First, I want to stress this is by no means an ultra-hardcore ARPG players' review, moreover my experiences across the 100+ hours I've put into it playing casually with my friends since the season's launch.
As I write this, I've completed the entire season journey for Diablo 4 Season of Blood (save a couple of Level 21 Glyphs), and I wanted to share some of my experiences, while also amplifying some of the feedback I've seen around the web for Season 2.
I've killed Uber Lilith, I've spent dozens of hours grinding Duriel and the various materials required for him and the other bosses, I've meticulously refined my off-meta build, and honestly, had quite a lot of fun doing so. It would be false to suggest that I haven't enjoyed my time with this season overall. Diablo 4's combat is infectious and satisfying, as we outlined in our non-endgame review of Diablo 4 and its base game. However, we're a long way from Diablo 4's launch at this point, and Season 3 should be fast approaching. Season 2 "of Blood" ends on January 23rd, 2024, and will pave the way for new characters, a new meta, and new seasonal features.
Blizzard opted to make Diablo 4 an always-online game, with promises of a live service, funded by an notoriously expensive cosmetics store and seasonal battle passes. So far, I'm not sure the pay off is quite where it needs to be just yet.
Season of Blood's vampire powers was a fun angle ...
So, for those who don't know, seasons in Diablo typically revolve some type of theme, complete with a battle pass to grind for (largely) cosmetic rewards. I finished the battle pass so long ago at this point that it's difficult to recall how I felt about it, but the cosmetics you get are, well... "okay," I suppose. Your mileage will vary based on your preferences, but the theme of the season revolved entirely around vampires and vampiric powers. The cosmetics did too, to some degree, although I would argue they're nowhere near as detailed or interesting as some of the items you can get from the base game, nor the expensive cosmetic store attached to the game. I found myself not really using anything I got from the battle pass save for "Season Blessing" gameplay modifiers which are gated by level. Either way, it's hardly a ringing endorsement of it. Perhaps it's a good thing that the battle pass isn't that "necessary" to purchase, and represents what amounts to a preferences on the part of the player. Very little of what you'll be doing in Diablo 4's endgame revolves around the battle pass specifically, though, and instead focuses on the seasonal "journey."
There are seven tiers of the season journey to get through, with increasingly difficult and/or grindy challenges to beat. Depending on how efficiently you play (or how overpowered your build is ... more on that in a minute), it could take anywhere from 50 to 100+ hours to beat out. And much of the activities revolve largely around doing the same thing repeatedly over the course of time.
To try and keep things fresh and differentiate Season of Blood from the base game and Season of the Malignant, Season of Blood offered some fun, if brief story beats and introduced us to Lord Zir, an ancient of vampiric persuasion. The story culminated in an impressive set-piece battle with Zir himself, who then returns in his Echo "Uber" form post-story.
In addition, this season added regional Blood Harvest events where swarms of vampire minions would congregate. Players who vanquish these enemies can obtain currency to perform a ritual which quite literally makes it rain loot. These events were incredibly fun to participate in while levelling up, and made gearing up far less choring than previous incarnations of the endgame.
As part of the story, Season 2 players were also essentially infected with vampiric blood, and could equip up to five vampiric powers to elevate and compliment their builds and playstyles. Some of these added extra mobility to classes that perhaps didn't have great mobility previously, while others coalesced in truly insane build synergies — better for some classes than others.
As you grew in power across the season, you also gradually gained materials to allow you to ritualistically summon Uber versions of other bosses, as well as some fresh ones in the form of the Beast in Ice and Grigoire. Defeating these chaps offered levelling players milestones to climb, in addition to new sources of endgame unique armors, cosmetics, and additional mats.
As a casual player using an off-meta Blood Lance-oriented Necromancer build, I found that the new bosses offered some awesome challenge and interesting mechanics when battled at an appropriate level. The "boss ladder" format gave Diablo 4's new endgame a persistent sense of accomplishment and growth that its artificially-scaling open world doesn't to the same degree. The deeper you get towards level 100, though, the more Diablo 4's systemic issues frustrate the fun.
... but they don't make up for balance issues
In a recent interview, Diablo 4 director Rod Fergusson dismissed criticisms over Diablo 4's endgame balance, saying that they don't want to "nerf fun." Blizzard was criticized for nerfing builds in Season 1 after the fact, and I can understand the sting. I remember dropping Minecraft Dungeons when an update nerfed my build, and I didn't really feel motivated to adjust. As a result, I never returned to the game.
However, the lackadaisical approach to Diablo 4's balance has been irritating to watch play out, particularly as a Necromancer. It's absurd that all the best meta builds revolve entirely around sacrificing your minions — the class fantasy for Necromancer is quite literally summoning the dead, and Blizzard hasn't really made any effort to improve the situation in high-end play. Furthermore, it's similarly disheartening to watch certain classes like notoriously powerful Lightning Ball Sorcerers and Hammer of the Ancients Barbarians melt world bosses and pinnacle bosses like Uber Lilith in fractions of a second. Blizzard implemented another gauntlet system called Abbatoir of Zir for players who are pushing out this level of DPS, and I wholly acknowledge I'm using an off-meta build, but I feel like if you're picking affixes, paragon boards, and talents that synergize, you should at least be viable for all content.
Uber Lilith is the final boss essentially, and she was a particularly irritating pain point for me. My build shreds Uber Lilith with 3 million damage Blood Lances, and my damage resistance shrugs off most of her attacks. She does, however, these insane spike waves that one-hit-kill if so much as a single pixel touches you.
