The sun rises over Lorath’s cabin, located at the top of an ice-capped mountain, serenaded by a howling blizzard. He tells me that I’ve ingested the blood of Lilith, Diablo 4’s prime antagonist, and that we now share an eerie connection that could send me spiralling into madness. As dawn breaks, we emerge into the sunrise with our eyes set on Kyovashad, the RPG game’s central hub. Some deer and their fawns scatter down the stony path as we go. They reappear later on, now dismembered in front of a horde of Fallen, their limbs leaking their lifeblood onto nature’s fluffy white carpet. All is as it should be in Sanctuary; evil taints even the most innocent beauty.
And Diablo 4 is beautiful. While I explored the Fractured Peaks in our Diablo 4 gameplay preview, seeing them in their full glory with no overlay and stilted text-to-speech took my breath away (although I do miss ‘argh, *dies*’). Threat lurks around every corner, The Butcher randomly drops into dungeons, the darkness closes in as I battle my way through the forested maze that hides the Horadric Vault; everything wants to kill me, but by Inarius, I can’t help but want them to try.
My character this time around is a Necromancer, one of the newly awakened Diablo 4 classes. While I’ve always stuck to melee DPS characters or, in Diablo 3, my beloved Witch Doctor, having spoken with Diablo VP Rod Fergusson in London, I was lured in by the class’ creepy aesthetic and penchant for all things deceased.
I wasn’t running the best Diablo 4 Necromancer build – instead, I just picked the abilities I thought looked cool and fit my playstyle. Despite veering away from recommendations, I found the Necromancer very, very powerful; almost too powerful, in fact. My Rogue paled in comparison, and while my Sorceress could easily one-shot a mob with a well-placed Chain Lightning, when you play Necromancer your skeletons do all of the work. You can place four of them, then upgrade them using the Book of the Dead. Eventually, I wound up with four Reaper Skeletons, and three undead mages who assaulted enemies with bolts of darkness from afar. Bosses I struggled with on my Rogue became a cakewalk, and mobs disintegrated before my eyes – even Diablo 4 world boss Ashava crumpled before my armies of undead.
And, I won’t lie, I kind of hated it. I played on World Tier 2, the one aimed at slightly more experienced players, and I found that everything was just too easy. It reminded me of my Witch Doctor in Diablo 3, with whom I managed to complete the campaign without dying once – and that was on expert. For me, the Necromancer took the fun out of getting up close and personal with Lilith’s hordes, meaning my experience was generally pretty lacklustre. Necromancer clearly isn’t the class for me, and that’s completely okay; I’m not here to tell you the class is ‘bad’ because it doesn’t suit my style.
What was irritating, though, was the fact that the skeletons themselves were quite buggy. Of course, this is a beta; bugs are bound to happen. I had one get stuck in a rock (poor guy), others struggled to keep up, and when I moved from area to area I experienced some pretty nasty lag – especially in Kyovashad. Sure, this is because the zone is highly populated, but when I cast some of my undead friends back to the depths, I found things ran more smoothly. This is just a teething issue I’m sure, but it was nevertheless really, really irritating.
I also had some odd little bugs in the dungeons themselves. My favourite underground locale from my early playtest was The Black Asylum, which looked like it was ripped straight out of Diablo 2. Chains hang lifelessly from the walls. You have to defeat the ghost of a little boy who was hurled into the depths by an absent father; the entire place screams cruelty.
Unfortunately, there’s an odd dead zone between the two different pits next to each of the main door’s mechanisms. I couldn’t cross it at all, and had to go around each in turn. Sure, it’s a minor inconvenience, but given I also spotted a dead zone on one of the bosses in my early playtest, it looks like this may be a recurring issue. Where here it’s merely inconvenient, before it decreased the area you had to dodge – not great during a boss battle.
Small gripes aside, though, there’s so, so much to love about this iteration of Diablo. You’ve probably seen players sharing their characters on social media, and I am living for it. My Necromancer is a slightly emaciated goth queen with black and red hair and matching armour, with ‘tattoos’ drawn in fresh blood covering her body. There are a lot more styles and customisation options since I played the first time, and this character felt much more me than my Rogue did.
While I didn’t get the chance to play Druid, I’m also so excited to see just how inclusive Diablo 4 is. The Druid is big and bulky, a seasoned woodland warrior who values the spirit animals around them more than getting ripped by lifting huge axes and cutting down foes. There’s a body for everyone in Diablo 4, you can create a character that is actually representative of yourself despite Sanctuary being so far -removed from reality. That right there? That’s truly special.
Everything about Diablo 4 is special; it really is. I said in my gameplay preview that Diablo 4 “is everything Diablo is supposed to be” – and I want to reiterate that. It’s creepy, it’s gory, but it’s new and it’s fresh, just like the blood that adorns my Necromancer. The beta has closed, but I want more – I’m like Krystyna’s husband Feodor, but thankfully my soul is intact.
As the sun sets on a truly amazing beta test, I can’t wait to see what Blizzard has up its sleeve. Fergusson told me during our London exclusive that “we’re just starting, we’ve got three months to launch and we’ve got a lot of cool stuff coming.”