Diablo IV - A Return To Darkness

Based on what we saw this weekend though, I just can’t believe they’d be moving in the direction of discouraging respecs. They seem to have worked hard to make a game with a huge amount of build variety, that they want to let people play with.

Moreover, tightly constraining respecs smells like the old, player-unfriendly Blizzard. The player’s adversary. Do they actually want that? It would sure be a shame, but I’ll play the campaign regardless, so they got my seventy bucks.

Just saw this, pretty cool I thought.

The outlined part is what we got access to during the beta.

We didn’t even see all of that, the western third was unreachable. If you try to run there it pops up a message and teleports you back east.

Is that the entire game world?

No, Sanctuary has multiple continents. It’s either everything in the release version of D4 or all of act 1. From what I can tell, it’s the north-east corner of the Dreadlands.

I say only act 1 because prerelease materials talk about other regions like Kehjistan too. If so, and they’re all similar sizes and gameplay densities, it’s a downright gigantic game. Like Skyrim big.

The Dry Steppes are right there on the map. Maybe they didn’t follow it too closely.

Oh do they say act 1 is in the dry steppes? Didn’t seem very dry to me, although there was rather a lot of walking.

You couldnt get to the dry steppes. thats where the next bit with Lothan is.

So maybe the beta was the middle “boob” on the right side. Shrug.

This is cool.

Got my sorcerer to level 25 but got 27 skill points assigned using the bonuses from the map menu.

It got a bit squishy by the end.

Got a level 27 legendary to drop

That’s all well and good except I still had to do yet another cheesy CRPG religion ritual.

The player agency felt kind of awkward too in the midst of a rail roaded story, but that’s just nitpicking.

TL;DR: I predict release to have: 40-60 hours of solid campaign play then everything falls off a cliff as you dive into the real game and realize it’s all rotten at its core

Long post is long.

This like a GPT-4 version of Diablo. Everything seems right until you start looking closely.

Here’s my prediction (~80% confidence level). Feel free to link back to this in June.

  • Campaign will be passable, with some questionable writing/plotting, but better than d3 (lowest bar in the world)
  • Cinematics will be S-tier, as always (somehow that team continues to shine; how is the cinematics team so consistently awesome for blizzard? what are they doing on that team and how can they replicate it for the rest of their org?)
  • “Balance” is going to be a joke; expect broken builds to completely dominate as they are found
  • Expect lots of knee-jerk nerfs that make people very unhappy (because op builds hurt the battle pass model)
  • End-game is going to be a shit show
  • A core mechanics / systems overhaul within the first 2 years to rip out whatever the hell they’ve built here and rework it into something that is coherent

The surface looks promising, but the more you dig into the systems, the more worrying it becomes. Things that should be polished and amazing because they’re core to the genre … are horribly lacking or not there at all. There’s also been scant public mention of end-game, which is the most important part of an ARPG since that’s where the majority of time is spent. I feel like the game needs a good editing pass and I doubt it’s going to have time to get it. Fundamentally, though, the issue is the game doesn’t know what it is.

Is D4 a Lost Ark clone or a call back to D2 or refinement of the D3 formula or something slower and more tactical? It has no idea.

There is no clarity of vision here – D4 doesn’t know what it is and what it is trying to do, and most importantly, who it is for. I suspect this is a consequence of the huge amount of churn this project has had over the past 5+ years.

  • 2017: “we’re building an open world diablo!”
  • 2018: new leadership: “we’re building a battle royale diablo!”
  • 2020: new leadership: “we’re building a dark souls diablo!”
  • 2022: new leadership: “we’re building a lost ark diablo!”

Some examples that stand out of how there’s rot under the surface

  • Cellars? What are they for? Why are there there? This is so weird, this feels like an artifact from an earlier iteration of the game that somehow still exists today or something which evidences they have no coherent design vision
  • I find it amusing that there are things like “you can sit on stools” implemented (nice flavor but kind of inessential) but core gameplay is not there yet. I assume we can write it down to churn and changes of direction (likely the world / engine stuff is the oldest code) but still, makes you wonder at their priorities
  • Item scaling and design – core stats are worthless, % dmg scaling dominates
  • Comparing items – the item compare does not take into account % dmg scaling, so it’s completely worthless for the #1 most important decision you need to make in an arpg: “is this item better for me or not?” Not sure how this was not the first thing they thought about solving since it’s so critical to the genre. Very disconcerting how bad it is.

