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We now believe that Blizzard’s most recent trip to hell was 20 hours of Diablo 4 on the PlayStation 5

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We’ve spent about 20 hours with a Diablo 4 preview build on the PS5 over the past week or two, with nearly complete access to a sizable (and primarily snowy) portion of the game’s open world area. We have a good understanding of what the upcoming action RPG is about thanks to the main story missions and a variety of side tasks that it includes.

The gist of it is that Diablo 4 is more ambitious in scope than Diablo 3, while yet being more “grounded” than Diablo 3. There’s no denying that it still has that Diablo feel to it, but this is Diablo in the style of a more conventional role-playing game as you go from village to town to city, helping people with their issues and slaying various creatures in the process.

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Even if there are still hub places, the emphasis in this much anticipated sequel is clearly on exploration. In the build we played, Kyovashad served as our main port of call. Once more, Diablo 4 takes place in an open environment filled with wandering packs of monsters, randomly generated incidents, and despondent task givers. You are completely free to go and do whatever you like, while some areas require a higher player level than others to avoid being torn apart by much more powerful enemies.

From what we’ve experienced thus far, the game does a fantastic job of luring you off the usual road. Thanks to a map that’s dotted with dungeons and sites of interest, purposely luring you away from your current objective marker, it can occasionally feel like an isometric version of Skyrim. Without even mentioning the all-important loot that can be collected in treasure boxes and dropped by defeated adversaries, of course.

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Even though we were playing an incomplete and content-limited build, we couldn’t help but care about how our character developed. As the game keeps you hooked with equipment drops and a nearly continual influx of experience points, Diablo’s addictive tendencies are immediately clear. Even the skill tree’s branching structure entices you, making it necessary for you to select between various powers and then several variations of those abilities. It won’t take long for you to start considering progressively powerful character builds and to reset your skill point allocation for a little amount of gold before committing to a whole different and fascinating style of play.

Yes, there is a ton of room for experimentation here, especially since you are always free to stray into the open world and test your fighting skills in an unrestricted manner. Only the Barbarian, Rogue, and Sorcerer character classes were available to us, but each of them feels as distinctive as you’d imagine, and that only becomes more and more obvious as you go through the aforementioned skill trees.

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Level 25, though, was the upper limit in this test edition, so we could only catch a glimpse of what a super-strong protagonist may play like. However, we can agree that Diablo 4’s fighting clearly has a more tactical element. The fact that combat don’t only involve you comparing your stats to those of your adversary, at least not in the early going, is possibly the largest departure from Diablo 3. You’re still using your powers and making the most of your equipment, but since there is no automatic health regeneration, you must employ healing potions when the going gets tough.

Thus, efficiency is key in combat. The game’s new dodge system comes into play in this situation since it can make all the difference in how you position yourself before using a high-damage ability. Dodging must now be used sparingly because it has a five-second cooldown, such as when you have no choice but to avoid a boss’ special attack. The fights in Diablo 4 have a much more methodical flow as a result, and everything also seems heavier. Not to the point where responsiveness is hindered, but you’ll notice the extra crunchiness if you’re experienced with Diablo 3’s arcade-like style.

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The animations reflect this heaviness as well. Each hit packs a punch, and the visual effects may be absolutely satisfying. A prime example of this is the Barbarian’s “Upheaval” ability, which allows the fighter to rip through the ground with a two-handed weapon while tossing chunks of rock and dirt in the direction of the enemy. The entire animation, especially as the projectiles crush your enemies, is pleasingly cruel.

The fact that Diablo 4 feels fantastic to play, especially at this early level, is what matters most. There is a wonderful sense of rhythm when you are cleaving through hordes of foes once you have earned a suite of powers that you can mix and match.

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However, facing off against bosses hasn’t been as satisfying. Big monsters feature distinct attack patterns and substantial health bars in an obvious attempt to distinguish true boss battles from simple skirmishes. That’s not very novel for Diablo, but the bosses we faced in this preview build tended to focus on awkward bullet hell-style sequences. These portions were frequently difficult to read and had questionable hitboxes, which is not ideal if you only have a few health potions available.

Aside from these occasionally awkward encounters, Diablo 4 has been a blast during our brief time with it. Hopefully the boss fights are fixed prior to the release of the full game. While the transition to an open world structure seems to have given the experience a deeper respect of the scenery, its addictive treasure and character growth mechanisms still seem to be in place.

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This fourth installment of Blizzard’s enduring franchise resembles both Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 in several ways. It’s both the former’s love of fantastical terror and the latter’s attitude to brisk combat and possibly dizzying power trips. This is particularly true of the game’s primary story, about which we can’t disclose too much but which unquestionably leans toward the darkest aspects of the franchise. This is also supported by the art direction; although it is an unabashedly dismal journey, it is all the more captivating for it.

