Diablo Immortal Controls Fine, But Reveals Very Little

People aren't happy about Diablo Immortal. Some of that is a backlash against Immortal directly, some of it is directed towards the state of mobile games, and some due to the lack of Diablo 4.

None of that is a great start for Immortal, which has ambitious plans for the Diablo formula. But judging off what was available in the Blizzcon demo, we're no closer to understanding how that ambition plays out.

Immortal has been billed as an MMOARPG, rather than your typical Diablo dungeon hack-and-slash. It's a little reminiscent of where Torchlight: Frontiers is going - the makers of which are headed up by Diablo co-creator Max Schaefer.

You've got dungeons that will be restricted instances - a maximum of four, the developers confirmed - and an overarching world, where players will run into each other and be able to co-ordinate on larger world events.

I asked Richie Marella and Matthew Berger, Immortal's lead artist and senior game designer, for specifics on how that might work. How long would players essentially be playing solo until they were exposed to other players? How do Diablo fights scale when you're dealing with more than four players on a mobile - does the hardware and the screen size limit how many enemies can be drawn on screen at any one time?

A lot of those questions they couldn't answer. Some of that is understandable - the game has only just been announced. Blizzard and NetEase are likely still ironing out what the limits of the infrastructure and what devices can support.

Berger, however, explained that players would have a central city where players could "cook and talk and meet with" others. "The specific cutoff line is not something that we're ready to talk about, but you will have more players in your game than you're used to ... you'll be able to run into people you don't know as you're adventuring, you'll be able to form up parties as you're used to."

"It's Diablo with more people," Berger said. "It's going to be a fine balance between leveraging that you're in this mobile MMO, and we want to have as many people as possible so it's vibrant and feels lively, finding the limitations of the hardware, and finding the right numbers to maintain the tone of Diablo."

I asked if that meant people could expect public-style events, maybe akin to Destiny or the world bosses seen in Elder Scrolls Online and other MMOs like TERA.

There wasn't any information on that either, although the official gameplay trailer showed six characters wailing on a single boss. Marella stressed that the demo was a condensed version, largely limited to an initial tutorial with Deckard Cain and a single dungeon that can be played solo or with four other players.

The action itself is rather straightforward, and not too dissimilar from other ARPGs on mobiles. One thumb controls movement with a left virtual stick, while the player activates one of four skills with the right thumb. Like Arena of Valor, you can either tap to use Immortal's auto-targeting system, which aims at the nearest enemy, or you can hold the button down to bring up the cone of fire/skillshot guide/AOE reticule.

I spent most of my time with the monk, whose basic combos revolved around drawing enemies in with a vortex-style move before launching an AOE attack. The Wizard and Barbarian aren't too dissimilar, although the former has some lengthy cooldowns which can be tricky to manage.

But for the most part, the Immortal demo was a vertical slice of the raw mechanics. It was a showcase of the controls, not Immortal's ambitions. And as I outlined earlier, action RPGs on mobile aren't ambitious or innovative. It's the MMO element within a Diablo context that's interesting - but Blizzard wasn't prepared to outline any of that just yet.

The point Berger and Marella kept hammering was that Immortal was a true Diablo game. It's worth stressing that true in this sense is closer to Diablo 3 than, say, the original Diablo. And Diablo Immortal will create new systems that, according to Berger, will eventually be incorporated into future Diablo games.

"I want everybody to be able to play Diablo," he said. "One of the wonderful things about Diablo Immortal is that it expands that [Diablo] community, it doesn't restrict that community, it adds more to it. It's going to new players who are going to come to Sanctuary, and those players may go and play on console, or they may play on PC."

"There's new things we're going to create for Diablo Immortal that will enhance all Diablo games that will come after it," Berger added.

But what might those changes be? We're no closer to knowing, and the Immortal demo is so restricted that it's impossible to gauge where the game is headed. As a raw action RPG, Immortal controls just fine. But that's the least surprising element, and the bare minimum for any action RPG on a phone, let alone something with Blizzard's stamp of approval. Immortal's ambitions beyond that could really be interesting, for the franchise and mobile games generally. We just need to wait until Blizzard reveals precisely what those ambitions are.


The author travelled to Blizzcon as a guest of Blizzard.


Comments

    Just wanted to say I appreciate all the Blizzcon reporting you've been doing, Alex! It's always nice to have local coverage of this kind of thing.

      Thank you!

        yep I may hate half of the US Kotaku people, i have always loved our staff and will defend Kotaku.au to the death.

        By the way whens your article on Serrals excellent win going to come @alexwalker

          That might take a while. I'm working on other Blizzcon stories still, and I might not get to it before someone else does. It's likely the US will get to cover it before I do, which is a shame as a Starcraft fan myself, but I can only do so much.

    I'd be for an MMO Diablo if I could play it on PC, just not interested in mashing pretend buttons on a small screen, let alone for the same length of time that I may play a proper PC or console release of Diablo. To me personally that is the opposite of a "fully fledged Diablo game".

