I'm about to share some news that may come as a bit of a shock: Diablo Immortal isn't the betrayal of the Diablo franchise that the reaction to its initial reveal might have suggested. In fact, dare I whisper it, it may actually end up being.... pretty good? It's a lot to take in, I know.
My extended time spent in the Diablo Immortal Closed Alpha didn't reveal a half-baked, cash-in on Blizzard's long loved dungeon crawling series. Instead, what this mobile title offers is a bite-sized, streamlined variant on the Diablo formula; one that's neither as deep or content-rich as its mainline counterparts, but arguably just as enjoyable to play, and thus presents a tempting way to kill some time, and plenty of demons, no matter where you are in the world.
Tap to slay
Despite the continued rise of premium releases slowly breaking the stigma, "mobile game" is still a dirty phrase for many, conjuring images of in-game advertisements, garish visuals, and time-gated mechanics that can only be circumvented with your credit card details. Thankfully, Diablo Immortal is not that kind of experience; though there is a monetisation system in place (more on that later), you won't have to worry about waiting 24 hours before being able to travel to the next dungeon, or coming across a boss who'll only drop their best loot for VIP members.
Diablo Immortal is Diablo, plain and simple, albeit with an emphasis on the simple. Set between the events of Diablo 2 and 3, your adventures through Sanctuary will be familiar to any veteran demon-slayers, yet distilled and compressed across the board to accommodate the handheld format. Instead of wielding an entire Action Bar of abilities as you would on PC, for example, Diablo Immortal limits its combat to just five buttons sat in the corner of the touchpad, although you can regularly swap and switch between active abilities to keep things fresh.
Similarly, Diablo's loot, progression, and class systems have been boiled down into more clarified versions of their former selves, all to maintain a crisp visual language that allows for easier navigation on a phone or tablet. Don't expect to scrawl through reams of item text or spend hours crafting an intricately detailed class build, basically. Diablo Immortal is all about keeping the action smooth, intuitive, and accessible.
Thankfully, those design decisions work wonders for the moment-to-moment appeal of Immortal's gameplay. Diablo's traditional top-down format makes a good fit for the touchscreen, with responsive, precise mobility making it easy to stay on top of combat no matter how many demons flood the screen at once.
Whichever of the six classes you decide to adventure as, the variety of their ever expanding arsenal of abilities does maintain a layer of strategy, too, forcing you to think carefully about the best opportunities for deploying them, from a blistering area-of-effect attack to a singularly focused ranged shot. Demons (and there are lots of demons) crunch, squelch, and pop, with every hit, too, bringing a satisfying sense of catharsis to the endless cycle of slaughter.
I did miss some of the customizability that came with Diablo 3's comprehensive loot structure, but new gear is dished out frequently enough to feel like you're constantly progressing in Immortal, even if the nature of that progress isn't as multifaceted as we've come to expect from the Diablo series.
Hell in hand
Diablo Immortal's graphics are also something of a pocket-sized treat, provided you have a device that can handle them, looking as authentically dour and bloody as you'd expect from a trip back into the depths of Hell. Playing on a Black Shark 3, my sessions ran like butter, without any framerate hiccups or visual dips even when the action was at its most hectic, though it's worth noting that the app can eat up your battery life pretty quickly.
And for those curious about how Diablo Immortal plans to make money as a free-to-play title, the answer is, of course, an optional battle pass progression system, purchased with real world money by players who want to earn extra rewards at a faster rate.
Thankfully, the battle pass' tiers are primarily made up of extra helpings of the various in-game currencies available at present, giving you more resources to upgrade, build, or reroll stats on your existing gear, though it's perfectly easy to accrue a healthy amount of those same resources through quests, combat, and exploration.
In other words, I never felt as though I needed to own the battle pass to experience the best of what Diablo Immortal's Closed Alpha had to offer, making its existence inoffensive and unobtrusive during play. This, of course, may change over time, but Blizzard surely understands its player base well enough by now to know that locking any high-tier loot behind the battle pass would rightfully invoke the wrath of the demon-slaying community, so here's hoping it remains an optional upgrade, and just that.
So, is Diablo Immortal every bit as compelling, rewarding, and majestic as its non-mobile counterparts? No, but neither is it anywhere near the disaster that some fans had it pegged as. Of course, part of the angered response to the game's 2019 reveal was wrapped up in frustrations over the lack of any Diablo 4 news, but now that we know that mainline sequel is officially on the way, it's worth giving Immortal its fair due, especially as a holdover fix to keep us going in the meantime. When slaying demons is this much fun, and completely free of charge, what's stopping you?