So, keep an eye out for Diablo 4 in 2023. Long-time players may not enjoy some aspects of the game right first, such as its MMO-like shared player hubs, but this feels like a logical step for the franchise, replete with assurances of long-term, live service support. As always, the proof will be in the eating, but based on everything we’ve seen and experienced in Diablo 4, we’re beyond excited.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

Gaming

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 Sets Dates for the Next Multiplayer Beta

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Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 is getting closer and closer, and Activision has announced when players will be able to get their hands on the next game. This means that there will be several chances to try it out before it comes out. If you paid a lot, you might be able to play for more than a week at the end of August and beginning of September.

Call of Duty Early Access will run from Friday, August 30th, to Wednesday, September 4th, as announced on its blog. This is two days after the Call of Duty Next showcase, which is set for August 28th. To play, you must have already bought Black Ops 6.

The open beta is the following weekend, and anyone who wants to can join. The fun will start on Friday, September 6th, and end on Monday, September 9th. The full release is set for October 25th of next month on PS5 and PS4.

How excited are you for the next Call of Duty game? Are you going to play Black Ops 6 in either the Early Access or Open Beta versions? Leave a comment below and let us know.

 

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Ten million people play The First Descendant in its first week

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The free-to-play shooter The First Descendant has gotten a lot of attention in its first week. The game’s publisher, Nexon, says that 10 million people have already tried it out.

Insider Gaming pointed out that since there is no cost up front, it’s still too early to tell how many of those players will stick around, but it’s still a big number for a new IP. On Steam alone, it peaked at 264,860 concurrents right after launch and has still managed to break 200,000 in the last 24 hours, so it looks like a lot of people are still really into the game.

It was a “mindless and repetitive grind,” and we gave The First Descendant a 3/10 in our review. Of course, that’s just one opinion; other experts have had different ones. Most people, though, say that the game’s annoying free-to-play model is the worst thing about it.

Are you one of the millions of people who played The First Descendant last week? Are you going to come back for more? Leave a comment below and let us know.

 

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Geek Culture

The trailer for Gladiator II looks great, but is any of it true? What Did The Experts Say?

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The trailer for Gladiator II by Ridley Scott is now out, and it looks like it will be the best movie ever. If you liked the first movie, you’ll probably love the new one, which has a lot of big names in it and shows epic duels, scary Colosseum battles, and hints of political intrigue. But, as with all Hollywood historical epics, you might wonder how much of what is shown is based on real events and how much is just made up for fun.

When we had questions, we asked the Bad Ancient team what they thought about the fun, the fantasy, and the facts.

What’s the movie about?
The new Gladiator movie picks up 25 years after the first one. Paul Mescal plays Lucius Verus II, the boy from the original story and Lucilla’s son. The trailer starts with him talking about the deadly duel between Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and Maximus Decimus Meridius, a gladiator and fallen general.

It looks like Lucius is living in exile in Numidia, which is in northwest Africa. A few years after this incident, the Roman army captures him and forces him to compete as a gladiator. Lucius wants to overthrow the Roman government and end all forms of slavery, of course.

Later, Lucius fights the made-up General Marcus Acacius (Pedro Pascal), who also seems to have doubts about the Roman Empire’s needless killing. In the trailer, we learn more about characters like Macrinus (Denzel Washington), a power broker who likes gladiators, and Geta and Caracalla, two brother emperors who look cruel and spoiled and are played by Joseph Quinn and Fred Hechinger, respectively.

There are hints of exciting scenes in the trailer, like a gladiator riding a rhino and a fake naval battle in a flooded Colosseum with boats and sharks that eat people. There are also hints of politics and mystery.

A lot of it. It’s fun, but is it really true?

First, what did you think of the trailer?
Dr. Jo Ball (JB), an archaeologist who studies Roman war and conflict: I was really looking forward to seeing the trailer for the new Gladiator II movie, and it did not let me down. It looked like it would be a great visual feast, with hopefully some good history thrown in. I’m especially interested in seeing how Pedro Pascal’s character, Marcus Acacius, fits into the story. From the trailer, he seems to be coming to protest the endless conquests of Rome and the lives it took, and he seems to be getting in trouble for his views. I think this could be an interesting way to connect this to the main gladiator theme.

 

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Alex Sills (AS), a graduate student at the University of Leicester: The sheer spectacle of it looks like it will be even better than the first movie. I can’t wait to see what 24 years of CGI progress can do for a Roman arena. Also, I’m interested to see how the movie handles the fact that the Republic hasn’t been brought back. Maximus gave up his life for that reason in the first movie. Will Lucius finish the job? We know that emperors ruled for hundreds of years, so it’s not likely. However, it will be interesting to see if the political aspect is kept up or dropped in favor of a story about revenge between two people.

