Diablo 4 early impressions: Hell is in it for the long haul

Clear your schedule.
Lilith Diablo 4 image
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

I’m kind of a Diablo noob.

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My only real experience with the franchise is dabbling in Diablo Immortal and watching friends play Diablo 3 on Twitch when it launched back in 2012 (remember that mess?), so I had a very loose idea of what I was getting into with the franchise’s latest installment.

I dove headfirst into the Diablo 4 beta earlier this year, having had a taste of the gameplay formula in Diablo Immortal on my phone, and I came away very excited for the full release. When Blizzard granted me access to play the game before launch, I was straight-up giddy.

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After some extended playtime with the game’s review build before starting anew on launch, I simply cannot wait to dive back into Sanctuary’s dark, foreboding, glorious world.

Big world, bigger customization

After playing the game on a pre-launch build for a few hours a day for nearly two weeks, I’m more excited about Diablo 4 than ever. And a lot of that has to do with what I haven’t seen as compared to what I have.

I’ve played a good amount of Diablo 4, on all of the game’s five classes, and I feel like I’ve barely even begun to tap into the potential of any of them. And I still have no idea which class I’m going to start the game with when the early launch hits on June 2.

Necromancer Trailer Cutscene Diablo 4
Diablo 4’s early launch is scheduled for June 2. | Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Each of the game’s five classes has its own unique skill trees with a variety of abilities, and half of the fun in the early game I had was deciding what kind of build I wanted to go with. For the pre-release period, I ended up playing a good amount of Barbarian with a build centered around damage reduction, bleed, and making enemies take more damage with the vulnerable effect.

But that’s literally just one of the dozens of different kinds of options and builds and abilities within each class’ skill trees. No matter how you like to slay demons, there’s a way for you to do it here, and the customization only gets better as you level up, find better gear, and upgrade weapons and armor to fit your playstyle.

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I thought the beta gave a pretty good idea of what to expect in the game, and at a baseline of gameplay cadence, sure. But when I finally began to explore Sanctuary on my own past the restrictions of where the beta ended, I was shocked by the game’s sheer scale and the wonder of discovery along with its myriad of customization options.

And in my time with the game, I didn’t even uncover the entire map. Sanctuary is huge, daunting, and scary, but in the best ways imaginable.

Bloodthirsty for more

This is a game that I know I’ll be pining to play as I work or spend time with family and friends. Since gaining access to the game over a week ago, it’s basically all I’ve thought about. And the only thing preventing me from playing it every waking minute is a combination of lack of time and knowing that I’ll be starting over at launch.

But I genuinely don’t mind losing all my progress because everything I’ve played thus far has been a pleasure as I explored Sanctuary and unfurled the mystery of Lilith’s arrival.

Experimenting with builds, either hacking and slashing or casting spells or firing arrows from afar, has been a treat. Figuring out the best ability set and weaponry to mow through mobs of undead enemies or angry goat-people is as satisfying as peeling back the mystery of the narrative.

My experience with the story was positive. Although I do need to brush up on some of the lore (thankfully, Blizzard has that handled on the game’s YouTube channel), I was very impressed by the sheer devastation and dread that Lilith’s mere presence brings to the game and its characters, all of whom are vividly brought to life by expert voice acting.

With each passing mission, Lilith’s reign and its effect on the people of Sanctuary are uncovered more and more. And the desire to push through and uncover the plot all while leveling up and getting better gear is like an unscratchable itch.

The depths of hell Diablo 4
Get ready to battle in the depths of hell. | Image via Blizzard Entertainment

One of the most surprising things I learned in my time with Diablo 4 is just how great the game feels on controller. Is that sacrilegious for a game that’s so well-engrained in the culture of PC gaming? If so, that’s fine by me.

My most vivid memory of watching friends play Diablo 3 was the rampant click-click-click-clicking of a mouse, but I genuinely prefer the game on a controller, even if it hampers certain abilities due to accuracy and aiming.

And I’m thankful for that because the game is likely going to become an everyday mainstay on my Steam Deck. After some workarounds to get Battle.net running on the SteamOS, I was very pleasantly surprised with how well the game runs with some settings tweaks.

Related: Blizzard clarifies how to unlock mounts in Diablo 4 after blog post error

This game is absolutely perfect for handheld gaming, which will probably make Nintendo Switch fans want to punch the air since the game isn’t scheduled to launch on that console just yet.

No endgame in sight—yet

How Diablo 4 compares to Diablo 3 or other entries in the series, I cannot say. But I’m more than thrilled with what I’ve played thus far, which is a decent amount of hours. And yet I have barely scratched the surface of the game.

For many, what will make or break Diablo 4 is its endgame content, and that’s fair. Once players finish the storyline once, they can skip it on subsequent characters to get right to the good stuff. But how good will that good stuff be?

I wish I could say, but the eight days of availability I had to play on the pre-release server wasn’t even remotely enough time for me to get to that point. And that, in itself, is exciting.

Archangel Smite Diablo 4
Diablo 4’s official release date is June 6. | Image via Blizzard Entertainment

There are some worries about the future of the game, like how Blizzard will retain players each season through battle passes and seasonal content. There’s no way to know the long-term future of the series other than that the developer plans to support it for years to come. But if players are worried about getting their money’s worth with Diablo 4, you can squelch that right away. The game is massive and will keep you busy for many hours.

Your mileage may vary with the game, but at the pace I was playing, I still had quite a bit of story left to get through, let alone reaching the maximum level of 100 and then spending countless hours min-maxing my build to perfection.

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I feel like I’m going to be stuck in Diablo 4 hell for a long time, whether it be on my main character or secondary ones, at my desktop during quiet periods during the day or on my Steam Deck in the backyard while chilling with my dog.

The most hardcore Diablo players who have been invested in the franchise for decades may have an entirely different opinion from mine, which is one without any bias whatsoever. But I’m willing to bet that longtime Diablo gamers will be sated by this title, too.

Diablo 4 is a bombastic, high-budget, big game in every sense and feeling, and Blizzard’s plans to turn it into a live-service title with seasons and battle passes adding new content over time means the company wants to keep you around for a long time.

So far, I haven’t seen anything that will be tearing me away from it anywhere in the near future.

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Author

Scott Duwe
Staff Writer & Call of Duty lead. Professional writer for over 10 years. Lover of all things Marvel, Destiny 2, Metal Gear, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, and more. Previous bylines include PC Gamer, Red Bull Esports, Fanbyte, and Esports Nation. DogDad to Yogi the Corgi, sports fan (NY Yankees, NY Jets, NY Rangers, NY Knicks), Paramore fanatic, cardio enthusiast.