Diablo 4 Review: Hardcore Difficulty, Gameplay, Graphics & Music

Last Revised:
2024-02-19
(YYYY-MM-DD)

Is Diablo 4 worth its $70 price tag?

In this article, I will be talking about a game I've paid $70 to play.

July 18th, 2023: Patch 1.1 changed some values, updated information.

July 2023: I'm slowly leveling a season 1 character (currently paused).

September 2023: After playing both Baldur's Gate 3 and Starfield, this is now un-paused. Compared to the start of season 1, the end of the season feels much better with more mobs/elites density making it more exp efficient and a little less boring.

October 2023: Added section "Season 1 Features". Also added "My Builds" as a note below the introduction, with a planned Necro Blood Minions build for season 2 explained.

October 2023: The start of Season 2 "Season of Blood" doesn't feel too bad (minus the rubberbanding). So far, farming the new Blood Harvest event zones and unloading the favor at the Tree of Whispers gives tons of experience points (also tons of gold). Added section "Season 2 Features".

November 2023: The final score is now updated for Season 2.

February 19, 2024: Started Season 3, leveling is slower then in Season 2 so far. Will add Season 3 stuff soon.

Introduction

Diablo 4 standard edition released June 6th, 2023 for $70.

The game was playable since June 2nd, 2023, but only for people who bought either the $90 or $100 edition.

A race to level 100 in hardcore mode started that same day, making it mandatory to pay at least $90 to join it.

The reward, for the first 1000 people to get there, was getting their name engraved in the Diablo 4 statue.

A controversial start.

Difference Between Hardcore and Softcore in Diablo 4

The difficulty is the exact same, there are no changes at all on health pools, damage, etc..

The difference is that in hardcore you are not allowed to die, as your character gets deleted. The two following tools are added in hardcore mode:

I talk about both in the article 2 times, once under "Uber Lilith" and once under "Global Game Flaws".

My Builds

Theory-crafted & tested during the beta:

Theory-crafted but untested during the beta:

Used pre-season 1:

Used season 1:

Planned for season 2:

In-use season 2:

Note: I don't recommend minions for leveling because they prevent mobs from moving to you, so you can't kill everything in one aoe.

In-use season 3:

Diablo 4 In Depth Review

Diablo 4 Difficulty

Diablo 4's difficulty is not linear:

World I (1-50)

Nothing can kill you, really.

World II (1-50)

You never get real gear, some elite affixes like cold enhanced can be dangerous.

This is especially true when you have no movespeed to outrun fast cold elites, but their damage is still low enough to not be a real threat.

You are very slow until you get some decent movespeed on boots/amulet.

World III (50-70)

Entering this without movespeed can be dangerous, as the cold enhanced elites do damage now and can kill you.

Just running away when in danger is enough to not die.

Once you get some sacred gear it gets trivial.

Legacy: As of patch 1.1 (July 18th), they nerfed the cold enhanced elites, the only potential danger is no more, making an easy game even easier.

World IV (70-100)

You are most likely full sacred when entering this world, and nothing is dangerous.

Ancestral gear on top of it makes it even more trivial.

Leveling Experience

Season 1 and pre-S1: Overall, you are most likely to die when switching to World III with bad gear. There is no challenge at any other point in the leveling process. Making the overall process boring and repetitive, ultimately leading to burnout.

Season 2 did mostly fix that, giving more ways to level up and at an overall much faster pace. Diablo 4's season 2 is now the first season that is alt friendly and the best time to start playing the game really.

Note About Burnout (pre-season 1)

I did burnout during leveling. I didn't die once, but it took me almost a month from 70 to 100 playing an average of 2h a day. It is the first time that I burned out during a first character leveling (since I didn't die, I never had to start over, which would have made it even worse).

I did theorycraft some builds on the beta beforehand, but that was a low amount of playtime.

I had no issues playing Elden Ring for over 12h a day in comparison. Just a reference to my Elden Ring review.

I also had no issues playing Path of Exile (same genre as Diablo 4) for extended periods of time.

