I know this article is coming late, being over a month since BlizzCon, but I felt that it was almost impossible to discuss Diablo: Immortal immediately following the announcement. Since then, outright anger has condensed into solid criticisms and vitriolic comments have made way for thought out concerns. I feel there are some actual good points to Immortal and there are things we could be excited for, but there are obviously many issues to be concerned about as well.
There are some positives when it comes to Immortal. The feeling from people who had the chance to play the game at BlizzCon seemed largely positive, and demo exit poll discussions with the devs at the show were encouraging.
Personally, I found the game to be fun as the Monk and Barbarian, but the Wizard needed a lot of work. The flow of gameplay is quick-paced, faster than D2 while not as frantic as D3. The "cooldown resource" overall felt okay once I had adapted to it. There was some discussion with devs about maybe adding a function to certain skills that would reduce the cooldowns on other skills as a kind of "generator" mechanic. I like the idea of this approach as most end game builds in any ARPG are largely disconnected from its resource system, whereas in other styles of RPG resource mechanics play more into specific timing or rotation than what we've seen in other Diablo titles.
I also wanted to touch briefly on the controls for Immortal. One issue I see that has come up again and again about Immortal is the controls. Plenty of other content creators have weighed in on it already and the only thing I have to add to the discussion is that it took me about 5-6 playthroughs before I started getting a feel for them. By the 10th playthrough the button placements were second nature and the game felt a lot more refined. There will definitely be a learning curve and not just for skill interactions or class mechanics, but each skill had its own targeting or aiming mechanic and learning all of those will take time in figuring out different builds once we actually get our hands on the finished game. I feel most people I've heard that criticized the control scheme just didn't have enough time with the demo, because if I had only played it once with each class (especially in the case of the Wizard), I would have walked away with a negative take on the controls, too.
Outside of the gameplay, the concept art for the game looks amazing, with hints of some major lore reveals like The Resurrection Chamber. Could we finally learn how demons are resurrected and why Diablo and his brothers are always coming back? It's a great example of how there is definitely stuff to get excited about when it comes to Diablo: Immortal, as the game is being promoted to include almost everything we've ever wanted in a Diablo game, including:
- Varied end game content
- In-depth gameplay via skill interactions
- Continual updates and content
- Expanded lore and story
- Gameplay tailored to different playstyles (10min bites or hours long grind sessions)
- Persistent online world with city hubs
All of these are things we would love in Diablo 3 or Diablo 4. It's a shame that the negatives surrounding Immortal have overshadowed these attributes as everything they're aiming for would stack up to be amazing for an ARPG, it's just that we weren't expecting these features to debut first in a mobile game.
ARPGs have dealt with a lot of issues over the years, with botting and item buying being some of the top complaints among the respective communities of almost every major ARPG out there. Even looking back at vanilla Diablo 3, the real money auction house was one of, if not THE, most controversial feature of that game. The vast majority of ARPG players despise pay-to-win mechanics, so when Blizzard announces a Diablo title for mobile, where there is a huge stigma of pay-to-win practices, you can see where this goes wrong. While I still trust Blizzard to make an amazing mobile game, the fact they've partnered with NetEase, a company that is famous for its microstransaction heavy titles, still leaves me with some major reservations. The Diablo community, and the ARPG playerbase as a whole, doesn't have issues with mircotransactions so long as they don't unbalance player power. Path of Exile is supported completely by cosmetic mircotransactions for example and is widely beloved, but if there are any ways to just out right buy powerful items in Diablo Immortal, it will further sour the relationship between the core Diablo fanbase and Blizzard. It's understandable that there is some hesitation from fans who are worried that the game could potentially offer people the ability to buy power rather than earn, in the process being forced to pay into the system in order to compete. Especially since Blizzard hasn't decided (or at least isn't saying) how the game will be monetized just yet.
