The Diablo franchise and Blizzard as a whole are in a weird place right now. Between a scathing lawsuit, an acquisition by Microsoft, a lackluster remaster of Diablo II, and Diablo IV seemingly not coming out any time soon, it is not hard to think that this franchise may have run its course. That is until Blizzard surprise dropped Diablo Immortal a full day early on iOS and Android. The mobile spin-off, announced back in 2018, has been fighting an uphill battle since then, with fans demanding and eventually forcing Blizzard’s hand to bring it to PC as well as mobile devices.
So how’s the final release? Was it all worth it?
Diablo Immortal starts like every other Diablo by having you pick a character class. The ones present are all classes from Diablo III: Reaper of Souls meaning you have your pick from Barbarian, Wizard, Demon Hunter, Monk, Crusader, and Necromancer (sorry Witch Doctor fans). After some light character customization, you’re thrown right into the action. The game represents somewhat of a shift in traditional Diablo gameplay. You can now move while using your main attack ability as it auto aims to the nearest enemy, a first for the series but nowhere near as satisfying as the dedicated dodge roll from the console ports of Diablo III. Gone are the days of having a mana pool and instead character skills are tied to cooldown timers. Honestly in practice this works very well as instead of searching for mana pickups you’re constantly engaged and strafing around as you wait for your abilities to recharge.
The UI and controls Blizzard have implemented are intuitive for the most part. A context activated virtual joystick appears on the lower left of the screen wherever you touch it and your character’s skills are displayed to the middle right acting as virtual buttons. Quest trackers are displayed in the upper left of the screen and a minimap is always on display in the upper right. Overall it works better than one could expect although I wish you were able to move the grouping of skill buttons down a tad and lower the size of some of the text because at certain moments the game looks to be the embodiment of the worst aspects of certain MMOs: a cluttered mess.
For those of you that don’t care to use the touch controls, the game is compatible with most Bluetooth controllers. Testing this, I put my iPad on a kickstand and sat back and played with a controller and for a brief moment in time it felt like I was playing a bonafide Diablo release and not a free to play-to-play mobile spin off.
For these impressions I played the game on a 9th generation iPad using both the game’s touchscreen controls and an external Bluetooth controller. I bumped the graphics down to medium settings and bumped the game’s framerate up to 60 frames per second from the game’s default 30 frames. I can safely say that performance in the early hours was phenomenal. Hardly ever hitching even with so much action on the screen (this is a Diablo game after all).
Now for the bad. After numerous dungeons I was bombarded with “opportunities” to purchase crates of gear rather than earning every drop after defeating a boss. The game frames it as an extra rather than a requirement but I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that I wasn’t showered with loot after each boss as in Diablo III. Sure you get a few pieces of gear (that end up being mostly salvaged) but it’s nowhere near previous games. Also the game heavily advertised “crests” that are used to activate Rifts to farm for better gear. You can earn crests but the best way to earn them is…you guessed it, purchasing them. The game also features daily login bonuses and daily challenges but to get the most of this system you have to purchase the game’s battle pass. Are you noticing a pattern here? Sure I’m having a blast playing as a level 28 Demon Hunter, but everywhere I turn it seems like I’m being advertised a microtransaction to enhance my play experience. These wouldn’t be horrible, as this is expected in a free-to-play title, but it feels like they have thrown a price tag on everything that could have one applied to it.
At the core experience, Diablo Immortal seems to be a solid entry in a long beloved series. It presents some new gameplay ideas that I’d love to see implemented in Blizzard’s upcoming Diablo IV. I just can’t help but shake the feeling knowing that my time with the game is a clock counting down to the point where I’m forced to make a purchase to continue. But at that point what’s to stop me from just playing Diablo III on Switch to get my portable loot grinding fix. Blizzard has something potentially great here; I haven’t even dived into co-op or PvP yet so there’s a lot more here to experience, but I can’t help but feel there might be more price tags headed my way. I just hope they make the right decisions going forward.