Don’t you have PCs?
Diablo Immortal has indeed been a wild ride. Blizzard could have announced it as one of the first things at BlizzCon 2018 (instead of the closer), and tease an eventual PC port, and read the room and resisted the urge to play up the mobile-only nature of the game in a room full of PC players. Alas, new Blizzard has made quite a few mistakes (some PR-related, some on a game design level, and some on a legal scale), so it’s par for the course.
But in the end, the decidedly not mobile exclusive Diablo Immortal didn’t end up nearly as bad as some expected.
Diablo Immortal (Android, iOS [tested on an iPhone 11], PC)
Developer: Blizzard, NetEase
Released: June 2, 2022
To be clear, we only had early access to the mobile version of the game, but you can preload the PC port as we speak. Here are the character classes available right now, which are heavily skewed toward Diablo 3:
- Demon Hunter [my first Diablo 3 character, and the first one I chose here]
Once you pick your class and gender, you’re off to a very brief menu where you can change how your person looks a smidge. It’s a welcome departure from the non-customizable nature of prior Diablo games, as you can kinda-sorta “make the character yours” with some limited options (a few hairstyles, color swaps).
Story-wise, things are extremely light, and are cleverly framed as “that side story that could have happened at any time [between Diablo 2 and 3].” Tyrael, series famous Archangel, “sacrifices himself” to shatter the evil Worldstone relic, and as a result, corruption starts to plague the land. It’s up to you (yep, you!) to stop it and fight off a bunch of minions that conveniently spawn out of the broken shards. Anything that happens can be dismissed in terms of the bigger picture — especially as it pertains to whatever happens in Diablo 4.
Honestly, it’s fine. Diablo never strictly needed a heavy narrative (which loses its luster after your first run) so long as the mechanics were sound, and Diablo 3 didn’t deliver on a lot of its big story beats. So, a minimalist approach might be for the best here. Most of the action-packed moments of the game are on a micro scale: meeting people that are being terrorized by various denizens, swapping stories, and saving them — that sort of thing. To that end, many enemies return from previous games in an “All-Star” fashion (including Leoric and Baal), as well as some fresh faces. It’s a decent mix of old and new. While Immortal by and large feels like “Diablo 3 and a half,” there weren’t many points where I felt like it was a straight retread. The environments, layouts, and enemy designs keep things interesting for the most part.
Interestingly, before the game was even announced for PC, the settings menu felt comprehensive enough to nearly just port there. Alongside of four display options on mobile (classic, warm, vintage, cool), there’s also a toggle for controller use, general quality of life features, in-game video capture, and a host of graphics options. At the risk of “overheating your phone and shortening its battery life,” you can toggle on 60 FPS, and individual graphics options like anti-aliasing, monster effects, bloom, and vegetation detail can be turned on or off; or in some cases, tweaked with “low, medium, or high” granular selections.
The mobile edition of Diablo Immortal even has a “device load” meter that showcases the strain that’s put on your machine. It’s detailed and welcome, especially given that Blizzard is trying to push this as an AAA game. Then again, you can also just play it on PC, and likely have more options as well as the enhanced freedom that comes with the platform. In any case, it’s impressive for a mobile version.
As far as the touch controls go, as I found out in the alpha build a year ago, we’re at the point where it’s expected that these sorts of things work — and Diablo Immortal clears that bar. A digital analog stick on the left side moves your character around, the right side has a big old “primary attack” button, and there’s an array of abilities that are governed by cooldowns around that large icon.
As you level up you’ll get new abilities and upgrades (including new primary attacks), and customize your skill layouts (just like Diablo 3). Skills have a helpful telegraphed pathing visualization, just like pretty much every modern MMO. It’s easy to trigger an ability, then swipe your finger around to aim it where you want it. Again, there’s been roughly a decade of mobile development to build upon here, and the teams nailed it.
So there’s a few things I need to do before making a final verdict. Testing out microtransactions — which were not present in this early build — is a big one. Then there’s more multiplayer testing and trying out the late game, to see if it holds up beyond one initial run. My progress on mobile is being wiped for the live version anyway, so it sounds like a perfect opportunity to see how the PC side of the game plays. With cross-play between the platforms and a big focus on boss fights, I can see mindlessly slamming out a ton of battles, and coming back when big updates hit.
Like so many mobile projects, there’s a good foundation here. I hope executives serving the true final boss — The Lord of Live Service — didn’t squander it.
[This review is based on an early build of the game provided by the publisher.]