Diablo: Immortal, at its best, presents a fun and engaging MMO continuation of Diablo III’s fast-paced combat -- albeit filtered through the guise of a mobile release. Although in-game character detail and animation carries with it an air of early 2000s polygon-chunk during cinematic sequences, the music, sound design, environment detail and combat animation, are all of a quality you’d expect to find from a full AAA-style release.
Early on, progressing through the story and learning new skills, fighting through dungeons and equipping better gear borders on brilliant. Which is something I hinted at in my Review in Progress. This is because the combat is fun and you’re presented with so many new things at a regular clip that it’s hard not to be impressed with it all.
With a story set between Diablo 2 and Diablo 3, Immortal’s tale revolves around hunting down pieces of the shattered Worldstone and stopping a new Burning Hells-spawned threat by the name of Skarn. The narrative is by-the-numbers stuff for the most part, but it has a number of cool lore-based touches that go beyond the return of old mate Deckard Cain. Though it has to be said, the somewhat janky real-time cinematics, not to mention seeing so many others running around as you’re trying to trigger an important event, hinder the dramatic impact of the story being told.
Early on, progressing through the story, learning new skills, fighting through dungeons, and equipping better gear, borders on brilliant.
In typical Diablo fashion it’s linear, but perhaps one of the best parts about Diablo Immortal’s story, quest and activity structure is how the switch to an MMO has brought a much welcome evolution of Diablo 3’s Adventure Mode. It doesn’t take long for elements like world events, bounties, rifts (repeatable dungeons) and more to become intertwined with trying to put a stop to Skarn and his minions. All of it presents the sort of choice and openness found in Adventure Mode, but with more variety. Being able to choose how you want to go about slaying demons to get those drops is great to see.
And Diablo Immortal has an abundance of ways to slay. Elder Rifts last for a couple of minutes, providing a quick and easy dungeon to dig into. Challenge Rifts are similar to D3’s Greater Rifts, though they’re more of a one and done thing to see how far you can take your character. It is a little baffling, however, that repeating a particularly challenging (or difficulty sweet spot) Challenge Rift nets you nothing in terms of reward or loot. Bounties are simple, and with auto-navigation, an easy way to head out into the world to fight mobs.
It’s out in the world where you’ll find Hidden Lair dungeons, side-quests, events and things to collect for even more shiny shinies. The fact you can do all of this whilst progressing the story and tackling the game’s many -- and very cool looking -- bosses inside several handcrafted dungeons is great. The end-game is more of this, with Paragon levels to earn (that can be spent on stat boosts and passive abilities) and Hell difficulty tiers to work through. It’s also here where the "Immortal" of the title comes into play, and you get to take part in the eternal conflict between two factions -- the Immortals and the Shadows.
Although there’s a heavy PVP and leaderboard element to it, the Cycle of Strife end-game does add new PVE activities, quests and time-based things like raids to take part in. It's involved, lore-rich and a lot more engaging than expected. (Though it doesn’t last a full season and having it reset after a few weeks is annoying.) And speaking of raids, eight-player boss battles in arenas make up the Helliquary, which is yet another way to test your build’s mettle.
It’s out in the world where you’ll find Hidden Lair dungeons, side-quests, events, and things to collect for even more shiny shinies. The fact you can do all of this whilst progressing the story and tackling the game’s many, and very cool looking, bosses inside several handcrafted dungeons is great.
Yeah, there’s a lot.
Being a game designed for touch controls, with the accompanying simplified UI, there is a hefty dose of streamlining in Diablo Immortal’s take on the iconic action-RPG. The six playable classes; Barbarian, Crusader, Demon Hunter, Monk, Necromancer and Wizard, are modelled after their Diablo 3 counterparts with a more approachable design.
Skill modifications, for example, are limited to Legendary Item effects. A different approach to Diablo 3’s Skill Runes, which allowed you to switch between fire or frost arrows at will. It better highlights skill modification as build-defining, as well as helping to foster a keen sense of hunting for new gear. The ability to extract and infuse new items with said skill modifiers and legendary effects that best suit your play-style is a great way to keep your build in check as other numbers increase.
Where Diablo Immortal takes a major detour from something like the similarly arcade-feeling Diablo 3, and the more sombre and tactically robust Diablo 2, arrives with its free-to-play design. And this is a sentiment separate to the troublesome monetisation that can be found throughout the in-game store, and the several pop-ups reminding you to spend real-world money. Even with all of its systems and activities and ways to engage, Diablo: Immortal wants nothing more than for you to sign-in, play for a few minutes, log-out, and come back tomorrow.
