It’s rare that a game comes along that I can’t put my finger on, even if I’m not playing it. There are plenty of great games out there, don’t get me wrong, but a few of them keep running around in my head even after walking away from my PC. As you’ve probably guessed, I can’t stop thinking about Diablo 4. Even in its current unfinished state Blizzard wouldn’t let us do our own gameplay footage probably because of the audio placeholder in my build and other normal things in development that don’t make for a nice video so you’re looking at b-roll they’re here have put together for us – Diablo 4 is absolutely packed with story, content, beauty, character customization and much more. I played Act 1 for about 12 hours, taking my Barbarian from a barely dressed level-1 bodybuilder to a decked-out, blunt trauma-inducing level-25 powerhouse by the time I reached the end of this build’s content.
One of the first things that struck me in the first few hours of Diablo 4 was how much story there is. Compared to previous games in the series, you’ll spend a lot of time watching cutscenes of both the cinematic and in-game variety (the former are, in Blizzard tradition, always gorgeous, and the latter are impressively varied in both camera angle as length). If I’m being honest, I think the frequency of the early game cutscenes coupled with the inevitable crappy feeling of being at the bottom of the power curve when you’re just starting out makes Diablo 4 feel a bit sluggish for the first hour or two. This isn’t much of a complaint though, as I applaud Blizzard’s attempt to pack more story into Sanctuary. It’s a good thing to make it feel more alive and filled with more history. Besides, you’ll still spend an overwhelming amount of your time killing monsters in combat.
As you’ve heard by now, Diablo 4 is more open-world than ever, and Blizzard’s implementation works well. Sure, you can roam wherever you please, but the regions outside of where you’re supposed to be in Act 1 are at a significantly higher level – enough to crush you like a bug for wandering countries you’re not yet welcome to. (For context, the regions you visit in Act 1 seem to be a remarkably small portion of Sanctuary’s total landmass.) But you’re very much encouraged to explore the areas where you do belong, as you earn fame for discovering new areas, picking up and completing side missions and more. The more fame you collect, the better the tangible rewards become, especially in the form of skill points. Plus, as you level up, you can do things like visit the Alchemist to improve the healing power of your health potions. Exploring both cities and the open fields of battle will often result in blue exclamation marks on your map, indicating another side quest. The layers run both wide and deep here, again making Diablo 4 feel like an extremely content-rich experience.
Speaking of insane layers of content, the skill tree is crazy in the best way in this game. It meanders through sprouting hub-and-spoke clusters, with each hub offering between 4-8 choices along the way, some of which are either/or choices. I’m sorry I don’t have footage of my own Barbarian build to share, but as is my preference in Diablo games, my goal is to be able to deliver the maximum amount of pure pain at any given time. I dumped several points in Bash, my concussion-inducing, Fury-generating secondary attack, while going with the blood-inducing Flay as my primary attack, adding Whirlwind, Leap, and Death Blow as my three special abilities, then Wrath of the Berserker as my Ultimate, which I unlocked with this preview version towards the end of my time. Meanwhile, you can revere in-game gold at any time for a reasonable fee. I ended up undoing just one point, near level 25, to choose another branch of the skill tree to spend my action point on. Unfortunately I don’t have any footage of this to show you, but alas…
The core of any Diablo game, of course, is how you use your skill point choices. My general strategy, depending on what I was fighting against, was to go after the most annoying and/or dangerous bad guy in the mafia first, stun him with my Bash attack until he was stunned, allowing me to switch to my primary attack and slash. his life bar to zero. Anyone who caused me trouble from a distance had their personal space grossly invaded by my Leap attack, which I also put several skill points into for its usefulness. Oh, and the sadistic joy it gave me to watch my enemies crushed beneath my feet as the ground collapsed all around me on landing.
In this regard, I have to commend how beautiful Diablo 4 looks. It has ravishing lighting and wonderfully violent effects. The aforementioned Leap feels like devastating, almost superhero-like action. Likewise, whirling through a dozen monsters at once and watching them explode one by one into a crimson paste is a great power trip. And by using all your attacks in one battle – which you’ll need to do quite often before too long – Diablo 4 looks like a demon-slaying orchestral performance for you to conduct.
While I chopped up Hell’s henchmen (except for the times they chopped me up!), my time through Sanctuary never got old – not just because of the plethora of side quests that popped up often (hell, even some of the random dungeons without side quests attached to it were so big it 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 get into those public events more easily than I did. I held my own in most cases, though I confess to being relentlessly knocked down by the Stronghold event, marked on the map with a red skull. It’s a multi-step torture chamber that ended in me being beaten by the final boss of that encounter. I was supposed to come back later after leveling up a bit, but unfortunately I ran out of time.
In the end, Diablo 4 feels like a vastly improved version of Diablo 2, which I think is the best case scenario. Not that it ignores Diablo 3 – clear notes have been made from the best of that game too – but tonally and artistically it leans more heavily into the Diablo 2 playbook. Anyway, this is going to be a huge game anyway: the first campaign projects about 50 hours based on my time with Act 1, plus the endgame stuff that Blizzard has specifically focused on that we haven’t even seen yet, the opportunities to play as different classes and roll different builds within the same class, and the development team’s promise to continue bringing new content to the community for years to come. Heaven help any game that comes anywhere near Diablo 4, because I know I’ll be too absorbed in my adventures in Sanctuary to care about anything else.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s editor-in-chief of previews and host of IGN’s weekly Xbox show, Podcast unlockedas well as our monthly interview show, IGN Unfiltered. He’s from North Jersey, so it’s Taylor ham, not pork roll. Debate about it with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.