Diablo Immortal strives to be a “true” Diablo experience, even as it breaks new ground

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Diablo Immortal strives to be a "true" Diablo experience, even as it breaks new ground

When Diablo Immortal was announced at BlizzCon 2018 as a mobile-only free-to-play entry in Blizzard’s legendary ARPG franchise, it was met with a lukewarm response from fans. One player in attendance went so far as to ask if the game was an April Fool’s joke out of Blizzard’s season.

Fast forward to the present day after Blizzard recently announced that Diablo Immortal will also be coming to PC (in a beta version) with full cross-play and cross-progression with mobile, and the fan reaction has changed. Many players are now cautiously optimistic about the franchise’s push into mobile and free-to-play.

Currently running: Diablo Immortal – Everything you need to know

That’s good news, because while Diablo Immortal doesn’t look like it at first glance, it’s shaping up to be a major game-changer for the franchise going forward, with MMO-like social features, an emphasis on PvP, and a live service. A “living game” strategy unprecedented in Diablo history.

For the most dedicated fans of the Diablo franchise, it was the news that the game would also be coming to PC that helped set the stage after the disaster that was Diablo Immortal’s official announcement. It was immediately clear back then that Diablo fans wanted the ability to play Diablo Immortal on PC, but it took Blizzard more than three years to make that wish a reality.

According to senior game designer Scott Burgess, who recently spoke to GameSpot, after the game was announced, Blizzard knew fans wanted to be able to play Diablo Immortal on PC. Combined with the realization that dedicated PC gamers would simply use mobile emulators to access the game on PC, Blizzard began creating the PC version to ensure players had an official PC experience. As for why it’s taken so long to officially announce Diablo Immortal for PC, Burgess said it all comes down to polishing.

“Part of the reason we waited so long was that we wanted to make sure the game was polished enough that we were happy with it and released it for mobile at the same time as launch,” Burgess said. “We feel like it’s at a really good point.”

Diablo Immortal will feature numerous MMO-like elements, such as multiplayer hub cities, eight-player raids, PvP battlegrounds, and the ambitious Cycle of Strife system. These are all firsts for the franchise, and some of these features – like different PvP modes and a multiplayer hub city – were ideas that came up during the development of Diablo III.

Diablo Immortal’s Barbarian plays exactly as fans of the franchise have come to expect.

While Diablo Immortal is breaking new ground as both the franchise’s first mobile and free-to-play entry and a more socially oriented live-service MMO, it was important for the game to feel like a true Diablo experience. The game may have MMO elements, but don’t expect to find the “holy trinity” of MMO class design anywhere among Diablo Immortal’s character classes, which at launch include Barbarian, Monk, Crusader, Demon Hunter, Necromancer, and Wizard.

“These classes are real Diablo classes,” Burgess said. “They are very similar to previous Diablo games. We don’t rely on the holy trinity of heal, armor, and damage. All of these classes can dish out damage and have a great time. We have a few Paragon trees that have group bonuses that make you deadlier when you’re in a group with other classes, but ultimately the goal was just to make classes feel great and we did a lot of testing and balancing, to ensure they are all equal.

Diablo is known for its massive enemy cast, impressive abilities, and heaps of loot, and having all of this taking place on the smaller screen of a mobile device rather than a large PC monitor proved to be the greatest challenge to the art of game design, according to it Main Artist Hunter Schulz.

“A lot of the art style was reflected here,” Schulz said. “Of course, part of that is a stylistic choice, but a lot of that style comes down to a practical way of making sure it’s readable. Use bolder shapes and make sure the silhouettes are legible so you can not only enjoy the designs of the characters and zones, but also so you understand what you’re doing. If you can’t see your character or the spells you cast while playing, then we’ve failed. You have to be able to understand and appreciate the designs that we’ve made.”

Legendary gems are among the most powerful and coveted items in Diablo Immortal.
Legendary gems are among the most powerful and coveted items in Diablo Immortal.

As with any free-to-play experience, there have been concerns about how Blizzard is monetizing the game. There will be a paid Battle Pass and premium cosmetics, which are par for the course for a free-to-play live service game and almost expected at this point. However, players are more concerned about items that can be purchased with real money, called Legendary Crests. These items, based on the Diablo Immortal Beta version, gave players who bought them a much easier and better chance of obtaining the rarest and most powerful gems in the game compared to free-to-play players, have prompted some to raise the dreaded “pay-to-win” alarm. Burgess didn’t specifically address this point, but said the goal is to make sure everyone enjoys the game, regardless of whether a player spends money or not.

“Going back, I played the beta without spending a dollar,” said Burgess. “A couple of us on the team did it because we wanted to see what the experience was like. And I will say that I was in a top Dark House in the Shadows, I competed with World Paragon, I was competitive in PvP, I got MVP rank many times. So we do things to make sure everyone enjoys the game. Every time we buy something, we want to make sure it’s value for money. That’s kind of our goal on this side.”

All of Diablo Immortal’s actual gameplay content is free, and that extends to new classes, zones, and dungeons added after launch. For players who don’t want to spend a penny, there’s a free Battle Pass that offers plenty of rewards in the form of items, currency, and upgrade materials. Additionally, there were many ideas that didn’t make it into Diablo Immortal at launch, Burgess said, that could make their way into the game for free in future patches.

“We will continue to post content regularly,” Burgess said. “Our goal is to release either a new dungeon or zone every few months, and with that comes brand new story content for players to play through.” According to Burgess, the main campaign lasts around 20 hours at launch.

Whether Diablo Immortal will manage to cross the line between a true Diablo experience and a free-to-play MMO remains to be seen, but Burgess believes players will appreciate both the size of Diablo Immortal and its place in the Franchise will be surprised.

“It’s a game that feels like a real Diablo game,” Burgess said. “It’s dark, dark. It will be loved by all Diablo fans who loved to dread dungeon crawling. But it’s also a very accessible game for players who have never tried a Diablo game before.”

Diablo Immortal will be released on June 2nd for iOS, Android and PC. It can now be preloaded on PC.

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