Bless me father for I have sinned
Starting this week, Blizzard is running a “limited technical alpha” for Diablo Immortal. Yes, the “do you guys not have phones” game.
We got in.
It’s not bad.
Don’t @ me.
Okay, you can @ me. I read the comments!
But seriously folks, Diablo Immortal is not the train wreck that the on-stage BlizzCon performance would have led you to believe. So far. I feel like I’m going to be saying that a lot through its launch.
Right now content in the technical alpha is scarce, but I was able to test out four classes (Barbarian, Wizard, Demon Hunter, Monk), all of which can be viewed in the gallery below. As I’ve said in many mobile previews throughout the years, digital analog sticks have pretty much become second nature at this point, and Immortal‘s approach isn’t much different from a lot of successful mobile titles. Everything looks great and it plays smoothly on my iPhone 11.
To move your character, you just stick your thumb in the lower-left hand corner, move around, and change direction at will. You can even drift your thumb out of the purview of the virtual stick and you’ll still move. For a hack-and-slash game, it works. Ability-wise, things get slightly less convenient, but the way Immortal is framed, it does work.
The Monk is probably the most concise way to explain all this. Early on you have access to an auto-attack punch (just like Diablo III), a zoning area-of-effect tool that pulls enemies in (when you touch the button for it, it just pops off in a circle around your character), and a dive kick. The latter scheme is where the game is going to be make-or-break for some.
To initiate a dive kick, you need to hold down the button and then aim the direction of the ability (as seen above). For me, it only took a few practice bouts before I was zipping across the screen and using it as an escape or gap-closer. For some, it might not click.
It’s early yet, but I’m concerned when it comes to depth and complexity. Using the same few focused abilities might work in short bursts, but after hours and hours of play, people are probably going to want more. Whether the late-game stuff can bring it both on a mechanical and practical level is yet to be seen.
The same goes for the actual variety of enemies, zones, and the storyline. Blizzard has teased that several classic characters are returning, and as you can see in the class rundown I gave above, they’re relying on nostalgia for previous characters and playstyles.
There is hope though. The narrative so far is very much “you enter a town in disarray, with demons mucking about,” but there are new characters abound, and the idea of it taking place between Diablo II and III (confirmed this week) is intriguing. It’s a very easy way to mine nostalgia, and Blizzard’s direction could bring in fans of both games if they play their cards right.
Now to be clear this isn’t a full Blizzard production: much of development is being handled by NetEase, a publisher that’s notorious for real-money transactions. I’m worried about where Diablo Immortal is going to end up. Right now it’s a real video game, albeit a mobile spinoff sandwiched between two existing timelines.
Here is Blizzard’s statement on monetization as of December 2020: “Diablo Immortal is free-to-play—that includes all the story, all the classes, and as much gameplay as you want—we will never limit game time. All future content will be free as well, including additional story, new classes, and new zones. Optional in-game purchases will never stand in the way of progression or enjoying the game—they should only complement the core gameplay.” Vague!
A subsequent blog goes into further detail, stating that you can “spice up” or reforge rewards. Oh, and there’s going to be a “battle pass progression system” with free and paid tracks. And a market “that is not the real-money auction house” disaster from Diablo III that was eventually nuked. It’s going to scare a lot of people off, but if I can just finish the campaign once for free with a few characters, I’m probably going to be good.
It could also be contorted in any number of ways until the mystery “when it’s done” release date. I hope it isn’t, because I’m looking forward to getting a bunch of people together and running through some dungeons (multiplayer is something I wasn’t able to test just yet): even if it’s a much leaner approach than a proper numbered title.