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Diablo IV Final PC Review – Best in its Class

Diablo IV is one of the most anticipated game releases of 2023 and has been a long time coming from Blizzard Entertainment. I participated in the recent beta test weekends in March and my interest went from lukewarm to quite excited by the end of the server slam weekend. For the last two weeks, I have been one of a privileged couple of hundred gaming journalists around the world who have been playing a review build and my focus was on the PC version. This build had some improvements from the server slam weekend but there was a long list of bug fixes and quality of life updates that were scheduled for the day 1 patch. The storytelling is dark and engaging, the environments are impeccably detailed, and there are so many gameplay elements on offer to keep me coming back. I really enjoyed my journey in Sanctuary and am even more excited for the early access launch on June 2, 2023, ahead of the global launch on June 6.

I will say straight up that I personally did not reach end game in the review period. This was not for lack of trying and I did get partway through the final of the six story chapters. Other responsibilities competed for my time, both in the gaming review space running a publication and family life at home #dadlife. However, there were plenty of other journalists in the reviewer Discord server hosted by Blizzard that did, and I can draw on their experiences. Rest assured that I will keep this review spoiler free regarding the epic storylines and will dive into my gameplay experiences.

I still remember the day that Diablo III released back in May 2012. All my mates, both in real life and online, were all eager to jump in and play. There wasn’t a single person I knew that wasn’t playing it. Fast forward 11 years and I unfortunately can’t say the same today, with many of my mates holding back their precious gaming funds. There are so many competing priorities as we get older, especially if we’re gaming Dads with responsibilities. Still, I pre-ordered the game last year and am excited to be able to start a new character and not have it wiped! I hope FOMO will get the better of some of my mates as I would love to play this co-op.

Horse Mounts

One of the most common questions we saw in the reviewer Discord server was, “when can I get a horse?” This warranted a mention before I get into the rest of the game because you will wish you had one when you’re working on the Act III story quests. You find the stable master when you first enter Kyovashad but it says you need to have completed a quest to buy a mount. For hours I was looking for this quest, but it’s not until the start of Act IV that you are prompted to get a horse after you talk to one of the main characters. One would think you would get it much sooner, but story-wise it fits.

Once you have unlocked horses on one character, it unlocks them account-wide on alternate characters so it means you can start a new character and have a horse straight away which is awesome – it’s just a slog to get it the first time. I got mine at level 38 and there were two other horses available to purchase at the stables for 20,000 gold each. I then looked at barding where you can buy you horse some new cosmetic saddles that can be swapped around in the wardrobe. I was taken aback at the price! The only one available in Kyovashad was worth 3.2 million gold. I’m not sure if that was a bug or if that is the legitimate actual cost.

I had built up 911K gold through my adventuring so if these prices are real then I imagine this would be an endgame goal to add to the list, especially with gold being earned at a faster rate as you go up the world tiers. Horses appeared to draw less aggro from mobs than when I ran around on foot. This meant I could traverse zones faster and keep an eye out for chests and other things to shoot and loot easier than on foot. Horses can be spooked when surrounded by too many mobs though and you can be thrown off.

While riding on your horse, you can press ‘1’ and it will do a special class-specific combat dismount while shooting at the mobs. I found the rogue’s bow skill to be inaccurate if the mobs were right on you, so I hardly used it. Other reviewers found the melee focused skills much more useful. Pressing spacebar makes you spur on the horse and sprint faster for a short while. It certainly made map traversal so much quicker and more efficient, especially when making a fresh character.

Story Campaign

Keeping this review spoiler free means I can’t say much about anything beyond what players saw in Act I during the beta tests. Diablo IV takes place thirty years after the events of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. Lilith is a great evil protagonist and some of the scenes she is in are chilling which is enhanced by the outstanding voice acting from Caroline Faber. It’s not just Lilith that steals the show though, all voice actors have done an amazing job in their roles, even minor characters from side quests. Lorath, voiced by Ralph Ineson, quickly became the Deckard Cain of Diablo 4 for me. With Anthony Howel as Elias, Gabe Kunda as Inarius and Debra Wilson as Parava, plus many others, they all take immersion in the game to another level.

The main story is played out over a prologue, six main story acts and an epilogue. Acts I through III can be played in any order, then acts IV-VI are played in order. Like in the beta tests, you are given starting quests for all three acts straight away. Being able to complete Acts I-III in any order makes them a little disjointed if you do them ‘out of order’ but you will see why this is the case when you complete them. There is an overarching storyline that connects them all, but the way they play out is still cool as heck to experience.

I stuck to playing the Rogue class with a bow and traps spec and I chose to complete the first three acts in number order. This had me starting my adventuring in Fractured Peaks, moving across to Scosglen for Act II and then onto Dry Steppes for Act III. I grabbed any side quests I came across and for the first two acts, I was doing a bunch of side quests that took me into the same area as main story quest locations. I found that levelling up came quite fast doing this in Acts II and II, and managed to net some decent rare item drops and gold. I got my first legendary drop at level 14 and that familiar legendary drop sound is so chefs-kiss, but this was replaced by a better rare item within 30 minutes.

