changes to the skill tree and mechanics will be one of the biggest hurdles for fans to jump over. Skills are now assigned via points on a branching vein/root system. Each main node of the skill tree requires a certain amount of allocated points to unlock before it can be invested into. These class-defining abilities have a variety of minor upgrades to invest points into. Through play, the Barbarian Wrath of the Berserker build was such a thrilling ride of intense, fast action. It’s quite an exciting change to add depth to how players craft their perfect build.

After level 50, players gain access to the Paragon board, which sort of looks like a mahjong game. Instead of infinitely becoming stronger like in Diablo 3, this game will concentrate on curated and custom-difficulty experiences for players who venture through the Paragon ranks. While we did not get the opportunity to try this system in the early preview, Joseph reiterates that these will be “very interesting and deep systems for players to progress through”.

Diablo 4 will release in 2023 on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles and is shaping up to be the game fans are waiting for. Make sure to follow us for more information as we get a chance to play more.