Post by KostaAndreadis @ 10:00pm 01/06/22 | Comments
Ahead of its global launch, we got to play through a big slice of Diablo: Immortal. But, we're not quite ready to deliver a verdict...
A new game in the long-running Diablo series, and the first since the excellent Diablo 3 from 2012. And it’s on mobile, and it's an MMO to boot. Although Blizzard is bringing this to PC via Battle.net on day one (truth be told that’s probably where I’ll spend most of my time playing), it’s worth keeping in mind the fact that Diablo: Immortal has been designed as mobile-first as well as an experience that will sit in the free-to-play MMO space.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that I’m not throwing out those descriptors with any sort of negative connotation, but to simply add context. In fact, what’s surprising about Diablo: Immortal, at least in that first sizable chunk of hours put into the launch version, is just how much it feels like a successor to Diablo III.
With a narrative set between the events of Diablo II and III, the art style will no doubt be familiar for those that played the last Sanctuary outing. A vibrant mix of colour whilst still retaining a dark and brooding feel across locales that cover the classic Diablo mix of forests, towns, deserts, snowy mountains, and dark and dingy dungeons. With six familiar classes to choose from at launch, covering Barbarian, Crusader, Demon Hunter, Monk, Necromancer, and Wizard, both the character and monster designs feel every bit like an expansion of what we saw in Diablo III.
Playing as a Barbarian, familiar skills and abilities like Whirlwind and Leap make an appearance, but in a form that sees them level-up alongside your character. The classes are highly detailed, full of personality, and feature some great animation (alongside excellent sound design and voice acting).
This is not to say that Immortal is essentially Diablo 3.5 on mobile, but that familiarity definitely helps ground the experience for fans. Really though, it’s how the hack-and-slash simplicity and linear nature of the cinematic story almost immediately sets the ‘Yes, this is a real and full Diablo experience’ tone. AAA, if you will. Mobile games have expanded in size and scope over the years and it’s clear that Blizzard was aiming to bring Diablo to the platform without compromise.
What’s surprising about Diablo: Immortal, at least in that first sizable chunk of hours put into the final version, is just how much it feels like a successor to Diablo III.
On that note, it has succeeded, barring glitches here and there, some animation skips, a few missing sound-bytes, and other small issues I noticed that didn’t affect the experience in any big way. Playing Diablo: Immortal over the past week has been a blast, especially coming off the latest Diablo 3 season.
As a Diablo-style action-RPG, the mobile-first approach has led to some very cool and interesting changes to a series where killing demons, creating a play-style, and picking up shiny loot is still the main reason to log-in. Firstly, there’s a big emphasis on dealing out Primary Skill damage to charge up an ‘Ultimate’ version of that attack - which can result in a short burst of pure damage output and big-time defensive buffs. This plays into other skills, abilities, and attacks that all feature cool-down timers over, say, drawing on something like Mana or Fury.
It’s a little MOBA-ish, and a little simplified for the sake of accessibility, but it all plays into the direct control you have over your character, not only in terms of movement (ala current Diablo titles on console platforms), but also directing skills. There’s a tactile element to the combat in Immortal, and any skill that features a big area-of-effect or localised target works well with the game’s default touch controls.
Playing on a Google Pixel 6 Pro, most of my time with the game was with a controller and using the touch screen for easier menu and UI navigation. Which, admittedly, is a little clunky with a controller. In a way that feels like one of those PC games ported to console with minimal effort. That’s limited to the UI stuff though, as movement and casting spells and skills works great no matter the input method. And in classic Diablo fashion you can feel each hit and revel in monsters getting knocked back and sent back to whichever Hell they spawned from as they fall.
It’s a little MOBA-ish, and a little simplified for the sake of accessibility, but it all plays into the direct control you have over your character, not only in terms of movement (ala current Diablo titles on console platforms), but also directing skills.
Playing on the Pixel 6 Pro also meant having a phone capable of using the game’s 60-fps mode with detail settings on high. Getting to see the detail found across all of the game’s many environments at a smooth clip is wonderful, and really sells the attention to detail found almost everywhere you look. It’s impressive for mobile, and it feels like a step up from Diablo III too, so it’ll be interesting to see how it fares on PC. Early review access was limited to Android and iOS.
That said there are some compromises when it comes to things like anti-aliasing and a general lack of shadow detail and other high-quality volumetric effects. So yeah, here’s hoping the PC version ups the overall detail a bit for larger displays. In the week of play on mobile though, performance was mostly solid, with noticeable dips mostly limited to stuff happening outside of combat; transitioning to new areas or when story bits would load. Which could be due to the fact that playing in Australia, meant playing with a triple-digit ping.
Speaking of stuff happening, in terms of structure, Blizzard has incorporated pretty much all of Diablo III’s Adventure Mode into the core Immortal experience. So, in addition to completing story quests, side quests, and general exploration, there’s a Bounty board with fairly simple tasks to complete, and Elder and Challenge Rifts (randomised dungeons) to complete for experience and reward and leaderboard action. Although set up very much like a classic Diablo game that sees you go from forest to desert to mountain region in a mostly linear story, there’s no level-scaling.
With the Adventure Mode stuff, Diablo Immortal does factor these seemingly additional ways to play into the core story, which also plays into how level-gating zones means you’re basically forced to complete Bounties and Rifts at certain points just to push the story forward. The first time that realisation hit me, there was some definite grind-worry; that MMO repetition for the sake of repetition. But, by distilling and streamlining the duration of things like dungeons and Rifts and Bounties for that pick-up-and-play for a few minutes mobile-style, there’s a lot to be said for how much variety there is. And how, well, not grindy Diablo: Immortal feels in that first playthrough.
By distilling and streamlining the duration of things like dungeons and Rifts and Bounties for that pick-up-and-play for a few minutes mobile-style, there’s a lot to be said for how much variety there is. And how, well, not grindy Diablo: Immortal feels in that first playthrough.
Writing this as the servers prep the game’s global launch, which will probably be huge based on just how beloved the franchise is, my time did stop before reaching the main story’s climax. And before I got to see some of the bigger end-game modes like the Helliquary raids and server-wide PVPVE Cycle of Strife stuff. Also the Battle Pass integration wasn’t working, and with not that many other players simply running around in towns and some of the zones, the social side was pretty barren.
Plus, it remains to be seen exactly how the monetisation side works, because to the game’s credit, playing through the story that first time, you’ll have no idea what your money (outside of cosmetics) will get you. Some sort of weird gem thing. With accessible combat, it’s good to see that Blizzard has deepened the loot and gear system over Diablo 3’s focus on Sets being the be-all end-all. Legendary Gems with elemental attack buffs and spells can be slotted into Rare items and you can increase their power at any Blacksmith using crafting materials. There are of course powerful Legendary Items and Sets to discover, but there’s a lot of gem and crafting and build diversity outside of sticking to one specific set of gear. At least that’s the impression so far.
As a free-to-play Diablo game though, yeah, Diablo: Immortal lives up to its promise of delivering a fully fledged Diablo MMO you can play on-the-go. The classic skill-based hack-and-slash combat is here, and it’s a lot of fun. Completing an Elder Rift? Very cool. Equipping new gear and checking out different skills? Awesome. Stay tuned for the full review, which will dig into the loot, end-game, and PC version in detail. It’ll arrive once my character is wearing nothing but the good stuff. Legendary stuff.