Review : Diablo Immortal : Paywalled

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On November 2nd, 2018, a game was announced, and a meme was born. During BlizzCon, Diablo Immortal was announced, and when a YouTuber asked if the game was coming to PC, Lead Designer Wyatt Cheng replied that it would only be on Android and iOS mobile platforms. And then he coined his infamous, “Do you guys not have phones?” line. This announcement was more than disappointing to fans of the Diablo series as fans wanted information about Diablo 4 or anything other than a mobile game. Cheng’s quote also became a tagline for any company that showed how out of touch it was with their customer base.

The Intro movie recaps the ending of Diablo 2 to set the context for Immortal’s storyline

Since it’s 2018 announcement, there have been a handful of closed alpha and beta tests, none of which I was picked for, and like many games, it faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Blizzard announced the game’s June 2nd release date in March 2022, with Android and iOS pre-orders available. Later in April, 2022, Blizzard released a new trailer and announced that Immortal would also be available on PCs. Immortal ended up launching about a day early, and I was playing it on June 1st.

So what is Diablo Immortal? Immortal is a free download game currently available on Android, iOS, and PC. I will go into the aspects of the game in more detail, but, overall, Immortal will feel very familiar to anybody who’s played Diablo 3. The 6 character classes available in Immortal are copied from Diablo 3, with only the witch doctor absent. Immortal’s level design and hub areas have been streamlined and reduced in size for the mobile platform. Also, impressively, the game is almost fully voice-acted; the voice acting may not be top-notch, but to see the level of it in a mobile game is an impressive feat. Another nice feature of the game is its control scheme. The game does feature touch controls with a virtual joystick on the left and button controls for skills on the right hand side, and it also supports a multitude of different controllers. I ended up mainly using my iOS Backbone to play, but found myself using the touchscreen for menus and inventory management. The final aspect of Immortal that I will go into depth later is the monetization and microtransactions. It’s of no surprise that a free-to-play mobile game has monetization, but this game does contain some concerning mechanics.

Skarn the Lord of Damnation makes an appearance early on

The story in Immortal takes place between Diablo 2 and Diablo 3, and there are familiar characters that make appearances. Some notable returns are Charsi, the blacksmith, and, of course, Diablo staple Deckard Cain. Otherwise, though the story is forgettable, it’s standard Diablo fare. In this installment your character is tasked to track down the shards of the shattered Worldstone and destroy them. There are some new enemies, such as the game’s first main baddie, Skarn, the Lord of Damnation, though he’s truly nothing more than a run-of-the-mill demon. Likewise, similar to the returning NPCs, there are a number of returning bosses, one of which you can probably guess based on the game’s name. The game’s areas are very familiar as well, with your standard graveyard, desert, and, of course, a winter area for the barbarians.

The main gameplay loop is exactly as expected, with each area containing a Worldstone shard that’s been captured by a baddie. You kill the baddie, get the shard, and Cain tells you that the next shard is in the next area. Each area has a main dungeon, with some optional smaller dungeons that can spawn. These dungeons are completely optional as far as the story goes, but they are good sources for equipment and loot. The story takes about 6-8 hours to finish, and it’s about 20 hours or so to hit the level cap of 60. Casual players will be able to easily play through the story mode without any additional purchases. 

One of the main draws to the Diablo games is the variety in character builds and the skill combinations you can put together. Immortal has streamlined the skill system down to a much smaller number of skills, but there are now skill synergies. The wizard, for example, has a couple of neat synergies. If you cast scorch and then arcane wind, for example, it will create a firestorm that does higher damage. Another wizard synergy is casting ice crystal and then disintegration into the crystal, which causes the beam to be split and hit all nearby enemies. Skill unlocks and skill levels are tied to your character levels, and while you can pick your loadout of skills, there’s no other customizing the skills through runes or anything similar. 

Showing off the wizard’s skill synergy between ice crystal and disintegration

Loot is where Diablo has always shined and what has given the Diablo series its replayability and longevity. Loot in Immortal is very similar to Diablo 3. Each piece can have stat modifiers, and the higher rarity items simply have more modifiers. What’s new in Immortal are the gems. There are standard gems that can be socketed in magic items based on color, and, like previous games, these gems get upgraded when you have 3 lower tier ones. Rare and above items can socket legendary gems, and it’s these legendary gems that will be the bane of your existence if you have any desire to play Immortal beyond the main storyline. Legendary gems come in 3 varieties, 1-star, 2-star, and 5-star. Within the 5-star ones, a gem can have between 2-5 stars. Also, 5-star gems cannot be directly crafted, so if there’s a specific gem you need, you will have to rely on luck to get it through random crafting or as a drop in a rift. The chance of getting even the worst 5-star gem is about 3.75% in a run and drops down to about 0.05% chance of getting a 5/5 5-star gem. This will be a major discussion point later in the review when we talk about about monetization in Immortal.

