Way back at BlizzCon 2018, when the bomb dropped about the next Diablo being a mobile, free-to-play action RPG, I was one of those “wait and see” types. Was it what I wanted out of a Diablo title? No. But I wanted to try it out. Even if soaked to the gills with microtransactions – which I believed at the time would be limited to premium cosmetics or stash tabs like Path of Exile, maybe a Battle Pass – as long as it was fun, that was enough.
Slowly and slowly, it became more obvious that Diablo Immortal isn’t necessarily a new game. It’s heavily based on NetEase’s Crusaders of Light, which is the prime example of terrible monetization practices in a video game, forget the mobile space. With how long it took to develop and Blizzard seemingly focused on delivering a “true” Diablo game, I was still somewhat curious. Fast-forward several years later to the announcement of a PC port and here we are.
"This isn’t even a soulless cash-grab – the cash-grab is its very soul. The sheer audacity is as maddening and rage-inducing as it is hilarious."
Diablo Immortal is one of the very worst games ever made. That may sound like hyperbole. It may sound knee-jerk. Maybe I didn’t give this money hydra, sprouting more things to purchase the more you pay, a real chance. But the truth is that unless you have a hyperbolic time chamber a la Dragon Ball Z, you will never advance enough to get even close to end-game min-maxing without spending some money. Whatever progress you do make is slow and agonizing with a litany of issues at nearly every step. This isn’t even a soulless cash-grab – the cash-grab is its very soul. The sheer audacity is as maddening and rage-inducing as it is hilarious.
Picking up after Diablo 2, the story sees the Worldstone shattered into pieces. A new evil force is looking to harness its power and resurrect Diablo. As a relative outsider, you are tasked with gathering the pieces while fighting back against the forces of evil. Right from the outset, the mood is decidedly different from Diablo 3. It’s grimmer with deaths that try to tug at your heartstrings. I say “try” because eventually, enough secondary characters die after barely spending 20 to 30 minutes with you (sometimes less) that a new death hardly registers.
Thankfully, this subsides after a time, allowing the cast to breathe and showcase the strong voice-acting. Moments of levity between all the despair also help. Though the pacing can utterly plummet at points (Zoltun Kulle’s library, for instance), it goes along at a decent pace. In terms of environments, they feel smaller than Diablo 3 but there’s still enough room to explore. The visuals are sharp, building off Diablo 3’s colorful animated style but keeping things appropriately dark and macabre.
Each region feels distinct in its ways, though they’re still fairly derivative. The dried-out remains of the Shassar Sea serve as your desert level; the Dark Wood with its sentient evil plants is, well, your forest level; and so on. Very little of it is extraordinary (unless this is your very first action RPG) but they do the job. The music is also good, if not overly amazing.
"Despite leveling up fairly quickly at first, you’ll notice the amount of XP starts to dwindle as you go higher. This means sticking with the same combination of skills for longer than desired, further adding to the repetition."
Alas, that’s most of the good points covered. Combat starts in a compelling manner – it feels responsive and visceral, if somewhat repetitive and one-dimensional. Attacking while moving, especially as the Demon Hunter, feels nice….until you encounter an annoying bug on the mouse and keyboard where certain movements and abilities just won’t work. You’ll select attacks – like Rain of Arrows – and keep mashing Left Click to deploy them to no avail.
At times, I couldn’t even heal despite potions being off cooldown and mashing Q like my life depended on it. This is a bug that the developer has acknowledged but it can make combat so much more irritating to deal with. Your character will also just keep auto-attacking at times without stopping; sometimes, attacks like Explosive Arrow wouldn’t go off despite the animation playing.
Playing with a controller is better. However, you lose finer movement and attacks while moving, making Demon Hunter feel more stilted. Despite leveling up fairly quickly at first, you’ll notice the amount of XP starts to dwindle as you go higher. This means sticking with the same combination of skills for longer than desired, further adding to the repetition. It also doesn’t help that Skill Runes from Diablo 3, which helped add some more diversity throughout the game, are gone.
