You might be tempted to dive into Diablo 4 and play it easy – scope out this ruined world, find your bearings in the hellscape fantasy that Blizzard has cooked up this time. But, if you’re after a true challenge, you need to boot up the game on Hardcore mode, from the off: in many ways, it’s the game the developers intend you to play. Let me explain.
The first question is: Why risk perma-death? Because Blizzard wants you to, and the developer is prepared to reward you handsomely for the risk you undertake. Even the Dark Souls games don’t punish you too hard for dying – not really. Sure, you may lose Souls and have to retrace your footsteps without perishing again in order to reclaim your valuable prize, but beyond that, the eternal ‘live, die, repeat’ loop loses some of its bite.
Permadeath, in Diablo, has serious stakes. Anyone that braves Diablo 4 on its imposing, intimidating, incredibly challenging difficulty sets out to do so in the knowledge that, at some point in their doomed character’s career, they will find themselves staring certain death in the eye. And the loss of all progress, gear, and experience along with it.
Hardcore mode is a now-classic option that was introduced to the series way back in the early days of Diablo 2. If your character takes a fatal blow, with all HP diminished and no healing or reviving items available to you, the character is dead. Properly dead. Game Over. You will not be able to access this character, its gear, or however far into the game they have explored again.
This typically affects your build; you’re not exactly going to stack all your points into damage over defense in this mode, and you’ll have to play slightly more conservatively. But therein lies the joy, for a certain type of player: buildcrafting to make your Druid or whatever a threat, in and of itself, whilst still being able to soak up a wealth of punishment? It’s RPG gold dust. It’s the sort of thing the serious role-playing game community gets hooked on.
It’s also not recommended for solo players. A large part of the allure of Hardcore mode in games past is the way they work with co-op synergies – how Barbarians support Necromancers, how Rogues pair with Sorcerers, that kind of thing. Heading out into the world with a pal (or pals) and seeing how you can all keep each other alive as enemies swarm over you… it can create the same rush you’ll get in Classic WoW (in fact, the Classic WoW community even added their own hardcore mode into the game to make things more interesting).
But the question remains, why do this to yourself? What does the game do to reward you? Blizzard has been vocal about how it does things that ensure that ‘players that take risks and make the game more fun to play’ are rewarded with far, far better loot. Higher numbers, better perks, items that really play into specialised builds… Hardcore mode has it all.
So, if you are intent on tackling this mode, there’s a few things you need to know, that will make your life that much easier (in theory):
- Always have an escape route. Knowing how to remove yourself from a dangerous situation and flee is essential: if you’re caught short, you could waste hours of your life. Discretion is sometimes the better part of valor, as a wise man once said.
- Don’t obsess over DPS. By building your character in a way that can soak up punishment, you can avoid silly deaths and getting one-shot by bosses. This isn’t the place for Glass Cannon builds.
- Take risks. Sometimes, you’re going to need to engage with tough enemies in order to get the loot that’s going to help you go further. Play smart.
If you do want to play things a bit safer, it’s worth knowing that Softcore modes in previous Diablo games have had consequences, too – in Diablo 3, you’d spill all your gold on death, and in Diablo 2 you’d lose a large chunk of experience.
If you do want to experience the beta as more of an exploratory thing, a way to poke around the Diablo world and experiment with loadouts, classes, and the like, you should probably stick to Softcore mode. It’s a nice way to let you experience the game’s promises, without the hellish underglow that defines the experience for many seasoned Diablo players.
But I know how I’m going to play the game. Even if it’s not good for my stress levels.