The game has a multitude of optional dungeons and you can join a party easily to tackle them with others. There are loot bonuses rewarded if you have a full party of 4.

So what is there to do after the main story is completed? There’s a PvP mode that unlocks at level 43, which sounds like it would be pretty cool. The top 300 PvP players are part of a group called the “Immortals,” and they are tasked with protecting the land, and the Shadows make up everyone else. If a shadow manages to defeat an immortal, then they take their place in the prestigious group and gain access to the rewards and buffs inherent with being in the Immortals. In addition to this PvP mode, there are repeatable boss fights, dungeons, bounties, and lore collecting that can all provide stats and gear for your character. One of the cooler aspects of the end game is the Helliquary. Using the Helliquary, you can fight bosses in 8-person raids, and every time you beat one and gain a level, you get a passive combat bonus. Even this cool mechanic is locked behind a weekly timer and the material needed to upgrade it is locked behind a daily quest.

Champion and Elite monsters are back. They provide more loot and currency drops.

So far this sounds like a pretty standard Diablo game. Play through the storyline to get to the end game content where you grind for gear to continually upgrade your character. While the content is certainly lighter than a standard full release game, I would not have been disappointed dropping $20-$30 on this title and enjoying a Diablo 3.5 type game until Diablo 4 is released. I was honestly shocked at how good the game looked and played on my iPhone XR. I’ve had a few frame issues and a few crashes, but I will give the credit for those to my older hardware and playing on weak cell service occasionally. 

There’s a wide variety of enemies and mini-bosses throughout the game to keep things interesting.

If I was stopping my review right here, the game would easily score right around an 8/10 and be a worthy game to help prove to doubting people that mobile devices can be a legitimate gaming platform. If you’re a Diablo fan and want to experience the story and play with some characters that you’re familiar with, then I recommend you stop reading here, play the story a couple times, and delete the app. 

However, if you have any interest in the end-game grind and maximizing your hero’s power, then tread carefully and beware of what you’re about to read.

I will reiterate the fact that was stated before: Diablo Immortal is a free-to-play game, so some monetization is expected. Microtransactions exist in a very large number of recent releases in some form or another. It makes sense that the company needs something to generate income that they won’t get from sales of the title. Many games are very successful at this, with Fortnite and Rocket League offering cosmetics, and Apex Legends and Overwatch offering new characters and loot boxes along with cosmetics. Mobile Gacha games often have paid characters or have character leveling locked behind paywalls that can be earned slowly over time or bought very quickly. Even with all of these examples and the piles of games I’ve played with MTX, nothing has compared to the wall that blocks your progress in Immortal. 

There are timed events similar to the special chest events from Diablo 3. The more checks completed the greater your reward.

The first red flag shows up on the character select screen. There are 6 classes to choose from, and Blizzard so kindly offers you 5 character slots. Now, at the time of writing this review, there’s no way to unlock a 6th save slot, but considering Diablo’s history of expansions and adding new classes after release, it would be a safe bet to guess that option is coming in the future. For now, though, you simply have to pick which character you’ll never play as, or choose to delete an older one to make room. 

The game shoves MTX down your throat, every boss you kill there’s a new bundle to buy with an indicator of your “value”

This game contains many different levels of monetization, so let’s start with an overview. Immortals has multiple currencies:

Gold: Earned from killing enemies, treasure chests, quest rewards, and daily gifts – used for upgrades and purchasing new gear.

Platinum: Earned from selling items in the marketplace or purchased using eternal orbs – used for buying on the market.

Eternal Orbs: Purchased using real money – used to buy platinum or legendary seals.

Rare Crests: Purchased from a vendor or rewarded from daily quests – used to enhance rift runs and help obtain 1- and 2-star legendary gems.

Legendary Crests: purchasable using eternal orbs – used to enhance rifts and is the only way to have a chance for a 5-star legendary gem. 

Eternal orb purchase costs – it takes 160 orbs to buy 1 legendary seal

There are other in game currencies as well, like hilts that are used with in-game merchants for specific equipment. 

The main power wall is locked behind the legendary gems. Blizzard has claimed that you can play the game completely free without ever purchasing any materials or currency for real money, and while technically true, your chances of ever getting super rare loot are so infinitesimally small that you will either be forced to skip it or just deal with low tier gems. Using the free rare seals, the best reward possible is a 2-star legendary gem. These seals are fairly common as rewards, and you can get 1 per day from logging in. To get a 5-star legendary gem, you have to use a legendary seal, and these cost 160 eternal orbs. The highest amount of eternal orbs (the lowest unit cost) is 7200 for $99.99 or 72 orbs per 1 dollar. Every legendary seal will cost you $2.22, not too bad if it means you could get a powerful item to use – however this legendary seal only gives you a 5% chance to earn a 5-star gem. As previously mentioned, 5-star gems can come in differing qualities between 2/5 through 5/5. If you want a top tier, 5/5 gem, you have a 1% of the 5% chance to get it, so 1/2000 chance on any given run using a $2.22 consumable. 95% of the time, spending money you will get nothing better than if you had used the free seal. 

