Why Diablo Immortal Does (and Doesn’t) Deserve All the Hate

Beneath the scandals, the pay-to-win microtransactions, and the design compromises lies an uncomfortable realization about how good Diablo Immortal can be.

Diablo Immortal
Photo: Activision Blizzard

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Diablo Immortal has only been out for less than a week, but the game’s debut really marks the culmination of years worth of debates, controversies, and scandals.

You don’t have to look hard to find a lot of hate for Diablo Immortal. Depending on where you look, you may even be left with the impression that Diablo Immortal is a universally hated game and a creative and financial failure to boot. In reality, though, it’s neither of those things.

Actually, Diablo Immortal is, in many ways, an incredibly fun game that could easily end up becoming one of those titles that you gleefully play for hours. It’s when you take a deeper look at the reasons why that is a good thing and a bad thing that you start to see what a complicated and frustrating title Diablo Immortal really is.

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The Core Diablo Immortal Experience Makes For a Fantastic Mobile Game

For a moment, let’s put aside some of the talking points you already know are coming. Instead, let’s just focus on the elements of Diablo Immortal you’re able to access without spending a dime. The gameplay loop, the various modes, the classes, the numerous areas, various bosses, and plentiful dungeons…everything that defines the core Diablo Immortal experience.

If you only focus on those aspects of the game, you may find that Diablo Immortal is one of the most substantial mobile games ever made. From a quantity of content perspective, there are few mobile games that offer what Diablo Immortal does. Not counting competitive multiplayer titles that offer a nearly infinite (in theory) amount of things to do, you’d have to turn to a game like Genshin Impact, Stardew Valley, Civilization VI, Raid: Shadow Legends, or Slay the Spire to find a mobile title that offers this much content out of the gate. From that perspective, Diablo Immortal is most certainly part of a generation of mobile games that attempt to offer a quantity of content compared to console and PC titles. Honestly, it’s more substantial than a lot of PC and console games.

Quantity of content aside, Diablo Immortal does have a lot of quality content to offer. Moment to moment, Diablo Immortal offers that fundamental Diablo experience that makes the franchise so easy to love. All these years later, it still feels good to tear through mobs of monsters, earn new gear, and gradually turn yourself into a warrior with the powers of a god. Whether you’re clearing dungeons, besting bosses, or just bouncing between zones in search of more loot drops, Diablo Immortal‘s basic gameplay is just about as good as we could have hoped a mobile-focused Diablo game could have been.

There are major caveats to that statement, and, again, we will get to them. What you really need to know, though, is that for all the talk about some of Diablo Immortal‘s most controversial features, the core game is remarkably fun. In the shorter gameplay bursts typically associated with mobile titles, it’s easily one of the best mobile games ever made. It’s the kind of game you can play for years across many half-hour sessions and probably have a great time doing it.

Diablo Immortal’s Presentation Is Better Than It Needed to Be

For whatever this may mean to you, it must be said that Diablo Immortal features some of the most impressive presentation values you’ll ever find in a mobile game.

While Diablo games have never been known as some of the absolute best-looking games in the world, they typically shine in their details and design. Well, Diablo Immortal certainly keeps that tradition alive. From the variety of skill animations/effects to the way that every piece of gear is designed and reflected on your character, Immortal shines in its various visual details. Granted, some of the enemy, world, and boss designs just aren’t as good as they are in other Diablo games, but the falloff isn’t that great and is certainly subject to matters of opinion.

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However, it’s Diablo Immortal‘s sound design that sets it apart from so many other mobile titles in the presentation department. For instance, I’m genuinely shocked that this game features full voice acting. Granted, it’s not always the best voice acting in the world, but the Immortal teams could have skipped that feature as so many other games do and probably would have gotten away with it. Instead, they took the time to insert a key aspect of Triple-A presentation feature into the game. Voice acting aside, the game’s combat sounds, music, and ambient noises all do their job or even excel.

If the dream of Diablo Immortal was to have a full, proper Diablo game in your hands, then I can honestly say that the game’s audio design is the one element of the experience that comes closest to achieving that goal with few to no compromises. Generally speaking, though, the game’s overall presentation isn’t far from that impressive mark.

