Almost four years ago, Blizzard Entertainment announced that the Diablo franchise would be making the jump to mobile platforms with Diablo Immortal. Since then, the game has evolved heavily through extended closed testing, with the developers taking feedback from players to make Diablo Immortal both easy to approach for new players and fun for long-time fans.
After spending a fair bit of time with the game, I’m happy to say that Diablo Immortal succeeds in being a free-to-play title and a great Diablo game… mostly. The gameplay is fun and engaging. While the story isn’t anything special, it still fits in with the grim and terrifying world of Sanctuary. The microtransactions are mostly siloed away for cosmetics, though the formula so far does raise questions for the game’s longterm success.
Bottom line: Diablo Immortal successfully brings the iconic hack-and-slash formula to mobile devices without compromise, though the free-to-play model may prove irritating.
- Strong, fast-paced gameplay
- Maintains loop of killing monsters and collecting loot
- Accessible to Diablo newcomers
- Microtransactions are optional
- Runs well on many phones
- Sometimes pushes players off the main path
- Microtransactions may be off-putting
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Blizzard Entertainment. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
Diablo Immortal: What I like
Set between five years after the events of Diablo 2 — and long before the upcoming mainline game Diablo 4 — the storyline is relatively simple, following the fallout of the Worldstone’s destruction as various factions attempt to collect the insidiouss, vying for power in the ever -chaotic world. In particular, the demon Skarn is attempting to collect the fragments and grow his strength at a time when the Prime Evils (the three most powerful Demons: Diablo, Baal, and Mephisto) are absent. Your character is recruited to stop the spread of evil.
|Developer||Blizzard Entertainment, NetEase|
|Minimum Requirements||iOS 11.0/iPadOS 11.0 or later|
|Play Time||15+ hours|
It’s nothing special, but does provide a great opportunity to interact with classic characters like the wise scholar Deckard Cain. Like in Diablo 2 and Diablo 3, the story is something of a scavenger hunt, giving an excuse to see the various regions of Sanctuary, from dark and spooky woods to blistering deserts. This main quest also gives the perfect excuse to have more regions added over time. As more shards as discovered, new threats will rise up. It’s simple, but it works.
Most of all, it’s still very much a Diablo game. it’s clear that being built for phones and tablets hasn’t compromised Diablo Immortal’s bottom line. As an action RPG, it’s important for the combat to feel good, and Diablo Immortal delivers here in spades. For purposes of this review, I decided to play as a Wizard, one of the six classes available in Diablo Immortal at launch, and chaining together spells to mow down hordes of monsters was easy and fun. Even hours in, I was discovering new ability combos, which is especially great for the Wizard class and its spells that can play off each other.
The touch controls are laid out so they’re easy to use and remain incredibly efficient, even as the carnage on screen gets more and more hectic. While Diablo Immortal does support mobile controllers, I opted to mainly use the touch controls, a testament to just how well-optimized the experience is (at least playing on a larger mobile device like a great iPad).
I’m a longtime fan of Diablo games, so the formula is extremely familiar to me at this point, but I also appreciate how Diablo Immortal makes things approachable for every kind of player. Blizzard previously mentioned in pre-release interviews that if someone hasn’t played a Diablo game before, Diablo Immortal is the best starting point. For the most part, it seems like the developers have succeeded. The fact is, Diablo Immortal is a true Diablo experience, but it’s also not offputting if you’re unfamiliar with these kinds of games.
The overall difficulty in the starting areas is more forgiving than other games, giving players some room to fail and experiment with their characters, while serious challenges can still be found later in the form of dungeons and boss fights. Healing is even more generous than in Diablo 3, with numerous health orbs dropped by bosses and enemies, as well as health potions that operate on a cooldown timer. The result is that it’s hard for you to die unless you aren’t paying attention to your surroundings at all.
After an area in the story, players also unlock auto-navigation, meaning it’s easy to find a side quest, bounty, or even just make your way back to a safe zone.
None of this simplification takes away from the important undercurrent that’s vital for any Diablo game: killing monsters and grabbing loot. You’ll constantly be finding new pieces of armor, weapons, and gems for upgrading everything. If you don’t need something, it’s easy to scrap it at a blacksmith and get some resources for upgrading the gear you do like. If you like something, you can swap it out, or upgrade something you’ve already got and like using resources. If you’re familiar with past Diablo games, it’s a fairly similar system, but with some tweaks that simplify the overall process.
