Diablo Immortal is a brand-new entry in the iconic Diablo franchise that has been a prominent fixture of the games industry. The original 1997 title set the gaming community ablaze (pun intended, of course) – selling massively well across the world while critics sang its praises to the point where the game has now come to be regarded as one of the most seminal action RPG titles of all-time.
What followed for the next couple of decades was a string of successful releases that saw Blizzard evolve into one of the biggest and most influential game companies around. The newest game in the series is perhaps one of the most curious entries into the franchise as Diablo Immortal is a game specifically designed for the mobile platform.
Although it is clear that Immortal was always meant to be a mobile title – it is also available on PC – and the game does allow cross-progression for players. With this being the franchise’s first foray into the mobile game arena (or dungeon, in this case), does Diablo Immortal do enough to stand on its own two feet as a solid action-RPG offering, or does it pale in comparison to the games of the series’ past?
Diablo Immortal – A Decent Entry Point for Those New to the Franchise
Full disclosure, I have never fully played a Diablo game before except for a couple of times I felt brave enough to try out Diablo II back when I was 10 years old. To me, the series had always been home to games that I couldn’t quite grasp and felt intimidated by. Dungeon crawlers and RPGs had always come rather easily to me, but for some inexplicable reason, Diablo always felt foreign and obtuse to me.
Good news for fellow Diablo freshers – Immortal isn’t obtuse in the slightest – in fact, it does a splendid job at teaching its simple-but-effective mechanics in a way that doesn’t overwhelm players. The tutorial level itself lasts for about 30 minutes and provides players a solid rundown of the mechanics – all the while providing a solid start to the narrative and setting up plot beats and establishing the story.
It becomes clear almost immediately that Diablo wants players to take their time with the game – get themselves familiar with the game’s Inventory, Combat, and most importantly – exploration and movement systems. Touch controls are tuned extremely well and a smartly designed HUD makes things extremely comfortable for the players.
Going into the game, I had expected to be bombarded with dialog boxes, annoying tutorials, and obtuse items whose usage I will not have understood until Level 20. Surprisingly, the game doesn’t do any of that – instead, it keeps things simple and guides players step-by-step until they reach the point where they’re annihilating enemies and switching up loadouts on the fly.
Instead of the aforementioned bombardment of obtuseness, the game took me off-guard with the incredibly well-detailed customization. I can safely say I have played only a few games on mobile with customization as deep as Diablo Immortal’s. The game lets players tweak almost everything about their character’s appearance and craft each aspect of their look.
However, the most surprising thing that Diablo Immortal threw at me was the intense focus on storytelling and bombastic presentation. In contrast to the majority of action game offerings on mobile – Diablo Immortal focuses on telling a pretty interesting (albeit a little cliched) story, while also providing tons of interesting combat scenarios in dungeons and lairs.
After having dropped several hours into Diablo Immortal, I can confidently say that I am now looking forward to trying out the rest of the Diablo games on PC. Effectively, this makes Immortal a good starting point for those not familiar with the franchise – which is a great move on Blizzard’s part in the lead up the release of Diablo IV.
Diablo Immortal – An Ambitious Attempt at a Solid Narrative-Focused MMORPG Experience on Mobile
Diablo Immortal was first announced in 2018 and its reveal has become somewhat of a major gaming pop-culture meme. When the game was first revealed at Blizzcon, the deafening silence in the crowd spoke volumes regarding the fanbase’s excitement for a mobile Diablo game. The franchise has been known for delivering quality action RPGs on PC and the thought of the formula being diluted to suit the mobile game crowd felt almost blasphemous to the community.
While I, personally, cannot comment on any sort of dilution of the formula – seeing as Immortal was my first experience with the franchise – I found myself enjoying the fast-paced RPG more than most other games on mobile. Diablo Immortal feels like a solid, AAA experience that doesn’t compromise the series’ reputation of fast-paced combat and delivers an experience that is rarely found on mobile.
For the most part, mobile gaming has been dominated by multiplayer shooters that don’t really concern themselves with storytelling. Diablo Immortal stands out in stark contrast to this as the story feels like a major focal point for the development team. The game starts out with a bombastic intro that introduces players to the world of Diablo and the dire situation the player must wade into.
The game puts players in the shoes of an adventurer who must now seek out demonic entities and put an end to the looming threat of destruction. While this sounds about as cliched a fantasy RPG action story as it can get – the level of polish and sincerity behind it is what makes it work spectacularly.
Managing expectations is key here as players shouldn’t really go into this thinking they’re about to wrestle with complex questions of morality or poignant story moments. The story is serviceable, at best, but the presentation and the laser-beam focus of the narrative make the player’s time feel valued. If anything, Immortal does a fantastic job with its story and dialogue to set up the stakes of the main quest and really drive home the motivations’ of the world’s various factions, villains, and heroes. It also helps that the player character is fully-voiced as standing around looking incredibly brooding makes not for a very likable protagonist.