Diablo Immortal’s MMO Elements (Mostly) Enhance the Experience

Diablo Immortal isn’t a fully-fledged MMORPG on the level of a game like World of Warcraft, but the MMO elements the game does utilize really show the potential of a Diablo MMO.

The crux of Diablo Immortal‘s MMO experience is a shared open-world set-up that allows players to see and interact with each other. It’s…ok. There are many times when I found that feature to be either useless or simply annoying. There are just times when the game encourages (or forces) you to team up with others that feel unnecessary and cumbersome. The less said about the game’s global chat channels, the better.

Yet, there are other ways that the game’s MMO elements fit the Diablo franchise like a glove. For instance, the addition of world bosses in a Diablo game is a simply inspired idea that will thankfully be carried over to Diablo 4. The same is true of the game’s raids, which I really hope future Diablo games find a way to repackage and expand upon. I also love the idea of Warbands, which are basically small groups of players you plan to often run PvE content with. Ideas like that really embrace the fact that classic Diablo games are almost always just a little bit better with friends. Indeed, the best thing about Immortal‘s MMO elements is the way they enhance what made Diablo so special in the first place.

Put it all together, and you’ve got an impressive-looking and outright fun mobile game that offers a ton of content (and even multiplayer elements), is compatible with many modern mobile devices, and costs nothing to download. All of those qualities should add up to form what should be, at the very least, the best mobile game in years.

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Of course, those who have been following Diablo Immortal so far know that the devil is in the details of that whole “costs nothing to download” part of the package…

Diablo Immortal Is Clearly Designed to Make Free-to-Play Gamers Feel Inferior

If you haven’t taken the time to familiarize yourself with Diablo Immortal‘s various microtransactions, I highly recommend you read our article on that subject. That, or you could just go to pretty much any user review, online conversation, or YouTube video about the game. Wherever you go, you will likely see the words “pay-to-win” pop up. At the very least, you’ll quickly discover that one of the biggest complaints about the game is the sheer number of microtransaction opportunities it is almost constantly offering to the player.

After a little more time with Diablo Immortal, I can tell you that my biggest concern with the game’s microtransactions isn’t necessarily rooted in the gameplay advantages they offer. No my biggest concern with that element of the game is how those transactions are so carefully designed to make free-to-play gamers feel inadequate.

It actually all comes back to those MMO/social elements. If you’re a free-to-play Diablo Immortal player, you will often run into other players who have spent varying degrees of money on the game. Their gear will almost certainly look better than your gear, which, as we’ve discussed in relation to other titles that offer microtransaction-based cosmetics, is becoming an increasingly important form of social currency. If you feel inadequate because you don’t look as “cool” as other players in these kinds of games, Diablo Immortal will gleefully exploit that.

This game’s microtransaction pressure is about so much more than appearances, though. If you group up with a player who is using certain microtransaction items during common tasks, they will very likely earn better gear than you for clearing the same content. If you wander through the game’s main hub, you will see premium players gathered around vendors selling rare and high-quality items you couldn’t yet dream to afford. If a free-to-play player and a premium player are running the same content with the same character classes at the same character levels, the free-to-play player will likely be shocked by how much more powerful the premium player is.

Ignore all of the notifications that inform you of new opportunities to spend a little money, and Diablo Immortal is still filled with negative reminders that you are a free-to-play gamer in a world that is being dictated by premium players. Even just watching others play the game will often remind you of this fact. So many Twitch streamers and YouTubers proudly display a counter of how much money they’ve spent on the game so far. They may call it a joke and they may mock the number of microtransactions in the game, but every dollar spent in Diablo Immortal widens the gap between free-to-play and premium players just a little bit more. I’m not sure if I’ve ever played another mobile game from a major studio where you are reminded of how often you’re not spending money as often as you’re notified of the opportunities to spend money.

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At a basic level, Diablo Immortal‘s microtransactions are designed to allow you to save yourself many hours of potentially fruitless content grinding. Once you get a little closer to the title’s late-game content, though, you start to see just how malicious they really are…

Diablo Immortal’s Unforgivable Endgame Preys On What Makes Diablo Games So Much Fun In the First Place

A popular estimate suggests that it costs roughly $110,000 to fully upgrade your Diablo Immortal character through microtransactions. While that exact figure is up for some debate (it’s difficult to account for some of the randomized elements that affect even microtransactions), that really isn’t the issue. That figure could be 1% of that estimate, and it would still cost you more than buying 15 premium Triple-A games at full price.

