Diablo 4 Preview: Blizzard's New Diablo Game Is Hard to Put Down

On the surface, Diablo 4 looks a lot like Diablos before it. Despite other loot-filled imitators modeling games after the top-down, ability-slinging setup of Diablo, you instantly know what game this is once you see it. And to be fair to Diablo's legacy, much of what you've learned before does carry over and apply here, and like past games, it's quite difficult to put it down when you could do just one more dungeon, clear one more camp, open one more container. Diablo 4 does bring some notable changes to the Diablo dynamic, however, that left me wanting to see more during a hands-on preview of the game.

The preview of Diablo 4 consisted of three different class options: the Barbarian, Rogue, and Sorceress. Of those three, I spent the most time with the Barbarian with the mindset that, aside from preferring that one anyway, it'd offer a clearer, fewer-frills version of what Diablo 4 had to offer.

With the class decision taken care of, my first stop in Diablo 4 was not a battle nor a hub town – it was the game's skill tree. Diablo 4 does have entire skill trees as opposed to set skills that simply level up over time, and looking through one is equal parts overwhelming and inspiring. These skill trees wind through different "nodes" of sorts that become available as players level up through branches teem with active and passive skills ready to receive not just one but multiple points should players choose to allot them in that manner.

For a more casual Diablo player, it's certainly a lot to take in, so while it's tempting to look ahead in the skill tree and see what's to come (which you can definitely do), sticking to the basics is probably the best way to avoid getting lost in the possibilities. For those more versed in Diablo builds and endgame gauntlets, however, it's easy to see how players will have a field day mapping out their skill tree path. Skills are easily refunded to backtrack mistakes in your build, too, and the passive skills were surprisingly useful outside of the obvious benefits of their stat boosts. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to be putting your points into active abilities to make the most of them, but the passive skills allow for a dumping ground of sorts for those who are happy with what they've got and just want what they've got to be better.

The open-world aspect of Diablo 4 is another big change, and while it was difficult to get a handle on that given the limited number of hands-on players, it's easy to see how big things are in this game. Quest markers point to faraway, undiscovered points on the map, and as is the case with any open-world game, loading yourself up with quests and taking hours to get to your destination because you're doing everything else on the way and making sell-your-loot runs seems like the way to go. There's a main quest to follow, sure, and not to discredit it, but meandering about Diablo 4's world and picking fights and scoring loot while helping those you come across seems to be the way to go.

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And Diablo 4's main quest – as well as the game overall – is quite brooding and dark, just like Blizzard said it'd be. Those talks of what seemed to boil down to edginess and grim narratives translated better than expected to Diablo 4 and were more than just lip service. Small things like snippets of dialogue and the directives given for quests as well as an overall bleakness to the environment do wonders to bring home the hellish aspects the game's centered around.

While firmer complaints may become evident with more time spent with Diablo 4, one that comes to mind is the challenges, Renown system, and the associated rewards with both of these. Popups appear fairly often in the corner of the screen as you battle and loot to notify you of completed challenges, and the Renown system dangles rewards in front of you when you look at the map.  

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Once Diablo 4 is bustling with players to fill open areas and players have min-maxed their builds to perfection, it'll look like a much different game. And for many, the endgame is the whole point of Diablo 4, so how that and future seasons are handled will make or break the game. For the time being, however, Diablo 4's tough to put down.