Diablo 4’s Gameplay Looks Strangely Similar to Diablo Immortal

Diablo 4 clearly shares some ideas with Diablo Immortal, but how similar will those games end up being?

Diablo 4
Photo: Activision Blizzard

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Diablo 4 made a somewhat surprising appearance during the Xbox and Bethesda Showcase, but the most surprising thing about the latest Diablo 4 gameplay footage shared during that show may be the many ways that the game is shaping up to be weirdly similar to Diablo Immortal.

Actually, one of the first things we see in the new Diablo 4 gameplay trailer is a look at Diablo 4‘s character creator/customizer: a feature that Diablo Immortal introduced to the series. While Diablo 4 will undoubtedly feature a more robust character creator than Diablo Immortal did, it’s interesting to see that the Diablo 4 team really wants to emphasize the various ways you’ll be able to make your character look distinct.

Of course, that might have something to do with another feature that Diablo 4 seems to be “borrowing” from Diablo Immortal: shared open-world elements. Yes, Diablo 4 is ditching the more linear structure of previous Diablo games in favor of a more open structure that allows you more freedom when it comes to what objectives to pursue next. While it figures to be the first Diablo game of its kind in that respect, it’s worth noting that Diablo Immortal does play with similar ideas regarding that level of multi-objective freedom in a larger world.

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It gets even more interesting. When you’re out in Diablo 4‘s world, you may occasionally run into other players in certain areas. You and those other players will even be able to participate in certain “Local Events” and World Boss encounters that happen organically and don’t require you to form a party. Players are even able to alter the world around them by converting Strongholds into friendly outposts.

The details of some of those events remain unknown, but one of the biggest talking points that the Diablo 4 team has emphasized so far is the idea that they want to create more opportunities for you to interact with other players and work together to complete global goals. Indeed, an entire section of the Diablo 4 gameplay trailer was devoted to the mechanics of the game’s shared world (which also includes both traditional Diablo co-op/party elements and special PvP zones). Again, we’ve seen versions of some of those ideas in older Diablo games, but Diablo Immortal is the only game in the franchise so far that has really leaned into all of them as much as Diablo 4 seems to be doing. Diablo Immortal‘s world events and world bosses may even offer a preview of how those ideas will roughly work in Diablo 4.

However, before you start thinking that Diablo 4 is going to be closer to an expanded version of Diablo Immortal than a more traditional Diablo game, there are a few things you should know.

First off, members of the Diablo 4 team have previously addressed some of the game’s shared-world elements and how they actually want to avoid turning Diablo 4 into more of an MMO experience. Specifically, here’s what former Diablo 4 director Luis Barriga had to say on that subject:

“Our goal has always been to incorporate elements from shared world games without the game ever feeling like it’s veering into massively multiplayer territory. To be clear, this is a philosophy rather than a tech limitation. We find that the game stops feeling like Diablo and the world feels less dangerous when you see other players too often or in too high numbers….Dungeons and key story moments are always private—just the player and their party. Once story moments are complete and towns turned into social hubs, you’d run into a few people in town. While on the road, you’d sometimes run into a player here and there…It’s worth calling out that while some coordination is helpful during these events, you are never forced to join a party.”

Now, it should also be noted that the reason Luis Barriga is described as Diablo 4‘s “former” director is that he was one of the high-profile employees that Blizzard let go in 2021. While the reasons behind his departure were never made entirely clear, the fact he was let go around the time of other employees associated with Blizzard’s ongoing harassment investigation/lawsuit has led many to believe that he may have also been associated with events related to that investigation in some way.

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When it comes to Diablo 4, we don’t know if the game’s current team believes in the same design “philosophy” that Barriga described above. However, it’s worth noting that the latest Diablo 4 gameplay trailer featured quite a few ideas that Barriga spoke about long ago. So, if that means that the Diablo 4 team is still committed to maintaining some of the major gameplay ideas Barriga once shared, then it certainly sounds like they won’t force you to engage with Diablo 4‘s social elements. Given that one of the worst things about Diablo Immortal is the way it occasionally forces you to team up for objectives you could easily beat by yourself, that’s a good thing.

In terms of Diablo 4‘s microtransactions…well, that’s where things get tricky. We already know that Diablo 4 will offer cosmetic microtransactions. However, a recent job posting on the Bizzard website mentioned that an ideal Diablo 4 project manager will be able to “manage the virtual product offers of the Diablo 4 in-game storefront throughout each season to deliver an exceptional player experience.” The listing also mentions an “ever-growing catalog of virtual products.” The use of the phrases “season” and “ever-growing catalog” in that context has led some to wonder if Diablo 4 will feature a battle pass system or more cosmetic microtransactions than were previously suggested. Some even worry it could be more of a live service game than Diablo 3 was.

The truth of the matter is that we don’t know what Diablo 4‘s in-game store will end up looking like. If I had to guess, I’d say that there is almost no chance that Diablo 4‘s microtransactions are anywhere near as egregious as Diablo Immortal’s are. I strongly suspect that Diablo 4 will not offer any path from a microtransaction to a gameplay advantage, but I’m not willing to bet on that. Besides, there’s another conversation to be had about how much more “valuable” those cosmetic microtransactions are in a game that will offer more opportunities for players to see each other in the world. We’ve seen other games push microtransactions through similar forms of social pressure.

While Diablo 4 will hopefully end up being a little closer to traditional Diablo games, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the Diablo 4 team is willing to borrow a few ideas from Diablo Immortal. As we previously discussed, Diablo Immortal is a game with a lot of good ideas and some really scummy microtransactions. If the Diablo 4 team is able to take Immortal‘s best ideas and skip the shadier elements, then great. If not…well, Blizzard may find yet another bridge to burn between them and Diablo‘s legacy fans.