Diablo Immortal Has Basically Turned Into Diablo 3 On A Phone

Image: Diablo Immortal

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Diablo Immortal had vanished from Blizzard's lineup entirely. The game went from being the closing mention last year to being inconspicuously absent during this year's opening keynote, and it doesn't even have a separate listing on Blizzard's official press site, instead being nested within the Diablo 4 assets.

And that lack of separation makes sense given its early days for the mobile Diablo. The game has no release date. The monetisation is still up in the air, and there's still questions on how the shared player experiences will function. But one thing is clear: Immortal draws so much inspiration from Diablo 3 that it almost plays like a clone.

I had a lot of fun with the Switch port of Diablo 3, primarily because the stakes were so low. That's a weird thing to say for a Diablo game, and yet it was a perfect fit for Nintendo's handheld console. Flicking the right stick to roll everywhere, wandering into dungeons and slapping everything around with a bunch of CC abilities and AOE spells that the Switch just barely handled: it was a great way to unwind, and it worked super well in offline mode, whether you were on a plane, the train or the loo.

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That casual nature doesn't really jive with the grim, gothic roots of the original Diablo games, of course. But if you're on the go and you're probably playing without sound, it's not a problem. And it's the experience that Diablo Immortal reminds me of, even down to the visual styling and moment-to-moment combat.

You start out on a small dinghy, being ferried over to Wortham where you've heard the undead are on the rise. You're quickly introduced to basic attacks and abilities, and then you're given a fairly large map — think a space the size of Diablo 3's Fields of Misery — to wander around for 15 minutes.

The level looks like something ripped straight out of that first Diablo 3 act, too. The colour palette has a lot of soft blacks, dark blues and greys, with most of the brightness and contrast dedicated towards the player abilities and animations. It's a necessity given that Immortal has to assume most people are playing on a screen barely bigger than five inches. But there's a degree of comfort to it as well. By echoing more of Diablo 3's look, Immortal feels more like a true Diablo game by extension, which certainly doesn't hurt.

This year's Blizzcon demo is timed, running for long enough to hit at least level 6 while typing notes on a laptop. You can get further if you're determined though: I finished one run with the Barbarian (whose abilities are more about crowd control and pulling creatures in than raw damage) halfway to level 9.

Most abilities handle in a manner identical to how you'd aim them on the Switch. The virtual right-side buttons function like a second joystick to give you finer control over placement and aim, but you can execute them in the direction you're facing with a single tap.

Irrespective of what class you're playing — I tried out the Demon Hunter, Wizard and Barbarian, having played the Monk last year — most of the abilities will have a large focus on AOE and crowd control. That's akin to how Diablo 3 plays out as well, with the main challenge around positioning and space rather than the threat of individual enemies or bosses. You're never worried about going into a one-on-one fight. It's managing the massive numbers that are the bigger problem, although the difficulty of the Immortal build meant dying was never a serious concern.

It was about as serious a challenge as playing Diablo 3 on normal difficulty, which is to say there isn't a challenge as such. It's more just an opportunity to mindlessly roll through and slap a bunch of demons and undead down with a range of flashy attacks, and most people will find something to enjoy in that.

There's a few mechanical changes from last year, however, that made Immortal enjoyable enough that I wanted to return for a second and third playthrough. The demo units next to the Blizzcon press room were running off iPhone XRs (except for the iPad versions of the game), as opposed to the builds on Samsung Galaxy S8 phones last year. I don't know if the handset played a part, but this year's build was a lot smoother. It ran at a steady 60fps, with some great intro clips at the select screen for each of the heroes. There was no noticeable drop in performance when spamming abilities and ultimates in the heat of battle, and the animations for the in-game menus are easy on the eye.

It's still Diablo Immortal, but with some of the refinement you'd expect a Diablo game to have.

The main kicker I have is that Diablo Immortal doesn't quite seem to have an identity of its own yet. I'm all for a Diablo style game on a phone if the value proposition adds up. Blizzard doesn't quite seem to know how it wants to market it yet, and this year's build didn't offer any insight into the systems that will differentiate Immortal from the mainline Diablo games beyond the platform you play it on.