This is Dr. Owen Rees (OR), founder and chief editor of Bad Ancient: I love the first Gladiator movie so much that my first thought was, “Why?!?” Why is there a second part? But when I saw the cityscape of Rome on the screen, that reaction went away, and I became interested in what I was seeing. The glory of Rome, the desire for a quiet life away from the center of power, and the idea of “the Republic” are all themes that were introduced in the first movie. I can’t wait to see how they connect these to the second one.

Did anything stand out right away as being right or wrong or not making sense?
JB: Paul Mescal’s Lucius seems to have become a gladiator after being captured during a violent conquest of Numidia in northwest Africa. However, this area had been a part of the Roman world for hundreds of years by the time the movie takes place, and it’s hard to imagine scenes like the ones in the trailer happening during the time of the movie’s setting, when Severus reorganized the region’s government.

Some parts of the dress don’t seem right, like the wristbands that everyone with a sword seems to have to wear! The accents are an interesting mix, but I actually quite like this, as it is a useful reminder that the “Romans” were not a homogenous population but came from an empire that stretched from Britain across Europe, the Near East, and northern Africa—why people would be expected to have the same accents is beyond me (and even if they did, a modern American accent is no less accurate a representation than a classic British one!).

AS: No one is without a top! They didn’t wear anything to protect their torsos because that would have been too easy of a fight. Also, Pedro and Paul should have shields with them, since that’s what gladiators did instead of chest armor. It’s cool that the shield could be used offensively, almost like a second weapon. Having both arms in the fight makes it more interesting. Of course, movie stars shouldn’t have to wear helmets that cover their faces, but these guys should be able to show a lot of chest. I’m sure a lot of people in the theater would also not mind…

Is there something wrong with how the two emperors are portrayed?
Basically, Caracalla and Geta are portrayed in a rather odd way. They seem to fit the stereotypes of Nero and Caligula more than they do the real Severans. Also, they stand out because they are so pale. Both brothers were born in Syria and Libya.

In Roman times, there were a lot of people of color. It’s not fair to make emperors with darker skin look lighter. I’m happy to see Denzel Washington in the cast, though, because his character sounds really interesting.

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OR: They look like a cliché of many “bad emperors” rolled into one. It’s interesting that they chose to cast actors who are so pale these days. But we’ll see how their characters are developed when the movie comes out. You can’t judge it based on a few seconds in an ad!

When it was full of water, did the Colosseum ever host battles on the water?
JB: Yes, naumachiae were popular and spectacular shows put on to entertain the people of Rome on special occasions. They were very expensive and hard to set up. Early Roman emperors put on Naumachiae, but until Nero’s time, they didn’t happen in amphitheaters. Instead, they happened on lakes or in specially built basins. The Colosseum was a special place for naumachiae, and one was even held at its opening in 80 AD, during the reign of Titus the Great. But we don’t know how they filled the arena with water for the battle; it was probably done to the lowest level possible so the ships could float!

But Paul Mescal’s character wouldn’t have fought in Naumachiae. The Romans didn’t use trained (read: expensive) gladiators. Instead, they used prisoners of war and criminals who had been sentenced to death. This suggests that very few, if any, were expected to survive. It’s also important to note that the naumachia of Claudius on the Fucine Lake was the only time that people were heard saying, “We who are about to die salute you.” The gladiators didn’t need to say this.

What if gladiators had fought rhinos or sharks instead?
JB: Roman audiences liked new things in their beast shows, and there weren’t many animals that they wouldn’t put in the arena. In fact, it was a big business to get animals for these kinds of shows, and the more exotic the animals, the better. The animals didn’t even have to be very dangerous; as long as they were different, they were included. Giraffes were shown with “classic” wild animals like lions and bears.

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: Gladiators always fought other gladiators. On the other hand, there were people in the arena who fought animals or hunted them. These people were called devas and bestiarii.

Rhinos were shown off in Rome—that much we know. I think Pompey Magnus was the first person to bring one in. One was brought in so that the emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix in the first movie) could kill it himself in the Colosseum. He did this by shooting it with arrows from a platform, so he was never in any danger.

When it comes to sharks, we’re getting into fantasy land. The Romans got very good at catching and moving all kinds of wild animals, especially from Africa. But they couldn’t catch sharks, bring them to Rome, or put them somewhere safe before the Games. But if they had been able to, they would have thought it would have been awesome, so maybe this is dead guys’ movie wish fulfillment.

OR: There were animals in the arena, but the gladiators who fought were not the same ones. We use the word “gladiator” to describe too few of the people the Romans had in the arena.

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