Diablo Immortal Microtransactions Explained: Is It a Pay-to-Win Game?

Do Diablo Immortal's microtransactions make the game "Diablo Immoral?" Here's a better look at the game's pay-to-win pitfalls.

Diablo Immortal
Photo: Activision Blizzard

Activision Blizzard is currently under investigation following accusations of harassment, discrimination, and fostering a hostile work environment. You can read more about the investigation here.

As a major free-to-play game in the modern era, it should come as no surprise that Diablo Immortal offers quite a few microtransactions. The big question at the moment, though, is whether all of those microtransactions add up to make Diablo Immortal a “pay-to-win” game.

See, even though quite a few free-to-play and mobile titles offer microtransactions, not all microtransactions are made equally. Some grant you access to simple things like in-game cosmetics, while others offer substantial gameplay advantages or even direct competitive advantages. Games in the latter category are often referred to as pay-to-win titles, and they’re generally considered to be the scourge of the industry. Even titles that strongly encourage you to spend money in order to avoid built-in annoyances can fall into that category. Such microtransactions turn supposedly free-to-play titles into games designed to spend more money than you would have spent on a premium title.

So does Diablo Immortal have a pay-to-win problem? That’s the question we’ll eventually try to answer, but before we do, here’s a look at the game’s various microtransactions.

Ad – content continues below

Diablo Immortal Has Three Main Forms of Currency: Gold, Platinum, and Eternal Orbs

Before we talk about the rest of Diablo Immortal‘s microtransactions, it’s important to understand a little more about the game’s three forms of currency: Gold, Platinum, and Eternal Orbs.

Gold works in Diablo Immortal about the same way it works in every other Diablo game. It’s a common form of in-game currency that can’t be purchased with real money and is instead regularly earned from killing enemies or completing certain quests. It’s mostly used to complete transactions with common NPCs.

Platinum is…odd. It can be purchased using real money, but you can also earn it by selling certain in-game items or completing special tasks. Platinum is primarily used to complete special, premium in-game transactions that often yield powerful and valuable items. Most players will probably end up using most of their Platinum to forge Legendary Gems (more on that in a bit).

Eternal Orbs are the game’s straight-up microtransaction currency. You cannot earn Eternal Orbs through gameplay in Diablo Immortal. That’s a shame, because Eternal Orbs can be used to, directly and indirectly, acquire some of the most valuable items in the game. Specifically, you’ll often use them to acquire Reforge Stones, Dawning Echoes, and Legendary Crests. We’ll go over some of those items in the sections below, but the long and short of it is that Eternal Orbs allow you to quickly acquire some of the best upgrades in the game.

Diablo Immortal’s Loot Boxes Come In the Form of Elder Rifts and Crests

You may have heard stories about Diablo Immortal being banned (at least temporarily) in certain countries over its use of loot boxes. As it turns out, though, Diablo Immortal doesn’t feature traditional loot boxes (at least so far as I can tell). However, the game’s Elder Rifts and Crests essentially serve the same purpose.

Elder Rifts function like Nephalem Rifts from Diablo 3. They’re specialized zones filled with monsters that you have to kill. Generally speaking, the difficulty of those rifts scale with the power level of your character and party. Upon completing an Elder Rift, you’ll be rewarded with a series of items. You’ll also acquire items from defeating the monsters in the rifts just as you would from defeating monsters out in the world. The big difference is that the enemies in rifts are generally more likely to drop high-value items (including Legendary gear). That makes running those Elder Rift dungeons with a party a pretty common late-game activity.

Ad – content continues below

If you want to increase (or guarantee) the odds of acquiring high-value items, you’ll need to modify Elder Rifts you visit using items known as “crests.” Basically, these crests are “inserted” into an Elder Rift before you enter the zone. Along with increasing your odds of acquiring certain loot, they also add random modifiers to the Elder Rift that can make them easier, harder, or simply different than they would otherwise be. The more crests you add to an Elder Rift, the more you change its layout and the loot odds.

For the most part, you’re going to use crests in Elder Rifts to acquire Legendary Gems. Those gems are incredibly powerful items that offer general buffs to your character and enhance the effectiveness of some of their specific skills/attacks. Anyone interested in optimizing their character will need to acquire as many Legendary Gems as possible in order to find the ones they need.

That’s where the problems start. See, Legendary Gems can be acquired through several means. For instance, you can buy them with Platinum from the marketplace, you can craft them using Runes and Platinum, you can get them as a reward on the Battle Pass (more on that in a bit), or you can trade in Fading Embers or Hilts (two fairly rare items) to special merchants in exchange for them.

