Hands-on with Diablo Immortal: Is it any good?

Diablo Immortal may have taken a lot of flak on Reddit, YouTube, and the internet in general already, but it didn’t dissuade me from trying it out on the BlizzCon floor. All prejudices aside about not getting a Diablo 4 or a Diablo 2: Remastered, Diablo Immortal is a decent game at face value.

One caveat before we dig into this: micro transactions will likely be a large part of the game, but they weren’t anywhere in the BlizzCon demo. Instead, players were thrust into a short dungeon that took around 10-15 minutes to complete. There were mostly trash mobs throughout the dungeon, with maybe one or two elite/champion packs and then the final boss.

Let’s Talk Mobile

The big draw for Diablo Immortal is that it’s mobile. It’s really strange for that to be the big selling point of a new Diablo game, though. The Nintendo Switch Diablo 3 port accomplished that just last week.

That aside, the port to mobile is actually quite fun. It’s not without its problems, though. The controls for mobile are pretty limited. You move by touching the screen with your left thumb and pushing it the direction you want to go. Simple, but it leaves out a lot of the intricacies of what you would get from a PC version of any Diablo game.

Things like dodging boss abilities become infinitely harder when you have to use touch-screen controls. Where the Switch allows you to roll away with the joystick controls, mobile allows for no such thing.

In order to dodge abilities, you have to run away or use one of your precious ability cooldowns to dodge. Because of this limitation, it feels like Blizzard had to scale down how much damage the demon hordes cause. Without the finesse of dodging, players are going to take a lot more hits.

With the exception of the final boss fight, I never bothered with dodging. The reusable potion was being used constantly throughout my time, but I was never in danger of dying at any point. I never had one of the moments that I’ve had while playing Diablo 3 on PC where I’m frantically pounding my keyboard in order to dodge. It took a lot of the joy of Diablo away from me because of that.

The ability usage can be equally as frustrating. The right side of your screen will have five different ability buttons that you can furiously tap. The largest is your basic attack, while the others are your abilities with cooldowns.

While playing the monk I found it very easy to vanquish the demons that came at me, but it was never with finesse. It was hard to string together all of my abilities with that flourish I’ve done in Diablo 3.

The main issue is that abilities that require you to aim or charge are awkward to use. When you hold your finger down on the ability you then have to aim it, and that’s not easy. Your aiming reticle starts where your character is on the screen, but your finger placement on the right side of the screen makes it awkward to aim at enemies on the left side. Plus, once you’ve aimed properly and unleashed the ability, your finger for abilities is no longer on the ability buttons.

More often than not, I just used them at minimal power to save me the trouble.

There was one extremely cool thing I found during my time on the Monk. One of the abilities you have is a flying kick, and if you hit a wall with the flying kick you will do a small backflip and fly toward another enemy for extra damage. This small addition is a nice touch to Diablo Immortal and I’m sure there will be similar additions with the other classes.

Caveats Galore!

The game ran flawlessly on the phones that Blizzard provided for the demos, but as soon as you’re not on what Blizzard provided your experience will likely vary, and heavily in some cases. And don’t even try to play this game on a small screen like an iPhone 5s. You’re not going have a good time.

In addition to screen size being a critical factor to your enjoyment, you will likely never want to play this game where the sun is shining onto your phone. The glare will make the dark environments impossible to decipher.

There was also no story told in the demo at BlizzCon, which was disappointing. But honestly, mobile feels like a terrible way to tell a story for Diablo. While we had nice over-ear headsets to play with, not every player is going to have that when they’re playing. That itself is a huge drawback. Not only will you miss audio queues for combat, but you’ll also miss out on the large amount of work the audio teams at Blizzard put into Diablo.

Loot and looting is also a large pain point. While gold is picked up automatically (thank god), the rest of the loot requires you to tap on it. Remember how I said it was a pain to use abilities that draw your finger away from the ability pane? You run into the exact same problem with looting gear.

However, when you do loot gear that is an upgrade, the game will give you a small popup box that you can tap to automatically equip it. It’s nice early on, but I imagine players may run into problems with it further down the line.

Without knowing the algorithm behind what the game considers an upgrade, players could ruin specialized builds by using this feature, if the game even gets that in-depth. It’s hard to say, though, since the inventory screen was disabled for the demo.

Is it worth it?

The gameplay is crisp and the action decently visceral, but in the end, Diablo Immortal just isn’t enough at this point. There are too many potential flaws with it, the biggest being that the game likely isn’t made for the U.S. audience.

Remember how China is the largest mobile gaming market? And how this game is made by a Chinese company? This is clearly made for them. Which is fine, but Blizzard should never have had it as the big announcement at BlizzCon.

While I enjoyed Diablo Immortal at BlizzCon, I will not pick it up when it’s released. There’s no reason to. If I want a mobile Diablo experience I’ll boot up my Switch. If I want an experience at home I’ll play Diablo 3 on my PC.

As for the stories that will be told in Diablo Immortal, I’m sure many fans would agree with me when I say we would much prefer comics like Overwatch does, or animated videos.