A pocket-sized Candy Crush throwaway approach that has benefits in terms of structured progression and the usual Dailies and Weeklies jam. But, pretty much all of these benefits come at the cost of hurting that old-school feeling of simply “playing Diablo” that Immortal nails. Instead, you’ve got a checklist to work through so you can level up the Battle Pass (which is the only way to earn serious XP) and then pick up handfuls of various materials and gold to add to a pile that will one day be big enough to upgrade a few pieces of gear.
Where Diablo Immortal takes a major detour from something like the similarly arcade-feeling Diablo 3, and the more sombre and tactically robust Diablo 2, arrives with its free-to-play design.
With artificial daily caps in place (in terms of the rewards you can earn), set items and better quality gear being locked behind Paragon levels and difficulty tiers, playing for hours at a time is mostly off the table. Once you get to the stage where you’re really looking at fleshing out a build or filling up your stash with Legendaries, playing for more than an hour becomes pointless unless you’re working your way through a very specific checklist. Having end-game XP tied to a server-based Paragon-level is fine for trying to maintain a level playing field for PVP, but not so great for solo or co-op play.
It doesn’t help that Diablo: Immortal is, well, easy. And there’s no real way outside of repeating reward-free Challenge Rifts to fight through a tough group of demons. Or up the difficulty manually. Of course, there is the idea that as a mobile game the design would need to accommodate and support short-bursts versus the traditional action-RPG binge, but with Immortal being available on PC (for this review I mostly played this way), you kind of have to compare it to the other Diablo games on Battle.net.
Playing the PC ‘Beta’ release of Diablo: Immortal is somewhat frustrating in that it presents a bare-bones port of the mobile (iOS and Android) versions. Disappointingly capped at 1080P with some low-res textures, thankfully frame-rates can easily push 60fps+, to ease the ocular pain. But its biggest issues revolve around the mobile-but-not-PC-friendly UI, navigation and considerable controller lag. Stuff that still hasn’t been addressed weeks after launch. It’s simply not as responsive or smooth on PC as it is on mobile, where playing with both touch controls and with a controller on a Google Pixel 6 Pro by comparison proved to be silky smooth. Classic keyboard and mouse controls a la Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 are in the PC build, and for the most part work fine enough, but there’s still a lot of work Blizzard will need to put in before you’d say it was polished. It definitely earns its ‘Beta’ tag.
When Diablo 2: Resurrected released its latest patch, which introduced several balance changes, build opportunities and new rare loot to find, it brought back the Seasonal Ladder system in a big way. Diablo 3’s Season 26 introduced a new mode in the form of Echoing Nightmare -- a brand-new way to power up your character to take on increasingly more challenging Greater Rifts. Traditional Diablo experiences, decades old, designed for solo and co-op play. Each presents a wipe and fresh start too, and yet they still bring back millions of players.
Playing the PC ‘Beta’ release of Diablo: Immortal is somewhat frustrating in that it presents a bare-bones port of the mobile (iOS and Android) versions.
Diablo: Immortal is an MMO with social and persistent systems and a world that will evolve, and it’s not trying to be Diablo 2 or even Diablo 3.5. But it is actively trying to capitalise on what makes it one of the most popular franchises out there. It, too, wants you to keep coming back. At its core Diablo: Immortal is a mobile Diablo game, and it’s one that nails the combat stuff. Abilities and skills are responsive (when played on mobile), and playing with a controller like the SteelSeries Stratus+ or Razer Kishi is a great option too. You can really feel the impact hits have on enemies, and it’s just endlessly satisfying to watch mobs fall as you spam some chill-infused Multishot as a Demon Hunter.
Seeing the ensuing gold and loot hit the ground is the gravy, and when you put the two together Diablo: Immortal is fun and rewarding for several hours. For those that simply pick up and play, go through the story, and then dip in and out infrequently, there’s enough here to keep you interested and satisfied. And there’s a lot to like about Immortal as a game you can play through once and then put back on the shelf in your pocket. And just like the Diablos of old, it shines when you’re partying up with friends.
