Monday, March 27, 2023

Conflicted: Thoughts on Diablo 4 Beta


 The Diablo 4 beta ran longer than I thought so I was able to grab a download after getting back from vacation and give it a whirl (of hacking).  I am conflicted about the game.

 I have to admit there is an addictive quality to the game.  I found myself saying "just one more level" or "one more dungeon" before I had to finally cut myself off late into the night morning (oh, the sun is almost up).  I haven't binged a beta like this since New World.

I started as a Barbarian but found melee to be rough in this game.  Ranged attacks seemed like the way to go and after a few jaunts through the Diablo 4 sub-reddit and a couple YouTube videos it was clear ranged was the way to go so I restarted as a necromancer.

diablo 4 necromancer
heartlessN - N for Necro!

 It was playing as the necromancer that the game grabbed me and didn't let go.  A satisfying drip drip drip of loot flush with constant upgrades.  Ranged combat that was far more manageable than up close melee.  A map filled with points of interest and "go here" indicators.

 There was also a story which from the community accounts is pretty good, but within 30 minutes I was back to "skip".  It is the rare game that catches my attention for story and in an "action RPG" the last thing I am diving into is story.  It was also a beta and I needed to avoid FOMO on the beta rewards for reaching level 20.  I still got the gist of the story.

 Action combat and story aside there is a lot else going on in Diablo 4.  There is "crafting and gathering" in a sense as you can upgrade gear and gather nodes throughout your adventures.  It does not seem like there is a cradle-to-grave crafting system and it's mostly focused on upgrades.

 There are "open world" zones you inhabit with other players; a little MMO to go with the action RPG.  These zones can have dynamic events where multiple players can participate, but rarely did I run into that scenario.  Towns featured other players and the lag to go with them.  I am lukewarm on this feature and not sure it fits.

 While the game was binge-worthy there were some things that didn't sit quite right with me and in my post-binge clarity have kept me from hitting that pre-purchase button.

 Chief among things that didn't sit quite right was the theme.  The opening cinematic (along with some of the early story) is pretty gruesome.  This is not a game I would feel comfortable playing in front of my 13 year old or letting him play.  Maybe it is old age, and I am not sure what I expected from a game in the Diablo franchise, but I have a hard time saying I am going to sit through this dark and drab world for hundreds of hours.

 The other major issue I had was the zoom level; it is way too close.  There were multiple boss battles where I legitimately could not see what was going on.  Playing as a necromancer with lots of pets I often found my pet skeletons at the edge of the screen chopping down what was next.  I would jump in with ranged attacks at screens edge with little idea what I was even hitting.  The game needs to zoom out.  

Dragon Spine of Empowering Reaper diablo 4

 Also I found a lack of reward in getting rewards.  The constant drip of loot is great and the pace at which upgrades come is excellent (at least in the early leveling we got in the beta), but other than some numbers going up I found little in the way of variety.  Sword better than the wand you had?  Equip it.  Scythe better than the sword and shield you had? Equip it.  While that can be satisfying it also meant that I was never really attached to anything.  

 Maybe this changes with the legendary loot (see Dragon Spine of Empowering Reaper on right) and the special ability it comes with (which you can extract and stick in other gear), but as it stood in the beta I never got a sense of being rewarded for my play style.  There was a distinct lack of attachment to the weapon and armor I was obtaining and thus a distinct lack of feeling rewarded.

 Last, a quick note on balance.  The classes were not balanced for this beta.  RIP anyone trying to play on harder difficulty as melee.  Melee is weak.  Playing as a necromancer was a cakewalk in comparison to barbarian.  I trust they will tune this up for launch, but it is worth noting because it was that imbalanced in the beta.

 I haven't paid attention to Diablo in a long time and had mostly written off Blizzard since the Activision merger.  So I was not keeping tabs on the game coming and it was honestly only through some streamers I follow that my interest got piqued.  This was a similar trajectory that brought me to New World (where I've spent thousands of hours now).  There was a lot to like about Diablo 4 and it's on my "possible" list, but I do struggle with the theme and whether I really can stick that out for any length of time.

 Diablo 4 comes out in June so I've got some time to think on it.

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