Put aside the psychology of why someone would spend that much money on a game, and you’re left with the question of what all that money actually gets you. Well, as controversial as this may be, I genuinely think that money eventually grants you access to the entire point of playing a Diablo game.

Most Diablo games are built around the appeal of consistently upgrading your character and watching them grow stronger. In the early stages of Diablo Immortal, that process is fairly simple. You’ll raise your character level fairly regularly through the normal course of play, and you’ll often acquire increasingly better items. From about level 1 to 30, Diablo Immortal offers the fundamental appeal of a traditional Diablo experience whether you decide to spend any money on the game or not. Premium players are still offered advantages, but the gap is still narrow enough to clear even if you don’t spend money.

Beyond that, things slowly start to change. Leveling becomes significantly slower, new items don’t offer quite the upgrades they used to, and you’re forced to figure out an often overwhelming amount of mechanics that almost all lead you back to the idea that you could just spend a little more money and make things easier on yourself.

I highly recommend reading more about how bad things eventually get, but to give you the headline, you’ll reach a point in Diablo Immortal where significantly growing your character is just shy of impossible (or perhaps simply impossible) if you’re not willing to spend money on the game. Put aside the social pressures, put aside the content gating that could eventually come with character power levels (a common practice in these types of games), and even put aside the ethics of aggressive microtransactions in mobile games. What you’re still left with is the fact that Diablo is a franchise built around constantly becoming more powerful, and you will reach a point in Diablo Immortal where constantly being able to raise your character’s power level means spending money. If said money were an upfront payment, that wouldn’t be much of an issue. When that money comes in the form of transactions that have the gall to disguise themselves as optional (and may not even reward you with the upgrade you’re looking for in the first place), that’s some next-level microtransaction exploitation.

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Even worse is the fact that players have discovered a series of “soft caps” that are seemingly designed to slow even hardcore players’ progress to a crawl at some point. I just don’t know if I’ve ever seen a game so dedicated to getting in the way of its own good time as this one is.

Blizzard seems to be hoping that those who don’t care about that level of character optimization won’t be bothered by those microtransaction opportunities. Meanwhile, those who intend to play the game in such a way will be so sucked into the experience that they’ll spend money without thinking. The problem is that I think they’re right…

Diablo Immortal’s Predatory Mechanics Work as Well as They Do Because the Game Is So Much Fun

If you look at all the social media blowback and the shockingly low user review scores, you’d probably be left with the impression that Diablo Immortal is a bad game. It’s not, and that’s the problem.

Diablo Immortal offers some of the most compelling and most enjoyable moment-to-moment gameplay I’ve ever experienced in a mobile title. Mind you, I keep referring to Diablo Immortal as a mobile title because of its many mobile-like ideas/mechanics and the fact its PC port is as lazy as it can possibly be, but the point stands. There are so many ways that Diablo Immortal should be seen as a benchmark for mobile game gameplay and a new standard regarding our expectations for that medium. In some ways, it still is.

Indeed, for all the hate Diablo Immortal has already attracted, it’s too easy to overlook the many ways it is a genuinely good game that has already been downloaded millions of times and seems to be impressing many who primarily play mobile games. If you lose yourself in the controversies and choose to pile hate onto Diablo Immortal out of principle (which is honestly understandable), then you run the risk of convincing yourself that Blizzard and their partners simply made a bad Diablo game. They did not. They made what easily could have been a very entertaining Diablo mobile game worth investing hundreds of hours into.

They just couldn’t resist the temptation of using a great game as an excuse to test the boundaries of questionable design and business practices. In some ways, Diablo Immortal reminds us of the trendsetting company Blizzard used to be. In many more ways, it reminds us that Blizzard has been too busy chasing the worst kinds of trends for too long. The easiest thing to hate about Diablo Immortal is the fact it makes it so unnecessarily difficult to simply say “Diablo Immortal is a fun game. You should play it.”

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