Diablo 4's next season unshackles so many ridiculous builds it feels like you're breaking it

A rogue in Diablo 4 standing in front of a dark background holding a bow
(Image credit: Tyler C. / Diablo 4)

If Diablo 4's season 4 PTR is any indication of what's to come when it properly releases in May, it's over for my free time. Blizzard has taken the action RPG that only came out a year ago and turned it inside out. All the numbers and knobs are in front of you now and it's practically begging you to find a way to break it.

Right now, barbarians are creating natural disasters by spawning hundreds of deadly cyclones and necromancer minions are finally having their moment. These builds will probably get toned down before the season drops, but they wouldn't have even existed in the Diablo 4 we had last year, a game far too obsessed with emulating the subdued, gritty atmosphere of its decades old predecessor Diablo 2. Diablo 4 is now a playground for all sorts of fantasies, like a rogue who slips through enemies leaving live grenades behind or sorcerers who coat dungeons in frost and watch monsters shatter into pieces.

Loot has dramatically changed in function, now providing meaningful ways to empower and shape your favorite skills rather than only offering a bunch of incremental stat upgrades. In place of dull bonuses like increased damage to elite enemies, you can find stats that augment skills, like making your corpse explosion hit the entire screen. The spirit of an action RPG that lets you experiment and discover how you want to play finally exists in Diablo 4 and it makes the live game look like a beta test.

I threw together a necromancer minion build using the PTR's free level boost and my skeleton posse tore through an endgame dungeon despite my admittedly awful gear. I didn't follow a guide, nor did I spend all that long optimizing my setup. While I'm sure I'd get crushed against monsters in The Pit, a new endgame dungeon that scales way up in difficulty like Diablo 3's greater rifts, it's satisfying to be able to try something without being punished for not having good enough gear to get the build off the ground.

In the old Diablo 4, my next step would've been to grind for hours searching for items that specifically boost the stats my character relies on to deal damage and survive. In the new Diablo 4, I can just make them.

Diablo 4 PTR Tempering items"

The days of spending hours sorting through loot after every dungeon are completely gone.

You have to think of each item as a piece of clay you can mold with Diablo 4's two new crafting systems: Tempering and Masterworking. Tempering is available as you level up and lets you apply stats onto your gear and is only limited by a fairly inexpensive amount of materials and gold. Say you find a pair of boots with movement speed because you, like me, can't stand being slow. You can hand it to the blacksmith and slap on even more movement speed through a mobility manual. And then you can Masterwork it—using materials solely earned through The Pit at level 100—to increase those stats even more. Every four Masterworking levels causes one stat to go so far up that, with certain ones, will make it feel like you're breaking the game. To me, that's the best part of an action RPG: Finding or creating something so strong it's like the developer didn't intend it. Masterworking enables you to have that feeling constantly.

Masterworking can juice any stat, meaning you could make a build with so much resource cost reduction you wouldn't even need to follow the classic build formula of a "builder" skill and a "spender" skill. The possibilities aren't infinite, but they're varied enough to mean no single build will look exactly the same, which forces you to double down on what you actually like.

The cost of Diablo 4's flexible loot is way more time spent in crafting menus for every upgrade you find. To accommodate, Blizzard has sped up leveling and effectively eliminated the need to worry about item rarity and item power once you're near max level. The days of spending hours sorting through loot after every dungeon are completely gone. Some may still see the lack of a loot filter to hide useless items when they drop as a flaw, but, even with the PTR's doubled legendary drop rate, I never spent more than a minute reading through stats.

Diablo 4 season 4 PTR The Pit boss"

Season 4 has what amounts to an expansion's worth of changes.

The biggest problem with Diablo 4 is how enticing it is to want to play with every single class and see what kinds of builds you can come up with. Now that powerful Unique items drop at lower levels and are generally easier to obtain, you'll have more moments where something rare drops that'll light up your brain with ideas on how to utilize it. The best parts of Diablo 4 aren't obscured by hours and hours of grinding away anymore. Determined players can still chase tiny optimizations for bragging rights in The Pit, but everyone else can get their hands on Diablo 4's satisfying build crafting from the start.

Season 4 has what amounts to an expansion's worth of changes and new things to do, which is baffling to think about considering there's a real expansion coming out later this year. But Diablo 4 desperately needed to loosen its grip on the amount of power players were allowed to have and just let everyone have fun figuring out how they like to play. The last two seasons paved the way for season 4, and on May 14, when it goes live, we're going to finally play an action RPG that celebrates players finding the most ridiculous ways to break it.

Associate Editor

Tyler has covered games, games culture, and hardware for over a decade before joining PC Gamer as Associate Editor. He's done in-depth reporting on communities and games as well as criticism for sites like Polygon, Wired, and Waypoint. He's interested in the weird and the fascinating when it comes to games, spending time probing for stories and talking to the people involved. Tyler loves sinking into games like Final Fantasy 14, Overwatch, and Dark Souls to see what makes them tick and pluck out the parts worth talking about. His goal is to talk about games the way they are: broken, beautiful, and bizarre.