Headed into Blizzcon this year, there was a great deal of chatter about an expected Diablo announcement. While we already knew that the Switch was getting Diablo III, it’s been more than six years since Diablo III dropped. The hope was that we’d see a new game — hopefully one with a better story arc this time around (Diablo III’s gameplay loop is quite good these days, but I’d argue that the actual story was a step back from Diablo II, even by the paper-thin story arcs of this kind of game). At Blizzcon this past weekend, Blizzard did indeed announce a new title — but Diablo Immortal is a mobile game, not a further continuation of the primary story.
Kotaku took the game for a spin and noted how limited it is in practice. Each character class has four abilities that can’t be swapped and no mana, energy, rage, or other resource to manage. There’s loot, but it doesn’t change your character’s appearance and currently only provides basic attack or defense stats. Blizzard has told players that there will be a larger roster of 12 skills to choose from that you’ll unlock over time and that they’re going to have a functional loot system as well.
“The loot system is very much a work in progress, which is why inventory is disabled in the demo,” designer Wyatt Cheng told Kotaku. “We are still working out the details of how itemization [will] work, but there are a few strong values we have. First, we want there to be some depth for hardcore players. Second, there should be customization (including visual). Third, we want to make sure legendary items allow you to customize your build further with game-defining effects.”
Given that this is just an early demo, a bit of caution seems to be in order, ut Diablo fans aren’t exactly known for being reasonable. When Blizzard showed off Diablo III years ago, a minority of fans railed against the art style and filled forum pages with long screeds about how Blizzard was transforming the game into a bright, cartoon, fantasy-land. Having sunk a great deal of time into Diablo, Diablo II, and Diablo III (including a major mod project waaaaay back in Diablo II days), I can confirm that the only bright and whimsical place in D3 is Whimsyshire — and that’s on purpose.
With that said, I think Blizzard should be wary before dismissing the feedback, either. It’s never easy to move a franchise into a new form factor, and Diablo Immortal plays quite differently from what fans are used to. There’s nothing wrong with building a mobile game that’s a little easier to pick up and play. But if it doesn’t feel like Diablo — or worse, if it feels like a cheaply built cash-grab intended to capitalize on Diablo — that’s not going to resonate well with players. The involvement of Chinese company NetEase has stoked fears that Blizzard is moving to a mobile-first strategy that eviscerates what people love about Diablo in the first place.
Blizzard is aware that fans were hoping for more concrete fare than a mobile game and Polygon spoke to Allen Adham, executive producer and Blizzard co-founder, as well as Dan Eggren, project director, about the fan response to Diablo Immortal.
“We have said that we have multiple Diablo teams working on multiple Diablo projects and that remains true, even after releasing [Diablo 3 for Nintendo] Switch and announcing Diablo: Immortal,” Adham said. “We still have multiple Diablo teams working on multiple unannounced Diablo projects. Diablo is a tentpole franchise for us. And it always will be. We love it. We hope our fans understand what we’re saying when we say that.”
It’s not clear how much of the negative reaction is due to Immortal itself and how much is a mismatch between what fans were hoping for (new PC game!) and what got announced. Honestly, I think Blizzard is one of the few companies that arguably deserves some benefit of the doubt on this one. While the company’s games are not to everyone’s tastes — plenty of people don’t like Starcraft, Warcraft, or Diablo — it has a strong, decades-long reputation for delivering high-quality products. I’m not going to tell you that Diablo Immortal will be good, or that people who wanted to see the PC game instead shouldn’t be unhappy, but I think Blizzard has earned the right to say they take game quality seriously. Granted, my choice of phone means I’m unlikely to ever play this particular dungeon crawler — games aren’t exactly optimized for a display the size of the iPhone SE’s anymore — but I’ll be curious to see if the world of Sanctuary translates to the very small screen.