Diablo 4 Gameplay

Pretty much everything important:

Season 2 Features

Season of Blood.

Gear farming tip: World bosses always drop some 925 items, which is the new max item level.

Season 1 Features

Season of the Malignant.

Altars of Lilith

Collecting all the altars is a necessary step to maximise stats of your characters. They are account wide, so you only have to collect them once.

You get a total of 68 in each stat (2 each): strength, intelligence, willpower and dexterity.

A total of 4 paragon points.

A higher Obol capacity (up to 1000). 

They also give you a little bit of renown (10 each).

Renown

Another necessary farm to maximise your character. It is also account wide so you only have to max all renowns one time.

Skills points (2 per zone), flask capacity (1 per zone), obol capacity (80 per zone) and paragons points (8 per zone) are renown rewards.

Each major zone has its own renown bar, and there is a total of 5 zones, so you will have to do quests and dungeons in all of them to unlock everything.

Normal Dungeons

Each dungeon will give you 30 renown for the first clear and an aspect. When farming renown, the best way is to start with quests, because some quests will lead you inside dungeons. Doing so can get you 50 renown in one go, because quests gives 20, so the dungeon and the quest inside it equals 50.

Normal dungeons were better than nightmare dungeons to level until the late June patch that increased the experience gain.

As of patch 1.1 (July 18th), dungeons now give 40 and quests 30 renown (+10 to their previous value), so now you get 70 renown from doing what I just said above.

Nightmare Dungeons

With 100 tiers, nightmare dungeons mobs level are calculated like this: 50 + World Tier level + sigil level.

Example: A tier 100 nightmare dungeon in World IV will have level 154 mobs: 50 + 4 + 100 = 154.

At the end of each of them you can level your glyphs, which provides you with more character power through your paragon board. Each glyph can be level to 21, and has its max radius at level 15.

The difference between a nightmare and normal dungeon is affixes, they come in a total of 4 on your sigil and will make each run more or less difficult.

Also, you don't have to push to T100, you can just craft sigils until you get some T100 that don't have awful affixes.

Note For Necromancers

As a necromancer, you can do a tier 100 nightmare dungeon pretty safely, by generating some corpses with blood mist and then pulling mobs to it, cc with corpse tendrils & curse them with decrepify (talented with cd reduction), then pop bone storm and start unloading essence. You will get a corpse tendril reset thanks to the curse, so they will be perma cc'ed until they become unstoppable or die. If you fail to kill them before, just run a little and repeat (try to not reset them, it takes like 10sec for them to not be unstoppable anymore, you can also use the aspect that does more damage on unstoppable ennemies).

Paragon Boards

Multiple boards that can be attached together, taking nodes one by one making a long path between each one.

Each board has one glyph that can be activated.

With a total of 255 paragon points, you can connect around 5 boards, depending on how many points you spend for glyph activations and single node glyph boosts. It really depends what you are trying to build for.

This is where most of your character power comes from, but they have been nerfed early after launch by 30% to 70% on a glyph per glyph basis.

Uber Lilith (pre season 1)

The final boss of the game, with very bad hitboxes not matching the visuals (phase 1 waves, phase 2 lines).

A camera zoom in & out mechanic that has no place here (be more annoying please).

The fight feels rushed, uncomplete & untested.

The following screenshot is what my stats looked like in my leveling/tank gear when hitting 100 with some 21 glyphs. I wanted to see what I could soak on Lilith, the answer is: everything except the important things (so yeah, nothing). Waves did proc my cheat death elixir, so did blood blisters when exploding. I also had a very high damage reduction on top of that (50%+), and the blood golem soaking 15% of the damage, plus a barrier.

Screenshot taken in town, not in combat.

After a few tries like this (I had no damage), I went back to leveling my glyphs and farmed some full damage gear. Even down to 8k armor and 13k health, I was not in danger of dying from anything but the one-shot mechanics and got some massive damage boost instead of useless defensive stats.

