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Screenshot from Diablo IV featuring the angel Inarius descending from on high upon wings that are tendrils of light

The Diablo IV (not) review

My time with Diablo IV was short but enough to inspire a crisis of self.

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This is not a review of Diablo IV. It can’t be. During the review period, the game was missing a key feature: the shop. Which, if you consider what happened the last time (and with Diablo Immortal), being able to evaluate Diablo IV’s microtransactions should naturally be a key component of a full review.

I also had too short a time with the review build, made shorter by a technical limitation that required the build’s servers be shut down a full week — which included a three-day holiday weekend — before today’s review could be published, wiping out my character and progression in the process. And while I was given a launch code that granted me early access starting yesterday, along with all the other players who preordered the game, I was only able to get an additional seven hours with it before passing out around 2AM this very morning.

So consider this a Diablo IV aperitif, a review hors d’oeuvre. Something cobbled together from my beta and review period experiences to tide you over while a more formal and heartier review of Diablo IV cooks.

Screenshot from Diablo IV featuring a top-down view of a dark dungeon with a bubbling flesh monster, spectral enemies, and a tongue of fire emanating from a monster.
Image: Blizzard

To get some technical housekeeping out of the way, I had no problem with actually playing the game. Logging in took less than five minutes, including two re-queues after I hit the widely reported “valid license bug.” However, the game is only available to players who preordered, so we won’t know if that “server slam” beta worked until everyone is trying to log in on June 6th.

Consider this a Diablo IV aperitif, a review hors d’oeuvre

Even though I’ve only had a short time with it, Diablo IV has captivated me, as it’s forcing me to come to a deeper understanding of myself in a way other games haven’t in order to appreciate it. Of course, every game requires a basic level of interest in order to be enjoyed. Though there are exceptions, if you don’t like open-world games and you try to play something like Assassin’s Creed, you’re probably not going to have the best time. 

From the outset, Diablo IV’s five classes — barbarian, necromancer, sorcerer, rogue, and druid — didn’t matter to me. I neither looked up anything about them nor did any of them really stand out as an enticing option. I figured because I had played and enjoyed multiple classes in Diablo III that I’d have a good time regardless of what I chose. Besides, knowing the kind of numbers-go-up loot bonanza Diablo is at its core, I figured that no matter what class I chose, my experience would largely be the same — keep hitting “X” until the thing in front of me dies.

I was very wrong.

I played as a barbarian, and it was drier than (choose up to three): [The Rock whenever he’s trying to promote his newest film / an actual sand-wich with a side of Popeyes biscuit and a tall glass of Jeppson’s Malört / the conversations between Leo DiCaprio and his girlfriend after midnight on her 25th birthday / the emotional depth of a David Cage game / Redfall’s gameplay.] 

I hated my time playing in the beta. I felt nothing but contempt for the game. The characters annoyed me, and the story didn’t move me. I felt like I was a mindless drone. It was awful.  

I figured that no matter what class I chose, my experience would largely be the same, but I was wrong

My husband and I have very different game tastes, and I was excited for Diablo IV because it was the first game in a while we could enjoy together. I thought, with a shiver of fear, that I wouldn’t be able to stomach the one game we would actually get to play together — not in parallel like we did for Elden Ring but actually together. (Husband, if you are reading this, Magic: The Gathering does not count. You always beating me is not “playing together.”)

I shared my discontent with him, and he suggested that I play a sorcerer for the review period. And everything changed. 

Screenshot from Diablo IV featuring two barbarians clad in fur and silver armor
Screenshot from Diablo IV featuring to sorcerers clad in red and bronze armor brandishing staves
How it started, how it’s going.
Image: Bllzard and Image: Blizzard

It wasn’t because it was a suggestion from him, and I didn’t think much of it when I decided to give it a shot. There was no more complexity to the sorcerer than there was to the barbarian. Sure, the abilities were different with different graphical flourishes, but I was hitting the same buttons, in largely the same order, and the same enemies still died, while the same numbers went up.

And I felt joy.

I experienced the same story, side quests, and characters, but this time, they engaged me. As a barbarian, Nyrelle and her mother were just NPCs in the way of the next quest. As a sorcerer, my heart broke for their tragedy, such that I followed that questline as far as I could, hoping I could bring them peace. 

The loot was different but just as appealing. I hadn’t changed my approach in role-playing the character. Hell, both characters even looked the same, with the same name, but I was far more invested in crafting a story for my sorcerer than I was my barbarian.

Screenshot from Diablo IV featuring the many facial customization options fo the game’s character creator

In an interview with Diablo IV’s developers ahead of launch, they talked about the importance they put on player customization.

“The idea is you’re forging your own path to make your build,” Adam Jackson, Diablo IV’s lead class designer told The Verge.

The class skill trees are intricate, with many branches and nodes representing different skills, passive abilities, and modifications to existing abilities. As a barbarian, I was just hitting things with an ax, and the skills I took didn’t feel like they added more depth. But with the sorcerer, I felt like I was building something new from the ground up. I could choose to be a fire slinger or an ice wielder. I could make lightning jump between enemies or summon a hydra from hell to spit fire at my foes. Each choice made my sorcerer feel unique and me. The barbarian just hit things harder.

Diablo IV went from a drudge completed only in service to my professional responsibilities to a pleasure I sought. There’s something in Diablo IV that will appeal to you, if you know enough about yourself to find it. I don’t know what that is yet, but in the coming weeks, I hope to find out and share it with you.

Diablo IV launches June 6th on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.