Last weekend, Blizzard Entertainment hosted an early access for the upcoming open beta for Diablo 4, available to pre-order purchasers. As a long-time fan of the click-happy action-RPG, I remained skeptical on this new breed of Diablo, which combines many of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft MMO-elements.

I’m happy to report that from what I’ve seen in the early game, Diablo 4 is going to be a big success.

Daughter of Hatred

Diablo 4 is set years after Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, and the titular villain is nowhere to be found. Instead, cultists have summoned the daughter of Mephisto, one of the other Prime Evils. Lilith is also known as the Mother of Sanctuary, having created mankind through her union with the angel, Inarius.

Long story short, there was a bit of a falling out between the unholy union, and now demon forces are on the rise as Lilith returns.

The opening cinematics and story-telling (including in-game cinematics!) is head and shoulders above what the series has done before, and Blizzard has always been a master of cinematic cutscenes. The story pulled me right in from the beginning, including being able to fully customize my character for the first time in the series, a nod to MMOs and other RPGs.

The tone of Diablo 4 is a refreshing return to Diablo’s roots — specifically the very first game, which was gothic, bloody, and supremely creepy. Diablo 2 expanded labyrinth mega-dungeon onto the wider world, losing some of its charm while gaining a much more robust variety in enemies and locations.

Diablo 3 went a step further, lightening the tone and color palette, nudging the world toward a more generic fantasy setting of angels versus demons.

Diablo 4 takes the best parts of all those games. There are creepy stories of possessed cultists and blood rituals, immersive cutscenes, phenomenal voice acting, and a wider world to explore with multiple biomes. Even only getting a small taste of Act 1 in the beta leaves me very impressed with the art design and storytelling.

But what truly matters in an action-RPG is the combat.

Lords of Destruction

The early access beta featured three of the five classes: rogue, barbarian, and sorcerer. I messed around with all three, and immediately enjoyed the ability to cheaply refund skill points to try different gameplay styles. The rogue plays much differently between nimbly dashing with a pair of daggers, or peppering foes from afar with bows and crossbows.

Diablo 4 features a linear progression for skills of similar types. In the beginning, you’ll choose your free or resource-generating ability, which will help fuel your future skills. After putting a few points into them, you’ll unlock the next group of skills, which feature big area of effect attacks.

I’m free to mix and match attacks, but it’s clearly best to select a few skills and pump them up using the additional nodes on the tree. I can select between two different branches to further define a skill. But ultimately I’ll need to rely on special properties on legendary and unique items to sharply modify skills, creating powerful combinations that entire builds can be designed around.

Skills are tied directly to weapons. No longer do players have to choose between weapon sets and skills and swap between them. All class weapons are equipped at all times, and using the relevant skill simply switches to that weapon — brilliant! The hefty barbarian comes equipped with no fewer than three weapon types at a time, creating a walking murder machine.

Combat feels wonderfully weighty and impactful, with a symphony of screen shakes, sound effects, and bloody destruction. The rogue and barbarian have the least flashiest skills in the early game, but still felt satisfying to cut through waves of enemies.

Movement and positioning is important as ever. Taking a nod from the console version of Diablo 3, all versions now feature a dedicated dodge button. Every class also has specific skills to get them out of a jam. The rogue can dash through enemies, the barbarian can leap, shout, and whirlwind, while the sorcerer can teleport away or freeze enemies around them.

Sanctuary Unchained

The open beta featured only the first area of Sanctuary, the Frozen Peaks. But that the Frozen Peaks encompasses several individual zones of winding trails, spider-filled caves, and small hamlets. Zones include numerous procedurally generated dungeons, some tiny and some quite large — as Diablo fans deserve.

Fans of MMO world design will be right at home here; for others the world design represents the biggest change in the series. No longer will we simply teleport from act to act. Now we have to actually huff it to the different regions and places of Sanctuary.

Thankfully Diablo 4 utilizes a lovely minimap and plenty of variety in elevation and exploration. Random events and mini-dungeons are peppered throughout, including timed world events and challenges that encourage multiple players to stop and solve a problem (which involves killing lots and lots of demons, naturally). Even powerful world bosses can spawn on timers for multiple players to prepare — not unlike a raid boss in a typical MMORPG.

All of these tried and true methods of MMO world-building work well for Diablo 4. The world feels more alive and reactive, and it’s fun to see other players’ hard-earned gear while shopping, crafting, and salvaging items in town.

Multiplayer is completely seamless; I ran into zero issues immediately forming a party and inviting my friends into my shared world, and we had an absolute blast exploring the Frozen Peaks and slaying demons together.

That doesn’t mean that Diablo 4 won’t run into the usual server issues on launch day (and most likely, during this weekend’s completely open beta). Other than a few framerate issues and slow downs, which could certainly be on my browser-happy end, we experienced only a single disconnect all weekend, and could immediately log back in afterward. Hopefully Blizzard can maintain at least that level of consistency.

The war over always-online servers to play a Diablo game was fought long ago with Diablo 3, and Diablo 4 makes no apologies about having to connect to play. At least this time, the MMO dressing in Diablo 4 makes the online servers much more palatable.

We’re excited to play more of the open beta this weekend, especially trying out the final two classes. Diablo 4 is shaping up to be a satisfying leap forward for the series, one that feels both freshly new, and classically Diablo.

This article was written by

Eric has been writing for over nine years with bylines at Dicebreaker, Pixelkin, Polygon, PC Gamer, Tabletop Gaming magazine, and more covering movies, TV shows, video games, tabletop games, and tech. He reviews and live streams D&D adventures every week on his YouTube channel. He also makes a mean tuna quesadilla.