As I got to Act III, I realised our review access to the servers was nearing the end date, so I stopped all side quest progress and just concentrated on story quests. These story quests had me running from one major town to the next across vast deserts full of creatures wanting to kill me, and it was at this point in the mid-level 30’s that I wished I had a horse. The pace of the story slowed down for me here as it felt the explorable area was much bigger than Acts I and II. No doubt this is subjective, and if I had done side quests at the same time it likely wouldn’t have felt like it dragged as much.

Act IV was over extremely quickly after a major boss fight, and then the intensity lifted in Act V as the high stakes for the characters were becoming apparent. Exploring the Kehjistan and Hawezar zones was great with a different look and feel, with more horrifying biomes to discover. Again, I chose to just stick to the story quests as I was counting down the hours until the server shut down, but Act V lasted for a decent amount of time.

I managed to complete Act V and start Act VI right as the servers were taken offline. I am glad it happened this way as it has made me hungry to play at launch and fight my way to that point so I can finish the story for myself. There were many other gaming journalists that had finished the story and moved onto World Tier 3, so I am aware of what happens, but it will be great to play through and experience for myself at release. Completing the story means you can ‘story skip’ on alternate characters which is a godsend feature. I get alt-itis in games like this as well as MMORPGs, which is a horrible disease where you roll alt after alt, get nowhere with any of them and burn out. This will get you straight into developing your favourite classes and working through the world tier challenges.

Rogue Class and Levelling Experience

The rogue was my favourite class to play in the final server slam weekend, so it was the class I chose to review the game. I went for bow skills and utilised traps, and took any passives that enhanced vulnerable, knocked back and poison damage. You can see points I specced on this build calculator and I tended to use the inner sight specialisation which unlocked at level 20. I found this was great for rounding up a stack of mobs, dropping traps and then aoe’ing them down. Single target DPS wasn’t as good as I would have liked but I only struggled on a couple of the bosses, though never enough to have to rethink the build. I may have played around with changing passives, but core skills worked well for me overall. I also didn’t put much of a focus on gaining aspects given our characters were being wiped.

Dungeons are spread all over the map and each will grant your account a class-specific aspect where the individual aspect is noted on the map icon. I originally ignored the ones that weren’t for my class, but I realised that you could complete them regardless of class to collect the aspects for your account. While gaining aspects from these dungeons is one way to earn them, another way is to extract aspects from legendary items. Gaining them this way has a higher chance that they have better stat percentages depending on which level and world tier they dropped at.

As you explore each major zone and reveal the fog of war, complete side quests, vanquish stronghold and find altars of Lilith, you will earn renown for your efforts. There are three initial tiers of rewards that can be completed in world tiers 1 and 2. Completing these nets you a couple of skill points and an extra health potion. By the time the server closed I had 6 health potions (up from 4 you start with) and had gained an additional 5 skill points. This means any alternate characters you make start with extra health potions, 5 skill points and a mount. That’s a very decent head start for new characters, so I personally won’t roll alts until I have unlocked those.

By the time the review server shut down I was level 42 and had just started Act VI. Some reviewers said that Act VI dragged on a bit, but I don’t know if that meant it took a while to get through the quests, or whether the story beats were slow. However, I had a full list of 20 side quests that I had collected from Fractured Peaks and Scosglen, not including the heap of side quests I intentionally skipped in all other zones to focus on the main story. Let’s not forget all the dungeons I skipped and strongholds too.

Strongholds were a good change of pace too and each stronghold has its own unique objectives, bosses, and some had simple puzzle elements. They are more complicated than the regular public world events and are solitary experiences, unless you are in a party. Rewards are specific to each stronghold, and once cleared, it becomes an open space, and other players will become visible. Clearing a stronghold can also spawn a legion event which are longer and more challenging, but I didn’t experience any of these in my time in the review build.

Diablo IV End Game and Paragon Board

I was concerned that I would be too low level to finish the final boss fights for the story and too low for the capstone dungeon to unlock world tier 3. Other reviewers finished the campaign around level 45, and then had to grind up to the high 40’s through completing side quests to be able to beat the Cathedral of Light capstone dungeon in Kyovashad. Other reviewers beat the capstone dungeon at level 48, so it sounds tough but can be played co-op and will depend on how well you play your class build.

Once the capstone dungeon is defeated, it unlocks world tier 3 which is recommended for levels 50-70. Reviewers said mobs were 53+ to start WT3 so it was a bit of a rude awakening for some. Once you get to level 50 you start earning paragon points and unlock the paragon board which is a new addition to Diablo IV. You start at the centre of the board which is split into four different tiles – normal, magic, rare and legendary, and work outwards depending on the direction you want to take your character. At the edge of each board is a ‘gate’ tile where players will choose which new paragon board they wish to attach to the board they have just crossed. I am yet to experience this myself so relied on other reviewers letting me know about the system.

