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Diablo IV (PS5) beta first impressions: A return to darkness

By Hoots the Owl - 1 Apr 2023

Diablo IV beta first impressions: A return to darkness

Note: This feature was first published on 29 March 2023.

Image Source: Blizzard Entertainment

11 years in the making...

Diablo IV has been a long time coming. First announced in 2019 at BlizzCon, the game's reveal followed the awkward unveiling of the mobile-focused Diablo Immortal. Diablo IV is the Diablo title that fans have been waiting for, coming more than a decade after Diablo 3. After the poor reception of the latter's overly bright art direction, and Immortal's controversial pay-to-win mechanics, Sanctuary's legacy has become somewhat tainted over the past few years.

Diablo IV attempts to remake that legacy, thrusting players back into a darker world that they have been clamouring for. Set in the aftermath of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, Diablo IV sees the return of Lilith to Sanctuary. The daughter of Hatred's corrupting influence becomes clear as you explore Sanctuary, and you've been tasked with pursuing and stopping her.

The recent beta weekends gave a glimpse into the story spanning Act 1, and from what I've seen so far, the game feels extremely promising. The game's darker turn is obvious right from the start, and you're treated to stellar cinematics that do a great job of conjuring a sense of ominous dread. Your character starts off with their horse disembowelled in the middle of a winter storm. They are left to seek shelter in a lonely cave, and very nearly freeze to death.


A dark allure...

Image Source: Blizzard Entertainment

At its heart, Diablo IV is a dark medieval fantasy. From its windswept fields of snow to mud-caked roads and decrepit towns, it's almost as if you've been thrust right into the Dark Ages.

Over the course of the first act, you'll spend a lot of time exploring the desolate wilderness of the Fractured Peaks, with mobs of enemies swarming you at every turn. There is also peril around every corner. And as you examine corpses in the snow, some of them might unexpectedly reanimate as the shambling dead.

However, this version of Sanctuary feels less lonely. You'll run into the occasional player, and there are a lot more of them in town. You can also complete public events together to earn rewards, or even team up to take down the world boss.

At the same time, as you follow Lilith's trail, her seductive power becomes clear. The Mother of Sanctuary has a dark allure to her — a complex villain who has not forgotten that all of humanity are essentially her children.


Diving in...

Image Source: Blizzard Entertainment

The story itself is suitably grim. From a mother's corruption to her daughter's desperate attempt to resurrect her in order to seek counsel, Diablo IV doesn't shy away from what happens when humanity tangles with Hell (or the divine). Humanity is giving in to its darker nature all across Sanctuary, and it's up to you to stop Lilith.

Combat is also beautifully animated, with enemies' death throes varying according to the skill you use. During my first run through as a Barbarian, I had fun carving through hordes of enemies, although the class did feel particularly challenging during solo play. Most of the bosses appear to favour ranged classes, and the Barbarian seemed to lack enough damage output, especially in the early levels. 

On the other hand, the game felt far easier in a party, and it was a blast melting mobs of enemies. The Necromancer, in particular, has excellent crowd control skills, with many abilities dishing out area of effect damage. Skeletal minions are great at soaking up damage for you as well, making it one of the strongest solo classes.


Get ready to grind...

Image Source: Blizzard Entertainment

The visuals are excellent as well. When venturing across the Black Lake, vines and tendrils have a certain grotesque, glistening quality to them — a level of detail that is evident across Sanctuary. 

The gameplay loop keeps you hooked too, as you uncover more of the map, acquire and complete side quests, and progress along the main storyline. The thrill of seeing your character become more powerful is extremely rewarding, and there's plenty of fun to be had in building your character to suit your particular play style.

The only letdown was the character customisation. There is currently a fairly limited set of faces, hairstyles, tattoos, and accessories to choose from, and it remains to be seen whether Blizzard will be adding additional options when the full game releases in June.

That said, I'm looking forward to diving into more of Diablo IV's story. The best part about Diablo so far is its ambiguity. The archangel Inarius ostensibly stands on the side of the light, but even he is morally ambiguous, killing his own son to obtain the key to Hell. Nevertheless, he commands a legion of pious monks and warriors, their devotion standing in stark contrast to Lilith's call to humanity to break their chains.

But let's not kid ourselves. Forget the Eternal Conflict. Diablo is really about the eternal grind, and I'm excited to level up my character and progress through all the difficulty levels that the game has to offer.

Diablo IV releases on June 6.

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