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‘Diablo Immortal’ brings the hack and slash series to smartphones

By Dandi Galvez Published May 04, 2021 10:26 am Updated May 04, 2021 4:30 pm

We got our hands on the closed alpha of Diablo Immortal, the upcoming game from Blizzard and NetEase which brings the action RPG series to mobile smartphones.

First introduced during Blizzcon 2018, saying the announcement for Diablo Immortal was not well-received would be an understatement, judging from the highly negative reaction of attendees at the time. Blame it on a stigma with smartphone games, and the pay-to-win mechanic that most of these products feature. It's not the type of game that the "hardcore" crowd—or even most casual gamers—want to have.

But why even bring up Blizzcon anyway? Because Immortal has come a long way from that infamous event, and the version we've been given to playtest clearly shows a near polished Diablo gaming experience that series fans should really check out.

Diablo Immortal is a free-to-play hack-and-slash action RPG for Android and iOs mobile devices. It takes place between the events of Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction and Diablo 3, and can be played solo. However, it's primarily a massively multiplayer online RPG.

In the closed alpha, I've been playing solo, but have started seeing other players running about. A chat window pops up occasionally letting me know other players in the Asian region server were present and coordinating with others.

Despite being free-to-play, Immortal does offer in-app purchases, but the developers have said that all gear can be earned by simply playing the game. There's a Battle Pass system which offers both a free and paid track. Most of the paid items are for reforging stones, which let you refine items at will, or gemstones that enhance equipment stats. All of which can still be earned during normal gameplay, with a little luck.

You get to play six different character classes as you battle your way through the dark world of Sanctuary. In the closed alpha, only five were available for now:

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  • Barbarian A savage wanderer and mighty weapons expert. Survivors of the disaster that struck Mount Arreat, Barbarians use powerful weapons and brutal attacks to crush any opposition."
  • MonkA swift, sacred warrior and a master of martial arts. Monks embody the will of their land, Ivgorod, and their one thousand and one gods. Lightning-fast strikes and peerless mobility are the Monk’s specialty, and they pummel their enemies with a dizzying array of blows.
  • WizardA rebellious academic and living conduit of arcane power. Wizards manipulate arcane forces to strike from a distance, disintegrating their enemies to oblivion, freezing them until their bodies shatter, or burning them into charred remains.
  • Demon HunterA vengeful stalker and crossbow-wielding adept. Relentless vigilantes that assault from afar, Demon Hunters are trained slayers with a tragic past—their families destroyed by the denizens of the Burning Hells. Tempering the discipline of their training with their hatred for the Burning Hells, Demon Hunters strike undeterred until their prey is at their mercy.
  • CrusaderA wrathful zealot and unbending champion of faith and law. Faith is a Crusader’s weapon. Striking with cruel flails and clad in impenetrable armor, Crusaders wander the land, vanquishing evil wherever they go and dominating the battlefield through sheer purpose.
  • Necromancer (currently not available) – A commander of the dead and manipulator of life and death.The priests of Rathma seek to bring balance to the world. They use their powers over life and death to keep Sanctuary free of both demonic and heavenly influences.

After choosing your class, you get to customize your character's name and look. In the closed alpha there were only three character face templates and it is unclear if you'll be given wider options in the final release.

Once that's done it was time to dive in. An opening tutorial introduces you to the mechanics of touchscreen based gameplay with pop ups and a step-by-step activation of onscreen UI elements.

Moving the character involves your left thumb pressing down and dragging at the left bottom corner of the screen.

Your character class gets four basic skills at the onset, inclusive of your chosen class' base weapon. There are about a dozen which you may unlock, with up to four at a time that can be arranged and slotted around your base weapon. Using your weapon is as simple as tapping the button on the bottom right corner to fire off a shot or swing an axe or sword. Continually pressing or holding the button let's you auto swing or shoot indefinitely.

Keep using your weapon to charge up your Ultimate Skill which unleashes a deadly attack that inflicts major damage to your opponent.

Holding the button comes in handy as doing so would enable your primary weapon's secondary skill such as blocking or parrying. For the four other skills, all it takes is a tap and hold (drag to aim), then let go to fire them off.

There's an auto aim system that targets the nearest enemy. Much appreciated for this type of control scheme. Skills need to be manually directed since most are area-of-effect types.

For players, such as myself, who are not used to touchscreen controls, there's a short learning curve. Once you get past fussing around the screen elements to maximize your view, you should be good. On screen maps can be made smaller, quest logs can be closed. However, it's these times when I wish the game had bluetooth controller support, which it currently lacks. I tried connecting with my 8BitDo SN30 bluetooth controller with no such luck.

Gameplay was smooth on my Redmi Note 9 Pro. Each time I circle strafed a horde or swung my Crusader's sword at an enemy it felt that it mattered. Almost as if you could feel the weight and impact of your actions thanks to some graphically impressive effects and screen shake, which you can fine tune in the options to customize between performance and quality.

The closed alpha has a level cap at 55 for your character and as of now, I've been able to get my Demon Hunter up to the 20s, and I'm having fun with the overall experience so far. The last Diablo game I played was part three which, to be honest, I've had a love-hate relationship with due to the early implementation of the auction system, but overall, I've been a fan of the series and Immortal does not disappoint.

After the tutorial portion I found myself at the town of Wortham which can be a hub for services such as blacksmiths, gem traders and the like. Various safe zones such as this can be found in different areas such as at Ashwold Cemetery, and provides a breather from all the questing.

Speaking of, you can choose to follow the main story or grind levels by clearing out an area full of monsters. I chose the latter as I made my way up the ranks. Due to the size of the screen and general confusion on where I was at a given time, I worried about getting lost. Fortunately, Immortal features a pathfinding system that literally shows you the way to proceed using highlighted footsteps on the ground.

There's also an auto path feature that gives your thumb a rest by automatically moving your character for you across the map. Various portals across areas can move you even quicker to the nearest safe zone.

There's still a lot to digest with Diablo Immortal, and it's already proving to be a major time sink with its highly-addictive gameplay—a hallmark of the Diablo series. Collecting different gear parts, upgraded weapons, and unique items has a certain sense of satisfaction, especially when you can see immediately how each item's effects reflect on your character as you engage the monsters of Sanctuary. Quests are immersive and not at all arbitrary, all adding to the story of a realm where the Worldstone is shattered but still potent enough for enemies to use for their evil gains.

It's exactly what a Diablo game is and should be.

There's still no announcement on a specific date of release but fans can rest assured that Diablo Immortal is every bit respectful to the legacy of its console and PC counterparts.

(Images from Diablo Immortal gameplay. A special thanks to AKG Games for providing the closed alpha access)