Diablo IV hands-on: There's plenty of depth to discover in this long-awaited sequel

(Photo: Blizzard)
(Photo: Blizzard)

As my sorcerer trudged through the snowy mountain of the Fractured Peaks of Sanctuary, I couldn't help feel just how Diablo the new Diablo IV is.

Over the past week, I tried out a custom special build of the upcoming Blizzard game, set to be released next year. Diablo IV sees a new villain called Lilith coming to the world of Sanctuary and wants to destroy the world as part of the eternal battle between the forces of Heaven and Hell.

Unlike the brightly lit Diablo III, the latest game in the franchise draws inspiration from the earlier two games, delivering a moody feel that gets you in the mood to hunt demons and monsters. Dungeons are dark and creepy, and the custom beta build had tons of familiar monsters from earlier games to let me feel nostalgic.

However, there's one thing that D4 takes from Diablo III that I really like. It's the combat system and that's a good thing, because D3's combat is one of the best in the series. It has plenty of action, feels fluid, and the addition of the evade button makes it easier to position yourself and dodge attacks.

And as a sorcerer, that's important, because I'm squishy as heck. But boss fights also require you to master the evade button, as you'll need to dodge some attacks with it. Of course, if your gear is high-level enough, you can probably just tank it all, but Act 1 bosses feel a lot easier once you figure out their patterns.

(Photo: Blizzard)
(Photo: Blizzard)

The biggest changes

The one big change from Diablo games for D4 is that it will feature a non-linear storyline.

Unlike in older games where it's a straight path from Act I to Act V (if you count the expansions), Diablo IV lets you do any of the first three acts first. However, the custom build I was in only let me play only in Act 1, so I can't tell you how the other acts will be.

But each act takes place in a different region, similar to the old Diablo games, so some things will feel consistent, at least.

What I'm told is that once you finish all three acts, the storyline will come together to tie up the pieces before it opens up again.

(Photo: Blizzard)
(Photo: Blizzard)

Another thing that's different is that the world of Sanctuary is no longer random.

Instead, you'll get a huge open world map, with hubs and areas to explore. It's also possible to encounter other players, though I did not meet any during my playthrough of the beta.

What keeps it random will be endgame Nightmare Dungeons, Hell Tide, and World Bosses.

Nightmare Dungeon locations are fixed, but once you go in, modifiers will change things up to keep it interesting.

Hell Tide will see areas spawning stronger monsters, and World Bosses will pop up for everyone to participate in.

Oh, and you can now customise your character's looks, which you can see in the in-game cutscenes now — and they are a lot of better than the ones in Diablo III.

Lots of depth

The skill tree is quite simple to understand, but D4 makes it easy to respec and mix and match elements. You don't need to force yourself to just being a Cold Sorc – you can also choose to use lightning and fire spells as part of your arsenal.

A new mechanic called Enchantments let you slot in a skill as a passive that gives you different effects, and you can use any skill as long as there's a skill point in it – even if it's from an item. That really opens up the game, since I was able to use other spells I would never have considered.

Other end-game possibilities include the use of affixes, which are obtainable from the 140 basic dungeons scattered throughout the map. You can add these affixes to items, which will improve or change your skills in different ways.

(Photo: Blizzard)
(Photo: Blizzard)

Forward looking

During my interview with the Diablo IV developers, Blizzard mentioned how it was already beta-testing endgame content.

While I only got to experience the first act of the game, what I saw is already hinting at a complex and fun end-game with plenty of things to do to keep me entertained.

I finished the beta's first act at around level 18, and Blizzard says the full campaign should see you hitting 40 at least before you start getting into the endgame stuff.

And that's before the paragon system comes into play with even more unlocks to make your character feel powerful.

There will also be PVP, though players who don't want to participate can choose to not do so by avoiding a specific area designed for player versus player combat.

Diablo IV is shaping up to be great, and I can't wait for the release next year. It will be available in 2023 for PC and consoles.

Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at canbuyornot.com

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