How time flies is an understatement. A little over 11 years ago, I have participated in the Diablo 3 beta. Last weekend, I played the open beta early access. I would like to share with you my afterthought. The beta weekend has its ups and downs. I will address my concerns first and end this on a good note with things that I like.
D3 Beta (2011) versus D4 Beta (2023)
If I were to compare D3 and D4 beta experiences, I would say D3 beta was more polished and it ended with little difficulty in taking down Butcher in act 1. I bet a lot of you had a very positive experience with D3 beta and that could explain the commercial success of its launch. D3 beta had demonstrated a huge step forward from D2. Not only graphically speaking, but also combat-wise, how we interacted with the environment and solid storytelling with iconic characters we cared about.
D4 beta shows us another step forward from D3, but it is more like a refinement of what we have today, and I will go over the key points in just a moment. D4 beta probably has left us with more questions and concerns on one hand and perhaps, the anticipation of how well it may turn out on the other hand. Some of you may take a more wait-and-see approach. Some of you may be very excited about the upcoming June 6th release.
Server Availability & Latency
For those who have prepurchased the game and joined the open beta early access, you may have encountered a long queuing time and felt frustrated. But that is the least of my concern because I am sure Blizzard will iron it out. My main concern is latency and Internet Service Provider (ISP) specific issues one may face.
Over the beta weekend, I was at my friend’s place wanting to play Diablo 4 and my friend is using SingTel, the major service provider here in Singapore. The latency was so bad that it was unplayable. At my home when using Viewqwest as the ISP, the gameplay was smooth. Some friends of mine who had encountered the same issue had to use mobile data to play the game! This is one area of concern of course because it is not that easy to switch ISP just to play an online game.
Even when the game is playable, I am experiencing stuttering and rubberbanding. D4 doesn’t play as smoothly as D3. I don’t think this is a frame rate issue. My frame rate fluctuates but most of the time, it is above 60. I am using a gaming laptop with a 3070 graphic card. I reckon the stuttering was due to a latency spike as I sometimes saw latency changing from 100 to more than 1,000 and back to 100 in a short duration.
Right now when I play D3, I am using the Australian gateway for more consistent latency. I am not sure if D4 has a similar setup.
Also, I won’t be surprised if D4 will have weekly server maintenance, one of the very few aRPG that still uses such a dated technology.
The Open World and The MMO Aspect
One major difference between D3 and D4 is that D4 has an open-world concept. The map is huge. D4 plays like a proper RPG. Actually, the scale of D4’s open-world reminds me of Grim Dawn. However, I must say, D4 open world feels a little bit empty. The environment looks rather generic and the mob groups are far and spread out. It reminds me of Wolcen early access, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
For those who are used to World of Warcraft, to see D4 turned somewhat into an MMO could be a welcoming change. For those who play exclusively the Diablo franchise and prefer to play alone, you may feel the opposite. As a fan of Marvel Heroes, I think an MMO aRPG when done right can be really fun. For Marvel Heroes, the story maps were not that huge. It was easy to encounter other players to complete the story objectives. There were special instances or dungeons that encouraged MMO play. “World Bosses” were spawned very often with map markers to draw people onto the same “hot zones”. In contrast to what I see in D4, D4 is a half-hearted approach to MMO. I doubt players would purposely stay in one open-world zone just to farm events, like back in Marvel Heroes’ days. At least I do not see that happening during open beta.
The Skill Tree & Respec
D4 sees a return to the concept of the skill tree, very much like the Dragonflight expansion of World of Warcraft. The skill tree seems pretty linear with main skills that can be unlocked through main nodes augmented by another fixed node and another node that you can choose between two options. That to me is a step down from the D3 rune design whereby we can have more than one variant for the same skill picked. D4 skill tree allows us to make one skill more powerful than others by investing more points in it. Also, we can pick up certain passive nodes with a trade-off against active skills. That is probably one of the minor improvements over D3.
