Last week Blizzard launched Diablo Immortal, the next entry in its long-running, loot-driven action-RPG franchise. However, unlike previous games, this one is free-to-play, and was built from the ground up to be a mobile game first. While it did also come out on PC last week, the reality is this is a very different kind of Diablo. Between being a phone title, having F2P-style in-app purchases, and being part of a popular legacy franchise, it’s created a large debate about the game and its true cost.
Kotaku staff writer Zack Zwiezen and editor John Walker have both been playing, so got together to chat about the game, how much they’re enjoying it, and why it might not be the evil, money-sucking monster some have claimed. At the very least, it’s a perfect way to kill some time while watching old episodes of The Simpsons.
John Walker: How many previous Diablos have you played?
Zack Zwiezen: I played a lot of Diablo III and its expansion and some Diablo II…
John: When you say a “lot”, do you mean you got to the point of playing online with a regular group until it accidentally became your full-time unpaid job?
Zack: Oh well, not that much. I did however buy and play it on three different platforms across at least 250+ hours.
John: It’s impressive you weren’t turned. You know. Into one of them.
Anyway, I’ve played a bunch of all of them, but never “properly.” I’ve always approached them as single-player ARPGs, something to aimlessly click on while watching a crummy TV show. And absolutely loved them for that.
Zack: Same. Back in the prime of my Diablo III days, I’d burn through podcasts and long YouTube video essays while killing thousands of demons and skeletons. It was a perfect thing to combo with another piece of entertainment, assuming you didn’t want to focus on either entirely. And Diablo Immortal has started to fill a similar role in my life.
John: Yeah, me too. Except, I keep finding myself teaming up with other people.
Zack: Disgusting, John. I thought you were better than that.
John: I hate doing that normally. As soon as other people are playing, I become certain they all hate me and I’m ruining the game for them. But here I both don’t care and clearly aren’t.
Zack: This has also been my experience when I play with others in Immortal. Usually, we just plow through a dungeon creating a mess of particles and fire that cause my iPad battery to weep softly as it quickly dies.
John: And then we part, without even a goodbye. Cheap, meaningless raiding. The best kind.
Zack: Yeah, it really is. I never feel like I need to look up a guide or yell at anyone for messing up. We all get the assignment and without voice chat can quickly pull it off. Good shit.
John: Yeah, I’m playing it, like, all the time, both at my PC and then picking up right where I left off on my phone, and I’m having a great time with it, and the more I’m enjoying it, the more I’m convinced that people who vociferously like Diablo must surely hate it. Because die-hard Diablo people usually hate anything I love. Like my wife, and son.
Zack: But John, I’ve been told by folks online that Diablo Immortal is actually bad and evil! That it will steal your bank account or something.
John: Have you, at any point, felt like you needed to pay for anything?
Zack: No. I’ve definitely seen some ads pop up and the game isn’t shy about that stuff, like pestering you that a cheap chest is on sale. But hours and hours into the game, at level 32 or something like that, I’ve never hit a paywall. And as someone who has played a lot of mobile games in my life, that is not always the case!
John: Why has Blizzard just made this whole game for free?
Zack: I don’t know. I keep thinking about how this game with a few changes could easily be a $40 thing. And yet, if you just want to play the story of Diablo Immortal and run some raids online, you can do all that for...nothing? At least that’s what it feels like to me. What level are you at?
John: I am level 51! And I am a Shadow!
Zack: And have you spent any money in-game because you needed to or felt like it was the only way to move forward?
John: Never. I paid for a Battle Pass because I’ve never done that before in any game, and wanted to know what would happen.
Zack: I’m so proud of you. The grumpy old man can evolve.
As for buying stuff in-game, I know that if you want the best of the best gear and items, the stuff you’ll need to win in PvP and top the leaderboards, you’ll likely need to fork over a lot of money. But I just don’t care about any of that. As we established, this is a game that I play when I’m watching YouTube or old Simpsons episodes, so all the anger around it has confused me. You don’t have to spend $100k in this game, as that one YouTuber alleged. I promise!
John: Yeah, the game just doesn’t seem to want me to have paid for any of that to do anything it has offered so far. So, say, in a couple of days I hit some sort of end-game wall, Shadows vs. Immortals I think it’s about, and to take part in all that bullshit I’d need the best equipment? I’d say, “Yay, I finished this extraordinarily detailed free game!”
