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Diablo 4 Open Beta Preview: A Promising Glimpse Of What's To Come

The world of Sanctuary isn't always overflowing with demons, but right now they're back in full force. Lilith, daughter of Mephisto, has returned to the world she helped create, and let's just say that things aren't going well for the world's human inhabitants. Towns are kidnapping and slaughtering passersby. Congregations are rejecting, then murdering their ministers, and evil creatures are wreaking havoc across the land.

Enter our player character, a hardened adventurer whose thirst for demonic blood and piles of loot can never be satiated — but that won't stop them from trying. Dungeons, strongholds, cellars, and side quests galore offer countless opportunities to smash foes and search for legendary gear, and as always, in "Diablo," the search itself is the real reward.

The "Diablo 4" open beta offered just a sample platter of our character's story, but judging by it, the full game will be a feast worthy of the franchise's name. The latest installment of Blizzard's epic ARPG series corrects some mistakes its predecessor made while introducing a handful of new mechanics to the classic formula. It's not a perfect game by any means, but it's a "Diablo" title through and through.

Bringing on the terror

The first thing that returning players will notice when they roll up a character in "Diablo 4" is that Blizzard clearly listened to fans who were disappointed by the colorful, arcadey feel of "Diablo 3." From the game's blood-soaked opening cinematic, "Diablo 4" embraces the gothic horror sensibilities that made the series such a success in its early days. It might even be the scariest "Diablo" has ever been.

The game's first antagonist, Lilith, deserves a lot of credit for making the story so enthralling and disturbing. Lilith tempts humans into violent, hellish actions, and it seems like no one is able to resist her requests. Soon after stepping foot in Sanctuary, Lilith makes humans begin gleefully slaughtering each other with just her words and her entrancing presence. She sets the tone for the main storyline, but the game's many side quests take similarly dark turns.

The other heavy lifter here is the art. The bright colors that permeated "Diablo 3" are largely gone. Shadows drip over much of the scenery, and dungeons are slathered in blood and spiderwebs. From the first few encounters in the snow covered mountains, it's clear that "Diablo" finally feels like itself again. The beta had players exploring the Fractured Peaks, but if the game's other regions are as well designed, we're all going to be in for a good time.

Blood, blades, and magic

The art direction of "Diablo 4" is a welcome return to form for the series, but as always in these games, it's the combat that really matters. Blizzard took a "if it ain't broke" approach to the core combat. Expect to stress test your mouse's left and right click buttons and be prepared to smash your 1-4 keys to fire off your full range of abilities. There's nothing revolutionary happening here, but once again, it's hard not to notice the dramatic changes from "Diablo 3."

The beta allowed access to all five classes, up to level 25. In those early game levels, combat feels much more deliberate than it did previously. Proper positioning and dodging is essential when fighting bosses and huge crowds of enemies. There's still an element of power fantasy, particularly after grabbing a new legendary drop, but the threats in "Diablo 4" feel legitimately threatening.

Every class has a unique feel and approach to combat. Barbarians can leap into battle with a dramatic hammer smash then whirlwind their way through infested dungeons. Druids can throw brutal storms at their enemies or transform themselves into a werewolf or a bear to rip into them tooth and claw. Sorcerers will chain lightning their foes and teleport away to keep themselves at a safe distance. Rogues can fire off shots from outside the battle then dash in for a critical strike before dashing away just as nimbly. Necromancers cast blood and bone magic with the support of a team of undead summons. 25 levels is hardly enough to get a full understanding of every class, but each of them is off to a promising start.

Playing more together

The most noticeable innovations that "Diablo 4" makes are likely going to split opinions among fans. It's easy to see that some will miss the procedurally generated maps that used to be a staple of the franchise. On the other hand, Blizzard has clearly put some loving work into its map. Sanctuary always feels like its hiding secrets, and the new traversal mechanics like ducking and climbing across ravines on ropes make traveling across a region feel like a genuine adventure.

The fixed overworld also helps "Diablo 4" introduce more MMO elements. Towns are filled with other players, and while out journeying on a quest, you're likely to stumble into at least one or two other people. Soloing the game is just as viable as ever, but with global events like timed world bosses and brutal stronghold battles, playing with other people is almost inevitable. Luckily, playing "Diablo" with others has always been a blast. Letting players more casually cooperate by showing up to shared events feels like the right move here. And, of course, partying up with your friends has never been easier.

What the future holds

The "Diablo 4" beta doesn't necessarily give an accurate preview of how the final game will function. It's not just that players are limited to a certain subset of quests and relegated to the lower levels of their builds. Between now and the game's full release, Blizzard is definitely going to be tuning and changing aspects of the game based on player feedback and the company's own priorities. In the end, will the game's MMO elements push out the franchise's oldest fans? Will builds end up being overly dictated by gear drops, like they were in "Diablo 3"? Will the scourge of battle passes overwhelm the game's built-in hooks?

It's impossible to say whether or not "Diablo 4" will be a success, or if the game will set a new standard for ARPGs. But it's easy to see that "Diablo 4" is going to breathe some new life into the franchise. The game has everything it needs to convince players to stay a while and listen. Now the full release just needs to bring it all home.