Diablo Immortal: Is this the Diablo MMORPG we’ve been waiting for?


For over a decade, there were cries from disgruntled Diablo players who were trying to capture Blizzard’s attention. Their purpose was simple: to persuade the prized developer into making a Diablo MMORPG.

It would be no mean feat, but Blizzard’s experience with World of Warcraft – which has all but consolidated the MMORPG genre for the mass market – and its “when it’s done” motto could translate into the game that every Diablo fan wanted.

A Diablo Player’s Dream Come True?

It was bound to happen, and it only takes a small glimpse at this “little” Eastern MMORPG titled Lost Ark to see the sheer excitement that a Diablo MMORPG could create. Or the success of Path of Exile, clearly inspired by Diablo, and currently the online action RPG of choice. Let’s not even talk about the crazy amount of money that a Diablo MMORPG would eventually bring in. If there’s a wasted opportunity, then this is the one.

People say that you should be careful what you wish for, and once again this saying comes to life in the shape of Diablo Immortal. This is the Diablo MMORPG that we are getting, but is it the one that we ever wanted?

Short answer: no. The main reason being that it is a mobile exclusive and despite the strengths and impressive evolution of mobile gaming in recent years, we all know that this platform isn’t the best suited for a Diablo MMORPG. Instead of going big and bold, Blizzard decided to thread the easiest path, one that offers a lot less risks and development costs than a full-fledged PC MMORPG. Diablo Immortal was built from the ground up with mobile technology in mind, and it isn’t coming to PC, that’s a given.

Bear in mind that Diablo Immortal isn’t a free-to-play game… yet. Blizzard still hasn’t decided on the business model, although they would be foolish not to go down the free-to-play route – that is where most of the money lies, if microtransactions are handled correctly and original Diablo fans decide to storm the gates.

Blizzard and Friends

Diablo Immortal isn’t targeting a new audience, Blizzard says; it is aimed at the original hardcore PC Diablo fans and clearly distinct from Diablo 3. It is an MMORPG for sure, but Blizzard reveals they still haven’t decided the number of characters that you can see on-screen at once – if the gameplay trailer is any indication, we spotted at least ten players simultaneously, but this does not mean anything.

One of the most surprising revelations during Diablo Immortal’s Blizzcon announcement was that this mobile MMORPG is developed in partnership with Chinese studio NetEase. You may recognize them as the makers of Revelation Online, Demon Seals (which has a distinct Diablo flavour to it) and Westward Journey Online II, one of the most profitable games worldwide, ranking above World of Warcraft, PUBG and Fortnite: Battle Royale according to September earnings.

NetEase has a long-running partnership with Blizzard, operating the US-based studio’s games in China, including World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Hearthstone, Diablo 3 and more. NetEase’s experience in mobile game development surely contributed to the Diablo Immortal deal, and Blizzard doesn’t seem too keen in revealing factual details about the game’s development, stating that the development is split evenly between the teams. We do tend to think that NetEase may be doing the bulk of the development on Diablo Immortal.

Diablo MMORPG Diablo Immortal screenshot

Rage Against the Machine

The reception to Diablo Immortal’s announcement was… let’s say, less than stellar. No, in fact, the backlash was so intense that there are comments allegedly saying that Blizzard has reuploaded the announcement trailers on YouTube in the hopes of resetting the dislike numbers. This is just anyone’s guess – Blizzard could have spotted an error and decided to fix the video – but no matter the reason, there is no going against the facts: Diablo Immortal is on its way to being one of the most disliked videos on YouTube, both, in fact: cinematic trailer and gameplay trailer.

Is the backlash justified? In all honesty, no. Although this isn’t the Diablo MMORPG that many of you wanted – myself included, your humble writer –, Diablo Immortal is being roasted before getting an actual chance of defending itself. We have seen the same exact thing happening with Blizzard’s Hearthstone – “Great, another card game”, many of you said – and we all know how that turned out: Hearthstone managed to become a phenomenon and cement Blizzard’s reputation – and finances – even further.

I am deeply convinced that Diablo Immortal is going to be a hit when it releases in 2019. Hardcore players will check it out “just for giggles” and most likely be sucked into a gameplay that is designed to be addictive, while newcomers are going to discover this series in a comfortable, immediately accessible online version that will capture them through social mechanics and rewarding loot gameplay. And let’s not get started on China and its immense player base, capable of supporting the game by itself – NetEase isn’t co-developing the game by some sort of whim, you know. The big plan is to make Diablo Immortal accessible worldwide (regional release plans are still in the works), to make it appealing to players all over the world.

Diablo MMORPG Diablo Immortal gameplay

The Meat of the Matter

But what is Diablo Immortal? Set between the events of Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction and Diablo 3, it will feature six classes at launch handpicked by the team from what they considered the best that the series has to offer: Necromancer, Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Wizard, Crusader and Monk, with more classes to be added further down the line. There will be some randomization to the game, but considering the MMO experience at heart, pre-designed areas are part of it as well. You can expect outdoor regions to be hand-crafted, while instanced dungeons should feature an evenly mix of hand-crafted design and randomization.

Controls have been designed with complete consideration over the strengths and weaknesses of touch-screen devices. A virtual joystick will let you fully control your hero, while the main attack is embodied by the large button on the right, surrounded by four smaller buttons representing other skills. Cooldowns are a mandatory part of the theme, with timers depending on the skill. Loot is said to be per player and endgame content is still a mystery, although Blizzard mentions that social systems will play a fundamental part.

While Diablo Immortal’s graphics seem to suit the gritty style of the Diablo series, they can’t escape the “made for mobile” look that pervades through it all. Furthermore, there’s this recurring idea that it has a “Made in China” style to it, as NetEase’s Demon Seals may give away. Or maybe it’s a subconscious thing, who knows.

Diablo MMORPG Diablo Immortal class

I can’t avoid thinking that the ulterior reason for the existence of Diablo Immortal is the currently extremely profitable mobile gaming. A name such as Diablo is certain to attract millions of players and a partnership with one of the top Chinese studios is a straight-up guarantee of a successful China release. Blizzard seems to have thoroughly thought every aspect of the release to the smallest detail, and now it’s only a matter of creating the best gameplay experience that they can – within the boundaries of mobile devices, that is.

All things considered, it’s easy to see that I chose to remain sceptic until release, as I was expecting something other from a Diablo MMORPG, above all the platform choice. You can bet that Diablo Immortal is going to be a huge success – let’s just hope that it isn’t at the expense of the good name of the series.

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