Lahftel
Lahftel
Lahftel, some guy with lots of lukewarm takes on video games. Mostly responsible for the FFXIV section and some verity content. Big Nerd. Top guy, smart guy, educated speaker.

Diablo Immortal Review, A Diablo-olical Monetization Hellscape

Diablo Immortal First Impressions
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Now that Diablo Immortal is out, we've already seen some pushback against the microtransactions from the wider community. But let's try to figure out who Diablo Immortal is actually for, and how it stacks up against the competition. See our Diablo Immortal Review below to see our thoughts.


Just a Mobile Game

It has been a weird principle that has been floating around for quite some time now. Just because it's a free-to-play title on mobile, that now means games can get away with certain things. And I will not sit here and go off about how monetization ruins every game out there. People need to make a living, after all. But I do believe Diablo Immortal is exposing a lot of older gamers, and a more hardcore crowd, to the mobile gaming space. But here's the big reveal. A game being on mobile does not mean that they need to make any sacrifices.

There have been heaps of mobile titles over the past 5 years, that can easily compete with more mainstream titles on PC or console. Be it in gameplay depth or wealth of content. And some reading this will probably now roll their eyes, but Genshin Impact set the bar pretty high for what it means to be ‘just a mobile game'. So those are the expectations I had going into Diablo Immortal, after all, Blizzard has the experience on staff to create something on that level.

Character Customization

I definitely have to give Blizzard some props here, for the presentation. Even on the character creation screen, all the classes had their own unique background. Which would change if you chose either male or female. But at the same time, especially for a game like Diablo where you'll spend a long, long time playing a class. I would've wished there was any kind of trial section here. So I can get a quick glimpse at how they work. And which one I might prefer. After all, this game is probably made for people who barely had any brushes with the Diablo games. And choosing between a demon hunter or a necromancer did seem like a big choice to make at the start.

Creating your actual character, however, was pretty simple. But it also gave enough options to personalize your character a little. It's just a shame that you'll barely see the lovely face you have fine-tuned. So I went with a monk, that I shaped suspiciously after one of my favorite Street Fighter characters. Even if I can't use the Raging Demon pose after the fact. I just wanted to punch things really hard.

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Getting the Story out of the Way

The Diablo franchise is probably best known for its epic cinematics. Even if the story was always more so-so in comparison. It was still fun to follow, while it made the gameplay happen. And there might be some gaps in my memory from grinding in Diablo 2. But Immortals’ story, while being nicely presented by cutscenes and fully voiced, really doesn't hold up at all. It is just there to make the game happen, and it drags you from place to place without offering anything interesting.

And while there are some moments with some potential, it falls flat soon after. The three zones I've played so far, have always been just a wild goose chase. You run around, hunting down the villain of the zone while being sent to all corners of the map. Only to do some boss fights or a dungeon. And every time the game seemed to be building towards something, some plot point or character moment. The story is in a hurry to shove you along to the next objective. As if I was scared that I'd be bored by what was happening. This is weird, given how good Blizzard once was with making these kinds of quests.

What also doesn't help is, even though this is an RPG. Your character just won't shut up. They'll always do that annoying thing, as any character does in games now. Where they narrate where to go next, or what just happened and how I'm supposed to feel about it. Especially when I have a fat text on screen telling me where to go, and golden footprints that show me the way there. And even though I just hit level 32 and halfway through that desert zone. I'm absolutely not compelled to follow this through for the story. Especially when it tries to throw around all those really cool-sounding terms, that means absolutely nothing to me.

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Presentation

One thing I can never doc Blizzard points for is their art direction. While I'm not the biggest fan of the style, I can admit that it looks perfect. That grimy, disgusting western RPG aesthetic that they've mastered over several decades is here. If you are into everything, trying really, really hard to look as cool and badass as possible. You'll find a lot to love here. Personally, I would've appreciated some restraint here or there. Because if everything looks super evil, nothing really comes across as such.

That being said, outside the hub city, all zones seem to go for the 90s collect-athon level design. This means that they mostly stick to one gimmick and one gimmick only. Want graveyard? Have a graveyard that looks the same everywhere you are on that map. And with the mini-map and quest objective's chasing you around. There is little need for those zones to be anything but. Which in turn sadly hampers any desire to explore those zones. Barely anything in these zones sticks out or looks interesting to go off the beaten, lit-up path. That's especially annoying with the top-down perspective. So when you navigate through these zones, you just follow your objectives unless you spot some elite monsters pop up on your mini-map.

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What does save it a little is the presentation in cutscenes and how animated everything is. While nothing super outstanding so far, everything comes with neat, unique animations. Especially when NPCs are acting out story events or are simply talking to you. That translates to most of the enemies you fight, they look amazing and move, if a little choppy, very uniquely. That way, you can easily pick special monsters out of a crowd. In the same vein, music and voice acting are also pretty good. Same as the sound design. Actions sound crunchy and spell devastating.

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Combat

I might just get old, depressed, and well on my way to becoming a gaming doomsayer. But I read online that Diablo Immortal's combat feels snappy and responsive. And once more, I start wondering if I've played a different game from everyone else. This comes from having played the game on PC for a few hours and an hour on mobile. It feels very sluggish, given my experience comes from mostly playing monk, so I can't speak for the other classes. But holding down the attack button while throwing out your abilities isn't fun. There is rarely a moment where you have to move within combat. And even then, there is no dodge roll or the ability to move while using your standard attack.

