There’s no denying that Diablo Immortal is an actual, factual Diablo game.
It looks like, plays like, and feels like a proper entry in the popular action-RPG franchise. In some ways, it’s a better Diablo game than Diablo 3 was at launch. On the surface, this sounds sacrilegious, I know, but it’s true. The storytelling, worldbuilding, dungeon design, and combat all shine through above everything else.
The deeper you get into the game, however, that shine starts to wear off. As great of a Diablo game as Immortal is, there’s something else hiding below the surface: its monetization strategy. As a free-to-play game, Diablo Immortal was always going to have microtransactions. My hope was that they wouldn’t fall into the typical trappings of a mobile game where the best way to progress through the game was to swipe your credit card.
Unfortunately, that is the best way to progress through the game. Diablo Immortal is a genuinely great game that struggles to escape the unbearable weight of predatory and sleazy monetization.
Diablo Immortal Proves That the Franchise Should Always Be on Mobile
The best thing Immortal accomplishes is delivering a genuine Diablo experience on mobile devices. The experience isn’t 100% perfect, but it’s incredibly enjoyable. The touch controls on my phone (Google Pixel 4XL) work extraordinarily well, even if my right hand is muffling the sound. Controller support via Bluetooth is enabled as well, meaning you’re able to go that route if you prefer.
In terms of performance, Diablo Immortal runs impressively smooth on my mobile device. I initially had some concerns that were quickly alleviated when I realized I was in a dead zone for cell reception. Whether it’s at home on the couch, on the toilet, in the Taco Bell drive-thru line, or at the store, I’ve been able to squeeze in some action with ease.
There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to using your abilities. Properly aiming or placing skills feels awkward at first, but it’s something you overcome in a quick fashion. Dare I say that mobile is the preferred manner to play Diablo Immortal? Honestly, it is; Nothing feels as smooth and enjoyable as the touch controls.
Playing with a controller feels clunky and the mouse and keyboard setup, while serviceable, is awkward at times. Of course, that’s not the biggest problem with the PC version.
I want to preface things by saying that the PC port for Diablo Immortal is still technically in beta. Having said that, it’s complete garbage. It feels as though the game was simply copied from the mobile client and pasted for PC. Prompts often ask players to tap the screen to continue. I don’t recommend actually tapping your monitor, nothing happens.
Of course, if you click to continue, there’s a chance nothing happens either. Sometimes the game crashes, other times it will sit and think for up to a minute before deciding “yeah, I’m not going to launch this game for you.”
Obviously, there’s plenty of room for improvement; again, the PC release is in beta form. Still, it’s just about the worst first impression the game can possibly make.
The Elephant in the Room
For as much good that Diablo Immortal’s gameplay can do, it still has to live under the enormous weight of its monetization. Being a free-to-play mobile game comes with comparisons to others in the genre. Its contemporaries can be known for doing everything they can to squeeze money from its player base. Unfortunately for Immortal, it leans into those tendencies super hard.
Now, it’s important to state that you can indeed complete the game without spending money. There are no hardcore roadblocks in terms of content or progress through the story. Will you have to grind occasionally? Yes, but most of the monetization has to deal with acquiring loot. Sadly, this is all the good I have to say about its pay-to-win type structure.
Actually, I should clarify something here: you’re not exactly paying to win. Instead, you’re paying for a chance to acquire better loot. The items have to drop, obviously. When they drop, they have to fit your class. On top of that as well, they have to be the highest quality items available. If this sounds like a gacha game, you’re not wrong; Diablo Immortal is a gacha game and it isn’t trying to be shy about it.
Immortal uses several methods to try to get players to spend money. One is super subtle: the fear of missing out. FOMO is a normal thing for everyone to come across. Diablo Immortal is subtle about how it approaches this. The biggest method is through party play.
Immortal is an MMO/ARPG hybrid, meaning you’ll encounter players throughout the world of Sanctuary. In addition, you can group up with people in your rifts. In fact, there’s no reason you should ever do rifts alone; you get far too many rewards while in groups.
As a result, you’ll encounter other players that may or may not be spending money. They also may or may not be better equipped than you, doing cooler things with powerful equipment that you don’t have. What’s the best way to upgrade your equipment and do comparable damage? You guessed it: swipe your credit card.
Is this something that you need to do? Absolutely not; you can play through the campaign and rifts just fine with the gear you naturally acquire. If you’re the type of person who absolutely must top damage meters, though, you’re going to have to spend.
This subtle approach also dives into the issue that naturally comes with any gacha game: the dopamine rush when you pick up the best possible upgrade. You’ll always be chasing that high to the point where spending money every now and then seems like it’s worth the risk. Before you know it, especially if you lack self-control, you’ve spent hundreds of dollars trying to acquire pixels.
All of these are the more nuanced ways that Diablo Immortal tries to get payers to spend money. It’s predatory, sure, but just an unfortunate part of the genre. Of course, any possible goodwill towards the game is thrown out when I remind you that all of your efforts in spending money only result in a chance to get better equipment. It’s gambling through and through. Combine that with the fact Immortal is in no way shy about telling you to buy things from its store, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Diablo Immortal Could Have Been One of the Best Mobile Games Ever Made
It’s frustrating, again, because of how good the core gameplay is in Diablo Immortal. Instead, monetization simply cannot be ignored, no matter how hard you try to ignore it. This is a game that is meant for people who consider spending money the most important skill in a video game. It’s made to generate insane profits for executives that overworked and mistreated developers will never see. It’s made to exploit bad habits from susceptible players and drain their wallets.
Combat, classes, and gameplay all feel like pure Diablo. The rest is pure garbage. It sucks since I’m going to keep playing the game, but I also know that I can without the temptation to spend money. If you can’t, I urge you to stay far, far, away.