Hands On: Our Early Impressions Of The Diablo IV Beta On Xbox
Image: Blizzard

It’s now been more than a decade since Blizzard originally released its last mainline Diablo game, Diablo III. In between that time it also dropped expansion packs and updates, released multiple versions of the game across various platforms, re-released an older entry, and even launched a mobile (and PC) title known as Diablo Immortal with the help of Chinese video game giant NetEase. This brings us to the fourth major entry in the series, Diablo IV.

The first weekend of the beta has just passed, and here at Pure Xbox we played through the entire story on offer in this opening chapter of the game from start to finish on Xbox Series X. There were widely reported login issues and some bugs here and there, but fortunately, in our location and time zone, we didn’t encounter any major issues other than the occasional queue upon boot up. The game's performance was also mostly smooth from start to finish.

Also, don't forget that everyone will have a chance to try the Diablo IV beta for free on Xbox this coming weekend, so even if you missed out over the past few days, you'll be able to play it very soon.

Hands On: Our Early Impressions Of The Diablo IV Beta On Xbox 1
Image: Blizzard

Choose your class

The classes available during this period include the Barbarian, the Sorcerer and Rogue – a homage to the selection in the original 1997 release. The classes that weren’t available included Necromancer (first featured in Diablo II) and Druid (originally appearing in the Diablo II expansion). The immediate addition you’ll notice in this section of the game is the character creator. You pick a class and then modify your character from body shape to face structure and other customisation options such as jewelry and tattoos to make your hero stand out – at least before they’re covered from head to toe in armour. If you have played Diablo Immortal before, this won’t come as a surprise, but the customisation options are definitely fleshed out in comparison.

The story so far...

Once you’ve chosen a class and created a character to your liking, you’re thrust into the much darker world of Diablo IV. Starting off in a thick snow-filled area within Sanctuary literally surviving for your life, you’re on the outskirts of what appears to be an abandoned town. When you arrive, it’s not so lifeless but there are cultists in town performing satanic rituals and you’re on the menu as their next sacrifice. Fortunately, you manage to regain your freedom and from here you learn of Lilith - the daughter of the Lord of Hatred Mephisto – and her plans to unleash hell once again, with your job to now track her down. The prologue leading up to the main city of Kyovashed might take up to an hour on the first run (cinematics included), but on the second and third playthroughs – skipping all the cut scenes – we were able to cut it down to just over 10 minutes.

Hands On: Our Early Impressions Of The Diablo IV Beta On Xbox 2
Image: Blizzard

Open plains

Once you get into the main hub town, you’re pretty much free to go off and explore the first zone, Fractured Peaks. Diablo IV might be a pleasant shock for anyone who hasn’t played Diablo Immortal, but those who have will at least have some idea about what to expect. While there are still linear pathways and sections throughout the map like older Diablo entries, the map is now more of an open-world design where towns and roads link together. Along the way you’ll encounter forests, swamps, snowy mountains, open plains, dungeons, caves and large castles…the list goes on. From a visual perspective, it’s a stunning leap when compared to Diablo III – especially when you start to notice the finer graphical details such as falling snowflakes, muddy roads with pools of water and light pouring through demon-filled kingdoms. There are also moments where the camera pans out to a wider shot, normally highlighting a point of interest. These stunning graphics are backed by a fittingly ‘evil’ soundtrack, which captures the bleak situation the world of Sanctuary and its population finds themselves in.

This new level of freedom certainly makes it easier to get sidetracked as well. Outside of the main quests, there are a whopping 35 side quests to take on in this beta. The objectives range from helping townsfolk save loved ones to defending a location from a demon attack. You’ve then got additional world activities to work your way through like side dungeons and public PvE events where you face off against a wave of enemies to unlock some sweet loot – a bit like in the recent Diablo Immortal. There are also three Strongholds to take on in this beta, where you basically liberate a location filled with monsters – with some areas transforming into safe havens and town hubs as a reward.

Hands On: Our Early Impressions Of The Diablo IV Beta On Xbox 3
Image: Blizzard

Fun with friends

All of the events and 'live' features combined make the whole Diablo experience feel more alive than ever – crafting an almost MMO-like setting where you’ll find yourself jumping between player, NPC and enemy interactions as well as public events on a regular basis. As for the online and local multiplayer aspects, both modes are drop-in and drop-out experiences. Apart from some minor connection hiccups from time to time in the beta, the online multiplayer experience is much the same as Diablo 3. Cross-play also had no problems thanks to the Battle.net integration. You and a friend or family member (or more) can run around from quest to quest, killing monsters with loot divided up between you. The local experience was just as seamless. Although, the setup did require another Battle.net account to be connected to the system, and there also seemed to be a restriction – preventing low-level players from joining higher-level ones. When playing with others, enemies also seemed to scale to your own character's level – keeping battles competitive.

The grind

Diablo IV in these earlier stages of the game from level 1 – 25 doesn’t feel anywhere near as quick (at least yet) as what Diablo III transformed into over the years at higher levels of gameplay, but we did only have access to so much of this world in the beta. As you grind, there’s now also an extensive skill tree to work through – unlocking all sorts of moves and attacks to assist you in and out of battle. Skill points are unlocked by level and can be reassigned if you want to rebuild your build.

Hands On: Our Early Impressions Of The Diablo IV Beta On Xbox 4
Image: Blizzard

Diablo with an Xbox controller

As for the controls, the game handled rather well with the latest Xbox controller. In Diablo III, it was often quite finicky at times, but here it seems the UI and controller implementation has been properly integrated. Attacking enemies is as simple as holding down a button, and all the extra attacks are assigned to the other buttons, including the triggers. The triggers and bumpers also play a part in sub-menu navigation, as does the d-pad bringing up interactions and emotes, or accepting party invites. All up, it makes prolonged play sessions quite easy on your hands compared to previous console experiences and even the PC version, which has often required relentless clicking in the past.

These easy-to-use controls make it fun to slay both new and old enemies. In the beta, there's a mix of new boss battles featuring all sorts of horrifying creatures, and some of the older returning ones such as – spoiler – The Butcher, who can now show up randomly in dungeons. While you don’t take on Lilith in this early playtest of the game, you do go up against her servants.

Our final thoughts

Ultimately, the beta for Diablo IV left us wanting more. Once we got through the story and extra side content in the first region, we were eager to learn more, see more, and level more. Due to Blizzard's constant evolution of its games, it’s hard to say how this one will pan out in the years to come and even post-release, but at this early stage, this fourth entry seems to provide solid enough foundations for the company to build upon while also offering a renewed take on a classic series many have had a hell of a time with over the years.

Did you try the Diablo 4 beta this past weekend? Tell us in the comments section below.