Until a few weeks ago, my gaming plans didn't encompass the Diablo 4 open beta. However, the closer it got to the deadline, the more alluring the game seemed. I finally tried it, spent a few hours in the game and ... I'm afraid that it may end up like all the other gaas (i.e. "games as a service," tho I prefer the term "gamevice").
For a long time, Blizzard was a synonym of quality in the PC are. However, the company has had a long streak of questionable decisions that caused much outrage and backlash, leading even the most hardened fans to start doubting whether their new games would even be something to look forward to.
When we saw Diablo 4 for the first time after years of uncertainty, the initial enthusiasm was quickly extinguished. Sure, on the one hand, we had a great remaster of Diablo 2, which already got me hooked for hundreds of hours, but on the other hand, somewhere in the back of my head, I still remembered Diablo 3 on PC, or the slightly fresher wound – Diablo Immortal, which I don't even want to talk about.
However, it's the middle of March, the part of the closed beta for Diablo IV preorders is slowly ending, and contrary to my initial plans, I have spent a few hours in Sanctuary, completed the storyline of the demo, checked out side activities and somewhere along the way, my opinion about this game changed.
Aside from even watching the server queue screen for two hours, my initial impressions of Diablo 4 were... I'd say "moderately negative." I was shocked to see how poor the game looked on PS5, the beginning turned out to be rather tiresome, and I didn't find the gameplay all that engaging. I was already thinking that I should probably cancel the preorder and just go with Final Fantasy XVI, coming out the same month.
However, the next day, Diablo IV magically got prettier. So here comes the funny part – for some reason, the game was using the lowest quality textures, topped with dynamic resolution problems. However, the beta's condition aside, we can still hope that Diablo IV will be released as a highly polished product.
What Blizzard proposes in terms of gameplay is surprisingly satisfying and gives genuine hope that this time around, we'll do without gigantic pivots after the release and without desperate rescue efforts to save the entire game. After a problematic beginning, the combat finally starts to take an attractive form, though some classes seem to be lagging far behind in terms of combat prowess at this point (barbarian and wizard are opposite poles of usefulness).
The skill tree, however, gives some choices, and isn't as overdone as in Path of Exile (in that game, you either get a PhD on it, or you shouldn't play it). I was also enchanted by the atmosphere of the first act. You can see the ubiquitous hopelessness, which, combined with religion based on Catholicism makes for a unique experience, offering a much more compelling adventure than Diablo 3 did. Yes, Diablo 4 definitely delivers on the promise of a Diablo 2-like feel.
Let's briefly discuss the content delivered by Blizzard. There's an abundance of it in the beta itself. We have a lot of side quests and minor locations to visit, complemented by extensive dungeons often associated with different quests. On the other hand, it's hard not to get the impression that most of them were done on copy-paste basis. Going towards MMO-lite has always been the only logical direction to develop this genre (in my opinion, at least), so I'm not surprised that Diablo 4 is exactly that. The constant presence of other players, regional events activating and disappearing, special bosses that appear at certain moments – this is what the game is about now.
And as I was thinking about Diablo 4 on yesterday's walk, it slowly dawned on me that Blizzard's beloved game-as-a-service direction carries a clear stigma. Just look at the market and see how few games managed to achieve success – it wasn't guaranteed even by a recognizable franchise (the financial flop of Marvel's Avengers is a prime example). Diablo 4 might offer a huge amount of content on release day (assuming that the other acts will be as rich in it as the first one). Blizzard's brand is strong enough to survive even day one server problems, as shown by the launch of Diablo 3 and error 37. Everything will therefore be decided by the post-launch support the game gets.
The current model used in this series (one story expansion with new content and minor updates) may not work, though. Diablo 3 has already shown that binning the second DLC and only releasing scraps of it doesn't cut it. Of course, I keep in mind that D3 was not created from scratch as gaas and the studio tried to patch it up as they went. Diablo 4 starts from a different spot, but at the same time, it faces much greater expectations. Everything will depend on the frequency of releases and their quality. If Blizzard decides bail out and only limits itself to releasing new bosses and recycling dungeons, it won't be enough to maintain the community. Especially since the locations, unlike those in Diablo 2, aren't randomized in online modes.
Now you may call me a pessimist and say there's no real indication that Diablo 4 will follow the fate of other gaas games. However, I try to stay realistic, and if we consider the fates of other games as services, there have been more failures than successes, so I reserve the right to skepticism. Don't get me wrong – I would love if it turned out otherwise, and in fact, after the beta, my hopes for Diablo 4 actually grew a lot and deciding between playing FF XVI and the newest game from Blizzard should be a nice dilemma.