Anyone who played the Diablo 4's betas will know how disappointing it was to see how much the action RPG slowed to a crawl when it came out a few months later. Gear upgrades and XP became a grind and experimenting with your build was way more expensive than it was worth. Level scaling enemies meant that you never felt very powerful and there was no value in doing anything but dungeons.
Diablo 4 season 2 is like playing the beta again, but better.
It's the fastest Diablo 4 has ever been and it finally lets you benefit from experimenting with skills and gear on the fly. If you were a Diablo 3 fan like me, this will probably feel like a leap in the right direction. I've only spent a few hours in season 2 so far and my Necromancer has been swimming in Legendary items, Vampiric Powers, and loads of XP. Aside from a rather flat new questline, this is the Diablo 4 I wanted when it launched.
Don't let the Season of Blood fool you: the whole vampire infestation isn't all that interesting narratively, but it's a great excuse to get a bunch of absurdly strong new powers to play with. Vampiric enemies drop a new blood currency that you use to unlock or upgrade Vampiric Powers. These passive buffs augment your skills like season 1's Malignant Heart gems. I've got five equipped on my Necromancer and she's practically invulnerable at this point. Every skill I use heals me, my skeleton minions curse enemies and refill my primary resource, and I occasionally expel AoE damage that wipes everything around me. I'm not even level 50 yet and my Necromancer is an engine for screen-clearing destruction.
Helltides were the single best new part of launch Diablo 4 and in season 2 they've been upgraded into something called Blood Harvests. Once every hour, an area of the open world gets plagued with vampires and mini vampiric events that reward you with ridiculous amounts of loot and XP. There are so many enemies in these things that I sometimes can't keep track of my Necromancer amidst the slaughter. It's like Blizzard saw people hunting for monster-dense dungeons in season 1 and made a whole system that's not only more engaging, but essential to gaining Vampiric Powers.
Blood Harvests aren't like doing an event with crowds of other players like in an MMO. Blizzard has done a good job at limiting how many players can show up at once to just two or three to preserve the mostly solo experience of Diablo. That said, other players can help you blast through Grim Favor objectives for killing specific enemies, which you can turn in for so much gold that people thought it was a bug (it's not). The blood you need for Vampiric Powers also drops like candy in Blood Harvests. Dungeon leveling may still be faster, but it's nice to have an outdoor event that is actually worth the effort.
It's almost funny how flat the new seasonal storyline has been compared to how refreshing the rest of the game is right now. The overly serious and grim tone of Diablo 4's campaign continues with whatever is going on with Sanctuary now. I'm not finished with it yet, but the setup makes even less sense than season 1. Vampires have appeared and so has vampire hunter Erys, played by actress and producer Gemma Chan. Chan's flat delivery of Erys' admittedly stale lines sucks the life out of what could be an opportunity for Diablo to lean into how absurd a vampire invasion could be in a world already full of demons. And for someone who hates vampires, she's surprisingly tolerant of you dabbling in vampiric activities There's no tension between your character and Erys, and you don't spend that much time with her either. I'm crossing my fingers that there's a lot more to her, but given season 1's lackluster questline, I'm worried Blizzard is wasting Chan on a forgettable side story.
Thankfully, the rest of the season is so great that a boring story hasn't bothered me much. Playing Diablo 4 has never been so smooth. Here's a few things I've noticed that contribute to how fun this season has been right from the start:
- There's a good variety of players running around because everyone can skip the campaign now
- Dungeons are stuffed with enemies and their objectives don't get in the way anymore
- There are so many demons to slay in the open world that I keep leveling up on accident
- I can barely tell damage output was nerfed because I'm too busy trying new skills and Vampiric Powers that all seem effective
- My horse doesn't get snagged on random geometry, which has me spending more time outdoors
- Pact armor is a little fussy, but the strength of Vampiric Powers makes doing vampire math worth it
There are still some problems with finding the right gear in the endgame that can be ironed out as everyone adjusts to a world where two of Diablo 4's build-defining stats, Critical Strike and Vulnerable Damage, have been substantially nerfed. I also think there's going to be some heavy lifting when it comes to making Sanctuary a compelling place to spend time in, but that's a problem for the first proper expansion to figure out. If you've been scared of the overwhelming grind that Diablo 4 was burdened with at launch, I can confidently say that a lot of it has been cut out. Diablo 4 finally feels like a Diablo game.