When Diablo Immortal was announced at BlizzCon 2018 as a free, mobile-only entry into Blizzard’s acclaimed ARPG franchise, fans received a lukewarm response. A player present went so far as to ask if the game was an off-season April Fool’s joke from Blizzard.
Flash forward now, after Blizzard recently announced that Diablo Immortal would also be coming to PC (in what’s dubbed a beta) with full cross-play and cross-progression with mobile, and fan reaction has changed. Many gamers are now cautiously optimistic about the franchise’s foray into mobile and free-to-play.
That’s good news, because even though Diablo Immortal might not seem like it at first glance, it’s shaping up to be a major change for the franchise going forward, with MMO-like social features, a focus on PvP, and a live service, “living game” strategy never seen before in Diablo history.
For the Diablo franchise’s most dedicated fans, it was the news that the game would also be coming to PC that helped reset the scene after the disaster that was Diablo Immortal’s official announcement. At the time, it was immediately clear that Diablo fans wanted the ability to play Diablo Immortal on PC, but it took Blizzard a long time – over three years – to make that wish come true.
According to senior game designer Scott Burgess, who recently spoke with GameSpot, Blizzard knew after the game was announced that 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 PC gaming, Blizzard began the process of creating the PC version to ensure gamers would have an official PC experience. As for why it took so long to officially announce Diablo Immortal for PC, Burgess said it was all about polishing.
“Part of the reason we waited so long was that we wanted to make sure the polish of the game was to a point where we were happy with it and happy to release it simultaneously with the mobile launch,” Burgess said. “We feel like it’s at a very good point.”
Diablo Immortal will feature many 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 various PvP modes and a multiplayer hub city – were ideas that came about during the development of Diablo III.
As Diablo Immortal breaks new ground as both the franchise’s first mobile, free-to-play entry and a more social media-focused live-service MMO, it was important that the game 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 among Diablo Immortal’s character classes, which includes Barbarian, Monk, Crusader, Demon Hunter , the Necromancer and the Sorcerer at launch.
“These classes are real Diablo classes,” Burgess said. “They’re very similar to previous Diablo games. We don’t rely on the holy trinity of healer, tank, and damage. All of those classes can deal damage and have a good time. We have a few Paragon trees that have bonuses to party it makes you deadlier when you’re in a party with other classes, but ultimately the goal was just to make classes feel good, and we did a lot of testing and balancing for us ensure that they were all on an equal footing.
Diablo is known for its large number of enemies, impressive skills and heaps of loot, and the fact that all of this happens on the small screen of a mobile device, rather than a large PC screen, proved be the main challenge for the game’s art. design, according to lead artist Hunter Schulz.
“That’s where a lot of the art style fell into place,” Schulz said. “Obviously it’s partly a stylistic decision, but a lot of this style is about a practical way of making sure it’s legible. Using bolder shapes, making sure the silhouettes are legible , so that you can not only enjoy the drawings of the characters and areas but also so that you understand what you are doing. When playing, if you do not see your character or the spells you are casting, then we have failed. You must to be able to understand and appreciate the designs we have made.”
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 up to par for a game. free live service and almost expected at this point. However, players are more concerned with items that can be purchased with real money called Legendary Crests. These items, which, based on the Diablo Immortal beta, gave players who purchased them a much easier and better chance of obtaining the rarest and most powerful gems in the game compared to free players, caused some increase the dreaded “pay to win”. Burgess didn’t address that point specifically, but said the goal was to make sure the game is fun for everyone, whether a player is spending money or not.
“Coming back, I played the beta without spending a dollar,” Burgess said. “There were a couple of us on the team that did it because we wanted to see what the experience was like. And I will say I was in a Dark House in the Shadows top, I followed World Paragon, I was competitive in PvP, I often got the MVP ranking, so we do things to make sure the game is fun for everyone, every time we have a purchase, we want to making sure it’s good value. That’s kind of the goal we have on that side.”
All of Diablo Immortal’s actual game content is free to play, and this will extend to new classes, areas, and dungeons that will be added after launch. For players who don’t want to spend a dime, there’s a free battle pass that offers plenty of rewards in the form of items, currencies, and upgrade gear. Additionally, there were a lot of ideas that didn’t make it into Diablo Immortal at launch, Burgess said, that may come to the game for free in future patches.
“We will continue to release content at a steady pace,” Burgess said. “Our goal is to release a new dungeon or area every few months, and with that comes brand new story content for players to play.” According to Burgess, the main campaign at launch takes around 20 hours.
Whether Diablo Immortal can successfully bridge the line between a true Diablo experience and a free-to-play MMO remains to be seen, but Burgess thinks players will be surprised by both the scale of Diablo Immortal and its place in the franchise.
“It’s a game that feels like a real Diablo game,” Burgess said. “It’s dark, gritty. It’s going to scare any Diablo fan out there who loved doing dungeon crawls. But it’s also a very accessible game for players who’ve never tried a Diablo game before. “
Diablo Immortal will launch on iOS, Android, and PC on June 2. It is now available for preload on PC.
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