We've been exploring Sanctuary in Blizzard's free-to-play MMO action-RPG.
It feels like an eternity ago that Diablo Immortal was announced at BlizzCon 2018, an announcement that will be remembered in history as the iconic "do you guys not have phones" moment. But that was almost four years ago, and now Blizzard Entertainment, along with the help of NetEase, has come to the end of a long road and is finally ready to get Diablo Immortal into the hands of players on iOS, Android and PC all around the world. With release set for tomorrow, or more likely in a few hours, I've already been diving back into the game and now I have plenty of thoughts about it.
First of all, I want to really just tackle the stigma that still surrounds this game, which is the fact that this is a mobile title. Yes, that means there are touchscreen controls, a limited communication system, gameplay designed around people looking to kill 20 minutes here and there, and of course a few microtransactions systems to boot. But, this doesn't change the fact that you can clearly also see that this IS a Diablo game through and through.
And what I mean by this is that you get all the typical trappings that make a Diablo game great. Be it multiple unique character types to play as; various locations filled to the brim with quests, challenges and countless different enemy variants; sprawling dungeons with tough one-of-a-kind bosses; a truckload of special and differing loot and gear that offer significant bonuses and can be matched up to create silly and powerful builds; and on top of all of that, a wealth of difficulty options that can tailor the experience to suit the level of your character and your personal skill. And this is all without also considering the fact that Diablo Immortal boasts a full, broad storyline that has no significant barriers to the way you enjoy it. Sure there are occasions where to access a new area you will need to be a certain level, meaning you'll have to head off and rack up some experience in other ways (for example daily bounties), but the point stands that you can just blast through the full campaign from the day that the game unlocks - if you so wish.
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This very concept extends to the entire game as well, as there are very few real limitations to the way that you can play this title. If you're the type of person that loves to grind for some specific version of a weapon or piece of armour, Diablo Immortal has all the tools and opportunities for you to do so with repeatable dungeons that have unique loot that can occasionally drop. Likewise, if you're looking for a game to entertain you on the commute or for 30 minutes before heading to bed in the evenings, then this game will accommodate you as well with its short missions and punchy dungeons, and the ability to close the game and pick it back up without losing much, if any progress at all.
What I will say about Diablo Immortal is that it doesn't really do a great job at welcoming in new players at all though. With the storyline being set between Diablo II and Diablo III, there's a lot of extra narrative to understand to really appreciate this game, and likewise the way that the complex RPG systems are presented and taught do often leave you with more questions than answers, which I can imagine will be quite off-putting and difficult to grasp for mobile players who are getting their first experience with the world of Diablo here.
Yet for those who have the knowhow and are veterans of Diablo and action-RPGs, this is truly a game that will surprise you with its depth and its ability to not feel greedy, as is the case with a lot of mobile titles. As I mentioned a moment ago, there are microtransactions, usually tied to cosmetics, but also spanning to premium currency, which can be exchanged to purchase gems that will better the loot you find when tackling the multiplayer and highly replayable dungeon playlist: Elder Rifts. But, these microtransactions also don't feel overbearing at all, as you can still earn gems and play every activity without needing to ever spend a dime.
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While Blizzard hasn't really proven itself in the mobile gaming market, NetEase is known for producing broad mobile titles and this collaboration between the two gaming companies has made for a video game that has the best of both of their expertise. You can feel and see the iconic Blizzard polish and truly enthralling and rich game world that the Californian developer is known for. But at the same time the functionality, fluid gameplay, multiplayer support, and top optimisation (that allows the game to run on my iPhone 11 Pro at 60FPS on Ultra graphics without sucking the life out of my phone's battery) clearly comes from NetEase and their experience when it comes to these types of games.
And speaking about the multiplayer support, Blizzard and NetEase has continued to refine this area to the point where it's easier than ever to group up for tough activities, and to create or join clans to be able to participate in the server-wide Cycle of Strife, which will reward the most powerful players on each Diablo Immortal server. The latest iteration will see clans remain after a cycle ends, meaning you can form a community and continue to grow alongside a group of other players, in a typical MMO fashion.
For those wondering, the controller support is also significantly better than it was months ago during the Closed Beta. Now you can play pretty much the entirety of Diablo Immortal without having to actually touch your screen, although I will say the menu navigation when taking this touchscreen-less approach can be a little finicky.
Recently, I had the chance to chat with Diablo Immortal's senior game designer Scott Burgess, and during that interview he told me this is "the biggest Diablo game yet" and that he thinks this is "going to be one of the best mobile games ever," and it's hard to dispute those claims heading into launch. There's such a wealth of content on offer, content that will, alike the other mainline Diablo games, make you want to just keep playing and exploring the world in that hunt to become just a minute bit more powerful.
There have been so many occasions over the years that I've been burnt by mobile games that Diablo Immortal feels too good to be true at times. I'm still waiting to be disappointed by the monetisation or the barriers that lock content away from me, or perhaps awful optimisation that makes a game feel unplayable, something that may just be hidden away during the early access period I've had the opportunity to dive into. But from my experience with this title, none of that is present so far, and instead Blizzard has managed to provide a game that while not perfect, is shaping up to be one of the best offerings the mobile market has ever seen.
9 / 10
Truly broad mobile game with very few barriers to what you can play. Plays incredibly well, and does so without being tasking on your mobile device. Huge array of content and activities to explore that will keep you engaged for hours.
The game still features quite an extent of monetised systems. Not the easiest game to get into without an understanding of Diablo or action-RPGs.