The best elixir you could use as a (bone spear) necromancer on pre-season 1 Uber Lilith was the elixir of resourcefulness (+50 max ressource), thanks to the key bone talent (Ossified Essence) and the passive crit rate chance talent (Serration), you get 50% damage and 0.9 * 5 = 4.5% crit rate (while casting at full ressource). This is no longer accurate as of S1+.

Note: On hardcore you are limit to 1 attempt every 5min because of the cheat death elixir, while you could log in & out to reset it, you would run out of the other elixir doing so (yes you can use both elixirs at the same time). It means that unless you want to farm elixirs for hours, you gonna have to take this annoying 5min break each time. Just another bad feature, increasing worthless time spend in the game, while they could just reset the cheat death elixir upon using the scroll of espace.

Waiting was the true end boss, not Lilith.

Necromancer Class Flaws

I played Necromancer only, so there will be some specific things about that class.

The following are the design flaws about the Diablo 4 Necromancer:

A limit of 14 corpses. Generating a new one will despawn the last one, but not immediately.

A delay of 2 seconds will occur, still rendering the corpse, but making it unusable during that time.

In AoE situations, you will often click on not working corpses (patch 1.1 increased the usage radius, which makes this less likely to happen, because it will target corpses further away).

On top of that, you always see 2 corpses when you kill something, the real mob one and the special necromancer one. 

(Can't just despawn the real one for the necro class? Or you know, make the real one usable and never add an extra one to begin with?)

Inexistant.

Season 2: A combinaison of the vampiric power Metamorphosis (unstoppable for 4sec at level 3) and the Ghostwalker Mobility Aspect (+25% movement speed while unstoppable and 4sec afterwards, 38% on amulet) will grant you close to 200% movement speed permanently (if perfect speed rolls on boots/amulet). You keep the buff longer then your evade cooldown. This is available on all classes and the best way to get a reliable max mouvement speed currently.

Probably true for all classes with specific uniques requirements.

Example: Minions don't do damage without the unique minion ring.

It's still good to keep minions while leveling to distract mobs from attacking you, but that's it, they are just meatshields.

Once you start World IV you still have to loot the uniques, this can take many levels.

Global Game Flaws

General issues with the game itself:

When something is very repetitive, don't make it overly long, you just burnout your playerbase.

It looks like an incentive for some future cash shop experience potions to me.

(A battle-pass is just a more "engaging" cash shop.)

Season 2 did fix this, leveling is very fast in S2.

There is already not enough space for 1 class with all the legendaries, uniques & roll range on those.

Now, add a total of 5 classes that just share the same (lack of) space...

Again, looks like an incentive for future cash shop stash extensions to me.

Note: It had been revealed that all stashes from all players in town get loaded, as absurd as it sounds, this is the reason for the lack of space.

The game feels bad during the day because of the server load. Feels much better at night.

No offline mode for a game that is mostly single-player is such a bad decision (outside of world bosses and world events, I might have seen a handful of players only during my whole leveling).

The risk of losing your hardcore character to rubberbanding/server crash is even worse.

Failed Game Design

A more then questionnable decision making on a variety of features:

They can drop from any 85+ monsters.

The drop weight has been datamined and is 1 for Uber uniques, compared to 600,000 / 800,000 for normal uniques.

This means that you will find 1 Uber Unique for every, almost a million, other uniques.

In other words: you won't.

Season 2 made the Uber uniques drop from the end boss Duriel, so you can actually get them now.

A patch introduced Helltide chests being able to drop uniques.

Whoever took that decision failed to think 2 steps ahead, even 1 step:

> This feature was supposed to let people farm uniques for specific item slots.

> Some classes do not have any other uniques then the Uber uniques in specific slots (for example, the barbarian helmet slot).

> Barbarian gets a guaranteed Uber helmet if any unique helmet drops from the Helm Chest.

> Fix: All uniques can lot from any chest. ???. Was the initial purpose even what I said?

> Incompetence. Not bug.

Do you like waiting 1 minute outside a dungeon before entering again? Then it's the right game for you.

This only applies to normal dungeons, but still.

Just another awful feature that should not be in the game.