Zack: Right. I’m at the same point. If the awesome free game stops letting me play after 30 hours or whatever, I’ll just move on and enjoy something else.
This all reminds me of how some folks will waste days or weeks playing games they hate, that they find broken or unfair or bad. And I just wish some people would realize that it’s okay to hit a wall and move on. Not everything needs to be min-maxed and perfected. You don’t always need to get the best of the best and win the whole thing. You can just...move on.
John: Yeah! It’s like a Happy Meal toy that’s surprisingly decent. You’re not going to play with it forever, but you didn’t throw it out that same day.
Zack: And yet, there are people reading this who will leave angry comments below saying we are shills or ruining gaming…
John: Well, here’s the thing. The other thing that keeps surprising me is how needlessly detailed it is. I know this is Blizzard, and this is what it does, but at the same time the game says “NetEase” when it loads up too. But you do a dungeon and suddenly the boss fight turns out to be three stages, each one involving a big environmental change, and then there’s a surprise bonus bit at the end. Or maybe I’m just doing some of the bounties from the bounty board, and instead of “kill 10 of those” which some are, it turns out to be a whole little story, an investigation into a crime or something.
This isn’t disposable. This is a whole proper Blizzard game. It’s odd, because it really doesn’t feel like playing Diablo at all. It feels maybe closer to World of Warcraft?
Zack: Yes! And all the tiny little animations and details out in the world too. I saw someone getting dragged to their death and it was a bit shocking and gruesome and I was like...wait, this is on my iPad! This is not the kind of game I expect to play for free on a tablet. I keep looking around, thinking a cop will show up and arrest me for stealing this $60 game.
John: Well, I mentioned it earlier, but it’s both on my telephone and my PC. I can genuinely walk away from my desk, and just carry on playing on my phone.
Zack: Which is another very awesome thing about Immortal.
John: You know what? If I’d paid $60 for it, I’d probably be a bit miffed at the graphics and how incredibly flaky and buggy it is. I’m forgiving a lot for the $0 entry fee. It disconnects me so damn often, and I’ve had it crash both on my phone and PC a huge number of times.
Also, the PC version is abysmal. It doesn’t even have resolution settings, and looks like what it is: a mobile game stretched far too thin onto a monitor.
Zack: I can’t actually play the PC version at the moment. It’s too dark and the map keeps breaking. But credit to Blizzard for doing a PC port at all so I don’t have to try and emulate it using Bluestacks. And yeah, the zero-dollar price helps me not be too bothered by all these issues and shortcomings
John: It’s odd, given Blizzard’s PC origins, that the desktop version is quite so poor though. Although it’s rather cheekily called it a “beta”. Mmmmmhmmm, this identical product to the telephone version is magically in beta now that it’s on my PC? Hmmm…
Zack: It’s for sure an odd thing, but hopefully it’ll get improved. And if not, the iPad version has been working well for me, even with its touch controls. But ultimately, I keep wondering why this game has broken some people online.
John: Oh, because it has the word “Diablo” involved. I remember writing in 2011 about how heinous it was that Blizzard was forcing always-on internet requirements on Diablo III, and was roasted online for my dissent. Then the game comes out and I say I’m having fun and I’m equally harassed.
Zack: Yeah. I think Diablo has a tendency to, ironically, drive people mad. And I’ll admit that if this was the only Diablo game we knew Blizzard was working on, I’d be a bit sad. But Diablo IV is coming. We’ve seen it. So I just don’t get the weird army of angry fans who seem hell-bent on attacking people who enjoy Immortal.
John: But is it? Will it ever really come out, Diablo IV? Will it? Also, if Blizzard hadn’t wasted all its time making this really very good free mobile game, it’d have finished Diablo IV over 40 years ago!
Zack: Well, the future of Diablo, the next game, and what happens next might be the perfect reason to do another VGchat. However, seeing as you are British, sarcasm is beginning to creep into this current chat, so I think we should wrap it up.
And also, to answer your sarcastic query, I do assume Diablo IV will one day be finished and released simply because the Diablo brand is…Immortal!
John: I feel good that I ironically mocked the people who haven’t read this far and are already leaving their comments, rather than acknowledge your terrible “joke.”