I was not looking for a new MMO to enter my life. I'm a healthier person when I'm not obsessively dungeon grinding for legendary gear and logging in to stand about digital towns every evening. With Diablo 4 approaching and Blizzard hyping up its slightly more shared world, I thought perhaps it could be a lite MMO: A diet-style, low-fat-but-all-sugar form of my usual obsessions. Not, y'know, a complete disaster for my free time. But after playing in the Diablo 4 beta it's quite clear: Diablo is my next MMO.
I've never Diabloed in my life, but everything I knew about the online qualities of the series led me to expect it could fill the long-empty hole in my life left by the original Guild Wars. I've been craving a map to clear and that old blend of shared towns but instanced combat zones that so far only Path of Exile has ever managed to give me. But Diablo 4 is a lot closer to wholesale MMO Guild Wars 2 than yon instanced online RPG I expected.
During the first beta weekend the evidence stacked up:
- I waved "Hello" to other players in town, which is actually voiced out loud by my character (a nice surprise)
- Sprinting past enemies in the overworld, I stopped as I realized I was about to drop them right on the head of an AFK player and stopped to defend them from dying as a result of my rudeness
- I searched for a clan and co-opped a level-scaled stronghold with a friend
- I rushed to The Crucible to fight Ashava, a world boss, alongside a completely random handful of other players
- I cleared every waypoint and collectible Statue of Lilith on the map in a fashion some might call obsessive
The first main town, Kyovashad, was usually populated by a gaggle of players around me running back and forth from stash to blacksmith to perfect their equipment. Outside town in the open world I would come across other players adventuring in pairs or solo easily every 10 minutes. When it came time to tackle a zone event at the Kor Dragan stronghold in the north, around a dozen other players descended to roast the level 30 Blood Bishop by wracking my screen with spell effects. Dungeons are the only place you'll be tucked away in an instance separate from other players.
Diablo 4 doesn't ask you to choose your allegiance to a server the way most MMOs do, but once I got my boots on the ground there's no denying how much its shared world feels like one.
I know this always-online world with native party voice chat might be the inner circle of hell for some old school Diablo fans. You've been warned: Diablo is definitely an MMO now. The only thing it doesn't have is a /dance emote—at least not that I saw. There's still time to correct that oversight, Blizzard.
The (best) worst part is that I'm having a great time. There are just enough armor variations and color combos to keep me on the fashion grind. The legendary loot pipeline has unique aspects that I'm actually enjoying trying. I'm even paying attention to the story. I never pay attention to the main story in an MMO, but it's quite easy to grasp the basics of patheon family drama. I even soloed the first act, which is just the amount of alone-but-togetherness I was craving. Last year I complained that I'm waiting for MMOs to get weirder and yet here I am, already taken in by this textbook execution of one. I might owe Lost Ark an apology.
Blizzard is still calling Diablo 4 an action-RPG, but it sure seems to share more territory with WoW than I counted on. Diablo 4 definitely passes a degree of shared online-ness that any other developer would be marketing as an MMO. Perhaps Blizzard isn't doing so only because it's already got one. The throttle on the number of players per zone may make it feel more like a Medium Multiplayer Online RPG, but there sure will be a massive number of people playing at launch if the preorder beta is anything to judge by.
Diablo 4 launches on June 6, but the Diablo 4 open beta begins this Friday, March 24. It's as good a time as any to be certain whether you're ready for this brave new Sanctuary.