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Friday, December 8, 2023

Diablo 4 is asking people to play the end of the game before it comes out

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Blizzard’s quest to keep Diablo 4 relevant for the long run will continue later this year with a closed beta focusing exclusively on its endgame systems, and all the stuff that happens after everything has happened.

In the Diablo games (and many others), vanquishing evil does not signal the end, but rather the beginning: Of endless grinding for incrementally better weapons, equipment, and resources, which will enable even more grinding for even better loot, and on and on it goes. It’s a big deal for a lot of players, and for developers and publishers too, because if it’s done well it can keep player numbers up—and microtransaction purchases flowing—for years after release.

Diablo 3’s endgame did not start off well (although Blizzard got it turned around eventually) and that’s a big part of why the developers have been so focused on getting it right for Diablo 4. Blizzard has been talking about Diablo 4 endgame content almost since the day the game was announced, and has promised some “major changes” to the systems that players are accustomed to in Diablo 3. 

A small number of Diablo fans will get a first look at what Blizzard has cooked up on that front by way of an endgame beta test. The test will be closed and confidential, meaning testers will not be allowed to share or talk about their experiences, and will presumably have to sign a non-disclosure agreement to that effect. To an extent, that ship has sailed already thanks to a recent leak of test footage (ironically, only the second-biggest leak of the weekend), but Blizzard has other reasons for focusing on the end of the game rather than the beginning.

“The full story of Lilith’s return to Sanctuary is not something we would like to spoil prior to release—players will experience a post-campaign Sanctuary during the Closed End Game Beta,” Blizzard explained. “Also, for many, the end game is their favorite aspect of Diablo—we want to ensure it feels satisfying, and with no shortage of challenging variety to experience across many, many demon-slaying gaming sessions.”

The endgame beta test will include the Helltide, Nightmare Dungeons, Whispers of the Dead, and Fields of Hatred game modes, as well as Paragon Boards, the Diablo 3-based character customization system Blizzard revealed last year.

Here’s what to expect from each mode:

😈 Helltide – This is a new region-wide event that becomes available to heroes only once they have reached World Tier Three: Nightmare difficulty. In a Helltide, the servants of Lilith are empowered, having their difficulty increased, but dropping loot worthy of the danger. Enemies can also drop Cinders, a new currency used to open Helltide Chests filled with powerful weapons and armor.

😈 Nightmare Dungeons – Nightmare-difficulty dungeons in Diablo IV unlock upon locating your first Nightmare Sigil. Each sigil corresponds to a specific dungeon somewhere within Sanctuary. These sigils will add special modifiers to their dungeon, increasing the ferocity of the hell-servants waiting for you inside and providing higher-rarity loot. Through completing Nightmare dungeons, you will recover even more powerful sigils, introducing increasingly death-defying modifications and challenges for you to overcome.

😈 Whispers of the Dead – Scattered throughout Sanctuary, “Whispers” are frequently-rotating tasks that reward experience, gold, and Grim Favors when completed. After earning 10 Grim Favors, players can exchange them at the Tree of Whispers for even more loot and experience.

😈 Fields of Hatred – These designated PvP zones are the proving grounds for players looking to bring renown to their name through blood and zeal. While inside the Fields of Hatred, players can dispatch demons to collect Seeds of Hatred. To make use of these seeds, you’ll need to bring them to the Altar of Extraction where they can be smashed into Red Dust, which can be spent at the PvP Cosmetic and Mount Vendors for ornamental rewards. Be quick to convert your Seeds of Hatred to Red Dust—they are the desire of other players lurking in the zone, and if they are skilled enough to overtake you in combat, your Seeds of Hatred will be dropped.

Blizzard is being very particular about who it invites to this beta: You’ll need to be opted-in to “News and Special Offers” on Battle.net—see below—and more importantly you’ll also need to be an experienced grinder in the previous Diablo games.

“Ensuring that Diablo 4’s endgame provides the type of thrilling, ever-evolving experience we have set out to create is paramount for the team, and something we cannot determine on our own,” Blizzard said. “We need experts, perhaps even players such as yourself.”

“Specifically, we’ll be using gameplay data to invite a limited number of Diablo players who have recently spent significant amounts of time playing the end-game experiences of Diablo 2: Resurrected and Diablo 3.”

Blizzard didn’t say how much time qualifies as “significant,” but my guess is that if you don’t already have it under your belt, you’re not going to grind it out by November 18, which is when the final invitations will go out. The good news is that even if you don’t make it into this beta, you’ll have another shot soon enough: Public testing of Diablo 4 is expected to begin early in 2023.

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