Another red-flag topic I heard from developers regarding Immortal was a question about "auto-play". Many eastern mobile games feature an auto-play mechanic where the game plays for you; moving to zones, talking to NPCs, fighting monsters, and completing quests. While not as completely automated as botting, this would be a huge sticking point for western ARPG fans that have been against botting for decades. The issue here is that auto-play is a staple for games in the eastern markets and Blizzard wants to create just a single, global game and not have to localize it for different regions. This is just one of those issues where there is no real right answer. Western players don't want an auto-play mechanic, but eastern players would be left questioning why it isn't in the game, and Blizzard wants everyone to play in the same shared space. Thankfully, decisions about auto-play were still very far away as the developers were still focused on core design of Immortal and it sounded like the developers were well aware of how western players would react to such a feature. I hope Blizzard fully understands that if they truly intend for Immortal to be targeted towards "core Diablo players" that this type of feature is a make-or-break decision for the majority of the Diablo community. Anything that resembled botting being a core feature of the game would be completely tone-deaf to a core issue we, as players, have been rallying against since the early days of the franchise.
This one isn't necessarily about the game itself, but it's still important — how the whole announcement of Diablo: Immortal was handled. Diablo players are primarily PC players, with a growing console base as well. When we're told to be excited about this year's BlizzCon, we expected something for PC. The Immortal announcement came out of left field and when there was nothing else mentioned for Diablo 3 or the next iteration in the series beyond "multiple teams, working on multiple projects", it's understandable that the fans got upset. That isn't to say that Blizzard and the developers shouldn't be excited about Immortal — they genuinely care about the game and they should be excited for their passion project. But, at the same time, the people in control of these marketing decisions should understand that we're not going to be the demographic that's going to be excited for that style of game. There are multiple examples from earlier this year of other developers announcing mobile titles to lukewarm response at best or outright hostility at worse. We fans felt as if Blizzard didn't understand what we wanted or what we get excited about. It felt like they were out of touch.
Will PC players play a mobile game? Of course, but it's not going to be a primary focus. We needed something else, hard evidence from Blizzard to saying "hey here's something else we're working on to show that we haven't forgotten about you, the core audience." It's commonly accepted by most that one of the multiple projects is Diablo 4 and it will be on PC, but at this point the community needs to hear Blizzard say that.
But as we've seen, Blizzard will not budge when it comes to keeping everything hidden until it's ready to show. Even after the bombshell Kotaku article, which contained numerous details about a second, cancelled expansion for Diablo 3 and multiple versions of Diablo 4, Blizzard still refuses to comment, which honestly is only furthering the divide between the community and the company.
The cancellations of projects like Titan and Starcraft: Ghost have burned Blizzard in the past, which makes it somewhat understandable why Blizzard doesn't want to reveal their hand. However, in this scenario, it seems Blizzard could have take a play from game publisher Bethesda Softworks, who earlier this year announced a mobile game based on its beloved RPG series The Elder Scrolls and then followed it up by immediately confirming development of a new core game entry in the form of The Elder Scrolls VI. They even released a teaser trailer. Bethesda knew its fanbase wouldn't be satisfied with just a mobile game announcement, so they gave them a little tease of what was to come. And it worked.
Turns out people can get mighty excited about 20 seconds of mountains and rocks followed by a logo. It's a gesture like that which shows the developers still have their core audience in mind. Maybe one day, AAA+ titles will exist for mobile and it'll be something BlizzCon goers will be expecting, but we're not there yet. Diablo: Immortal could be that first mind-blowing mobile game that really draws in the hardcore crowd, but no one will believe that until they get the game in their hands, and Blizzard should have approached it as such.
We can all agree that Immortal got off to a bad start, but there is some potential for the title. There are also some aspects to be very wary of. Blizzard will need to put in a lot of effort to recoup lost faith among the fanbase, and they'll also need to be more open in communicating about where Immortal is headed and what kind of monetization system the game will feature.
Diablo fans are upset because they're passionate about the franchise. They have decades of fond memories, and a mobile title, with all of the stigmas that go along with that, just seems anathema to those memories. For many Immortal will be a great side game, but they'll just want something more to go along with it. Maybe, just maybe, Blizzard can take a little risk and openly acknowledge that they're working on a PC Diablo title as the next iteration in the series and ease people's fears. If not, it might be a long wait for fans when it comes to learning what's next.
Neinball (@NeinballGamer) is a content creator for Diablo Fans and a horadrim in training. Whether he's relaxing on Zegema Beach, fighting servants of the Corpse-God in the 41st millennium, or quelling Rebellions in the Outer Rim, his passion always brings him back to slaying Demons in Sanctuary.