I Beat The Diablo Immortal Technical Alpha. Here’s What I Think
While many bemoaned the announcement of Blizzard’s mobile-friendly Diablo Immortal back in 2018, I welcomed it.
Where Diablo 4 looks like something new, Diablo Immortal looked to offer an on-the-go continuation of the existing formula for this style of action RPG — which I loved. Honestly, if Blizzard had kept making new expansions for Diablo 3 every two or so years as they have with World of Warcraft, I would have bought every single one. A free-to-play version of Diablo 3 that I can play in bite-sized chunks that gets the full live-service treatment? I’ll bite.
Now, two years after its controversial debut, Diablo Immortal is finally making its way into the hands of select players in Australia via the closed technical alpha test for the game. I’m one of those players. I’ve already sunk a dozen or so hours into the mobile dungeon crawler. Here’s what I think.
I really do want to take the time to stress this part: the version of Diablo Immortal I’ve played is a technical alpha. As such, it has some real jank to it. Environments often take a second or two to pop in. Animations often malfunctioned .Sometimes the phased instancing would lead to enemies abruptly popping in and out of existence. The more time I spend with it, the more this messiness stands out to me.
As someone well-acquainted with Blizzard’s reputation for technical polish, Diablo Immortal in its current form feels rough in a way that stands out in a not-so-great way. I hope that the final release is a bit more cleaned up because the technical issues here definitely distracted from a game that, otherwise, I really enjoy throwing my spare time at.
Curated Not Generated
While many words have been spilled about Diablo Immortal, I’m surprised how many people haven’t been talking about the fact that this iteration of the series mostly departs from the proc-gen level design that’s arguably foundational to the series’ identity.
Some isolated parts of Diablo Immortal seem to be randomly-generated but the bulk of what I’ve encountered on my path to the level cap is not. The six or so areas currently in the game are not just smaller in scope than those in Diablo 3 but closer in design to something like Destiny 2’s open zones.
Combined with the way that the game seamlessly weaves other players into the environment around you, this leads to a smattering of familiar problems like quest mobs being camped and immersion broken by the abrupt appearance of player characters with names like DickSlayer666.
I’m not surprised that the most online Diablo game yet has these issues but I am a little surprised that NetEase and Blizzard haven’t really tried to pre-emptively address them.
World of Sanctuary
As alluded to above, Diablo Immortal feels like an attempt to create a Diablo game that models itself after something like World of Warcraft or Destiny.
While the progression here is linear, it’s not act-based. At any time, you can open up the world map and get a better sense of where in the hell you are. This, along with the gorgeous animated cut-scenes that open each of the game’s major dungeons, does a great job of building on the specific sense of tone that Diablo 3 introduced. On paper, Diablo and Warcraft have a lot of overlap. When Diablo Immortal goes out of its way to try and differentiate between the two, it’s a detour that pays off.
Given the divergent opinions on whether that tone was too much a departure from the older Diablo games, it’s wicked cool to see Immortal try and bridge the gap between the pre and post-Blizzard North eras. As a long-time Diablo player, it’s very neat to cross paths with the cast of Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 — even if it all feels very pulpy and disposable.
Out Of Control
After spending so much time with Riot’s League of Legends: Wild Rift and Genshin Impact recently, the controls in Diablo Immortal feel a little lackluster. They’re not bad, but they do feel imprecise in the way that most touch-based controls tend to feel. I might feel differently once I have the chance to play on a device with a larger screen (like my iPad Mini) but right now I’d say that Diablo Immortal fall into much the category you’d expect it would.
The control feel good for a mobile game but they don’t feel good outright.
I was happy enough to blitz through the badlands of Sanctuary using them but my hands did get sore after a while. It helps that, of all Blizzard’s franchises, the core gameplay loop of clicking on stuff and watching it die is pretty easy to replicate on mobile hardware.
I hope that Blizzard see what Wild Rift has done with regards to this kind of control scheme and learn from it. Or at least add support for third party gamepads and stuff like the Razer Kishi. If someone is willing to spend extra on hardware to make playing mobile games more comfortable over long-stretches, that is probably someone you want playing your free-to-play mobile game.
Stay A While And Listen
Diablo Immortal is currently in limited technical alpha but, from what I played, there was only quest-related voice-acting for the first three or so zones in the game. I hope that the launch version of Immortal includes more voiced dialogue because the voice acting is such a big part of the series’ overall vibe and sense of atmosphere.
As I got further into the game and farther away from the voice acting in the opening act of Diablo Immortal, I felt myself becoming more and more disengaged with what I was doing. It didn’t help that the final two zones in the Immortal Technical Alpha only included around 2-levels of quest-related XP, which meant I required another 3 or so levels of grinding through other means before I could progress.
While some degree of XP slowdown is to be expected towards the tail-end of the experience, these later zones felt a little shallower than I expected. Akin to something like Genshin Impact, it felt like the only logical way to tackle them was to log in, do my dailies and then wait for that clock to reset.
The Deal With The Devil
Given the ongoing cascade of controversies around how Hearthstone has been monetized, there are definitely questions to be asked about Diablo Immortal and how it fares as a free-to-play experience.
Obviously, the games’ gradual (and perhaps inevitable) post-launch tilt towards monetization has yet to occur. Still, I found very little pressure to spend money in this game. I cleared the main quest in a three or so days of hardcore play. I hit the level cap in about a week.
Although the lack of a randomly generated world might lead you to suspect a reduction in replayability, the reality is that Immortal actually manages the neat feat of making returning to older areas a treat. As with Destiny (and many other mobile dungeon crawlers), you have daily bounties and a bevy of optional tasks to complete in each zones.
I haven’t spent as much time messing with stuff like the Battle Pass or the end-game crafting system — which I understand is more closely-tied to the microtransactions in Immortal — but if you’re the kind of person who want to jump in and blast through this as you would any other Diablo-style dungeon crawler, you totally can do so without spending a cent.
Would I Recommend This Game?
Despite the caveats and areas that need to be tightened up before launch, I am probably still going to enjoy the hell out of Diablo Immortal when it finally releases.
At its best, it feels how you’d want a Diablo game to feel and, in the long run, my hope here is that if Immortal caters to the desire for more of the same it may free up Diablo 4 to try and do something a little different.