Combat, Progression, and Exploration
Now – down to the meat and bones of Diablo Immortal, the combat. The argument could be made that practically everything in the game could have been a let-down and Diablo Immortal would still be considered a good-to-great game if the combat was a winner. The good news here for everyone that was on the fence regarding whether an action-RPG MMO would work on mobile – it does, for the most part.
Diablo Immortal made for some of the most fun hours of gameplay I’ve had on mobile and it is all down to the fast-paced combat and seamless movement controls. The game is extremely rewarding to experience and clearing out enemies from an area never really gets old. While the game makes concessions to its design with areas being far smaller than other games in the series – it is in service of the player.
The top-down isometric style perspective is a fixture of the franchise and I have to say that it works perfectly for the mobile platform. The fast and brutal nature of the combat is helped endlessly by the isometric perspective as it always keeps the entire playing field in view and makes combat feel more tactical rather than just mindless button-mashing.
The basics of Diablo Immortal are simple – clear out enemies and move from checkpoint to checkpoint while gathering loot and progressing in both player and equipment levels. The game area is essentially divided into several open-ended hubs that are populated by enemy hoards and dungeons.
These dungeons are the bread-and-butter of Immortal and players can choose to bring on friends and take on these challenging sub-areas with a party. Joining matchmaking is a good idea when taking on higher-level dungeons and the game does a fair job at providing a level cap so that players don’t accidentally head into a dungeon severely underpowered and get pummeled into the ground by a Stone Golemn.
Additionally, there is also a PvP mode, “The Cycle of Strife” that is only unlocked after players have reached the “endgame” stage of the game. This is an incredibly challenging mode reserved for those seeking a more brutal experience taking on other players. The co-op works incredibly smooth and taking on dungeons with friends is extremely rewarding – much like the rest of the game’s combat.
The game lets players pick one of 6 character classes – Barbarian, Necromancer, Wizard, Monk, Demon Hunter, and Crusader. Each class uses different kinds of weapons and specializes in different styles of combat. The kind of enemy loot drops also depend on the class players pick – and thankfully, players can effectively switch classes through a pretty rewarding class fluidity system without losing progress.
Players can begin to allocate points in different class systems in order to accommodate different styles. However, sticking to one class is ultimately more rewarding as players can help them gain mastery and reach higher skill levels. Players can pick up to 5 classes separately but that means players are going to have to start from scratch with each class. Having different class characters is helpful if players are looking to play PvP later as they can then easily switch characters to adapt their playstyle to opposing players’ characters.
Class fluidity is pretty important to RPG players and the fact that there is a small penalty to being as fluid as one can is a pretty good way to encourage players to stick to their class. As for the classes themselves – they are distinct enough in gameplay as well as personality.
Each class specializes in different styles of combat, for instance, Demon Hunters are adept at Ranged combat – thus their weaponry is the sort that encourages players to maintain distance. On the flip side, the Barbarian likes to get up close and deal massive damage in close proximity – leading to interesting player choices throughout the game. Additionally, it was also neat that each Class has a distinct personality and has unique voice lines that help them stand out from the rest. Occasionally, the player-character will mention their background and speak of their past – and each class will have a different story to tell – adding further layers to the class system.
Typically, gaming sessions on mobile tend to be shorter than on console and PC – which is why clearing out enemies in one area and jumping immediately onto the next feels so much faster. The pace is also helped by the fact that enemies will drop loot quite frequently and XP is practically given out in mass abundance at every corner. This makes player progression feel incredibly fast-paced, which can also result in fatigue sooner than expected.
While the fast-paced combat is extremely fun and the quick progression can feel incredibly rewarding, it also means that there is a good chance the player might feel they’ve experienced a lot in one go. In my time with the game, I found myself having to push through past the 1-hour mark as you can easily blitz through the levels and find yourself content with the hour’s work.
What helps this fatigue is spending time in the little town areas of the map that are “Safe” and devoid of any enemy encounters. Here, you can spend time talking to the various village folk and allies as well as spend time upgrading equipment or salvaging old equipment at the Blacksmith’s.
This leads me to my next big complaint – which is the same one I had with Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. There are just simply way too many loot drops in the game. This means that players are constantly ditching armor and weapons to replace them with their higher-powered variants every 5 minutes. This is no exaggeration as I once timed myself with respect to how frequently I ditch old armor for new – and found that I held onto my Tanned Breeches for only 1m 34s after which replaced them with a new armor piece I found.
