The early access beta of Diablo 4 has been well-received, especially its darker atmosphere, visual polish, and enormous world. However, the combat of the game raises some concerns, as it seems like Blizzard has not learned anything about action-RPG design in the 11 years since Diablo 3 came out. The article explores the problems with the current combat system and how it affects the gameplay.
The Problem with BarbariansThe article's author started playing as a Barbarian and found the experience very frustrating. The melee-focused class's low damage and limited ability to stay out of danger make every fight an uphill struggle. The author's focus was mostly on health potion management, and even basic enemies felt like a slog to wade through.
Sorcerer Is Too EasyThe author switched over to Sorcerer and found the experience to be completely different. Bouncing lightning spells made short work of anything that dared to get within a mile of the Sorcerer, and it was trivial to stay out of damage range. Spells that work as well for single target damage as crowd control ensured the author never had to engage their brain. However, the contrast between the Barbarian and the Sorcerer is so bad that Blizzard has already said it's working on buffs and nerfs. People have said playing these two classes is like playing two completely different games, and to a large extent that's true.
Combat Is Slow and UnresponsiveAfter the super-heroic combat of Diablo 3, Blizzard's intention in Diablo 4 is to create something slower and more grounded. However, the developer seems to have no idea how to do that without literally taking Diablo 3's combat and making it slow. Enemies have spongier health bars, and attacks take their time coming out. Key skills that should be satisfying finishers are stuck on super-long cooldowns that prevent players from getting into any good rhythm. Even the active dodge takes five seconds to recharge, making the character feel sluggish and unresponsive during hectic boss fights.
Lack of ExperimentationThe skill tree tosses some of Diablo 3's more obnoxious hand-holding, but it's essentially still in the same format, offering very few real choices and combo opportunities. Skills are slotted into different categories that very strongly define their role, pushing players to take one of each in the exact configuration Blizzard wants them to. The game literally tells players: this one is for defense, this one is for repositioning, etc. Those long cooldowns and tight constraints on what generates and what spends resources all discourage experimentation or unusual combinations. The result is that it doesn't feel like players are creating a build, but instead scanning through the skills trying to find the builds Blizzard wants them to use.
Lack of Fun Gameplay LoopsIf Blizzard is going to tell players what to build, then at the very least, their guidance should lead to fun gameplay loops. However, as it stands, it simply doesn't. In theory, the Barbarian's strategy was all about stacking up bleed damage and then hitting a finisher that triggers all bleed damage at once and spreads it around to nearby foes. In practice, the finisher's lengthy cooldown means that's a loop players can only rarely pull off, and most of their time is spent just trading blows with enemies that have already got enough bleed on them to eventually die but just don't know it yet. The Sorcerer build has the same problem. It's supposed to be about killing enemies with lightning, generating sparking orbs, then dodging and teleporting. However, this loop is not very fun, and it is not engaging enough.
ConclusionIn conclusion, the Diablo 4 beta's combat system raises some concerns. The combat is slow, unresponsive, and lacks fun gameplay loops.