Having Diablo in your pocket, playable at any time and anywhere, is a delicious and wonderful thing. It’s also dangerous if you want to focus on anything else; Diablo Immortal’s portability and accessibility come with a cost: a constant, nagging sense that the game really wants you to spend more money on it. And while it can mostly be ignored in the early hours of the game, it’s impossible to separate that aspect of Immortal from the full experience. And that might kill the game for many.
Let’s not beat around the corrupted blood bush: Diablo Immortal is a free-to-play action RPG dungeon crawler built for phones (but coming to PC too) that looks and plays a lot like Diablo 3. But it’s also filled to the brim with ways to spend money that aren’t present in past Diablo titles.
Some of the included microtransactions are so bad that they violated two countries’ loot box and in-game gambling laws, preventing Diablo Immortal’s release in those nations.
You can buy cosmetics, sure, and most folks today are okay with or at least have made their peace with in-game cosmetics that are purely decorative. But you can also spend cash to unlock more than just fancy outfits or weapon skins. For example, Legendary Crests cost real money and can augment loot drops from Rift dungeons, activities which are free to access and play.
These crests guarantee that rarer, better gems and items will drop as rewards for finishing a Rift dungeon. But you don’t know what you’ll get before buying or doing the dungeon, which basically makes these blind loot boxes that are locked until you play through an activity to open them. And while lower-quality crests can be earned in-game for free, these premium Legendary Crests can only be purchased via the in-game store.
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This is just one example of a classic element of Diablo being twisted into another way to nickel and dime players. But like a lot of Diablo Immortal, you can also just ignore that stuff and just…play the game and not spend money on all the other in-game currencies, items, season passes, or reward subscriptions.
And luckily, Diablo Immortal is a very fun and well-made action RPG that works well with touchscreen controls. Though the game also supports controllers on android and iOS.
Immortal has high production values, with wonderful voice acting, great music, and levels that are filled with detail and polish, as you’d expect from a AAA Blizzard game. Combat is also very satisfying, with hits and spells making all the perfect sounds you’d want from this type of game. And yes, the loot still makes that beautiful spinning and knocking noise when it flies out of some disgusting demon boss you just destroyed. It’s Diablo and that’s a very, very good thing. Even on a smaller phone screen or tablet, Immortal’s art and UI work perfectly. You can also customize almost every element of the UI, controls, and more to get something that works perfectly for you.
Another bonus: If your device supports it, you can play Diablo Immortal at 60FPS. Though be prepared to give up a lot of space on your phone to install all of Immortal. Thankfully, Blizzard lets you install chunks of the game as you go and you can skip downloading higher-quality assets if your phone can’t run the game efficiently or if you just need some extra space. Even on my older Samsung Note 8, Immortal played fine with only a minor hitch here or there.
But, like a bad smell in your kitchen that you can’t quite get rid of, the stink of Diablo Immortal’s microtransactions and economy linger. No matter how much fun I had killing skeletons, demons, or any of the game’s other baddies from its large roster, I could never shake the feeling that Immortal was just waiting at all times to offer me a deal in an attempt to get me to fork over some cash.
A great example of how Immortal is always waiting with an offer happens early on in the game.
After wrapping up the intro and tutorial section, I was having a nice time. I was playing with a controller on a big iPad and had mostly forgotten this was a free-to-play Diablo game. Instead, I felt like I was just playing a brand new Diablo adventure. I was having a blast. And then, the moment I ended the main tutorial quest the game popped up with an ad congratulating me for finishing the intro and offering me a deal. According to Immortal, it was an “800% Value” chest that was perfect for new players. And sure, I clicked the X in the right-hand corner and continued to play, but stuff like this continued to happen.
Immortal never lets you forget that all this fun, well, it ain’t free, buddy. You need to pay up eventually. Perhaps I will, if I really enjoy myself. But the pestering and nagging will likely be too much for most Diablo players who have sunk hundreds of hours into the older entries or for folks who don’t play many modern mobile games.
There’s a really great game in here, but it’s frustratingly buried under an economy and in-game store that never lets up. And we are still in the early days. This game features a lot of MMO-like content, including PVP. How will Legendary Crests and paid chests interfere with that stuff? I can’t say yet. What I can say is that unless you are willing to hold your nose and hop over annoying ads, there’s probably not much for you here.
Personally, I’ve played and enjoyed a lot of mobile games that have also included in-app purchases and I think I’ll be able to handle Immortal’s ads and deals. But I also know that for many who don’t play free-to-play phone games a lot, this shit is too much and too gross to ignore.
Diablo Immortal is out today in some regions on iOS and Android devices. The game launches properly tomorrow across all devices, including PC via the Battle Net launcher.