The Diablo IV Closed Beta Was Too Tempting To Pass Up

I had such a great time playing the Diablo IV closed beta this past weekend (around chores and preparations for my impending trip), that I decided to break with my usual writing habits and post this the day after I wrote it. I didn’t want to wait two whole weeks (since I’ll be taking next week off for said trip) to tell everyone how much fun I had, especially when there’s still time for people to give the open beta a try if I post it this week.

I honestly hadn’t planed to spend any time on it last weekend. I had a huge list of chores to do, a large backlog of video games to play, and I really needed to get some rest. I hadn’t even preordered the game, which was a prerequisite for playing during the closed beta, since I’m no longer friends with the people I spent hundreds of hours playing Diablo III with. I’ve already had my fill of bittersweet entertainment for the year and wasn’t sure I could stomach more, especially for the successor to a game I mostly only played as a social activity. With all that in mind, I’d chosen to mostly ignore the impending beta until one of my friends messaged our Friday night D&D group chat to suggest that the four of us play Diablo IV instead of D&D.

As I was mulling the suggestion over (since I would have to buy the game if I wanted to participate), my friend messaged me privately. Now, she’s part of the team working on Diablo IV and has been incredibly excited about the work she’s doing, so I was expecting her to try to drum up my enthusiasm for the game (a tactic that has worked pretty well in the past, as she’s shared every media push and official teaser for the game). Not only did she do that, she also surprised me with the code I’d need to participate in the beta, removing my need to buy anything. After a little bit of hemming and hawwing on my part (mostly just for the time I needed to get used to the idea of doing something different with my Friday night), she was able to convince me to change my plans and give me the information my exhausted brain needed to prepare for the beta. Afterwards, I pre-downloaded the game and signed myself up for what turned out to be a weekend of fun.

Initially, when I finally got home from work on Friday, the queues were a bit rough. I wound up with a 69 minute wait (which I found hilarious because I am a child at heart and was mentally exhausted at the time), but it wasn’t that bad since I knew to log in before I actually wanted to play thanks to the ample tweeting about long queue times. Once I’d showered, eaten dinner, and waited out the last few minutes of the queue, I launched into the game, hung out with my friends in discord, and had a delightful time.

The ability to tweak my character’s appearance was a nice addition to the series, if a bit limited by having basic body models per class (this time with male and female options). I had fun cycling through hair, jewelry, and tattoo options until I found a combo I liked, that felt distinct and interesting. I wish it had more options that leaned toward non-binary characters or a more andorgynous appearance, but this is still miles beyond Diablo III (where your ability to change your character’s appearance was confined to the gear they wore) and every other game like it that I’ve played. This isn’t the massive customization engine that is becoming more common in a lot of RPGs, but this also isn’t an RPG and you get to see your custom character rendered in the glorious, surprisingly high-definition visuals of most cutscenes (especially considering where I had to set my graphics to keep my old computer running smoothly).

In general, my gameplay experience was pretty smooth. Some of the friends I played with (including the one who worked on the game) had issues where the game crashed or closed on them, or otherwise lost connection, but I was able to play without a problem, especially after the first day when they fixed the queue wait times. Normally, I’m the canary in the coal mine for internet and network issues, so I think my friends just had bad luck. Given that it only happened a handful of times over the course of the weekend, and that it was easy to just log back in after launch day, I don’t think it was much of an issue. Overall, I didn’t run into many other bugs. I had some moments where I couldn’t leave a town through the gate I’d chosen, but most of those resolved after a few moments of lag due to the game needing a couple extra seconds to load the new area. I did have to turn around and pick a different exit one time, but that was the only moment of actual frustration I felt.

Every other potential issue I ran into was just momentary lag as a new part of the world loaded in (mostly after teleporting somewhere). I encountered no significant bugs, which was a bit of a personal disappointment because I’d gotten myself ready to just do some professional bug reporting or at least witness some wacky scenarios. Instead, the game was incredibly dependable and largely bug free aside from one town guard who ran into a bit of a pathing problem after he spawned into existence when my friends and I freed his town from a demon. I reloaded the area once all of us had left and he’d gone back to his normal patrol route, so it wasn’t even that bad of a bug. I know other people ran into bugs since I tried to follow the Diablo IV team’s official announcements and the general bend and sway of social media, but I’m hesitant to make any judgments based on that since most people who are having a good time aren’t going to stop to tweet about it. I sure didn’t.

