Though Diablo IV recently went gold after a lengthy development, that hasn’t stopped the team at Blizzard from iterating and planning for the future of their upcoming live-service action RPG — a fact that will be on full display during it’s recently announced beta weekend scheduled for May 12th. Hot on the heels of their first two beta weekends, which featured the full first act of Diablo 4’s campaign, the developers have moved quickly to implement a whole host of changes based on player feedback, which includes everything from character class balances to dungeon reworks, and even changes to the fonts used.
Among those developers are game director Joe Shely and associate game director Joseph Piepiora, who I had a chance to sit down with to discuss their beta learnings and the surprise “server slam” weekend — a final beta test that will give players one last opportunity to jump into Diablo 4’s first act early.
One of the biggest pieces of feedback from the previous beta weekends was that dungeons required a lot of backtracking and repeated objectives that took too time to complete, and Blizzard has already moved to address some of this with changes that will be implemented in time for the server slam.
“We took a look at all of the different dungeon objectives to make sure they were as fun as possible,” Shelley explains. “In terms of backtracking specifically, we looked at where [objectives] were spawning in terms of the layout of the dungeon. We also adjusted the way that the dungeons are laid out… so that the layout itself requires less backtracking.”
Piepiora added, “We also made a couple of adjustments to some of our objectives. There’s a few dungeons where players are asked to kill all the monsters inside the dungeon. In an effort to not have players have missed one zombie in a corner someplace, now some of these creatures will start chasing after you.”
The developers also addressed random events, which are supposed to spawn inside dungeons, but hardly ever did in the first two beta weekends.
“There are events that can appear: A tile will, instead of having a regular set of monsters, it’ll have some event where you can engage in a mechanic like Jar of Souls,” Shely explains.
I played Diablo 4’s beta for over 80 hours and can attest to the rarity of events like Jar of Souls, which I only saw once. The event, which occurs randomly, spawns a jar and sends waves of enemies at you, which can be killed to farm souls that fill up the jar until it spawn a special boss who grants powerful loot when killed. “Some people may not have seen [these events] at all because they were very low chance,” Shely admits.
But in the upcoming server slam and in the launch day version of Diablo 4, the odds you’ll get to see these events in action are much greater. “It went from a 10% chance those sorts of events would spawn to like a 60% chance,” Piepiora says. “So yeah, a huge difference for players when they’re starting to go through these spaces — you’ll see a lot more of that content.”
Another major change deploying alongside the server slam beta weekend is a rebalancing of character classes, which unsurpringly target the demonstrably overpowered necromancer with a few nerfs, and offer some important buffs to the druid and barbarian classes.
One of the ways the necromancer is being brought down a peg is via making their summonable army a little less tanky. “We do want players to be interacting with summoning their skeletons and dealing with corpses as part of the routine of playing a necromancer. That’s part of the mechanical mastery of playing a necromancer is managing these skeletons and mages and golems as you’re playing. So we do wanna make sure that players are occasionally need to re-summon in various fights,” Piepiora says.
“To be clear, the necromancer did get buffs as well, as part of their Book of the Dead feature, a number of attribute stats on those effects actually improved,” Piepiora clarified. “We wanted to make sure that there was an interesting wealth of choices for players to makes and that’s the core of a lot of our balance fundamentals.”
I was also able to confirm that the necromancer’s bone spear ability has retained its awesomeness as well, so my fellow necromancers need not fear these balances too much.
For the druid and barbarian classes, which I felt were quite underpowered compared to the other classes, each are getting a slew of buffs, including more powerful abilities and lower cooldowns for both. But more importantly, the barbarian is getting a flat damage resistance increase of 10%. Piepiora told me that although level 25 isn’t exactly reflective of how each class will feel when players reach max level, some of these changes should make the leveling process feel better.
“The manner of the buffs that we provided are really useful for making sure that survivability is increased and these classes feel a little more competitive in the early game,” Piepiora explains. “But there are a lot of mechanics that players haven’t unlocked as part of the beta. Barbarians unlock a weapon technique slot they get to use that makes them double down on their weapon expertise abilities, which makes them do more damage. The druids get to use spirit boons to unlock new, really powerful passive powers from spirit guides. But you didn’t get a chance to see some of those things as part of the level 25/Act I experience.”
In addition to the changes to character classes and dungeons, Blizzard has also implemented numerous other changes, including an overhaul of the fonts used to make reading item descriptions and stats feel more in-world, the removal of the “reset dungeon” button in response to players exploiting the feature, and improvements to The Butcher, a demon who spawns randomly in dungeons with murderous intent, who will now be even more deadly.
As someone who has spent thousands of hours playing and talking about live-service games, I’ll admit I’m impressed by the speed at which these changes have been deployed and that speaks well to the future of the Diablo series as it enters the games-as-a-service fray.
“The [developers] who have been working on getting the game ready to ship, are transitioning to work on future expansions and the live-service ,” Shely explains. And while Piepiora plays his cards close to the chest about what the live-service team is working on, he teases that, “The team is already engaging in creating really interesting content for players to experiuence after the game goes live and we’re really excited to continue to grow, iterate, and create new and fun opportunities for players to engage with the core Diablo experience.”
The server slam begins on May 12th, closing on May 14th, and will give players an exclusive opportunity to earn an Ashava mount trophy if they can best the beta’s world boss at level 20. But doing so won’t be easy, since powerful loot drops have been reduced to far less generous levels and the new level cap will make the fight more difficult. “It’s really Ashava’s server slam, right? She’s gonna be slamming the server,” Piepiora jokes, “We’re really excited to see players try to throw themselves at this.”