Diablo 4 has been released to nearly universal acclaim and seems to have launched in a fairly decent state – a welcome contrast to the technical problems that have plagued most recent live service games. While the game is technically in “early access”, only playable for those who have slapped money down for one of the game’s collector’s editions, I’d consider it out there and in the world.
After the first Diablo 4 beta, the biggest complaint from many players was that the Barbarian was too weak and felt too unrewarding compared to the other classes available. This feedback was delivered, angrily, on Reddit, Twitter, and even YouTube videos from creators and commentators with a right grump on.
After this, the developers told me in an interview (published in NME) that the Barbarian was balanced with the rest of the classes, but that its power curve just looked a little different. At earlier levels, the Barbarian’s strengths are more understated compared to something like the Sorcerer, who can turn an entire battlefield into an elemental disaster from level 2. The Barbarian, I was assured, was all-powerful in his own way, it just wasn’t a way the beta participants had been able to get their hands on.
I wasn't sure if this was true. During the beta, I played as a Sorcerer (which was like taking a flamethrower to a children's birthday party) and the Druid, which actually was kind of boring but I did get to shapeshift into a bear with every attack, which was bad for Fashion Diablo but great for shouting "I'm a bear" every time I transformed until none of my friends would play with me anymore.
Still, if you want to be digging into the hard-hitting issues around a game, what could be harder-hitting than a Barbarian? Eager to work out if that tall slab of meat was as terrible as the fans claimed or if they might have just been angry gamers on the internet, I dived in.
The Barbarian isn't just seven feet of chiseled muscle desperate to beat you to death with one of the four weapons that the class can equip, they're also good uncomplicated fun, rewarding risky play with the ability to spatter enemies all across the landscape.
Honestly, melee attackers in the action RPG genre (ARPG) always struggle a little bit when you’re stood next to a class they can raise the dead (necromancer) raze the dead (necromancer again), or chuck giant bone spears out of their hands (you guessed it: Necro). When all you can do is leather your enemies with a stack of weapons, you’re naturally going to feel a little bit underpowered.
Despite this, the Barbarian’s excessive number of weapons does go a long way to making the class interesting. Equipping four different weapons isn’t just a cool visual track - although it does look brilliant - it’s also a way to get four different sets of stat boosts, meaning the Barbarian is more dependent on gear than most classes but when properly equipped can have some frankly ridiculous stats, even early on.
Killing things with the Barbarian is easy: you build fury with basic attacks bound to the left click of a mouse before unleashing a powerful finisher with the right mouse button. This will work early on, but then the game layers on extra moves to increase your utility, a taunt to protect your squishy Rogue friend from harm, or a jump to reposition yourself into the middle of the biggest crowd of enemies on the screen. As a result, success here is fairly simple: you get the gear with the highest numbers and wade into the middle of the biggest crowd, confident that you'll probably be absolutely fine.
The Barbarian’s class ability - each of Diablo’s five classes has its own unique mechanic - rewards you for messing up enemies with specific weapons by giving you powerful passive abilities. This means you might end up getting bonus crit chance with an axe or doing more damage while healthy, giving you more unique choices over the lifetime of your character, especially when you factor in that the Barbarian can automatically select the best weapon for the job or players can choose a weapon that will look cool or offer the best bonus for each specific skill use.
All of the characters from the review period have been wiped as part of the server shutdown before the full release. While I tried my luck with a few of them, the one I’ll miss the most is the Barbarian; the Diablo equivalent of a trashy B-movie.
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Jake Tucker is the editor in chief of TechRadar Gaming and has worked at sites like NME, MCV, Trusted Reviews and many more. He collects vinyl, likes first-person shooters and turn-based tactics titles, but hates writing bios. Jake currently lives in London, and is bouncing around the city trying to eat at all of the nice restaurants.