For example, look at the travesty that is this item compare tooltip:

Why is this this bad months before release? How is this this bad months before release? This is like one of the first things you get right when you’re making an ARPG because this something every player does all the time (“a toothbrush journey”).

  • movement – not having wasd is standard for the genre, but trying to dodge telegraphed ground effects with click-to-move is agony, way too easy to click on the boss model and not move – helps a lot to use force move, but uh this feels remarkably clunky

  • not sold on rogue being both melee and ranged given the way skill trees work

  • Skill scaling and design – each rank in a skill is about 10% dmg or so (so +1 rank on gear is actually pretty good for your core damage! of course the item tooltip doesn’t factor this in, nor does the charsheet damage thing)

  • City layout – why would you put everything so far away; d3 got this right, why regress here?

  • dungeon layout / objectives – it is incredibly obvious players are going to farm the dungeons that have the “best” objectives – why even have the other shittier objectives? who is this being designed for? how is this an issue this late in the game’s development? this is like core gameplay loop shit – what happened to “iterate until we find the fun”

  • skill tree ui … literally terrible. why is it so spread out? why is it not visible at all once? who designed this and thought this was ok to ship? it is not hard to come up with a better layout, see fansite layouts like https://d4builds.gg/skill-trees/barbarian/

  • skill tree design … um, this is a lot of “superficial complexity” that hides a pretty simple core system underneath. get rid of the complexity and just acknowledge the simplicity of the system

  • respec cost scaling – who is this for? is the intent that people netdeck the best build and then stick to that, never deviating and exploring at the cost of gold? what purpose does this serve in 2023? to start you’re going to want different builds for farming and for the world boss but maybe you just use your farming build since the world boss will be easy? still, feels like it curtails exploring the build space, which at least for me, is my favorite part of this genre (esp. as you get items that enable specific builds)

  • legendary extraction being one time means you need to continually farm new legendaries to imprint onto new and better rares you find. makes one pine for kanai’s cube

  • having to re-get every waypoint on every character and redo the intro and campaign on each character. going to get old very fast. at least statues of lilith are account wide, though their status isn’t, so better get them all one char otherwise you’re going to have a heck of a time tracking what you need. curious how those will interact with seasons

  • radio silence on endgame. biggest red flag imo, esp. with a few months to release and all the talk of the team crunching since last Fall (!!!) If they knew what the endgame looked like, they’d tell us – but they don’t, so they haven’t. Which is very ungood so close to release.

At this point it’s “get it out the door and collect $$ and fix after release.” I suspect the hilarious amounts of churn they’ve had on the team has not helped matters and this is now a sprawling monstrosity – as opposed to what you want to do, which is start small, get the core fun loop going (“find the fun first” as blizzard used to say) and then build out the game around that. Turn the ship around and all that.

Which is sad since Blizz used to be “release when it’s done” but I guess that company hasn’t existed for 10+ years so qq

I’m holding off on picking it up until I see what end-game, seasons, and monetization ($10 battle pass every 3mo on top of $70 game? for an arpg?) look like in more detail. It might be good in a few years, but I predict it’s going to be meh on release.

Lastly, what will endgame item collection / build creation look like? It’s going to be rough, unless there are as yet unannounced systems to make it better.

I got everything to 25 in the beta and then dove pretty deep into Rogue, eventually building the Twisting Blades builds with all the right legendaries (very fun and very strong build, ended up practically soloing the world boss with it – was teleporting in and out to get 3x world boss kills – you can do that – the last two times the wb was up and the last one just had me and another person and they kept dying. pretty sure the wb scales health with # of people around too, making for some interesting social dynamics).

My approach to trying to make that build:

  • I made a list of what legendaries I needed for the build and which slots I wanted to put them (2H weapon gets 100% bonus from the legendary aspect, amulet gets 50%, so you want your two strongest there, then other slots have restrictions on what flavor legendary can go there – Offensive, Defensive, Resource, Mobility, Utility. See this tab: Diablo 4 Reference Spreadsheet (d4spreadsheet) - Google Sheets

  • I made a list of what stats I was looking for on rares – main stats are a trap, % dmg scaling is best (% Dmg, % to Close [or Distant, if you’re ranged])

I started stashing rares that were sufficiently high item level (300+) and had the right stats. This involved painfully mouseovering every single rare.

