Diablo has always been about the loot cycle. Explore, kill enemies, find sweet new gear, then explore some more to begin the cycle anew. It’s a loop that has kept gamers hooked for decades now across PC and console platforms, and now makes its way to the most ubiquitous platform of all – the smartphone. It’s also going free-to-play. Both concepts can instill fear in the minds of gamers used to premium console and PC titles, but how does Diablo hold up? From my couple of hours playtime so far – pretty decently!
I’ve been playing mostly on an iPhone, probably the most challenging device size to adapt the sometimes complex Diablo experience to but likely the one the vast majority of people will be using to play Immortal, and the experience has been generally positive for me. Tapping anywhere on the bottom left of the screen gives you a pleasant virtual stick (pleasant as far as virtual sticks go, at least) to move your character around, and the right side of the screen has a series of buttons for your attacks and abilities. Your standard attack is a big button in the centre while your skills are smaller buttons surrounding it. I never found it difficult to hit the ability I wanted to and aiming them by sliding your thumb from the button in the direction you want to use the skill is easy as.
Immortal has full support for Bluetooth controllers as well, so I decided to hook up a Dual Shock 4 and see if the experience held up to Diablo 3 on console control wise. It mostly does, with your abilities mapped to the face and shoulder buttons – but menus can be a pain since they use a pointer you move with the analog stick. Using a pointer with an analog stick has sucked in every game I’ve played that uses it, and this is no exception. At least you can still use the touch screen to navigate menus with a controller connected, and it’s what I ended up doing most of the time.
My biggest concern going in to this game was how invasive the microtransactions would be. Free to play mobile games can do this well, but when done poorly they can sour even otherwise fantastic games. During my early access period in-app purchases were disabled, so I can’t really give a definitive answer on this, but I can say that in my short time with it I never felt like I wasn’t getting decent gear through regular playing so that’s promising. Immortal has the full suite of free-to-play engagement machines you’ve probably seen in other games. Daily login bonuses, side quests to unlock bonuses – you’ll never log in to the game and have nothing to work towards.
The quest for loot and bonuses hooked me in just as it has for past mainline Diablo games. There’s a big overworld to explore, dungeons you can take on with a party of friends as well as designated solo areas. Challenge dungeons make their way from Diablo 3 as well as a way to test your character build and go for the sweetest gear.
Graphically I was impressed with the game on an iPhone 12 Pro. I was able to turn the frame rate limit up to 60, and adjust other graphics settings to high and while it ate my battery for breakfast doing so, it looked pretty great and maintained a solid frame rate. Even playing with my Necromancer with a screen full of enemies, summmoned ghouls and projectiles going everywhere, things never obviously chugged or slowed down for me.
The always online nature of the game, along with it being mobile means it’s hugely important that the game holds your place if you close it suddenly. Thankfully I was able to just close the app at a moment’s notice, and when I came back I was pretty damn close to where I left off. You won’t have to worry about losing progress if you go through a tunnel and lose connection, or if you have to suddenly close the game because someone came up to ask you an urgent question on your work break.
This is only a very early impression, but to me it’s promising. The core exploring, fighting and gear grabbing gameplay of past Diablo games is just as fun here, the controls even on a relatively small phone are responsive and easy to use. There’s controller support if that’s your preference (and of course the PC version as well). I’ve had a great time levelling and fighting with my Necromancer so far, and am super excited to be able to play the game with friends when the game is released for everyone very soon. As long as the monetisation strategy doesn’t get in the way of the game being fun to play, I think this could be a game I get hooked on for a while.