What Went Wrong with Diablo Immortal?

The free-to-play action RPG has faced immense backlash since its recent launch- what exactly is going on?

Posted By | On 14th, Jun. 2022

What Went Wrong with Diablo Immortal?

It’s been a tough few years for Blizzard, for so many reasons. Things have happened outside the realms of their games – major, massive things – that have been nothing short of an indictment of the culture of Activision Blizzard as a whole, and the company and the people in charge there have been on the receiving end of some extremely justified criticism as a result, to say the very least. But even if we’re looking purely at Blizzard Entertainment’s operations as a developer and publisher of video games just for the purposes of this feature, the picture that gets painted is still an ugly one. Delays, poor decisions, disappointing releases, and yes, once again, a healthy amount of backlash- all of that is still found in abundance when you look at Blizzard’s recent history.

Diablo Immortal is a huge part of that recent history. Announced first back in 2018, the free-to-play action RPG was the instant recipient of some of the worst and most vicious backlash in Blizzard history. Infamously, the company completely misread the context leading up to the game’s announcement, decided to hype people up for a new Diablo reveal, followed up on that hype with the reveal of a free-to-play mobile game, and then had the audacity to act surprised when people were disappointed. “Do you guys not have phones?” the developer infamously said, which, of course, was just perfectly emblematic of how out of touch Blizzard was (and continues to be) with its fanbase.

That initial backlash gave way to indifference and apathy over the next couple of years. Diablo Immortal receded into the background and Blizzard, along with co-developer NetEase, continued working on the game for the next several years. Those years were eventful ones for the company, which is putting it mildly, and not in a good way, but specifically where Diablo Immortal was concerned, slowly but surely, things were beginning to look up.

For about a year or two in the lead-up to Diablo Immortal’s eventual launch, Blizzard actually worked quite hard to turn people around on the game. Credit where credit is due, they were actually doing quite a good job. All of its showings and impressions from those who went hands-on with its suggested that this was no typical free-to-play mobile cashgrab. It looked like Diablo Immortal was going to be a proper, full-fledged Diablo action RPG, an addictive game with surprising polish and production value that would bring over all the mechanical strength that its PC counterparts had always been known for.

Recently, Diablo Immortal launched in full on mobile devices and as a beta on PC (funnily enough, given the whole backlash against the game not being on PC back when it was first announced), and sure enough, that positive clout the game had accumulated over time was bleeding into launch as well. People were playing it and thoroughly enjoying it- the consensus was that it felt like Diablo 3.5, which is far more than what many had expected from a mobile game. Right now, however, barely days after the game’s launch, all of that positivity seems like a distant, half-forgotten thing. And that’s not because the game itself is bad- no, it’s because the business practices of Blizzard and the poorly thought-out monetization of Diablo Immortal have overshadowed the game’s undeniable strengths.

Diablo Immortal (25)

Much of the game’s monetization is hardly even surprising. A lot of what is going on here was, to be honest, very much expected. This is a free-to-play game, after all, made primarily for mobile audiences, and those facts made it abundantly clear that there was going to be some aggressive monetization in here. Holding it to the standards of monetization that is acceptable in paid PC or console games (or hell, even free-to-play ones) was always going to be unfair. Even by the standards set by itself though, Diablo Immortal fails on multiple levels.

If you’re looking to play through the game’s campaign and nothing else, this should hardly be a problem for you. Let’s be fair there- Diablo Immortal offers a solid 20-30 hour-long campaign that you can play through without having to spend any of your money, and it’s a really enjoyable campaign. A massive section of the game’s audience will be more than happy to have a game that does that. But this is Diablo. Playing through the campaign is, for a huge chunk of the series’ fanbase and the game’s playerbase, just warm-up, if that. The real fun and the bulk of the time one spends on the game comes from post-game activities- and it’s there that Immortal’s hellish microtransactions rear their ugly head.

Not only is the game very explicitly pay-to-win when you get to that point, it’s also heavily luck-based. A core part of the progression is Legendary Gems, especially in the post-game phase, and not only is earning those through gameplay very time-consuming, the highest possible tier of Legendary Gems is just flat-locked behind purchases. What makes matters even worse is that purchases of Legendary Gems are not direct purchases- instead, you have to purchase Legendary Crests, which are Diablo Immortal’s version of loot boxes, which means even after spending money in the game, there’s no guarantees that you will get the progression item you’re looking for. It doesn’t help in the slightest that in the build-up to the game’s launch, its developers very explicitly said that players won’t be able to purchase money on gear. Sure, that’s technically correct, but it’s very much false in spirit- because spending money is pretty much a requirement for those who’re looking to make meaningful post-game progress, which many would argue forms the bulk of the Diablo experience.

So yeah, it’s very much pay-to-win, and littered with loot boxes, and very visibly and explicitly pushing players to spend copious amounts of money on what, for many, is very much the heart and soul of the experience. It’s a massive letdown, to put it mildly, and it brings down what is otherwise a really good game. Mechanically, at its core, Diablo Immortal is a solid action RPG that most would happily recommend to others, but as things stand right now, it’s hard to do that in good conscience- at least if you’ve got any interest in its post-game activities.

Diablo Immortal (18)

Sadly, this is far from the first time that a good game has been let down by its poorly thought out and aggressive monetization. Star Wars Battlefront 2 did it. Even Blizzard’s own Diablo 3 did it back in the day (though that game had plenty of other issues at launch as well). Funnily enough, both of those games managed to turn things around, and after dealing with massive backlash, were successful in fixing their issues and allowing their core strengths to flourish.

Will Diablo Immortal be able to do that? We certainly hope so. It’s not impossible, that’s for sure. But it’s going to be very, very hard. Right now, after widespread review bombing, the game is sitting at a user score of 0.5 on Metacritic, which is the second-lowest Metacritic user score for a Blizzard game to date, second only to World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Classic (which sits at a 0.4). Hell, Diablo Immortal is even rated lower by users than the disaster that was Warcraft 3: Reforged (0.6, in case you’re curious). Clearly, if Blizzard does want to turn this ship around, there’s going to be a lot of work that’ll need to be done. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but right now, there’s little doubt that the situation, in a word, is hellish.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.


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