Somehow, Diablo Immortal (Free) is here. It was announced back in November 2018 in a presentation that has been written into memetic legend. It feels like a million years ago that the words “Do you guys not have phones?" were uttered by a fellow who probably regretted them as soon as they left his mouth. The explosive (and not in a good way) reaction from fans. A slow and steady development. A global pandemic. The rise of Apple Arcade. All that nonsense between Epic and Apple with Fortnite. Serious allegations against Blizzard and Activision. Microsoft buying the whole darned shebang. And somehow, Diablo Immortal is here.
How do I even write about this? What can I even say about a game that became a story just by existing? Even now, it’s still hitting headlines. Some countries won’t see a release of the game due to anti-lootbox laws. Does anyone care about the game itself? Or is this just the video game version of a roadside accident everyone slows down to gawk at before driving on? I’ve sunk plenty of hours into Diablo Immortal already, and while I’m sure I can give you some informative details, I doubt the broad strokes will surprise many.
The game is really fun. Like, it’s hard to put it down. Unmistakably streamlined in many ways (bye bye mana, hello cooldowns), but it is still very much Diablo. Defeating enemies, exploring dungeons, gathering loot, and building your character all have enough of the proper essence to give you the experience you would hope for. It’s a full-blown MMO take on the idea, and you’ll see other players running around and chatting as you play. Despite that change it checks most of the boxes that make Diablo such a well-loved series, and it feels like it has been polished to an absolute shine. Whether you’re going it alone or playing with others, it’s an excellent way to pass some time. As expected, really.
But it’s also unsurprisingly leaning pretty hard on a number of monetization tricks, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel their impact immediately and see much more frightening things down the road. I can see the glint of its headlight. I can hear its whistle on the wind. It’s coming. And of course it is. This is a free-to-play mobile game. It has to earn its keep somehow. And it’s going to do that in a lot of well-established ways. Battle passes. “Special" offers. Making resources ever so slightly scarce in a way that gets worse over time. Cosmetics. The end-game in particular looks very much like it’s aimed at the rich. As expected, really.
I have to stress that Diablo Immortal isn’t especially egregious with any of this stuff relative to other similar free-to-play titles. It’s all very much par for the course, and it’s built in that modern style where you can enjoy a rather substantial amount of what the game offers without even thinking about spending money. If you’re used to all of this monetization stuff, your concerns are probably going to rest more on its restrictive server/character structure that makes it so that you basically have to plan ahead if you want to play with your friends. If you’re not on the same server, you can’t play together. If you pay for a Battle Pass, it is tied to a particular character. I think they’re needless restrictions, but there they are.
You can use a controller if you want, but the touch controls may actually work best here. It’s easier to aim your skills and magic, and standard actions like moving and fighting feel natural. You have some control over performance as well, and you may want to fiddle with those options for the sake of your device’s battery. At its best, the game looks and runs great. Even on slightly older devices, it’s still pretty easy on the eyes. The audio side of things perhaps isn’t quite up to what I expect from this series, but it’s fine enough.
Diablo Immortal feels as though a talented development team took a lot of time and effort to make a fantastic mobile MMO that doesn’t tarnish the esteemed brand attached to it, and then applied all the depressing elements one must include in order to make money with this sort of thing. It wouldn’t be fair to punish this particular game for simply dancing to the beat of this broken market of ours, so I won’t. And I’m very sure a lot of people are going to pour tons of hours into it and have a wonderful time while spending far less than the price of the average new premium Diablo game. There’s nothing here in terms of free-to-play monetization that we haven’t seen before, and I imagine many of us have honed our ability to ignore such things. So we will. That’s how it is.
But gosh, I’m a bit tired of this. Sometimes I sit back and look at what we’ve allowed ourselves to get used to, and it makes me sad. This is an excellent game. I want to recommend that people play it, but I know in doing so that some small percentage of the people reading this aren’t going to ignore the siren’s call of those microtransactions, and some small percentage of that small percentage are going to spend more than they can afford. And I can’t feel good about that. I can’t feel good about that at all. I hate that I have this dilemma. I hate that game designers have to build their games this way. I feel like I’m reviewing a pack of smokes. And again, it isn’t on Diablo Immortal to pay for these sins. This is just where I have a chance to rant about it, I suppose.
Obviously, I’m a bit conflicted. But it’s only fair to review Diablo Immortal the way we have reviewed games like this before and the way we will probably review games like this in the future. By those standards, yes, this is a fantastic action-RPG experience. Go clear up the twelve gigabytes or so that you’ll need, download it, and get into it. It’s going to try to sell you things, but it will use a very soft sell approach until you’re in very deep indeed. Perhaps deeper in than many of you will play anyway. Diablo Immortal is here. It is everything we could have hoped for, and everything we have feared.