Generally speaking, though, the most reliable way to acquire Legendary Gems is to use Rare and Legendary Crests on Elder Rifts. Rare Crests increase the odds of a Legendary Gem dropping in an Elder Rift by 10%, while Legendary Crests guarantee that one will drop (along with the other loot rewards/advantages those items offer). While those crests can be obtained in-game via the Battle Pass or as very, very rare in-game rewards, the easiest way to acquire those crests is by using Eternal Orbs (aka “real money”).

I know that’s a lot of weird information to process (which seems to be intentional), but the basic idea is that anyone who wants to regularly acquire Legendary Gems and other valuable Elder Rift items will be able to greatly increase their odds of acquiring them by spending real money on crests. You can increase your odds of earning Fading Embers (which can be traded in for Legendary Gems) from Elder Rifts by partying up with someone who is using crests, but if you want to benefit from the increased (or guaranteed) Legendary Gem drop rate those items offer, you need to insert a crest into a rift yourself. We’ll dive into the implications of that system a little more in just a bit.

Diablo Immortal Offers Various Cosmetic Microtransactions

You probably already guessed this, but Diablo Immortal does offer an array of cosmetic items that can be purchased with real money. The initial offering of cosmetics is pretty limited, but each purchasable outfit will set you back about $15-$25 each depending on how many Eternal Orbs you choose to buy and how you decided to spend them (bulk purchases change the individual item pricing somewhat).

Ad – content continues below

How you feel about cosmetic microtransactions in other games will probably tell you how you’re going to feel about these. What I will say is that the current prices of the currently available cosmetic items do feel a bit high. The good news is that you can also obtain fantastic-looking gear through the relatively normal course of play.

Diablo Immortal Offers You Several Ways to Buy Upgrade Materials and Reforge Stones

Right, so this is where things start to get especially complicated.

Diablo Immortal offers you several ways to upgrade and modify your existing gear. For the most part, you will be able to upgrade your gear using “scrap materials” you acquire from scrapping unwanted gear. The rarer the items, the better/more materials you get. However, rarer items also cost more resources to upgrade.

Now, it’s certainly possible to acquire most of the upgrade materials you’ll need through the course of regular gameplay. However, it’s very difficult to acquire some of the rarest upgrade materials that way. For instance, Glowing Shards (which are used to upgrade Legendary and Set items) can only be acquired by scrapping other Legendary items. At present, there doesn’t seem to be a direct way to purchase those upgrade materials directly from the store via “real money.” However, you do have the opportunity to purchase Platinum which you can then use to acquire upgrade materials via merchants and the marketplace. Alternatively, there are ways to use premium currency to acquire more gear that you can then scrap for those materials. You may also be able to acquire upgrade materials via Bundles, Battle Pass boosts, and other premium purchase options that simply don’t “directly” reward you with those materials.

Finally, there are Reforge Stones. Reforge Stones are used to essentially “re-roll” Legendary items and grant them new stats and effects. While certain stones yield different effects, you don’t really know what you’re getting until the process is done. That means you may have to use several Reforge Stones to get your desired upgrade.

Now, you can acquire Reforge Stones via a special NPC called the Hilts Trader, but it’s not always easy to acquire the “Hilt” items that the merchant treats as currency. Most Hilts are acquired via daily and weekly objectives, while the rest are found in Rifts, Battle Pass rewards, and a variety of other end-game content. You can also earn Reforge Stones as PvP rewards at the end of each competitive season, which, again, takes quite a lot of time.

Ad – content continues below

However, the easiest way to acquire Reforge Stones is to (you guessed it) buy them directly from the in-game store using Eternal Orbs. Each Reforge Stone will set you back 100 Eternal Orbs (about $1.50 depending on how many orbs you buy at once). Given that the exact effects of Reforge Stones are ultimately random…well, you probably see how you are incentivized to buy several of them.

Diablo Immortal Does Include a Battle Pass With Free and Premium Tracks

Like many modern “free-to-play” games, Diablo Immortal does allow you to access a Battle Pass that includes both free and premium progression tracks filled with unlockable rewards

The free and premium tracks of the Battle Pass yield different rewards every time you reach a new level on the Battle Pass progression track. You’ll reach new levels on the progression track by completing a vareity of in-game objectives and activities. As in other games with a Battle Pass system, the free and premium tracks are treated separately. So, if you hit Level 2 on the Battle Pass but haven’t purchased the premium option, you’ll only get the free track rewards offered at that level. If you decide to purchase access to the premium track later on, you’ll retroactively be rewarded with the premium rewards you missed.