As I found key legendaries (by spamming the top floor of Anica’s claim, over and over, since that was the densest set of elites I could find), I extracted them and put them on the best rare I had for that slot (after rerolling and upgrading the rare, since it’s way more expensive if you do it once it’s legendary). If I got more legendaries of the same type, I put them in stash, trying to sort by them by the % of the legendary effect (remembering to undo the math from the 2H and amulet scaling, since the game doesn’t show you base value). All this took a silly amount of gold too, but fortunately the Anica spam gave me a lot of stuff to vendor. Usually would do two loops before having to go to town to vendor (Anica’s has a little town next to it, saving me the long load time to the capital city).

Since it was beta, once I got a good rare and a good legendary, I just started vendoring rares for that slot. In theory I would want to keep looking at rares and save a better rare roll for that slot. It’s a bit awkward that you need a rare and a legendary (to extract and imprint onto the rare), since the legendary is NOT going to roll with the right stats. This means you need both those pieces in place to “upgrade” a particular gear slot. This is … not great.

The stash does not help you with any of this. You have to organize manually. There is no search or filter in the stash, so god help you. Auto sort sorts by item slot, which doesn’t matter when you’re looking for legendaries to extract aspects from you (you want to sort by aspect, and aspect value taking into account +100% from 2H and +50% from amulet). For rares the auto sort works, sort of it, in that it sorts by item slot – and you still need to manually look at the stats (there’s no way to do stat weights).

So, barring additional as-yet-undisclosed game systems (very possible), the end game item acquisition loop looks like:

  • Acquire rares, hovering each rare you acquire to make sure they have the right stats for the build you want

  • Acquire legendaries, stashing them away and keeping a couple extra (with better rolls than you have on the one in your gear now) in case you find an even better rare

God help you if you want to try another build that wants different legendaries or different rares.

The two steps of rares + legendaries feels like a huge step backwards compared to Kanai’s cube.

The Twisting Blades build, for reference:

This is the farm flavor. You’ll want clone and dark shroud for world boss; as opposed to shadow imbue + smoke bomb for farming.


[Offensive] Amulet: Edgemaster [Primary Resource]
[Offensive] Ring: Conceited [Dmg while Barrier]
[Offensive] 1h: Rapid [Crit with Core Atk Speed]
[Offensive] 1h: Accelerating [Basic Skill Atk Speed]
[Mobility] Boots: Ravager [Additional SS charge]
[Offensive] Gloves: Inner calm [Dmg while standing still]
[Defensive/Codex] Chest: Protector for conceited dmg buff proc [barrier elite]
(on Pants)
[Defensive] Pants: Flex
[Defensive/Resource/Utility] Helm: Flex
[Offensive] Ring2: Flex

I wanted to say, before I take the time to read the new novel by @alcaras, that I appreciated the rundown on that scene. Because I ran five characters through the beta, I chose all five options that felt right for the class (barb = anger, sorc = pride, rogue = greed, necro = fear, druid = scribbles), thinking that there might be a story piece that ties it in later in the game. That’d be so cool to have a minor thing that people probably mostly wanted to blow by have some major impact later on. But, who knows. Diablos aren’t known for deep, meaningful, story.

[Edit] Having now read alcaras’ post, which lost me soon as they delved into specific build-building and loot-grinding to maximize impact stuff, there’s not much to disagree with except for, maybe, the overall tone (which is opinion, of course, so can’t argue it). Really, at most, after 41 hours put into the beta myself, I put all of the complaints into a bucket of ‘yeah, but I still really loved playing’. Yep, these are things that they should have plainly noticed already, that they could have learned from past games, and that clearly needed to be alpha/beta tested ahead of now to get input on design, but I don’t know if they’ll impact the ‘core’ Diablo player heavily or just the fringe outliers that are, even if vocal, still a minority.

The game is going to be a massive hit, and all we can do is keep pounding away at the feedback and hope they iron out the less-than-stellar parts to make it into a true (socketable) gem.

@alcaras Thanks for taking the time and effort to make that post. I’m solidly in the “wait and see how it looks at launch camp”, if for no other reason than too many games fall short of all the hype these days.

I’m not too worried about endgame not being there at launch. As a hardcore player it took me years (and the LOD expansion changes) to get consistently through normal difficulty, then years to consistently start getting through Nightmare difficulty, so whatever the endgame is, I’m pretty sure they will have expansions and major changes done long before I ever get there myself.

Here’s the video where they mention the scaling respec cost, queued up to the part: The Diablo IV Team on Doubling Down on Choices for Every Class - YouTube

that’s an awful choice and is completely flipped from the D3 design of change anytime as long as in town.

In D3 you don’t even have to be in town, do you? Just not in combat or a rift? My mind is hazy on that, as I haven’t changed builds in ages.