The elixir of cheat death is a secondary elixir (meaning: can be used at the same time as your main one) and will proc a buff that will prevent you from dying. You get a 2sec immunity buff, enough time to safely press your scroll of escape, then you get a 5min debuff that prevents you from using a new one.

The issue is, it doesn't get reset upon exiting the dungeon, you get a 5min debuff which prevents you from using a new one. This forces you to wait 5min between Lilith attempts, or run out of other elixirs if you want to disconnect to reset it. That would be a lot of time farming Helltides to get them back, way more then afking for 5min each time.

This feature was made by people that have no clue about what they are doing.

Getting time punished for dying (losing your character) is one thing, but getting time punished after each Lilith attempt is a whole new level of awful game design. You are already attempt limited by the amount of elixirs you can craft.

Stuff like this happens when casuals try to make rules for hardcore players.

Diablo 4 Graphics

The game looks great even without the 4K texture pack (it doubles the size of the game pretty much).

Zones

Each one of the 5 zones is unique and has a certain dark atmosphere to it.

From the mountains to the deserts, everything is worth exploring.

Animations

Animations and their particles for skills, are for the most part good.

Some need a rework, like the darkness corpse explosion from the necromancer, leaving multiple oversized black puddles on the ground that make it impossible to see what's happening.

Could not imagine using this on Lilith when she's already doing black strippes on the ground.

Visual Clarity

Decent for the most part, low when it matters. Like what I just said about Lilith, her black strippes are not easy to keep track of, they kind of blend in too much.

When you design dark attacks in a dark environment, you do visually impair your players.

That's called bad game design.

Hitboxes

Normal everywhere, awful on Lilith.

Also the boar's charge hitboxes can hit you even when they are dead if they started their charge animation just before dying.

Diablo 4 Music

The soundtrack is really good. Kind of sad that a lot of music had to be cut out.

Composers

The following composers are credited for their work in the Diablo IV soundtrack:

Leo Kaliski, Ted Reedy, Ryan Amon, Derek Duke & Neal Acree.

Town ambiences

The town themes are beautiful and melancholic at the same time.

The Kyovashad town theme might be the one that caught my attention the most.

Zone Atmospheres

All zones have some very unique atmospheres.

The only common denominator is Death.

A lot of the zones are part of the released soundtrack, so give it a listen.

End Cinematic

This is where the game really shines. Towards the end of the campaign, you get a long cinematic. While watching it and listening to the music in the background, I heard something a little bit familiar, a feeling coming from World of Warcraft.

Neal Acree did co-compose the track playing during this cinematic with Ryan Amon. And the best thing, is that they did not cut out the chant at the beginning.

The track is titled "Confrontation" and is featured in my Epic Battle playlist.

On… …the battlefield

I do also have another one in my Dramatic Choral playlist, which fits the mood of Diablo 4.

Voices… …of Darkness

Final Score (Season 2 Updated)

Difficulty

7/10

-1 easy game overall

-2 Uber Lilith still the same

Only Uber Lilith & T100 is technically difficult. That's not where you spend most of your time.

Gameplay

7/10

-1 class flaws

-1 global game flaws

-1 5min waiting time between Lilith attempts (hardcore)

Overall good experience (not the waiting part...), with some interesting aspect synergies.

Graphics

9/10

-1 visual clarity

Great everywhere, except in some fights.

Music

10/10

Listen to the soundtrack and/or to my playlists above.

Total: 8.25/10

Now to answer my initial question: is this game worth $70?

No. Maybe get it if it's 50% off, $35 sounds good.

-1 for overpricing

Real Total: 7.25/10

It was really bad before season 2, filled with incompetent leadership decisions.

Season 2 is finally a step forward to making it into an actual good game, still not worth $70 though.

Legacy scores:
Pre season 1: 6.5/10
Season 1: 6.5/10
Season 2: 7.25/10

The global -1 for overpricing hits hard, doesn't it?

From the start I've considered $70 as a long term investment because I intended to make a new character/build each new season. If you plan on doing so too, then you could consider buying the game at full price.