The camera angle makes depth perception for these diagonal waves tough to measure, and it doesn't help that the telegraphing graphic is smaller than the attack, and can get covered up by your own attacks. If by some stroke of luck you manage to get favorable waves for avoiding them, you might end up getting clipped by an exploding blood boil that is hidden off-screen, due to the inconsistent camera zooming players have no real control over.
omg Uber Lilith is Uber Bullshit. tilted AF rn lmao. #Diablo4 #Xbox pic.twitter.com/B7n3dSWtxfJanuary 1, 2024
Hilariously, once you're through phase 1, Uber Lilith in phase 2 requires precisely three braincells to fell. There are no longer any spike waves to deal with, and she will die in a matter of seconds with endgame gear, regardless of spec. Killing Uber Lilith was so painfully unsatisfying knowing how poorly her attacks are designed, and how inconsistently her mechanics are presented — it makes the final Season Journey chapter feel a bit hollow.
Most tactics for killing Uber Lilith revolve around getting a build together that is so powerful that you kill her before she can deploy her attacks. That doesn't strike me as particularly satisfying, personally. The way enemies scale, incoming damage scales, and certain builds scale, makes so much of Diablo 4's endgame content feel utterly trivialized. When you have these gigantic world bosses that require a group to kill just get melted in 3 seconds without any consideration for combat tactics makes Diablo feels hollow.
Progression pain, itemization ire
While butting heads with Uber Lilith, some of my friends decided to drop their "fun" builds for something recommended from sites like Maxroll.gg and so on, and it was here that Diablo's itemization design layer really becomes irritating.
Diablo builds revolve around affixes, which appear at random on Legendary items. It can be endlessly frustrating if you need a specific Legendary affix, and for whatever reason, it just won't drop. Diablo has no system for building load outs and swapping gear, making it a huge chore if you dare stray too far from the build you've chosen to chase throughout the season. If you pick something that is, by design, underpowered until next season — tough, Blizzard's currently philosophy is that balance changes will come between seasons, rather than during.
It doesn't help that Diablo 4 has no loot filter either. By level 100, you're really looking for item level 925 gear to finish your builds off. However, a good 95% of the loot that drops will be far below this, forcing you to constantly sift through full inventories for the correct stats like an 1800s river bed gold prospector, looking for crumbs of upgrades. Uber Duriel drops these items more consistently, however, but farming the materials to summon him is a huge chore in of itself. Grinding Helltide events, Nightmare Dungeons for glyph EXP, and other lower level bosses after doing so several times already becomes increasingly unrewarding. Mid-season was fun and interesting, but the final steps towards seasonal completion has been irritating, and left quite a sour taste. I'll just be glad that it's all over once I finish my last few Nightmare Dungeons.
To be fair to Blizzard, they have acknowledged some of these issues, and are planning an overhaul to the way items work in future seasons. As for me, it has been probably weeks since I saw an item worth keeping, as I struggled through various permutations of my build to get myself through Uber Lilith's badly-designed spike phase.
I appreciate Blizzard's philosophy of not wanting to "nerf fun" mid-season, particularly when people have already begun investing in builds. But it's odd to me that they're not willing to fix aspects of the game that are clearly underperforming. Whether it's the design of certain boss mechanics, offsetting some of the game's more boring aspects, or improving affixes that literally nobody wants — I think a more regular cadence of balance tweaks is going to be utterly necessary for Diablo 4's long term survival.
Using Druid and Necromancer minions as an example, it reminds me of issues World of Warcraft had with minions and scaling in years past. It's odd Blizzard hasn't learned appropriate lessons here. Warlock and Hunter pets in World of Warcraft didn't scale appropriately either back then, both in terms of damage reduction and damage dealing. There are various other issues across all sorts of classes and playstyles that Diablo 4 still hasn't really addressed as we rapidly approach the game's first year in operation, and it doesn't bode well.
A season of mixed feelings
This is a brief summary of my personal experiences with Diablo 4, and won't be a treatise of every issue with the game right now. I barely even touched on things like the always-online requirement in what might be the loneliest (and laggiest) multiplayer game I've ever played — since it could be a separate article. There are a ton of quality of life issues that should be addressed, both little and large. I haven't played every class, for sure, and I am by no means interested in grinding up Abattoir of Zir, given how I already know my Necromancer won't be viable for it. Therein lies some of the challenges the Diablo team potentially faces for curating Diablo 4 long term, revolving around appealing to as many playstyles as possible, and maintaining some semblance of challenge while also balancing around a sense of clear power progression.
In any case, I had a ton of fun with my friends throughout the past month, though. Defeating Uber Varshan and The Beast in the Ice while being a tad under-geared for it presented a gratifying challenge, as we learned through the different phases and how to cope with them without opting for guides. It's only really towards the very pinnacle of the season did I begin to feel like Diablo 4 Season of Blood started to get a bit anaemic, and some of the game's underlying issues with balance, itemization, and activities really came into view.
Luckily, Diablo 4 is far from being a broken game despite some of the hyperbole I've seen. And, I honestly don't think it deserves all of the hate it is getting from certain corners. The combat loop is still fun as hell. Satisfying effects, spectacular visuals, huge popping numbers, and that familiar and immersive Diablo universe will always have their claws in me. I can see why some are disappointed, though — there's a lot of things that could (and should) be addressed as quickly as possible. Moving forward, I think a more rapid cadence of updates, more transparency with the community, and a willingness to more fervently test things out should be a priority for the Diablo team.
Judging by the way some corners of the internet discuss Diablo 4, I feel like I'm going against the grain to say I've had a ton of fun with Diablo 4 Season of Blood. It's just the simple truth. It's also true, and a little painful, how easily Diablo 4's endgame could be improved.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!