Diablo Immortal

This post is about my time spent with the game; not about any of the plenty of incidents surrounding it. But I'll start with a quick backgrounder. If you're in the know, skip ahead.

If you have any kind of interest in gaming, you know about Diablo Immortal. You've probably known since it was announced because the related Blizzard-dissin' memes were rich and plentiful.

After it came out, there were articles that praised it for being very good. Seems the general idea is to provide a good Diablo-like experience in the free game, and once you've gotten far enough into it to get hooked, it pulls out massively predatory tactics (with estimates getting worse. Potential spending to complete the game might be up to $500,000). A very clever sort of whaling.

In case you're not familiar with the term: these "free-to-play" games get some money from casual gamers that start them for free and sometimes spend a few bucks on in-game upgrades, cosmetics, or just straight-up gambling. But the most significant part of the income comes from gamers known as whales - people that get really into the game (or, not to put too fine a point on it, get addicted), and are willing to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on it. These are the people many modern game designers are specifically aiming at.

For a more personal context: The very first post on this blog - some 10 years ago - was about my dislike for what Blizzard did with Diablo 3. Some of those practices became much more widespread in the gaming industry; some may have gotten better. But I have never played the game because I still stick to my rule of not paying for games that have needlessly intrusive DRMs and always-online requirements.

But I thought - hey, I won't be paying them a single cent, and if the game is actually supposed to be good, and also runs on PC and not just phones. And I played a lot of Diablo 2, then the original D1, and liked both. Why not give it a try? So I did.

The game

I've enjoyed the atmosphere in Diablo 2 (and 1, but I'm mostly comparing to 2.) There were a few quests - six per act - but most of the time, the player was expected to roam around, explore the dark, oppressive world, eventually facing the designated challenge. There were non-player characters (NPCs) with little dialogue that served as spice in the loneliness of the bleak wilderness all around. (And I mean that as a compliment.)

And then there was the classic, action-based gameplay of course.

So those are the things I hoped to see more of, and after seeing the positive reviews, I'd been cautiously hopeful.

The fact that it's a mobile-first game is obvious right off the bat, though. I expected features enabling quick gameplay sessions, like objective markers and whatnot; I did not expect a line drawn from my character's feet to where I'm supposed to go. With auto-walking, even.
So that kind of removes the joy of exploration; I know the designers expect me to beeline over the yellow marker straight to the next objective.

Yellow steps mark the way; automatic navigation does the walking for you.

The combat is fun, though. It's much less complex than in Diablo 2, which is to be expected. As far as I know, D3 also introduced many simplifications, and that's fine. This is definitely not a 'why did you change things' post. I do think that playing Tetris with your inventory or hoarding potions was fun in a way, but I don't miss them when they're gone.

When I noticed there are other players in my game, I googled if I could turn the online features off. When I found out I can't, I just ignored them.

Then there is the story, and this is where my experience with the game started to unravel. There are many plot points, plenty of them less superficial and schematic than I'd expect. It's also dubbed quite nicely. But the game is set up for the extremely quick pace of mobile gaming.

Diablo 2 there were long periods of plodding through marshes and deserts, crowned by friendly dialogs or boss fights, there's none of that here. Run to the highlighted character; talk to it, receive quests. Run along the yellow line to the quest objective; pick up/kill things; run along a different yellow line back for debriefing; then again to another character to start over.

It's hard to care about plot development that's clearly written with the expectation you won't care about it because you're in a hurry. And when new dialogue popped up every few minutes, I just ended up skipping it.

The complexity has moved

Diablo games were never too complex. Sure, they were broad and if you wanted to spend time optimizing builds, you could spend a lot of time on it. But the rules themselves weren't that complicated.

I've played to level 37 or so, and from what I've seen so far, I think that maybe the amount of complexity is approximately the same; but it's moved from optimizing your play to optimizing your spending.

Things that actually have anything to do with playing have been simplified: active skills, inventory management, combat, navigation. But that complexity was added back in the form of various purchasable currencies, battle passes, boosts, bonuses and whatnot. There are daily challenges, raid-like missions, upgradable gems (which seem to require you to pour a lot of $ into the game to get to the highest levels.)

They also did their best to mask how much of the content you're paying for by making it indirect. You don't buy a gem; you buy a charm, which you use for a raid, which then might drop the gem. This also has the benefit of only maybe giving you the item you wanted, enticing you to spend more on repeated attempts.

The spell fizzled

In the end, I didn't throw the game down in disgust or disappointment or outrage. I just kind of... stopped playing. Finished a few grindy quests in the evening, then never like starting it up again.

I'm not saying I never will. I have finally upgraded my GPU after 10 years, so I might at least check how the graphics look. But it isn't the game I'd been looking for.