When the game started off, I was mildly disappointed with the drab surroundings I found myself in and despite having a lot of fun with the combat, the environment left a lot to be desired for. Thankfully, the game quickly turns that around once the player is past the tutorial stage and the world opens up to reveal wonderfully intricate and devilishly beautiful surroundings crafted with painstakingly great detail.
The dungeons are sufficiently macabre and the villages reflect the demonic threat they are under and provide a sense of place I have rarely seen in mobile games. Areas such as the bridge overlooking the shipyard in Westmarch were massively impressive and fleshed out the world in an organic way.
The world, as mentioned previously, is constructed in a way that makes it feel way bigger than it actually is. Rather than one giant map – Diablo Immortal’s world is pieced together by several smaller hub worlds that are separated by portals that can be used to travel to and from said areas. This makes exploring areas much more convenient as a large open world can often be more problematic and overwhelming rather than impressive.
The placement of dungeons and loot also are quite impressive as there is always a certain risk versus reward element to the dungeons scattered across the world. The randomly-generated enemy types and placement also help replayability in a massive way. Experiencing these dungeons solo and in co-op are two significantly different experiences as does switching up classes.
Performance, Controls, and Presentation
My single-biggest concern going into Diablo Immortal coming off of Apex Legends Mobile was that the controls aren’t going to be enough to carry the weight of the game’s combat mechanics. The game gracefully avoids a cluttered HUD by providing players with a clean UI that focuses the player’s attention on more pressing matters at hand such as the giant Skeleton Wizard looking to take your head off.
The screen is clean enough for players to have a good look at the combat on-screen and make informed decisions on how to tackle certain dungeons. Occasionally, the game dips into bullet-hell gameplay with bosses and sub-bosses using attacks that send all sorts of projectiles crawling across the screen.
This bullet-hell, thankfully, does not result in UX-hell as the HUD is carefully tucked into a neat corner and doesn’t overwhelm players with icons and dialog boxes. The HUD only contains the most pertinent options such as the Skill wheel, the health, and the mini-map. The rest, such as Inventory and Skill Allocation, is restricted to other sub-menus that players can access on their own time. Using these sub-menus does not pause the game – so players might not want to use these in the middle of an intense encounter.
As mentioned previously, the game’s art style and visual design are massively impressive and do a great job at relaying the sense of place. However, the game’s biggest positive in terms of presentation has to be the excellent sound design and music. The punchy sound effects as you mow down hellspawn and eviscerate bosses are one of the biggest reasons you’re going to find yourself coming back to the game.
Additionally, the game also provides a nifty. “Device Load” indicator in the Settings Menu to help players tweak settings and find the right combination that doesn’t turn their phone into a small oven. As for performance stability, it felt solid enough for the most part except when you turn on the “throttled download”, which increases download speed for resources (bundles and such) by compromising game performance. However, even with the device load reading “Low” and the throttle download disabled, I experienced frame-rate drops and even freezes – which can be detrimental in PvP.
Save for these issues, my time in Diablo Immortal was sufficiently smooth and good-looking on my iPhone XR, which isn’t really the most high-powered smartphone around right now.
Diablo Immortal – Final Verdict
Diablo Immortal is a lot of things – ambitious, smooth, rewarding, and most importantly – fun. What it isn’t is an unpolished cash-grab that many in the community were concerned it was going to be. That isn’t to say that it is devoid of the standard cash-grab tendencies as the game is packed to the brim with microtransactions.
Thankfully, the game doesn’t plaster its various microtransactions across the main menu or various game screens as they are neatly tucked behind the Store menu. Microtransactions in the game aren’t limited to cosmetics as they can also offer bundles that are filled with powerful items that can make the game a lot easier. These can potentially lead to a dreadful pay-to-win situation in PvP, but thankfully, the mode is only available to players that have reached a certain high threshold and already have endgame-level items.
Regardless, the presence of these microtransactions feels slightly off-putting in a game that does so many things so well. However, this comes with the territory. The game is, after all, free-to-play and this is the only way for the game to generate any decent level of revenue lest you want an ad in the menu and loading screen.
Diablo Immortal is a polished, fast-paced action RPG affair that can eventually be home to a great MMO community in the near future. With regular updates and content additions, the sky is the limit for Diablo Immortal and it might just be time for the gaming community at large to recognize mobile gaming as the frontier for innovation and quality gaming it is evolved into.
What Is Good?
- Fast-paced combat and progression.
- Brilliant visual and audio presentation.
- Good replay value and co-op/multiplayer.
- Interesting PvP mode.
- Great controls and HUD.
What Is Bad?
- Potentially game-breaking microtransactions.
- Inconsistent performance.
- Quick progression can lead to player fatigue.
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