• Tiger Hebert

Diablo Immortal: Is it any good?

I fell in love with the dark, brooding world of Sanctuary back in the summer of 1997 when I first saw my older cousin play Diablo. This was the game I'd always wanted, and never knew it existed. To tell you the truth, I didn't even need to see him play the actual game, once I saw the edgy opening trailer of the game, I was already hooked. Before my summer visit with my Uncle came to an end, I'd insisted they take my to a local computer store so I could buy my own copy (because we didn't have computer stores where I lived).

I could share a long story about the love affair this sparked with computers. My home PC was of course not powerful enough to meet the requirements to handle the game initially. I'm pretty sure it was my brilliant Uncle, who had already carved out a nice career as the owner of an successful IT company, who helped get me up and running. Back in the early mid-nineties, he was our answer for IT everything. This all eventually sparked a love affair with computers that I will spare you of the details. For this story, the important detail was that he'd done what was necessary for me and my buddy Carleton to play Diablo on my home PC.

Carleton and I delved deep through the dungeons below the Tristram Cathedral for countless hours, enraptured by the haunting music, the terrifying screams of tortured prisoners, and the gothic architecture. The love affair with the isometric RPG from a little gaming studio known as Blizzard was off and running. Over the years, I'd poured thousands of hours into this franchise playing everything I could get my hands on, including Sierra's attempt at an expansion for the original Diablo game, Hellfire. I played it all. Even with the lore changes and the Retcons, I still loved the World of Sanctuary.

I've always been very transparent when it comes to how much of an influence gaming has had in my writing. Gamers who read my work usually can see and appreciate the strong influence that Diablo, World of Warcraft, and Dungeons & Dragons play in my stories. Readers usually love the nod I give to those fantastical worlds, and the small Easter eggs hidden throughout my work—if they can find them!

So, like most gamers, when Diablo Immortal was announced, I was super disappointed. I didn't want a mobile game, I wanted either an Expansion for D3 or a D4 announcement. However, when I got the alert that DI was available for download on my phone, I couldn't help but give it a shot. I hadn't put any fore thought into what I'd play or anything, so on a whim I chose to play a Wizard. I hopped into the game and found that even though I despise mobile controls, that it was pretty smooth with an overall easy to navigate UI and the controls were simple and straight forward—a Blizzard hallmark.

That is when I realized that they'd made DI built for crossover play, where you could play the same game, in the same server, on PC. This intrigued me because I'm more of an old school PC guy. So I downloaded it and decided to give it a shot.

I immediately realized that I didn't care for the keyboard mouse controls that I'm so accustomed to from playing years of games like Diablo and Path of Exile, etc. It just didn't feel good to me. I wish I could quantify that more, something about it just felt off. Perhaps with more time I could have grown comfortable—like anything else—but the game was really designed for controller-style mobile play. So I decided to go buy myself an inexpensive PC controller on the Zon (which I am actually quite pleasantly surprised with). I jumped into DI and started slaying some demons with my new controller. At this point I found that the gameplay felt much smoother and was quite easy to control, until the controls bug started to rear it's ugly head. Apparently there is an issue in the code where if you are playing in controller mode, that any keyboard or mouse inputs will put the game into a loop where it tries to revert from controller mode back to keyboard/mouse mode. Unfortunately this is essentially an infinite loop, so every couple of seconds, the game is trying to force you back to keyboard and mouse. Your controller inputs make it revert back, but you are stuck in this stuttering loop. Long story short, this is fixable by shutting down the game and the Battle.net client, disconnecting the controller. Reconnecting it and relaunching the game, but the moment you perform a keyboard/mouse input, it starts all over again. Long story short, once I was able to understand this I was able to settle into a couple of short, but uninterrupted gaming sessions on PC with the controller and the controls felt great. Sanctuary looked awesome, the character models looked great, the skins I bought for a whopping 99¢ looked great, and I really liked the Wizards new skill combo of using the Ice Crystal and Ray of Frost/Disintegrate. The way the beams reflect of the giant chunk of Ice is awesome and allows you to put out some solid sustained AoE damage. However as I worked my way up to level 31 I found that this was pretty much all I was doing. I'd had to run in toss my Ice Crystal, run a safe distance away to then start channeling my Ray of Frost to slow everyone down, then swap to another channeling skill in Disintegrate, then spam my other skills while waiting for the cool down of those three main skills to run down.