Instead, you simply level up skills to increase their damage. Legendary Gear now modifies your Skills so instead of firing at enemies around you while using Strafe, you’ll instead drop grenades. Others are way more milquetoast. One Legendary increases Strafe damage by a whopping 10 percent. Remember all the “+12000 percent damage” memes for Legendary and Gear Set items in Diablo 3? This feels like it’s skewed towards the other extreme and it sucks. Also, shout-out to the new “Ultimate Skills.” These take a while to charge and eventually alter your Primary Attack – like Explosive Arrow turning into Explosive Bolas for a limited time. They’re also super underwhelming to the point that you wonder what’s the point (which is a constantly recurring question in this game).
"Around level 33, you’ll run into your first level gate. Better go grind some Elder Rifts and Bounties to gain XP. You can’t even continue the story, fighting off tougher enemies in the process and hoping the levels even out."
In general, gear feels lame. You’d think it’s due to starting in the early going but this persists even at level 20, level 30 and so on. A few stat increases and bonuses do very little to liven up the gameplay and make you feel powerful. But wait, it gets even better – around level 33, you’ll run into your first level gate. Better go grind some Elder Rifts and Bounties to gain XP. You can’t even continue the story, fighting off tougher enemies in the process and hoping the levels even out. They simply don’t give additional experience and take longer to kill, which says a lot about how Blizzard values your time.
This may seem like a one-time occurrence but the level gating happens again around level 36 with the game pushing you to hit level 40. Meanwhile, there’s an icon in the bottom-middle of the screen that constantly says “High Monster Difficulty.” Clicking on this during combat – which can happen numerous times while clicking to move around – results in a pop-up about how you could, nay, should get stronger. You could, perhaps should, also spend money in the store as well but we’ll get to that.
Substantial XP gains only seem to come from completing the Codex and ranking up the Battle Pass. On the one hand, it encourages doing different activities. But it can also discourage farming something you enjoy and just playing. Furthermore, you need to “optimize” your play and make sure you’re constantly checking the Codex and doing activities that give Battle Points, XP bonuses, etc instead of just playing the game in peace. Even better, you can pay real money for Battle Pass Tiers, thus leveling up quicker. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.
Let’s talk about Bounties. These are simply objectives like “Kill X amount of enemies” or “Collect Y amount of materials from Z enemies.” Completing Bounties to get more or less garbage gear with very few upgrades sounds neat, right? It’s mostly for the XP gains though and as you complete a certain amount of Bounties, you’ll hit milestones that give progressively more XP.
"You’ll constantly receive pop-ups about a new one-time bundle being available. Daily login rewards are right next to the other bundles, further pushing you to spend a bit, just a bit, on some more power."
But given the game’s persistently online nature, you’re competing with other players for kills. Kill stealing is more or less required in this respect. “But maybe you’d like to party up with that player instead since both of you have the same objective?” says the game with a smaller but still annoying pop-up. Every. Single. Time.
All of this, every single bit, is simply encouraged to make you spend money. But that’s not enough for Blizzard. You’ll constantly receive pop-ups about a new one-time bundle being available. Daily login rewards are right next to the other bundles, further pushing you to spend a bit, just a bit, on some more power.
Though you can purchase Legendary Gems and Items with in-game currency, these are capped. Legendary Crests, which are needed to modify Elder Rifts for a shot at 5-star Legendary Gems, are also capped to one per month. Rare Crests are capped at two per day and only give the piddly 2-star Legendary Gems (if you’re lucky, of course). Did we mention that Hilts, the in-game currency for buying these, is also limited?
I also like how when upgrading a Legendary Gem or item, the game helpfully tells me how to get more (read: spend some money, fool). Other pop-ups such as constantly asking you to check recommended builds, inspect a Legendary item (which you should equip and upgrade, says the game), and telling me to click on the main quest to resume navigation are annoyingly persistent.
"It feels like the developer took the overall power of a Diablo 3 end-game character, chopped it up into numerous little pieces and then set about monetizing every last bit."
The core of the endgame is centered on Legendary Gems. You want to earn Legendary Gems to become more powerful; you want to rank them up to unlock more benefits like increased Magic Find and more damage. Unfortunately, along with different star ratings for Gems – with 5-stars being the best – you also need to farm other Legendary Gems to upgrade your current ones. This costs an insane amount of time and resources to get just one Gem to rank 10.