In more specific gameplay terms, I wound up playing a Barbarian. I played exclusively wizards in Diablo III (I really enjoyed listening to Azula, of Avatar: The Last Airbender fame, yell about stuff), but I’d watched my friends at the time cycle through pretty much every other class and build type, so I decided I was going to give a different class a shot in Diablo IV. I wound up building a whirlwind barbarian using a build-guide a friend sent me (I was too exhausted on Friday to even attempt to figure out abilities on my own) and it was just as satisfying as I had hoped it would be. I was a windmill of death and I got to watch entire hoards of enemies melt before my onslaught, especially once I hit the beta’s level cap of 25. Throw in a bunch of cool legendary items with great effects that I got from participating in the world boss fight on Saturday and I was nigh-unstoppable. I only died twice after I got all that gear and both times it was because I had foolishly ignored my health pool rather than because I ran out of healing potions.

Honestly, “satisfying” is probably the best description I can give of my experience playing the game. Diablo III was a lot of fun, but it was also an endless grind for new gear and I always felt like I was just pushing for the sake of being able to push harder next time. In Diablo IV, I felt like I was able to find one of a number of enjoyable ways to play the game and continue to grow stronger as i played, all while being able to actually enjoy what I was doing rather than need to watch my numbers so I could make sure I was keeping my damage-per-second and survivability at the right levels.

Another huge improvement, in the same vein, was that I could play with a group of friends, all of us at different levels, and not need to worry about anyone getting instantly slaughtered by the first enemy to glance in their under-leveled direction because everyone else was so powerful. Sure, fights got more difficult when there were more players involved, but I never once felt like my contributions didn’t matter when I was lower-levereled, or that I was unable to compete because everything was too far beyond me. The only open-world group battle that didn’t scale to my level (whether I was the highest level or the lowest level in the party) was the world boss and even then I could compete so long as I timed my dodges right and didn’t stand in the fire.

As someone who has a difficult time enjoy grindy games, this was a huge improvement for me. I really enjoyed Diablo IV in a way I never enjoyed DIablo III and would probably even play the game by myself sometimes, rather than just when I can queue up with friends (which, if you don’t know, is not a thing I ever do with online games unless I REALLY enjoy them). It even feels like there’s more story going on, though I’ll admit that some amount of this impression might be a result of my then-friends pushing me through the story quickly in Diablo III and how little I remember of the game beyond the constant grinding for the new gear required to hold one’s own in an ever higher world tier. Sure, some of this could be chalked up to the group I’m playing with now and how they’re closer to my own pace/style of gaming than my last group, but this is too different of an experience to be explained by that alone. I genuinely feel like this game is an improvement on every level over Diablo III.

If you asked me to voice a complaint, though, I’d have to say that it felt like it took far too long to get anywhere. Even when I used a bunch of mobility-boosting powers to speed up the process, I still felt like I spent a bunch of time wandering past hordes of minions as I did my best to get to my destination. I know you’re able to get a horse or other mount at some point thanks to the stable icons in the towns, but my friend was sparse on the details related to that (she’s doing a better job of keeping secrets about her job than I ever could. I’d spill at least a few beans out of sheer excitement, but she’s kept every single one of them to herself until after it’s been released to the public). I don’t know if that will help me get past minions or if I’ll get it at a point where it’ll still be useful or what. I mean, if I unlock it on one character and then just get to have it on every other character I make after that point, I think that would be worth it. Without something to increase mobility or world traversal beyond the current system of town-based teleportation, it’s a bit of a long haul to get to some places.

Overall, though, I’m excited to play the game when it comes out. It’ll be within a month of Tears of the Kingdom coming out, so it might have to wait a bit, but I’m excited to dig into the game more. I wish I could play during the open beta this upcoming weekend, since it really is just a treat to play even the same stuff over again (though I’d pick a different class this time), but I’ll be driving to the east coast, sitting in an airport, or flying to Spain pretty much the entire time. This was my only shot to give the game a try until three months from now, when it releases more widely, and I’m glad I got to enjoy it. If you’ve been sitting on the fence or never dipped into past Diablo games because they were too grindy, consider this a suggestion that you should definitely try it out this weekend. Or buy the game when it comes out, depending on when you’re reading this, I suppose.

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