No, instead you have to rely on your abilities, especially those that grant you a short dash to reposition. With another that drags the enemy towards you. So far, this is about as involved as combat gets. And while I have no doubt that in due time, I'll have to move out of the enemy's red zone of death every 30 seconds instead of every other minute. It also doesn't help that move ability, at least on monks, function very similarly to each other. They only change aspects, and once I had basically to move of the same type. Two dashes and two AoE abilities, I never felt compelled to switch up from that. Why sacrifice movement options and two abilities that I can use right after, overcharge abilities or a shield?

When I think of Diabolo and its genre, the hack'n slash. I think of snappy, responsive combat that makes me do a lot of moment-to-moment decisions. And not push the shiny button simulator. It doesn't help either that so far, the enemy variety has been very boring. Yes, they might look interesting, but in practice, they function pretty much the same. The combat only shines when your screen it full of enemies and you get to actually use your skills effectively. But during story progression and early-level dungeons, you just fight small crowds.

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Character Progression and the Grind

If you are into this genre, you are into the character progression. That feeling of slowly growing more and more powerful. Killing that same group of enemies for hours and hours on end just to get that one ring to round out your equipment. I kinda doubt you'll find this here either. Character progression is very linear, and basically whatever you kill pops out a bunch of loot. Most of it will probably go into the trash compactor for upgrade materials. Which is nothing new for this kind of mobile game. It's just how obnoxious and boiled down, it feels that rubs me the wrong way.

Once you get a piece of yellow equipment, everything below it feels meaningless. And is in most cases not worth keeping or upgrading. So why does this stuff drop after all? Why not circumvent the whole issue by giving you one set of gear, that you upgrade with materials you find? Because even those legendries mostly give you a stat boost. And you just pick out the higher number. The only thing that switches this up a little is the gems you'll find to slot into your equipment. But those have been so rare for me so far that I only have two. One is just a slight armor upgrade, the other gives me some lightning damage. I've been playing for like 6 hours and all of my equipment is full of empty sockets. Why?

And it's not like those gems do anything interesting either. They are just upgrades, things that just increase your numbers a little. I have not seen anything yet that stands out in that regard. This is weird, coming from a series that used to be all about building your character into something unique. Instead, you are at the mercy of the RNG gods if you're on free to play. Hoping to get anything besides some increased numbers.

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The same goes for leveling, you can't really choose what to turn your character into. Instead, you get a bunch of skills. Most of them, at least on monk have an alternative version that doesn't do just damage but also.. has a draw in effect for example. It feels very boring and I just end up picking what does the most damage, after I run the numbers in my head. I'm certain this gets better in group content when it can combine your skills into some amazingly disgusting combinations. But so far, Diablo Immortal doesn't really show the depth to make this fun in the first place.

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Monetization

While your favorite streamer or content creator has probably already ripped into this. I want to throw in my few cents here as well. And I promise it'll be short. I don't doubt that the team behind Diablo Immortal wanted to make a casual Diablo experience on the go. If my critic so far has only ripped into the game from the perspective of an enthusiast and recovering Path of Exile addict. For some light hack n slash action on the go, Diablo Immortal would be passable and most normal consumers wouldn't complain about the game as I did.

But what completely ruins the entire experience, is how obnoxiously the game shoves its cash shop in your face. Everything can come at a premium and you start feeling awfully out of your element if you aren't willing to fork over some cash. Like, why would you offer me extra loot from a dungeon for a cash price? Why would make my dump money to make my drop chances at least passable? And I know, most of the western audience will now point at the dreaded gacha games and start a ‘But what about them?'.

Yes, there are some bad ones in there, but all the popular ones won't gate you out of progression at some point because you're free to play. No, those games make their money because people want certain characters or items. Because they look cool, or because they really like them. Or course they have decent stats, but as a free-to-play user. You won't be left dry. Simply because you'll get a good amount of free stuff. And Diablo Immortal has to be the worst case that I've seen in a long time. Currencies stacked upon currencies, stacked on loot boxes and a battle pass. This is downright predatory.

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Now, who is this for?

Now, it has been a while since I've been actively frustrated with a game as much as I've been with Diablo Immortal. What really gets me, is that I see a lot of potential here. But it's stifled by making gearing as confusing as possible, while also being dumbed-down from previous entries. Combat could be a lot more interesting by just adding enemy variety. You wouldn't even have to make the gameplay more complex if you just gave me something exciting to fight occasionally.

I'm going to play this game up until the max level, and inform you if my opinions change. Maybe I'll magically get turned around because I'd lie if I said that slightly better equipment while punching 20 undead at once doesn't get my monkey brain going. I just wish there was at least an option that would disable all those pop-ups that want me to spend money on this. Or at least only make me look at them at the start of a session and not every time I finish a bigger objective. And could you please just give me the rewards from the codex when I complete an objective? Why do I have to open it up, every single time? Oh yes, so I see your battle pass and maybe spend money on it.

But back to our initial question, who is this for? Probably for the people waiting for Diablo 4 to finally release. And ho boy… if this is any indication of the direction Diablo 4 is taking, then I'm very afraid. If you want to try something like Diablo? Play Diablo 3 on PC or get into Path of Exile. For mobile? I don't know, give this a try but unless you don't mind the cash shop and want some casual monster killing in a bathroom stall. You might enjoy this. But that's the other thing, the game isn't really structured to be played in short bursts either. You'll probably play with from 30 minutes to an hour minimum per session.

I don't trust Blizzard anymore, and that's not because they make that other big MMORPG. It's because over the past 10 years they just stopped trying. You would expect them to take lessons learned from the titles inspired by them. Path of Exile, Grim Dawn, and even Minecraft Dungeons. But who knows, Diablo Immortal is still very much a work in progress and maybe it'll turn around. For more childish whining on how all my favorite games are giving up what made them special and esports news, visit us here at ESTNN.

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