Gamers may remember Diablo Immortal as the game whose announcement was met by resounding disappointment upon its reveal at Blizzcon 2018. The mobile title was not what fans of the series were hoping for, with the franchise being a long-time PC staple. Despite any attempt to reassure the masses, gamers were not eager for resources to be spent on a mobile spin-off instead of a proper sequel, especially with mobile game fatigue at an all-time high in the west with PC and console gamers often viewing mobile titles as inferior cash-grabs.
Regardless of its rocky announcement, a technical alpha at the end of 2020 gave us more insight into the game where we concluded that it actually “isn’t that bad.” Earlier this year we heard that a PC port was also confirmed and now, upon the game’s official launch, I can fairly confidently say that Diablo Immortal is a hell of a lot better than I was anticipating.
Spending about a week with the game in the lead up to its release, Diablo Immortal’s biggest accomplishment is how close it feels to its PC heritage. Diablo is an iconic franchise, and even in its shift to mobile, the game still finds a way to retain so much of the nostalgia and atmosphere cultivated by its original releases. Playing on the large screen of a Galaxy Z Fold3, Diablo Immortal’s visuals are surprisingly detailed with the game only occasionally suffering from frame stutters and texture pop-in.
“I continue to be shocked at how faithfully Immortal captures the general gameplay loop of past Diablo games without any sacrifices”
I’m not much of a mobile gamer myself, but the way you interact with the game also feels natural and satisfying. Movement is controlled by the left thumb with combat and abilities controlled by the right. The game world is very true to Diablo, with town hubs offering quests and resources before you head out into the world, cut through foes, explore your surroundings, and gather that sweet loot. I continue to be shocked at how faithfully Immortal captures the general gameplay loop of past Diablo games without any sacrifices. It just all works and is a testament to how far mobile gaming has come. It’s honestly the kind of game I’d show to mobile game naysayers to prove the worth of the platform. This isn’t yet another match-3 or endless runner, this is a true-to-form Diablo action RPG.
As you play, your character will level up and acquire new skills that you can swap in and out. Mini-bosses will be marked on the map and will have randomised abilities that can prove to be a real challenge. Pylons can be found throughout the world that provide buffs for your player. You can also explore the world, find chests containing loot of varying rarities, and enter dungeons to continue exploring off the beaten path. All of this is to say that Diablo Immortal really does play very similarly to previous Diablo games. It’s even fully voice acted, with cutscenes and quests guiding the payer through a narrative that’s at least somewhat on par with what you’d expect out of this series. Beloved characters like Deckard Cain return, and sound effects will ring out during play that will take you right back to the early 2000s as you played Diablo 2 for the first time. It really feels like no corners were cut, and as a Diablo experience, it just works.
For all the praise I have for Diablo Immortal, and it really is a lot, the elephant in the room for this title is how it operates as an online game. Yes, the game defies some mobile stereotypes and proves itself as a worthy Diablo experience. However, it still falls into certain free-to-play, online-only, and mobile game trappings that are expected but still rather frustrating.
Expect to see some ambient questing such as bounty boards and dungeons that help pad out the experience without providing much in the way of unique content. Also fully expect online game tactics such as daily rewards and notifications constantly popping up to tell you about the new bundle in the shop that costs real-world money. This is a free-to-play game, so a lot of those monetisation methods are to be expected. But that doesn’t stop the game from still being soured when those kinds of annoyances weigh down an otherwise stellar experience.
I don’t know what the future of Diablo Immortal is. Tens of hours in and I can tell you it’s an absolutely solid game that defies all expectations. But it’s still a game that’s trying to move a beloved franchise into a new, online-only, loot box-fuelled, daily grind kind of experience. Watch this space for more updates on Diablo Immortal, which can now be downloaded for free across PC, iOS, and Android.