      I don't know what it is, by my finger tips get sore after only a little while of mobile gaming.

    It is very odd they position and push the Switch Diablo version and Diablo on the go and portable to experience slaying demons. Though he they create another portable and on the go experience to slay demons. So which portable and on the go experience should I have, Diablo 3 or Diablo Immortal because they're not linked in progression it is a choice of one or the other because they're not complimentary products to each other.

      It's actually pretty simple:

      Do you live in a part of the world that isn't China?

      if yes, then Diablo Immortal is Not For You.

    I’m not big on mobile games, but I don’t get all the hate. These things can coexist with the real thing.

      I agree that the hate is a bit much, but the reason is to do with expectation. Blizz hosts Blizzcon, which is in effect a showcase for Blizzard's IPs and the progress they've made for them. The act of hosting Blizzcon annually tells fans 'we are commuted to providing our games as a service and will have yearly updates for each game'. By placing Immortal in the limelight and having no other Diablo news, Blizzcon effectively let down Diablo fans. It tells them that we have no service information to report for PC, but we have been focusing on this mobile game. The mobile dev team and the PC/console dev team may be entirely different, but the message Blizzard sent was 'we are focusing in this and so should you'. They may not have been ready to announce any of their Diablo 3/4 plans, but ultimately, by telling people what they wanted instead of listening to what they want, they dropped the ball.

      Still, no excuse for the excessive hate.

      I'd say it's coming from a few different places.

      1) The regular old crew of, "This isn't the thing I wanted, so it must be bad and no-one should get to have it." Those folks are always there, and can be safely ignored.

      2) The exceptionally tone-deaf mismanagement of expectations. Final announcement of Blizzcon, after hinting at big reveals. That'll fade, over time. Development takes ages.

      3) The worrying downward trend in quality of Blizzard games, and the potential chase of anti-consumer monetization. It's been said often enough that Blizzard was once the studio that shut down very good games toward the end of their development because they weren't 'good enough', but are now partnering with a studio that is notorious for mediocre-at-best quality, shackled to outright hostile and exploitative monetization. That would indicate a concerning slip in standards, which were already pretty bad after the (more benign than reported) RMAH in Diablo 3, and the frankly disgusting use of D3's always-online requirement in service of DRM instead of any actual gameplay benefits (in fact, thanks to that requirement, D3 was the first diablo game to ever introduce lag to the single-player experience; it was in fact, worse off for being always-online). This trend signals worrying things for anyone who wasn't going to play the mobile game but now has further evidence that D4 might not be as good as they'd hope.

        I feel like category 3 can be applied to quite a few game companies over the last 10 years, it sometimes feels like the hobby you love so much is no longer for you. Especially when everyone else seems to be fine with it and calls you entitled for disagreeing.

          Yeah. We're at the point, now, where Blizzard has made more games that aren't for me than they have made games that were. HotS, Hearthstone, Overwatch, D:I. Even SC2 was too esportsy for me, though their campaigns had a lot to like. D3 ended up pretty fun with my partner on the couch, on console, but I haven't loaded the PC version since it launched. Contrast: Warcraft 1-3, WoW (to an extent - with BfA it now sits in both categories; once for me, now not), Diablo 1-2, Starcraft 1 and those old gems Lost Vikings, Blackthorne, and Rock'n'Roll Racing... they've wound back single-player and embraced multi. Wound back campaigns/narratives, and focused on esports.

          They found a bigger, younger audience that spends more money, at the cost of their old audience of players like me.

        Partnering with Netease is definitely a concern. It remains to be seen how much influence Blizzard has over quality control for the game since it's joint development and Blizzard is filling major roles like senior game designer. It's possible it may still end up being in the typical Blizzard range, I suppose we'll find out.

      Yeah I find this situation extremely confusing. I don't understand how people can get so wrapped up and angry re a game announcement not being what they personally wanted.

        because people paid money to attend and ended up at a chinese reskin mobile game showcase

          lmao people pay money for these things

    Thanks Alex!

    Seems pretty straightforward, though concerning how much still goes unknown from the developers themselves.

    Although perhaps they're waiting for more clarification from NetEase instead, as to what limitations will be in place. You'd think they'd have some of these things down if they were ready to show it off though. But then I'm more used to mobile games getting surprise releases and/or soft launches, whereas with DI it seems like may actually still be very early in development.

    You'd hope they have an idea what feature set they're targeting though :/.

    Love or Hate Diablo Immortal, the trailer for it was Awesome!

      Suprise suprise I disagree, but not because of my hatred for Diablo Immoral. the Trailer looked more like an Ubisoft/EA/Activision/Bethesda/CDPRED CGI trailer than a Blizzard Cinematic Trailer.
      Now im not say it was shit, im saying it definately wasnt on the level other Blizzard trailers Like Lost Honor/BFA/Legion/SC2/D3 trailers

      I liked the trailer too. I hope the game itself is good when I get to play it

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