I think I'm just about the only person to never play a Diablo game here at PC Gamer. And maybe it's because everyone else was playing the Diablo 4 beta as rogues, sorcerers, and necromancers, or maybe I still fondly remember playing Pillars of Eternity as a party of bears, but I quickly chose druid as my class for the open beta. I knew nothing about druids going in except this: a druid can turn into a bear.
That was enough for me. I took that one piece of information and decided to craft an entire identity from it. I was going to main bear. My plan was to completely max out the first bear skill, Maul, before putting points into anything else, and by "anything else" I mean the next bear-based ability.
After a few hours of the beta it became clear that this was, as real druids call it, a honkingly stupid idea. The first werebear ability, Maul, lets you turn into a bear and perform a backhand attack that is basically a slap. Turning into a bear: cool. Turning back into a human after becoming a bear: also cool, because a bunch of bear hair falls to the ground around you.
But doing nothing but slapping stuff as a bear? Not cool. As I gained my first few levels I just kept putting more points into Maul, which marginally increased its damage, but the real result is that I spent my first several hours in the open beta doing nothing but running slowly at monsters and bear-slapping every ghoul, wraith, and vampire bat I met.
Let me tell you, bear-slapping gets old quickly. It was interminably dull alternating a left bear backhand with a right bear backhand for hours. You know those things that turn you into a weird orb for a few seconds and you can speed around zapping monsters? That was like a frickin' holiday for me in the beta, just because I could cool it on the endless slapping for a bit.
I became so desperate for a change after putting my first four points into Maul that I guiltily spent a point on Storm Strike, which electrifies your weapon. By this time I'd slapped tons of axes and hammers and big sticks out of monsters, but I only used Storm Strike a few times before I decided it was even lamer than slapping things as a bear. A terrifically underwhelming attack, at least at rank one.
Diablo 4 druid bear-slapping everyone"
The only good thing about Maul is the enhancement that makes it Wild Maul, which is pretty nifty: it results in a 10% chance that an enemy you slap will fall down for a couple seconds. This is useful—it's much easier to slap giant monsters when they're lying quietly on the ground instead of biting or stabbing you in the bearhide—but mostly it was just entertaining. Seeing a demon twice my size abruptly flop to the ground after slapping him was funny to see. It doesn't even look like they've been stunned, it looks like they decided to take a quick nap in the middle of the fight.
Eventually I ran into a baddie seemingly immune to slaps from a bear, so I chucked my next point into Lightning Storm, which was the first major indication that being a druid doesn't completely suck. Lightning Storm is dope: hold down the key and pivot around and watch everything in front of you get fried by crackling bolts from the heavens. After using it once I already wished I'd put all my points into that. My dedication to the angry werebear lifestyle was already waning, and I started using Lightning Storm the moment my bearmagic meter was full.
Diablo 4 druid using Lightning Storm"
Reluctantly, I continued down the bear path to the next ability: Pulverize. Instead of a wimpy backhand bearslap it's a double-overhand bearsmash. I like Pulverize because it really does smash the shit out of whatever is around me, and even one rank in Pulverize is way more effective than five ranks in Maul (except for the cooldown). But it still wasn't fun to use. At this stage in my gaming life I am simply tired of ground-pound attacks. I feel like I've seen it in too many other games, and realistically I have trouble with the concept that anyone can punch the ground so hard it hurts everyone standing on that ground. If you can punch the ground that hard, why not just punch the actual monster in front of you. The shrapnel from the exploding body would still do AOE damage. C'mon.
For defense I unlocked Debilitating Roar, which gives a damage debuff to enemies. I don't have anything bad to say about roaring, other than that it's an ability that's not much fun to spend points on because it doesn't hurt anything, it just makes things hurt you less. I can't think of anything else a bear would do defensively besides roaring, though I wouldn't be opposed to curling up in a ball and rolling away from danger. I know that's more of an armadillo-style move, but it would be cute to see a bear do it.
Unfortunately I didn't have time to reach the next bear 'bility on the list, Trample, which in my humbear opinion should appear way earlier in the skill tree. I'm a bear and I can already dash forward to dodge, so why isn't that dash also a trample right out of the gate? A bear running directly into you would hurt like hell. Slapping is boring, ground-pounding is unimaginative, roaring is predictable, but charging through enemies like a beartering ram is dope. You shouldn't even have to spend any points on it. A bear is born with the ability to injure whatever it runs into.
Would I recommend the druid class when Diablo 4 launches in June? I'm torn. I didn't enjoy the bear stuff at all, but I did really enjoy the few moments when I'd stop being a bear to electrocute monsters with lightning. My advice if you choose to be a druid isn't "don't be a bear," it's "don't always be nothing but a bear."