My D4 sorcerer plays similarly to my D3 wizard, which I don’t know if that is a good thing or not. I teleport. I use hydras. And there is an armor skill. I have one basic skill to generate mana. And I use meteor. D4 is indeed a D3 upgrade. Nothing evolutionary. Having said that, I do look forward to playing Druid.
I am hoping that D4 doesn’t box me into a particular build like D3 does with set bonuses. And end-game itemization would open up more build options, especially for those who are not chasing the S-tier builds, like myself.
Respec now costs gold. It doesn’t come free like D3 or WoW. Only time will tell if it is as nominal as Grim Dawn or as expensive as Path of Exile. I am for the freedom to experiment and not to rely on cookie-cutter builds. I think Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor has the best balance on respec. It only requires you to speed time playing the game and you can earn 1 respec token every hour.
So what does it mean now that D4 respec requires gold? It will limit the freedom of build experimentation but that would mean nothing if there aren’t enough viable builds like Warhammer. Take D3 as an example, we are free to change our builds. But most would follow a cookie-cutter build at the end game and we can count the number of viable builds per class with less than 10 fingers.
By the look of it, we will not be able to switch between speed farming build versus hard content push build like in Diablo 3 through the Armory. At the end game, we would likely stick with what we have in D4. Again, my speculation. Only time will tell.
I must admit, the story of D4 hasn’t quite grown on me as D3 did. Leah, Deckard Cain, and Tyrael, characters of D3 act one instantly hooked me in. I genuinely wanted to help Deckard Cain, care for Leah, and be curious about Tyrael.
For D4, we have Lilith and Inarius, and their firstborn Rathma. The story doesn’t have that hook effect like D3. I must say, as the story unfolds, I wish D4 offers me the option for an alliance with Lilith or Inarius, very much like how Horde and Alliance work in World of Warcraft and let my action changes the course of the story. I haven’t seen the rest of the story. I highly doubt my wish would be granted.
Without a doubt, D4 graphics looks awesome compared to D3. After all, they are 11 years apart. I wouldn’t say though, D4 graphics are ahead of modern-day aRPG’s. But I welcome the upgrade.
The Game Pace and Difficulty
It is hard to tell what the game pace would be by looking at the open beta. My gut feeling tells me that the D4 game pace is slower than D3 and other popular aRPG. The first 20 levels feel slow playing at veteran difficulty, one above the easiest option. The gears often dropped at 10 levels below my character and don’t seem to make my character much stronger relative to the difficulty level. D4 is more difficult than D3 and this manifested in boss fights.
Boss Fight, Evade, and Active Use of Health Globe
I enjoy the multi-stage boss fight, though I think it is a bit too difficult and a bit too unfair to melee classes like Barbarian. I play the Sorceror and like the early days of D3, it is back to kitting and passive damage. I wouldn’t want to stop and deal active damage. My character would be dead by then.
Unique to D4 and common to other aRPG, there is an ability to actively dodge or evade an incoming attack on top of other movement skills you may have. This soul-like gameplay may take a bit of getting used to but I think it is good in the long run.
I also like the active use of health globes. Unlike D3 whereby health globes are automatically used to replenish health even at full health. In D4, you have a limited time to decide if you should use the health globe to refill your potions. On difficult encounters, I would want to pace out the consumption of time-limit health globes with my potion usage. There is a bit of risk and return and I like it.
What I don’t like is to get one shot or two shots by a boss spawn that I could do nothing against it. D4 can be frustrating. Again, that reminds me of Wolcen and I sincerely hope that D4 will not turn into another Wolcen.
In conclusion, I don’t regret prepurchasing the game, though it is one really expensive game. By the look of it, given what I see on the scale of the beta, I would most likely have a good time completing the story and the side quests. Will I play D4 as much as I do with D3? Only time will tell.
Thanks for tuning in. I will make more D4 videos when the game officially launches this year, June 6th. I’ll see you in hell or heaven or wherever the D4 story will bring. Ciao.