Diablo Immortal – A fair evaluation

Mush 2022-06-07 02:24:50
  Diablo Immortal is a weird one. If you’ve spent some time watching or reading some reviews, you’ll know that reception has been mixed to poor. I’ll start this first look by saying that, although I agree with most points— yes, the monetisation is one of the most predatory in gaming as a whole— Diablo Immortal is still quite fun. The problem is, the gameplay side of things feels like a backdrop to the seemingly endless monetisation. 

Diablo: The Good 

Mobile Settings The game is a technical achievement on mobile. Diablo Immortal looks great, even on the minimum settings, runs well on below mid range phones (200-250€ range) and it performs incredibly well on higher end phones maxed out (800-1000€ range).  I played the game on two different phones and on PC. I tried touch controls, Mouse+Keyboard and controllers on both platforms. On my personal phone, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T, I played between 3 to 6 hours. I also tried it for a few minutes on a much better phone, the OPPO Find X3 Neo 5G, which ran the game at a flawless 60 completely maxed-out.  The settings menu is a pleasant surprise for a mobile game. It is very straightforward, allows you to customize your experience to what you want, while preventing less-experienced players from tanking their performance with too demanding settings. The device load bar underneath shows you in real time what impact the changes will have on your phone, and some settings are blocked if you don’t meet the minimum requirements— 30fps was the only option on my Xiaomi and Ultra resolution wasn’t available on either phone I tried.  There were some drops below 30 in specific gameplay sequences, but for the most part the game played smoothly at 30fps, which isn’t a bad experience on a screen as small as that of a phone. It also looked great for a mobile game on its bare minimum settings.  UI and customization Diablo The UI has everything you’d need to look at. Given the small screen-space, gameplay is rarely obscured— the camera is always centered on your character, you attack around you so you’ll mostly be focusing on the center of your screen— and they let you opt for smaller icons if you prefer. You have HP, XP, Skills, quest log (which can be closed), minimap, menu, inventory, phone battery, connection quality and time. The UI approach is quite smart because it translates just as well to a controller setup. Nothing changes visually, except your skill icons will have their respective button underneath. You still need to have them there to check the cooldowns, so it is a good approach. Having no dedicated map or quest log button is a bit of a hassle— the only way to interact with those while using a controller is pressing the Right D-pad to bring up a cursor which you control with your analog stick— but you can just use the touch screen to do that. In fact, you can interchange at any time between controller and touchscreen while playing on mobile, a neat detail.  Controller support works just as well on PC, with even more controllers available (full list of controllers supported per platform). You can switch between M+KB or controller at any time but that obviously isn’t as practical as just touching an icon on your phone.  Gameplay Playing Diablo Immortal feels quite good. It is very similar to Diablo 3 when you are inside a dungeon, Elder Rift or Challenge Rift, gameplay is smooth on all supported inputs (touch-screen, controller, M+KB) and you can change most of your keybinds. The game looks great on both platforms and the open-world aspect seems like a good fit. If you’ve played Lost Ark, you will find a lot of similarities when it comes to the MMO side of the game. Zones are entirely self-contained, wrapped up by a dungeon but with a lot more content to go through later on. There’s a Codex to complete and each area has an Exploration % on the Achievements tab with World bosses and secret dungeons (Hidden Lairs) to complete. Content is not something Diablo Immortal lacks. 
Also read: From Azeroth to Arkesia: Would you like Lost Ark?
You’ll constantly see players around you during open world and inside the towns, but phasing is in place to avoid frustration due to overpopulated servers. Contrary to what Blizzard has done in WoW, your enemies are phased instead of you. If you play the game for a few hours you’ll inevitably see players hitting invisible targets, that just means they’re killing quest mobs which are exclusively on their phasing.  There’s also an interesting mechanic in place which I don’t think I’ve seen before. If you are, for example, completing a bounty (secondary objectives which you can opt to for rewards) and some player nearby is doing the exact same bounty, the game will give you both a pop-up asking if you want to create a party to do it together. It’s fast, it only takes a click and you can just exit the party when the objective is complete. Neat, right? So, Diablo Immortal is a fun pastime which can be played in a lot of different ways, but is surrounded by so many issues that they sour the experience. Let’s see what those are.   

