Diablo Immortal review – Saving Sanctuary comes at too high a cost
While once upon a time it was the game no one cared about, Diablo Immortal has shot to the top of 2022’s most talked-about list but, unfortunately, it’s for all the wrong reasons.
“Do you guys not have phones?”
Ominous words met with tumbleweeds and deafening silence at Blizzcon 2018 as Diablo fans across the globe shared a combined “huh?” moment in the wake of Diablo Immortal‘s announcement. A mobile game set between the events of Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction and Diablo 3, the premise was exciting; the handheld idea not so much.
While the game has been unleashed on PC in beta form in addition to the mobile version, Immortal’s gripping story and fluid mechanics have been overshadowed by the weight of its microtransactions, a system that has divided not just avid Diablo fans, but the gaming sphere as a whole.
Despite its obvious flaws, Diablo Immortal is the skeleton of a brilliant game attempting to claw its way into Sanctuary from beyond the veil, but that glimmer of hope simply isn’t enough to justify a multitude of sins.
Diablo Immortal: Key details
- Price: Free to play
- Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
- Release Date: June 2, 2022
- Platforms: Android / iOS / PC
Diablo Immortal: Trailer
A welcome new chapter
As with every Diablo game, the story reigns supreme. Blizzard’s masterfully crafted universe is filled to bursting with dashing heroes and twisted, terrifying villains – Diablo Immortal is no different.
While we see the return of age-old villains like Mad King Leoric and The Countess, these fiendish foes have gone from simply plot devices to fully realized characters. The Countess in particular has evolved from a simple boss in Diablo 2 to a creature so obsessed with eternal life and beauty that others’ blood is simply fuel for her resurrection.
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We learn more about a whole plethora of characters, though, not just our adversaries. Charsi returns in a semi-leading role, harkening back to the dark days of the Rogue Encampment just outside the bloodstained Monastery. Deckard Cain is back with his own workshop, where an image of Diablo 3 protagonist Leah hangs on the wall – the throwbacks to the franchise’s classic titles bring a blissful smile to OG players’ faces amid the chaos of war.
Even the maps are similar. While beautifully redesigned to be more creepy than ever, the layout is largely the same. The Forgotten Tower lies just past the Dark Wood waypoint, perfectly tying Immortal into its predecessor.
Immortal’s Sanctuary is one of the best iterations of the universe that I’ve ever seen; it’s the thing that makes me want to dive back into the game despite reservations about its paid content.
Something old, something new, something borrowed
A world is nothing without its people, however, and while Diablo Immortal’s merry band of playable misfits replicate Diablo 3’s to the letter (Fs in the chat for my all-time favorite, the Witch Doctor) their combat style is different enough to provide you with a brand new experience.
I chose Monk, for example, my go-to across most MMORPGs and ARPGs. While I’ve seen her dashes and lightning-inspired skills before, they feel incredibly smooth and are accompanied by some stunning visuals. Mystic Strike allows you to dart around the battlefield with ease, Cyclone Strike pulls unwitting enemies in, and you can finish them off with a swift Seven-Sided Strike.
While I haven’t played any other classes, I’ve seen many a Wizard and Demon Hunter on my travels, and their abilities look equally fun. While I lament not being able to see what the Witch Doctor’s Locust Swarm or Big Bad Voodoo would look like, the combat graphics are gloriously gory.
This is coupled with the all-new character creation system, which allows players to finally create the Nephalem of their dreams. While the options are quite limited, it once again adds a new element to Diablo 3’s staple classes.
Mobile games don’t inspire much confidence within me, but there’s no denying that this game is well built and perfectly designed for handheld devices – it’s a shame that prowess doesn’t translate across to PC.
A cheap PC port that feels last minute
Having played quite a bit on mobile, I was quite excited to make use of the cross-progression feature and dive into the game’s PC beta. As a PC player by trade, one of the most off-putting things about Immortal had been the lack of PC support, but now that I’ve played both I consider my concerns misplaced; the PC version is pretty damn woeful.
As soon as I booted the game up I was met with a pixellated screen that felt as though it was the mobile game’s base screen stretched to fit mine (it literally says ‘Tap to Play’ instead of ‘Click to Play’). The UI is the exact same except your abilities are on 1, 2, 3, and 4 as with the original games. The screen feels crowded, there’s a lack of cohesion, and everything just feels incredibly messy.
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Possibly the most bizarre feature is that you can’t change your movement keybinds to the standard WASD that many players prefer – movement is bound to two key. While you’re supposed to run using he right hand mouse button, the left also allows you to move despite being your primary attack button. This means fights get very confusing, as you find yourself punching mid-air upon retreat, or darting back into the fray if you’re trying to peel off.
Diablo Immortal’s PC version feels like a last-ditch port in order to attract more attention to the game. Hopefully, given it’s still a beta, things improve, but for now (and I can’t believe I’m saying it) I advocate you play on mobile.
The elephant in the room
Of course, I can’t review this game without mentioning the controversy over microtransactions. I’ve given the topic attention in other pieces, but the ‘TLDR’ is that it truly ruins the Immortal experience.
While the early game seems payment-free, issues arise as you start to progress into the mid and endgame, where gear reigns supreme and can only be obtained via Elder Rifts. Asmongold’s comparison between paying for a Crest to upgrade the Rift and playing for free personifies Immortal’s issues: good gear is only really available for those who splash the cash.
And that cash adds up, by the way. While the Boon of Plenty is probably worth adding to your arsenal because it gives you daily goodies, the battle pass is packed full of items most players don’t care that much about, and the Eternal Orbs are a one-way ticket to your overdraft.
The fear that you’ll have to spend something in order to progress looms over your head as you play, and you find yourself just waiting for that moment where you can’t go any further. It shatters immersion, promotes predatory mechanics, and, worst of all, ruins what could have been a very good game.
Trust me when I say I really want to love Diablo Immortal more than this, but morally I struggle to recommend this game. Suffocated by microtransactions that bleed players dry, the latest chapter in the Diablo saga feels like a pay-to-win gacha game that’s meant to tide us over until Diablo 4.
While longtime fans of the franchise will be lured in by the story and spectacular universe, the cost of saving Sanctuary is simply too much to pay (as we’re sure your accountant will confirm).
I walk away from Immortal disappointed and angry, hoping and praying to the High Heavens that Blizzard do something to bring it back from the brink.
Reviewed on iOS & PC