Rarely does a game come along that I can’t stop thinking about, even when I’m not playing it. There are plenty of great games out there, don’t get me wrong, but a few keep spinning in my head even after I leave my PC. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I can’t help but think of Diablo 4. Even in its current unfinished state – Blizzard wouldn’t let us capture our own gameplay footage, probably due to the audio placeholder in my build and other normal stuff in development that doesn’t make for a pretty video, so you’re looking at the b-roll they’ve put together for us here – Diablo 4 is absolutely jam-packed with story, content, beauty, character customization, and more. I played around 12 hours in Act 1, taking my barbarian from a barely clothed level 1 bodybuilder to a parried and traumatizing level 25 powerhouse with blunt force by the time I reached the end of the content of this construct.
One of the first things that struck me in the first two hours of Diablo 4 is how much of a story there is. Compared to previous games in the series, you’ll spend a lot of time watching both cinematic and in-game cutscenes (the former are, in Blizzard lore, always gorgeous, and the latter are incredibly varied both in camera angle and length). If I’m being honest, I think the frequency of cutscenes at the start of the game combined with the inevitably lousy feeling of being at the lowest point of the power curve when you first start out makes Diablo 4 a little slow for the first hour or two. . That’s not much of a complaint, though, as I applaud Blizzard’s efforts to add more story to Sanctuary. Making it livelier and filled with more history is a good thing. Plus, you’ll still be spending an overwhelming amount of your time killing monsters in combat.
Diablo 4: December 2022 Screenshots
As you’ve already heard, Diablo 4 is more open than ever, and Blizzard’s implementation works well. Sure, you can roam anywhere you want, but the regions outside of where you’re supposed to be in Act 1 are on a significantly higher level – enough to smash you like a bug for wandering into places. lands where you are not yet welcome. (For context, the regions you visit in Act 1 appear to be a noticeably small portion of the Sanctuary’s total landmass.) But you’re heartily encouraged to explore the areas you belong to, as you’ll gain Renown for discovering new areas, picking up and completing side quests, and more. The more renown you have, the better the tangible rewards, especially in the form of skill points. Also, as you level up, you’ll be able to do things like visit the alchemist to improve the healing ability of your health potions. Exploring both towns and open battlefields will produce frequent blue exclamation marks on your map, denoting another side quest. The layers here are both wide and deep, which again makes Diablo 4 feel like an extremely content-rich experience.
Speaking of insane layers of content, the skill tree is bonkers in this game, in the best way. It meanders along sprouting hub-and-spoke clusters, with each hub along the way offering between 4 and 8 choices, some of which are either/or picks. I’m sad that I don’t have footage of my own barbaric build to share, but since that’s my preference in Diablo games, my goal is to be able to deliver as much pure pain as possible at all times. I threw multiple points into Bash, my secondary attack causing concussion and generating fury, while using the bleed-inducing Flay as my main attack and adding Whirlwind, Leap and Death Blow as my three special abilities, then Wrath of the Berserker as my Ultimate, which I unlocked towards the end of my time with this preview build. Meanwhile, you can respec at any time for a reasonable price of in-game gold. skills to spend my action point. Unfortunately, I don’t have any video of any of this to show you, but alas…
The heart of any Diablo game, however, is of course how you use your skill point choices. My general strategy, depending on what I was up against, was to tackle the most annoying and/or dangerous bad guy in the crowd first, blunting them with my Bash attack until they either stunned, allowing me to switch to my main attack and slash his life bar to zero. Anyone giving me trouble from a distance had their personal space grossly invaded by my Leap attack, which I also put several skill points into due to its usefulness. Oh, and the sadistic joy it brought me to watch my enemies get crushed under my feet as the ground all around me crumbled upon landing.
On that note, I should compliment the beauty of Diablo 4. It has delectable lighting and delightfully violent effects. The aforementioned jump looks like devastating, almost superheroic action. Likewise, whirling through a dozen monsters at once and watching them explode into crimson batter one by one is one hell of a power trip. And using all of your attacks in a battle – as you’ll need to do quite frequently before too long – makes Diablo 4 feel like a demon-slaying orchestral performance that you have to direct.
As I sliced through Hell’s minions (except the times they sliced me!), my time traversing Sanctuary never grew old – not just because of the overflow of side quests that frequently spawned (hell , even some of the random dungeons without the side quests attached to them were so big they took me half an hour to clear), but also the seemingly random in-game events, both public and private. I rarely saw other players due to the relatively small group of people playing this preview build, but you will, and that means you’ll probably have an easier time getting into these public events than I did. I held my ground in most cases, although I admit I was beaten mercilessly by the Stronghold event, marked on the map with a red skull. It’s a multi-stage torture chamber that ended up getting me hit by the final boss of this encounter. I was planning to come back later after progressing a bit more, but unfortunately I ran out of time.
Ultimately, Diablo 4 feels like a massively augmented version of Diablo 2, which is the best-case scenario for that, in my book. Not that it ignores Diablo 3 – there are also clear hints taken from the best of that game – but tonally and artistically it leans more heavily on the Diablo 2 playbook. Either way, this is going to be a massive game by any definition: the initial campaign projects around 50 hours based on my time with Act 1, plus the endgame stuff that Blizzard specifically focused on that we haven’t even seen yet, the opportunities to play different classes and run different builds within the same class, and the dev team’s promise to continue feeding the community with new content for years coming. Heaven help any game that ships anywhere near Diablo 4, because I know I’ll be too engrossed in my adventures in Sanctuary to care about anything else.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s Preview Editor and host of IGN’s weekly Xbox show, Unblocked Podcastas well as our monthly interview show, IGN unfiltered. He’s a guy from North Jersey, so it’s “Taylor ham”, not “pork roll”. Chat with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.