The fact is, Diablo Immortal is a true Diablo experience.
PvP (player-vs-player) combat isn’t new to Diablo, but it’s more present in Diablo Immortal than it was in past games, with a dedicated Battlegrounds mode that pits two teams of eight players against each other. This is totally optional, so if you’re not into fighting other players you don’t have to, but it’s something to consider trying. We didn’t get the chance to try it out during the review period due to lack of players, but it should be a fun extra mode if people want it.
Diablo Immortal is made to scale across mobile devices, so it doesn’t have cutting-edge graphics, borrowing heavily from the stylized artistic direction of Diablo 3. It works well and looked good playing on my iPad. There’s even a few display options, allowing you to add cooler or warmer filters to the image, so you can tweak it a bit to your liking. You can also adjust the quality of the image, as well as choose to run the game at 30FPS or 60FPS.
There’s also a neat gauge showing the stress of your phone or tablet will be under based on your options. If your device can handle 60FPS, I highly recommend choosing this option. The gameplay is smoother, feels more responsive, and character animations look cleaner. The game notes that playing at higher graphics settings, especially with 60FPS enabled, will drain your battery much faster. All of this is in addition to a suite of accessibility options, allowing you to customize the UI size, as well as move around the placement of skill buttons and the character movement pad.
The game isn’t super power-hungry even at the higher framerate. I lost about 10% of my battery after playing constantly for an hour, but this is going to vary based on what kind of phone or tablet you have.
Diablo Immortal: What I didn’t like
While Diablo Immortal is mostly a great experience, it’s still a free-to-play game, and this is where some issues rear their heads. You collect loot through the game to grow in power, but if you want your chosen character to look visually distinct, you’ll likely have to spend some money. Cosmetic sets can be purchased for large amounts of cash (some are as much as $20 or more) and while they don’t give you a gameplay advantage over other players, they provide a flashy look that’s far more visually appealing than any of the more drab clothing you’ll find throught the game. A free-to-play game has to make money, and it’s nice to see there aren’t any play-to-win mechanics, but we imagine it can suck up your money quick.
You might want to keep an eye on the Battle Pass.
More worth keeping an eye on is the Battle Pass. You can grind Bounties and Challenge Rifts to gain more character experience, but the game also pushes the Battle Pass for furthering your character growth. The Battle Pass is ostensibly optional, but each rank gained gives a huge amount of experience, as well as granting additional resources and cosmetics. There’s a free portion, as well as a paid portion that costs about $6 or $15, with the latter unlocking several ranks instantly.
Overall, I didn’t think it was too concerning, but it raises questions about the future of the game. Diablo Immortal is meant to be an ongoing service, with additional content and regions added over time. If those options are gated off at higher levels (with the level cap presumably increasing) then players could feel more pressured to get the extra experience offered by the Battle Pass. I don’t mind grinding for a bit in order to level up and keep playing across new areas, but if the Battle Pass ever stops feeling optional, there could be a problem.
There’s also the pacing of the game. Different regions are meant for characters of different levels, with monsters and loot scaled to match, which is standard RPG fare. There’s a particularly large jump when you reach the Library of Zoltan Kulle however, which is a region located a fair bit into the main story.
Diablo Immortal: Should you play it?
Despite questions about its longevity, I do think Diablo Immortal is a good game. Blizzard Entertainment and NetEase have successfully translated the formula from PCs and mainline gaming consoles to something that feels comfortable to play on handheld device. Even if it doesn’t quite have the “oh my god, I’ve been playing for how many hours?” pull of past mainline titles, it’s a solid experience in smaller doses, and I like the idea of this being a platform that Blizzard can add to over time.
With that in mind, monetization is something that’ll need to be closely monitored. Free-to-play games need to have some way to make money, but it’s incredibly easy for the balance to be tipped into something that feels unfair for anyone with less (or no) cash to burn.
Even if you’ve never played a Diablo game before, you might want to see if Diablo Immortal clicks with you. Just be aware of what you’ll have to spend if you want your characters to look really awesome.
Diablo Immortal is slated to launch on June 2, 2022 for iOS, Android, and PC.
Bottom line: Whether this is your first Diablo experience or you’ve been playing since the very first game, Diablo Immortal is a lot of fun. You’ll have to spend some money if you want to look really cool though.
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