The timed demo didn't have any shared dungeons or instances, and the two legendary items I came across (both while playing as the Barbarian) added modifiers to my abilities or basic attacks, similar to how legendaries function in Diablo 3.

All of this is totally fine. If Blizzard decides that an echo of Diablo 3 is the best route forward for Immortal, then I'm all for it. Having that casual dungeon bashing experience with the smoothness and scope on a mobile works. The abilities were fun across all three characters — although I would have liked a little more visual pop on the Demon Hunter's abilities — and I could absolutely see myself knocking out a dungeon or three mindlessly before passing out at night.

And while a bit more its own identity wouldn't hurt, that's probably irrelevant as far as Immortal's commercial success is considered. Bringing the spirit of Diablo 3 to a phone would be a surefire winner for a ton of Diablo fans, especially those who bounced so hard off the game when it was revealed last year. It was solid enough for me to play it three times on the show floor, so there's something there. I just hope Blizzard's long-term plans are a little more ambitious than just remodelling Immortal in Diablo 3's image.

The author travelled to Blizzcon 2019 as a guest of Blizzard.


Comments

    They should find a way to tie it in to the events of Diablo 4 in a non essential way.
    Something that accentuates the main game but isn't critical to the experience.

      A bridge game between 3 and 4 would be a good idea indeed.

        If they could find a way to have some interaction between the games without it being forced or unfair it could be really good.

        I have no idea how that would work though lol.

          I remember seeing that sort of thing done a long time ago, I'm positive. Where you'd see certain items found in a game able to be 'sent' to another game. I guess the big problem there is avoiding it becoming 'pay to win'.

    This would make for an excellent Apple Arcade title.

      I don't know if Apple would let a game on that service with so many microtransactions.

      Blizzard would prefer the game be as easy to access as possible.

      Apple Arcade games are permanantly exclusive to Apple so no thanks...

        No, they are not exclusive.

        This is 100% untrue. There are several games on Apple Arcade that are available on other platforms. Sayonara Wild Hearts and Manifold Garden are just two I can think of off the top of my head.

          Sorry I should have clarified "mobile" exclusive, neither of those games are on Android and I'm betting never will be as the dev for Mini Motorway said they had to sign an exclusivity contract with Apple (but they are still launching that on Steam too)

    Doesn’t really matter how it looks/feels if it’s a freemium game.
    Which it will be.

      *Legendary drops

      PLEASE WAIT 2 HOURS FOR THIS LEGENDARY TO UNLOCK OR PAY $2.99 TO UNLOCK IT NOW

      This is why I have zero interest. This is going to be the auction house all over again.

      I sincerely hope it's not. Would go a long way to restoring some of the faith I have lost in Bilzz over the last couple of years. I suspect I will be disappointed again, though.

    Assuming the screenies in the article are from the current version it looks a lot better than last year. It actually looks more like Diablo now, as opposed to a reskin of a different game.

    Honestly, I wouldn't mind basically a direct port of D3 to the phone. Just tweak it so it runs smoothly on the hardware. Doesn't really need to be new or different, just solid Diablo action that I can play for half an hour on the train to the city.

    I do wonder how well it'll handle a mobile connection though. I have a friend who literally can't play D3 on his mobile connection at home (shitty location that can't get NBN or even ADSL) without continual lag and disconnects. If you're going to make a mobile version it needs to be genuinely mobile. If you can't play it reliably while on the bus or train on the way to work/uni then they've failed.

      The ability to play offline on console but not on PC is my biggest gripe about D3.
      Well my biggest gripe after they fixed most things.

        Ditto. The simple fact that they gave the console version an offline mode basically proved they were lying about *needing* to be online all the time for the PC version. It reinforced the idea that they were being deceitful about their motivations.

          They then further said once Seasons started on PC that Consoles wouldn't get seasons because of offline mode.

          Only for Seasons to come to consoles anyway.

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