Diablo: The Bad

The PC-port doesn’t exist Now that we’ve gone over the good parts, let’s get into the panoply of problems. Diablo Immortal was meant to be a mobile game only. The now infamous “don’t you have phones” Blizzcon comment showed that Blizzard never planned to bring this game to anything other than a phone. Yet, with Diablo IV seeming like a distant mirage and the never-ending problems surrounding the company, they tried to win some people over by announcing that the game would be coming to PC too, entirely free. The issue is, they didn’t bother actually making the PC port.  As I’ve said previously, the mobile version is great from a technical standpoint. It is customisable, has a lot of settings and even comes with extra features like dedicated video capture. On the other hand, the PC version seems like an Android Emulator being booted by the battle.net app.  The game apparently only supports a single resolution. Let me explain: These are the specifications for running Diablo Immortal on PC. Interestingly, they mention 1080p as the minimum display resolution. The thing is, it doesn’t go higher than that. They didn’t even bother creating a resolution choice on the PC version, even though they have one for mobile. You can only choose between windowed, windowed fullscreen or fullscreen. I played it on a 1440p monitor and the fullscreen and windowed fullscreen options were just a stretched 1080p window which looked incredibly blurry.  The PC settings are essentially the same as the mobile ones, with the exception of the resolution change. It does its job, especially since we all know the PC port was added very late into development primarily to allow PC-Mobile crossplay and to appease the fanbase, but I’d hope that resolution choice is implemented when 1.0 comes out. As of right now, Diablo Immortal looks pretty good on a 1080p screen, but anything above that will look blurry.  UI and customisation- non-existent The UI looks exactly the same as the mobile version. As I’ve mentioned before, I think it works well for that specific platform and it even works well on PC, if you are using a controller. If you are playing M+KB it is terrible. You cannot change the size of the icons or where they are, they are way too big and the fact that they didn’t even bother copy-pasting the classic Diablo UI for M+KB players is yet another sign of a PC-port which was done as an afterthought.  Diablo Immortal allows you to change between two minimap sizes and that’s it. No other UI customisations are allowed. So when you play the game on PC you will immediately tell that everything you’re seeing was built for a touch-screen which you literally can’t use. Menus are convoluted and clunky and, frankly, seem like a failed attempt at making something work for every possible input instead of letting players customize their own setups.  Repetition and recycling Very little here is new. There are no new classes, most skills are exact copies of their Diablo 3 counterparts or slight changes to them (often to make them easier to use on mobile), dungeons look very similar to previous games in the franchise and a lot of NPCs and enemies are reused. The content is still good, but for a game that has been in development for so long (announced in 2018) the amount of recycling feels a bit cheap. Even more so when we get to the third and final part of our article, “the ugly”.   

Diablo: The Ugly

I won’t bother with subtitles here because you know exactly what I’ll talk about: egregious monetisation. Blizzard has reached a whole new level with this game. There are so many currencies, bundles and ways to spend real money that it honestly feels like they had a few different monetisation plans and someone decided to just try all of them at once during the beta.  Before going into these specific systems, I’d like to point out the sweet irony that Blizzard has reached this point when in 2017, just 5 years ago, they went out of their way to make fun of Pay to Win mechanics in their promotion for Starcraft II becoming Free to play.  The amount of systems that the game presents you with is mind-boggling at first, but it all starts making sense when they slowly unveil the predatory monetisation. They’re smart enough to not flood you with offers at the start, instead they trickle them in with frequent reminders. “Look, a new bundle is available because you just completed a dungeon!”. “You’ve reached level 30? Here’s a new way to spend real money!”.  It is dystopian and frankly ruins most of the game’s good parts. The dungeons are fun, but it isn’t fun that I get a notification which doesn’t go away until I open it reminding me that there are always new and “better” ways for me to spend my money. There are so many currencies that I had to frequently use this Maxroll.gg website to avoid getting lost and, to be honest, it became hard to stay interested in understanding them as time went by.  Most resources have multiple ways to be bought with different currencies, some premium, some free. Obviously the free alternatives are an insufferable grind and the game goes all in on the mobile-game idea of keeping you playing every single day. The Hilt trader (Hilts are one of the currencies) has items which he only sells once per day, once per week, once per month, etc. But, you can obviously buy those items as much and as often as you want in the real-money shop. They made the free side of the game much grinder, but even if you grind your entire life away in the game you will never be even close to someone who decides to spend cash.  The cosmetics are cool and reasonably priced given their closest competition is something like Path of Exile’s MTX— a full Set with armor, weapons and portal will cost you around 24€— but the amount of resources and pay to win items you can purchase is unfathomable. Just another bittersweet Blizzard title Diablo Immortal is a game that I can only describe as bittersweet, as in a drink with such a bitter aftertaste you have a hard time remembering how sweet it tasted at first. It is an objectively fun video game which plays incredibly well on mobile, but everything around it feels so evil and wrong that it makes me feel weird when I’m enjoying my time with it.  The PC-port could be much better and the monetisation is the most overwhelming and predatory I’ve seen. The usual good Blizzard points are still present. Music and visuals are great, controls are smooth and voice-acting is top notch, but it’s getting  increasingly more difficult to care about the good points when they seem to progressively shrink in order to give the money-making schemes more space.  If you play Blizzard games, this one will likely give you the same feeling as all others: it’s really fun at times, but you can’t help but think how much better it could’ve been if making obscene amounts of money wasn’t the primary objective.
If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @Kaaaosh. Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

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