It feels like the developer took the overall power of a Diablo 3 end-game character, chopped it up into numerous little pieces and then set about monetizing every last bit. Even if you gain some bonuses – which are significant and do make a huge difference in your damage and survivability – the overall pay-off just doesn’t feel worth it. Hilariously, skills follow a cooldown system instead of consuming resources like Mana. How do you reduce cooldowns? By Awakening your gear, of course.
Awakening increases your overall Resonance and unlocks other measly benefits, by adding even more Legendary Gems to your Legendary Gems. This is completely locked behind a paid item, Dawning Echo. You need Eternal Orbs to buy it. There’s no way to earn Eternal Orbs in-game. There is a way to get Platinum, which is used to purchase Gems, both Legendary and otherwise, through the in-game Market. But of course, you can just spend Eternal Orbs on Platinum as well. One way or another, just spend some money. Are we having fun yet?
To top it all off, there’s a screen that showcases your overall Combat Rating and almost constantly reminds you that your current load-out is trash. “You should upgrade,” it says. “You should spend some money.”
"As a PC port of a mobile game, Diablo Immortal is a pain to play. The interface is just horrible, pop-ups and all included."
One could make the argument that this is how mobile games are. But as a PC port of a mobile game, Diablo Immortal is a pain to play. The interface is just horrible, pop-ups and all included. In addition to inaccurate movements and skills with the keyboard and mouse, another bug causes the main menu to pop up every time you press “Esc” which gets annoying when checking the inventory.
Performance is also very iffy. At times, it will run smoothly at 60 FPS but when exploring the regions, it drops to a lower frame rate. I’m unsure whether this is due to other players or something else because frame drops occur even when nothing is happening. This is despite being way above the hardware requirements and dialing down several settings in-game.
Let’s not forget the bugs. At one point, attempting to clear the recommended builds pop-up caused the game to freeze. While trying to solve a puzzle that involved reading a tome, the game simply disconnected and couldn’t reconnect. It also crashed once when pressing “Tap to play.”The audio suddenly went out when using a controller and then magically came back minutes later. On mobile, an error occurred when attempting to merge one’s Battle.net account due to different regions (which currently doesn’t have a fix, last time I checked).
But surely Diablo Immortal is still fun even without having to spend money, even if it feels like a dumbed down version of Diablo 3 in terms of loot and abilities? To be fair, several boss encounters do feel involved with strategies like dodging projectiles (which is super-easy but at least it mixes things up). Of course, several bosses are also straight-up reused from Diablo 3. The Curator is Zoltan Kulle; the end boss functions very similar to Diablo; and Leoric, despite some new attacks, is still very much Leoric. Several tile-sets, enemies, sound effects and more are also lifted directly from Diablo 3.
"I started out hopeful, became enraged, and am now simply relieved to escape this mess."
Which then raises the question – why play Diablo Immortal when you could just play Diablo 3? Yes, it has lots of content, if jumping through various hoops for eternity, monetary or otherwise, sounds appealing. The campaign is decent, even fine sometimes. But the overall sense of progression is marred by this pay-to-win structure. It’s one thing to accept this on mobile, but there are better options available on PC like Grim Dawn, Path of Exile and Last Epoch. More premium experiences like The Division 2 and Destiny 2 also exist, and they won’t demand your life savings either.
Diablo Immortal has the makings of something good. Not great but at least good, and vestiges of the same can be seen in its tone, story, combat and art direction. However, the current iteration is simply exhausting to deal with, from the myriad of PC issues, abundance of pay-to-win microtransactions and needlessly complex systems to the annoying UI, underwhelming loot, and pure shamelessness of the facade. I started out hopeful, became enraged, and am now simply relieved to escape this mess.
This game was reviewed on PC.
The environmental art style and overall narrative are decent. When it works (or when using a controller), combat feels quick and responsive. Lots of content.
A plethora of bugs, caps, level gates and excessive monetization hampers every part of the experience. Laughably bad UI. Overly complex systems that respect neither your time nor money. Combat, which is already dumbed down further from Diablo 3, is annoying on the mouse and keyboard. Underwhelming gear and build possibilities.