The premium track (known as the “Empowered Pass”) costs $4.99 to access, but a $14.99 option that automatically unlocks 14 ranks of the premium track is also available.

You can check out the various battle pass rewards here, but they’re about what you’d expect from this kind of game. The free track mostly rewards you with upgrade items, Hilts, and similar in-game resources, while the premium track includes more…well, premium items like rare pieces of gear and Legendary Gems. Indeed, subscribing to the Battle Pass is one of the easiest ways to get Legendary Gems early in the game.

Diablo Immortal Includes a Variety of Daily, Weekly, and Progression Rewards

While not strictly a microtransaction, you should know that Diablo Immortal offers a variety of rewards that can be acquired daily, weekly, or when you’ve completed certain special objectives.

Ad – content continues below

For the most part, those rewards are a fairly easy way to acquire various items depending on which reward you’re trying to claim. However, it’s important to note that you do have to keep up with those rewards in order to actually claim them. If you miss a daily or weekly reward, there doesn’t currently seem to be a way to go back and claim it. That system is designed to encourage you to always check back in with the game.

It’s also worth noting that the Diablo Immortal beta featured a “Boon of Plenty” microtransaction service that allows you to unlock additional rewards and certain perks (like remote access to the market) for $9.99 a month. That means you do need to re-up your subscription to that service every month in order to continue to acquire the rewards it offers. Furthermore, it’s actually possible to miss the additional items this premium service offers if you don’t acquire them in time. While that service has been temporarily removed from the game due to negative feedback, it’s worth keeping an eye on whether or not it will return in some form.

Diablo Immortal Lets You Purchase Packs of Items

The last significant microtransaction I’ve found in Diablo Immortal are “packs” that contain a variety of items. At present, the only pack I seem to be able to purchase is a Beginner’s Pack that cost $9.99 and includes a cosmetic weapon skin and 60 Eternal Orbs.

While there don’t seem to be additional packs available at this time, expect that to change as the game is updated. Such packs are a fairly common way to regularly incentivize players to purchase a small bundle of items at what is generally advertised as a discounted price.

Is Diablo Immortal a Pay-to-Win Game?

After all that, we finally arrive at the question most people currently seem to be asking, “Is Diablo Immortal a pay-to-win game?”

The easiest answer to that question I can give is “Not technically, but it is most certainly a game that allows you to pay real money in order to make things significantly easier on yourself.”

Ad – content continues below

Diablo Immortal‘s microtransactions are carefully constructed to prevent you from being able to directly buy items that will instantly make your character stronger or provide other immediate gameplay advantages. Purchasable gear is entirely cosmetic, while the in-game store doesn’t currently offer ways to directly purchase things like Legendary Gems that can be used to make your character stronger.

If you want to play Diablo Immortal without ever spending any money, you can technically do so. The game is obviously not shy about offering microtransaction options, but they are still options. Furthermore, accessing most of the game’s substantial content doesn’t require you to spend any money. Someone who spends several thousand dollars on this game will still have access to the same basic areas, raids, and bosses as a true free-to-play user. That’s a good thing.

However, Diablo Immortal simply offers too many ways to spend money and circumvent the odds that other players have to live by. Legendary Gems and Reforge Stones are the biggest offenders in that particular category. Both items yield incredible power boosts, and both items are incredibly difficult to acquire without spending money. In the case of Reforge Stones, even spending money won’t guarantee you’ll get the reward you want. You may have to purchase/acquire several to get the upgrade you’re looking for.

The fact of the matter is that someone who spends money on this game will be able to make their character significantly more powerful in far less time than someone who doesn’t intend to spend any money on the game. While Diablo Immortal is cleverly designed to avoid instances of “pay $X for Y gameplay benefit,” it offers several ways to indirectly benefit from spending money or even just delay the benefits you’ll eventually get for spending money. Everything is at least one step removed from what is traditionally seen as a pay-to-win transaction. I suppose that system technically helps the game avoid that dreaded tag, but “technically not pay-to-win” isn’t exactly high praise.

If you’re not interested in quick and constant access to high-level PvP play, high-level PvE end game content, or special cosmetics in Diablo Immortal, most of that probably won’t matter to you. However, if you’re looking to dive a little deeper into Diablo Immortal‘s end-game content and would greatly prefer to not spend any money on the game, I will warn you now that you will end up spending a ton of time and relying on a lot of luck in order to acquire some of the things that premium players will have quicker access to.

Ad – content continues below