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Diablo IV's difficulty curve is wickedly delicious

by: Eric -
More On: Diablo IV

I spent a good chunk of the weekend playing Diablo IV, both by myself and in multiplayer with the Gaming Nexus gang. I've been having a blast exploring the first map, with all of it's incredible detail and intricacies. I'm level 27, and nowhere near done with the massive first area; the thought of moving onto Act II hasn't even entered my mind. One thing that I'm finding incredibly impressive is how insanely well-balanced the game is.

In the opening hours of the game, I was able to merrily skip my way through the tutorial and the first few dungeons I attacked. But I've hit a point in the game where mindless button pressing is no longer an option; I actually have to think and strategize.

This dynamic is exemplified by the tunnel of carnage I now think of as "the bear cave". Last night, I took my necromancer into the bear cave, which is one of the game's "cellar" mini-dungeons. These aren't the full-fledged dungeons that include a boss fight and grant players "aspects" - which are permanent build-specific perks - when completed. No, these are the little two-to-three room quickie specials. You can usually expect to dip in, fight a few dudes, kill a miniboss, and leave with a chest's worth of fun loot. 

I'm playing as a corpse-exploding Necromancer, so I stroll into this cave with my army of skeletons, feeling confident and secure in my unholy powers. And there, in the first room of the cave, are a few bears. Bears can be tough in the game, but nothing my skellies can't handle. I drop my hex on the floor (which heals me when anything dies within it's boundaries), and proceed to wade into the battle. Ten seconds later, there are bears everywhere, my skeletons are all dead, and I find myself looking at a 10% gear degradation. The bears murdered me. Hardcore.

A little pissed off, I respawn and creep back to the bear cave. This time, I hover near the edges, trying to figure out what happened. I see three bears rambling around the room. Not that many bears. I should be able to handle this. So, like an idiot, I throw my hex on the ground and once again stroll into their midst. Again, there are suddenly like NINE bears in the room, my skeletons are all dead, and I turn tail and try to run out of the room. Without my skeletons, I'm very squishy, completely vulnerable. The bears kill me as I'm trying to escape.

Do I go back again for more punishment? Yes I do, because I am an idiot. Do I end up spending 8000 gold to repair my gear because the bears eat my face again? Yes I do, because I am an idiot.

If you are expecting a grand story of my eventual triumph, I'm afraid that I have to disappoint you. Those bears are brutes. I eventually learned my lesson and got the hell out of there. The point of the story isn't that I'm smart or great at Diablo. The point is that Diablo IV isn't shy about rewarding intrepid explorers with a mouthful of blood and shattered teeth. I went too far too fast, and Diablo IV broke my damn nose. I strolled in laughing, and the game branded "Get back in your lane, baby necromancer" permanently on my forehead. Lesson learned. 

My memories of Diablo III are a little fuzzy. The month-or-so I spent with that game feels like it was a very long time ago. I remember that I played as the Witch Doctor, and I seem to remember just kind of skating through the game, to the point where I would get offended if I actually died. But Diablo IV has smacked that complacency right out of my mouth. The difficulty curve has made itself known in a very real, very visceral way. I'm actually having to pay attention, even on the overworld, where things can go south very quickly.

Even more surprising is the fact that I'm actually carefully considering where to place my skill points. I'm normally very impatient with my skill tree on my first playthrough. I typically just plop my points down wherever looks interesting, and then when I hit the endgame and realize that I've created an unholy, unplayable freak, I respec into something more reasonable. But this time, the game is forcing me to pay better attention. I'm reading the descriptions carefully and trying to parse how the various powers fit together. It's almost like trying to build a Lego set out of a box with a bunch of extra Legos thrown in. It's very, very fun.

So yeah, I'm enjoying Diablo IV quite a bit, not just for its great story and world-building, but also for the absolutely ruthless way that it's willing to string my to the walls with my own entrails. Diablo IV is forcing me to use every tool in my toolkit just to stay alive, and that feeling of living on the edge is absolutely glorious.