Then I realized something. I wasn't having fun. Yes there were some strategy involved (especially with the bosses, I'll get to that in a minute), but the monsters didn't die very easily. Of course being very familiar with this style of games, I was a bit under-leveled, but the monsters still just felt like they had too much health and the cooldowns on skills were just too long. What this led to was a lot of running between packs and if my cooldowns weren't up yet, then I'd spam these weak skills until the "good skills" were ready, then I'd have to use them quickly, get the packs down to to hopefully half life, then wait for the cooldowns and hopefully finish them off with a second cycle. If that worked you rinse and repeat on the next batch of mobs. That's all fine and good, because at it's core it's really just the basic ARPG gameplay loop. Kill monsters, move to the next pack, kill more, rinse and repeat. Yet I found that the monster density, even for the campaign was too sparse. Which was actually a good thing considering the way too slow nature of the cooldowns. If the monster density was higher, you'd be dead a lot more. And yes, even as a very veteran gamer, I died, a lot. Which is okay, because some of this was just learning the controls and how skills worked together. However most of it was due to cooldowns being too long (at least for the wizard) on skills that really didn't have the Oompf to justify their timers. Now this forced, time-gated gameplay actually wasn't a bad thing when it came to playing multiplayer. When running a dungeon or rift, it actually felt okay in that group play setting. With a number of other heroes running around getting aggro and firing off their own salvo of deadly skills, it actually felt good. Which makes the gameplay feel faster in a way, which leads me to another significant observation. It feels like this game was not only tuned, but perhaps even designed for multiplayer play. If you're someone who primarily plays with others this is fantastic, but if you're someone like me with little (and sporadic) time to play this sucks. I can't predict when I'll have time to play with my buddies and if life demands I set the game down and walk away in the middle of something—then that's what has to happen. That's not exactly conducive to team play, which means—at it's core—this game probably wasn't designed for dad-gamers like me.

Now of course I only got to level 31 so far, and the game might feel different once I hit "level-cap" and start exploring DI's version of paragon levels, but there are some other concerns I had. At least to this point in my gameplay I found that my class doesn't have very many skills. For all the complains that D3/ROS received for shallow gameplay, I don't see it being better were less skills (oh and no sign of runes to modify skills either) for my class. Oh, and because of the mobile design, you're also limited to just 4 skills, a basic "generator" style skill in either Magic Missle or Electrocute. Oh, and there's an ultimate skill that you can somehow power-up over time and use it. I still have no idea how it works, how it charges, or what it actually does. I'd assume it's based on getting enough kills, but it happens so rarely that you just can't count on it and there is no visual in-game indicator on how to "charge" it. It also appears that it resets with each new zone, so yeah there's that. The bosses in the zones and rifts are fun and engaging, but with all the other detractors it was hard to get excited about them. Oh, and at least during the leveling process it was awful hard to get excited about loot. All the loot has been trash so far and generic. You're essentially waiting for a blue or yellow piece of gear to drop that has a little green arrow in your inventory that tells you that it is somehow and improvement over what you are currently wearing. For a game that's supposed to be about loot, the loot sucks. Maybe this gets better when you start seeing Legendary/Set items drop, but so far, nope. TLDR; Pros Visually impressive Smooth controls (minus the controller bug) Easy & Intuitive gameplay and UI

Early access to Rifts and Dungeons

Great boss design and encounters Character customization (face, skin tone, hair, etc.)


Buggy Controller Mode on PC (Needs a hotfix asap) Skill cooldowns are too high (at least on Wizard)

Skill Power to Monster Health ratio (Skills too weak for their cooldown length)

No Skill Runes... (Maybe these get unlocked later??) Too few skills... Ultimates—what? (In game it is not clear what they do or how they work, and they are rare) Loot is meh

Will I keep playing it? Eh, maybe a little, but I guess I'm just stuck holding out hope for Diablo IV—perhaps foolishly.

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