If you're playing barbarian in Diablo 4, you really should try switching to controller


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Dec 02, 2023

If you're playing barbarian in Diablo 4, you really should try switching to controller

Diablo 4 is remarkably comfortable on a controller, but your mileage will vary

Diablo 4 is remarkably comfortable on a controller, but your mileage will vary by class.

I chose to play barbarian in Diablo 4 based on two important factors: there's little chance my friends would be choosing the same when the ever-popular necromancer is right there, and because I hate Diablo's mouse-and-keyboard controls. At risk of readers reaching through their screens and personally shredding my PC gaming card, I can't stand constantly clicking (or holding left mouse) to get around. My keyboard hand doesn't fare any better: resting my fingers on the default 1-4 ability keys for hours at a time is a constant flirt with disaster as my palm meat threatens to slap the spacebar.

Rebinding is an option, of course, but Blizzard's first mainline Diablo in 11 years offers another solution, too: controllers! Unlike Diablo 3, which never got official controller support on PC despite having console versions, Diablo 4 was designed from the ground up for gamepads and keyboards alike. You wouldn't know it just by looking at its mouse-friendly menus, but it's a remarkably comfortable gamepad game.

In fact, after leveling my barbarian to 24 almost entirely on controller, I'm starting to think it's the best way to play a melee class in Diablo 4. For one, every button is rebindable and there's a customizable utility wheel (handy for all control schemes, honestly) for quick out-of-reach actions like emotes and potions. Moving around is just straight up better, too. Running with a stick feels completely natural, aided by the fact that you can just nudge the stick if you want to walk. I've yet to find a dungeon where moving slower is actually useful, but the occasional lackadaisical walk through towns does let me appreciate my barbarian beefcake's confident gait.

Controller combat flows well with the barbarian too. You just walk up to everything and mash A, and then occasionally X, Y, and the triggers. Maximizing damage with my bleeding build has largely come down to positioning, and direct stick control has the edge over mouse clicks there. Last night I went back to KBM to see if I'm just drinking the controller kool aid, but after a few hours the only major difference was a cramped hand and hunched back.

I do have some gripes, though. I've noticed one important barbarian function that doesn't seem to have a controller bind at all: changing which weapons individual skills use. On mouse this is as simple as clicking middle-mouse while hovering over the skill, but either I'm missing something obvious or Blizzard forgot to make this doable on controller (both are equally possible).

Inventory management, which is about 50% of the Diablo 4 experience, is also undoubtedly slower on controller. New items appear at the bottom of your inventory, but on controller your selection starts at the top, so I usually have to d-pad down and right eight times just to confirm a sword isn't as good as the one I'm carrying. It's still fast enough that I never feel bogged down, and I certainly prefer it over the annoying fake mouse cursor popularized by Destiny (kudos to Blizzard for resisting that trend), but there are clear improvements to be made. Assume I want to check out the stuff I just picked up, for starters?

It's also hard to imagine I'd be having a smooth ride playing classes that need to plant their feet and aim at specific targets, like sorcerer or necromancer. Your only precise targeting option on controller is a single target lock on right stick. It's functional, but picking out a specific target sounds like a chore when there are often 8-15 enemies on screen. When you're not locked on to anything in particular, the game auto-highlights who it thinks you're trying to hit, which is usually an easy guess for barbarian.

Controller Diablo is comfortable and imperfect, but the beauty of PC gaming is that I don't have to choose just one control scheme. I've adopted a healthy 90/10 split where I do almost everything on gamepad and periodically reach for my mouse when I have to compare lots of new gear or salvage stuff.

If you reflexively defaulted to KBM because that's how you've played Diablo for 20 years, then you're probably already happy as is, but if your fingers are cramping after a long session or you really want to lean back in your chair for a while, give controller a shot.

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Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.

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