Maybe the “Is This an April Fool’s Joke” Guy Was Right?
One of Blizzard’s most famous and well-regarded franchises recently made its foray into the mobile space with the release of Diablo Immortal. While actual critic reviews indicate the title is at least cromulent (70 Metacritic score as of writing), many players have reacted negatively, largely due to the free-to-play game’s reliance on microtransactions as a business model.
While such tiny payments are by no means new to AAA gaming (and not even new to Diablo), players and critics alike have excoriated Immortal’s particularly grindy nature, and the fact that one of the most beloved aspects of the franchise (random loot drops) appears to be weakened if one doesn’t pony up cash for Eternal Orbs.
At this moment, I have no interest in joining The Discourse around free-to-play titles, the mobile gaming industry, the predatory nature of loot boxes, or anything of the like. I just wanted to chime in and say that even WITHOUT such microtransactions Diablo Immortal is a failure, both mechanically and artistically. Blizzard’s latest blunder (and they have many of those) does nothing to spark interest in the series or inspire faith in future mobile games from big companies. At this point in time, Diablo Immortal is the worst game of 2022.
As Lifeless as Its Zombies
Much like other entries in the Diablo franchise, Immortal involves the player creating a character, picking a class (such as Barbarian, Monk, or Necromancer), and venturing out to kill demons and collect loot along the way. You’ll find yourself in various creepy fantasy environments (such as graveyards and dungeons) looking for bigger enemies to beat and better weapons and armor, and the more you play the stronger your character gets.
Truthfully, I have little experience playing Diablo games, but I’ve always understood the appeal and respect much of the philosophy behind their design. While the gameplay often seems repetitive and grindy, most Diablo titles appear to reward players who enjoy the feedback loop, and the purpose of playing Diablo lies less in achieving particular goals and more in maximizing your character’s potential. Also, the games have always been a delight to look at, with smartly crafted enemy and level designs and a clever HUD.
Immortal, however, takes that formula, dilutes it, and crushes it to fit on a cell phone screen, and in doing so robs the player of much of the potential complexity found in a PC dungeon crawler. (I know there’s a PC version of Immortal, but the game exists first and foremost as a mobile title.) All of the different attacks and abilities are mapped right next to each other, meaning my right thumb only has so much space for nuanced strategies and often hits the wrong attack button by accident. The controls aren’t otherwise that bad, but it never feels like I’m doing anything other than the touch-screen equivalent of button-mashing.
Beyond the mediocre yet clunky controls, the actual gameplay fails to surpass even a competent level of boring. Diablo has always involved killing hordes of enemies over and over again, but Immortal feels particularly lifeless in this endeavor. The enemy types aren’t different enough from one another (at least in the early levels), and none of them are especially challenging or stimulating in any way. Sure, the first boss fight was kind of satisfying, but beyond that all you’re doing is making numbers go up for the sake of making numbers go up. That might be fine for other Diablo titles (or series like Destiny), but at least those games make way for more interesting combat mechanics and strategies. Immortal is like if Whack-A-Mole had an overwrought story attached to it.
I Hate To See It
I could forgive some of the gameplay flaws were it not for the intrusive UI and absolute soullessness of the broader visual design. My iPhone 13 screen already loses some real estate to my thumbs, but Immortal also includes multiple different buttons for the quest list, items, and store, meaning everything else has to be so small that I can barely see any details. I can’t always tell right away if I’m about to run into NPCs or zombies, and sometimes a group of deadly snakes just looks like grass from a distance. Also, while I appreciate the different character creator options, what’s the point if I can barely see my own character’s face while I’m playing?
Immortal also shows you other players on screen while you’re connected to the internet, much like in any MMO. Unfortunately, these extra player ghosts just get in the way even more. The screen is busy enough as it is—why make it worse? Unlike seeing the ghosts of players dying and thriving in Elden Ring, their appearances in Immortal don’t give me a sense of community or shared experience; they’re just another distraction on a screen riddled with distractions.
It’s not just the crowded nature of the screen, though. The environmental design is bland and derivative, the enemies are generic, and none of the special weapon abilities really shine aesthetically. Textures and lighting work fine enough, but no single asset stands out in any way; everything just blends together in a sea of lifelessness.
I understand that Diablo depicts dark and hellish fantasy imagery, leaving little room for bright hues and broad color palettes, but Immortal lacks any shred of vivacity, making every journey through its drab lands akin to walking through a hastily constructed haunted house. The other Diablo titles (as well as other demon-focused games like Doom and Demon’s Souls) manage to dazzle players’ eyes anyway through fascinating world architecture and enemy design; Immortal doesn’t so much as have a memorable weapon.
It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way
Every announcement by a AAA game publisher about a mobile title in a beloved franchise immediately sparks skepticism from longtime fans and gamers in general. While that anger can go too far, the bad reputation such games have feels earned, usually due to obtuse progression systems, bad controls, and microtransactions. Diablo Immortal could have bucked this trend with a more inspired effort, but at the end of the day it just feels like a crappy version of the original Diablo games.
The problem with Immortal isn’t that nothing functions correctly or that conceptually nothing works; it’s that Immortal has no novel mechanics, no greater vision, and doesn’t use the mobile platform to elevate anything. I’ve seen broken, unplayable experiences with more artistic ambition than Immortal, and I’ve played stick-figure Flash games that are more visually appealing. It’s one thing to try lofty ideas and fail; it’s another to settle for mediocrity at every turn.
Beyond my specific disappointment with the result of Diablo Immortal is my general disappointment with how big game makers rarely do anything unique or interesting when adapting their IP to mobile. Occasionally, we’ll see Super Mario Run, Pokemon Go!, or even Batman: Arkham City Lockdown, but most of the time we get a watered-down, bare bones adaptation of something we love that just ends up being a video game-themed slot machine. Diablo Immortal is just another wasted opportunity added to the trash heap.
Have you played Diablo Immortal? Let us know what you think about it in the comments!