But for as much choice as there is, for as many activities as there are to engage with, Diablo: Immortal’s design actively hinders the spirit of simply jumping in and playing for hours once you finish the story. It’s one of the aspects of the series that brings me back time and time again, and I'd go as far as to say that it’s a core pillar of what makes for a great action-RPG. Grindy isn’t even the issue, there are active measures and caps to halt progress versus simply having the same super-low odds ala Diablo 2 for getting that one Rune or legendary you’re after.
To put it in simple terms, the fact that Diablo: Immortal feels and plays like Diablo is antithetical to the free-to-play model and MMO progression systems it employs.
As you’ve probably been made aware there are numerous ways to spend money within Diablo: Immortal. And yet, there aren’t any that alleviate the Paragon-levelling grind and the artificial caps put in place forcing me to slowly crawl from Hell I difficulty to Hell II and so on. At least ones that make sense. But, there is one in-game system that definitely needs to be talked about; one that feels intrinsically linked to the in-game store, and that’s the Legendary Gem stuff.
But for as much choice there is, for as many activities as there are to engage with, Diablo: Immortal’s design actively hinders the spirit of simply jumping in and playing for hours once you finish the story.
These are powerful buffs slotted into legendary items that sit on top of skill modifiers -- similar to the sorts of slottable bits of colour found in earlier Diablo games. They present a big way to increase your overall power when fully upgraded, as well as being a way to boost the seemingly arbitrary Combat Rating score that dictates what difficulty and challenge you can tackle.
The way in which you obtain these and level them up is, well... stingy. Not being able to repeat Challenge Rifts for rewards is bad enough, but the whole convoluted Legendary Gem system turns Elder Rifts into playable loot boxes you can spend money on to find new and better gems, or to get enough of them to be able to upgrade the ones you want. There’s no limit to the amount of money you can spend to purchase Legendary Crests that empower Elder Rifts to guarantee gem drops, but let’s be clear -- you still need to play, level, earn Paragon and find gear to put together a build. Diablo: Immortal only offers those that choose not to spend two or three Legendary Crests each month, so yeah, stingy.
After a hundred or so Crest-free Elder Rifts, I saw maybe one gem drop. But here’s another thing, I didn’t feel compelled to spend money to buy Legendary Crests. Gems are not the be-all end-all for someone with little to no interest in PVP. Or a key component in putting a full Set and Legendary build together. And with that I immediately stopped caring about them after seeing what was required to level up even a paltry one-star Legendary Gem to Level 3. Whatever gems I had were good enough.
Diablo: Immortal has other currencies, nested real-world money you can spend for pretend currency and materials and chests and packs. It’s over the top. Empowering a Battle Pass for greater rewards? Fine, I did that. Spending much larger sums of money on three or four different versions of that, and on materials so you can do that age-old thing of re-rolling a passive stat? I did not.
Diablo: Immortal has other currencies, nested real-world money you can spend for pretend currency and materials and chests and packs. It’s over the top.
In the end there’s a great game at the core of Diablo: Immortal, and it’s one that looks, feels and plays, exactly like a Diablo game built for mobile should. In expanding the scope to include a robust system of MMO activities, ways to play, and adding many simple progression systems that all feed into each other, what makes Diablo and other games like it so special was lost along the way. Despite the free-to-play mobile design and stingy end-game rewards, I still wanted to keep playing. The tragedy is, Diablo: Immortal didn’t want me to. It wants nothing more than for me to sign-in, play for a few minutes, log-out, and come back tomorrow.
What we liked
Touch controls and controller works great in handheld
Plays like Diablo 3, but streamlined and for mobile
Going through the story is fun and rewarding
MMO activities expand the scope and variety of things to do, and it's all basically Adventure Mode 2.0
End-game Circle of Strife mode is great even if all you do is PVE
Class variety and skills all pack a punch
Mix of legendaries and sets add diversity and build flavour
Battle Pass unlocks for materials and earning XP is a fun addition
What we didn't like
Once you start getting into the Paragon system progression grinds to a halt
Artificial caps and limits on what you can earn makes extended play a chore
For those that love a bit of Diablo grind (partly due to how fun it is to play), Immortal seemingly wants none of that
Challenge Rifts aren’t repeatable so there’s no way to properly test a build or up the difficulty
Elder Rifts are like Diablo 3 Rifts... except also like playable loot boxes
The Legendary Gem system is overly stingy for free-to-play players and buying Legendary Crests is just not enticing, even in the slightest
Lots of different passes, chests, materials, and other ways to spend money
Barebones PC port with broken controller support and no UI optimisation