In world tier 3 you will start to earn sacred and unique items, nightmare sigils drop that can unseal nightmare dungeons, helltides appear across Sanctuary and champion monsters can appear that have damage resistance auras. Helltides are region-wide events that occur randomly and last for about an hour. Monsters in the area become empowered, making them tougher but their loot drops will be more substantial. They can potentially drop cinders that can be spent to open Helltide Chests in the region. In addition, the Ashava world boss we saw in the beta tests was just for testing purposes. World bosses don’t start spawning until after you complete the campaign.

In-Game Shop and Battle Pass

When we received our review key, briefing and press kit, we were informed that “due to logistical implementation, the Early Review build will not contain the Diablo IV shop which will be live when the game launches.” Instead, we were given image assets and some b-roll footage of the shop in action. The battle pass will have three levels and 90 tiers of rewards to unlock. If you purchase the premium battle pass, this unlocks the first 20 tiers which is encroaching on pay to win territory to a point. Yes, these are just cosmetic skins but you’re unlocking tiers faster which also means potentially gaining smoldering ashes faster.

Smoldering ashes are a currency players use to create season-long blessings/buffs. The example pictured below offers a boost to XP earned from monster kills, a boost to the amount of gold earned from vendor sales, a boost to the chance of rare materials from salvage and a boost to the duration of all elixirs. Aside from obvious accelerated XP and gold earnings, the last two can be seen to essentially help the player last longer against bosses and access a higher chance at better loot. Players can also spend smoldering ash to upgrade these boosts.

To get smoldering ashes in Diablo IV, you will need to progress the free version of the battle pass. All players will acquire smoldering ashes, whether they choose to buy tier skips or not. But, to progress your battle pass, free or paid, you must complete parts of your season journey. This is a separate tab of the UI that will open when you play during seasonal content. The journey will be filled with tasks which you can complete in stages. Completing tasks grants favor, and favor is an accumulative bar that ticks your battle pass up from one tier to the next.

The shop consists of three tabs – cosmetics, add-ons and platinum. The shop will offer only cosmetic skins for items that will be purchased with platinum, Diablo IV’s premium currency. There are naturally some cosmetic items that are unique to each class, however if a player purchases the cosmetic item specific to a class, this will be available for all characters of this class that the player creates.

Some examples for you – there is a set of armour for a necromancer that looks amazing and has a value of 2,800 platinum which costs US24.99. Another example is a mount set that is valued at 800 platinum, or US9.99 to get 1000 platinum. The shop will consistently rotate the items available for purchase and you also get recommendations based on your playstyle and aesthetic preferences, though I am yet to see that in action. It looks like players can preview the cosmetic before buying it, and with the cross-purchase feature, players can access the cosmetics on any platform.

Final Thoughts on Diablo IV

Overall, I feel that Diablo IV is the best game in the series, one of the best aRPGs on the market today and while it’s gameplay loop may not appeal to every gamer type, it suited my casual playstyle well. The storytelling is dark and engaging, the environments are impeccably detailed, and there are so many gameplay elements on offer to keep me coming back. I am definitely excited to start playing Diablo IV for real with no character wipes come the early access launch on June 2, 2023, four days earlier than the global release on June 6. I am also looking forward to seeing a heap of players running around major hubs as in the review period and despite there being a couple of hundred of us reviewing the game, I didn’t see a single person. In the previous beta tests, it was great to occasionally gain a group experience buff as a player would run up, help me with a fight, and then continue on their journey.

Diablo III was a lot more fun when playing with mates and trying to help each other get better gear at the end game. Even with just getting to end game, Diablo IV has a heck of a lot of content for players to get through, let alone the paragon system, nightmare dungeons, helltide events and more. I found the gear treadmill was quite steady and I never felt underpowered, despite loot drops being between 5-10 levels lower than my character level. The allure of getting that glorious legendary ‘ting’ as one drops from a boss is addictive, and being able to extract aspects or gain them from dungeons means you can really plot out your own journey through Sanctuary.

I didn’t get to play through Act VI or the epilogue myself, but from what I read in the reviewers Discord, it sparked a lot of great discussion between reviewers for how they interpreted the series of events and conclusion to the story. It bodes well for the future of the game and possible expansion content. On a personal level, this was an amazing review experience, and it was invaluable to be able to bounce questions, bug reports and feedback to Blizzard representatives and amongst fellow reviewers.

A big thanks to Blizzard ANZ for the PC review key and Diablo IV will have an early access launch starting on June 2, 2023, before the floodgates to hell open on June 6 on PC, Xbox and PlayStation.


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