You gain rewards for your rift ranking weekly. Higher powered players will rank higher and get the better rewards

All is not lost, though: if you get incredibly lucky and get a 2/5, 3/5 or 4/5 quality 5-star gem, you can upgrade them, but you need multiple 5-star gems to do so. In a game that has the PvP rewards locked to the top 300 players, this means that unless you are willing to spend large quantities of money in the game, you will not be able to compete with the top players. You can also get one legendary seal for free every month, so in only 24,000 months (that’s 2,000 years), you are statistically likely to have obtained one 5/5 5-star legendary gem. This means that after 10,000 years you can expect to have all of your primary gear slots equipped with maxed out legendary gems (assuming you don’t get a duplicate). This drop rate doesn’t sound so bad if you compare it to Pokemon shiny hunting or other rare drops in video games, but the difference in Immortal is that each run takes time, and each run requires money. Pokemon shiny hunting would be a different beast if you could only do one battle every 30-days for free. It doesn’t feel as bad simply because you can do hundreds of battles very quickly all for free. 

Just in case this premium currency wasn’t enough, there is a paid battle pass as well. This has been the only $5 I have spent so far on this game. I’ll admit that I fell victim to the trap Blizzard laid out; I thought to myself “$5 doesn’t matter, I’ll get some of the cool stuff.” So far, all I’ve received is in-game currency, some cosmetic skins, and a couple of level 1 legendary gems, which I easily could have obtained for free. 

Blizzard has been purposefully deceptive in making Diablo Immortal as addictive as possible. There’s daily rewards, bounties that reset on timers, events you can do a limited number of times per day, insignificant rewards for hitting different power levels, and incredibly grindy collection quests. We are all familiar with the “red dot” notification that many games and mobile operating systems use. Diablo Immortal uses these as well, but on some screens the action to click is not made clear. On the gear level screen, the reward button is vaguely highlighted at the top of the screen, and sizably pronounced buttons in the middle will auto-navigate you to a vendor. 

There’s even a battlepass. It’s only $5 but the rewards are fairly negligible. When it costs upwards of $40 for a gem you shouldn’t expect much for the price.

I realized today that I am Blizzard’s target audience for Diablo Immortal. I’m a long time Diablo franchise fan. I’ve played every main game on release day, I’ve bought every expansion pack, and I even beta-tested Diablo 2. I’m also now working full-time and have money to spend on games, and the other side of that means I have less time to play games so I am the targeted customer: the one who loves Diablo but doesn’t have time to grind, and they hope that I will pay for the loot. 

Diablo, at its core, is very similar to gambling. Players will run and re-run the same bosses again and again and again in hopes of getting that minuscule chance of a perfect drop. Diablo Immortal has taken the core of the game, the loot hunting and the adrenaline rush of the drop, and put a price tag on it. If you don’t want to wait for that 1/2000 chance, then just pay for it. To me, the joy and replayability of a Diablo game is hitting the end where you can grind for that one special piece of loot to perfect your character. Finally getting that drop is a feeling that cannot be replicated in any game. It’s a shame that Blizzard stripped that away out of Immortal and just stuck it behind a massive paywall.  

My final comment about Diablo Immortal is this: if you just want to experience some Diablo fun on the go, then download the game, play the story mode, and do some co-op dungeons and raids. However, I cannot in good conscience recommend a game that utilizes predatory mechanics to monetize itself, and that draws such a hard line in power levels between its paid and free users. So please avoid this game if you have gambling or money issues. 

Final Verdict: 4

Fun Factor: 5
Technical Prowess: 8
Time Investment: 20+ hours
Replayability: 3*

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By Nathan Lynch

I'm a father of 3 amazing kids and a US Army veteran who's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days. Outside of gaming I'm an avid cook, mainly meat on the grill or in cast iron, rookie fisherman, and lover of cheese. I primarily play on my Xbox One, Nintendo Switch or PC. My favorite games are rogue-lites, looter shooters, and anything I can play co-op. I am a huge supporter of fundraising for Extra-Life and can be found on Twitter @NatorMVP

2 Comments

  • GoldenRhino -

    Thank you very much for the balanced and critical review.

    • Seasoned Gaming -

      Thank you GoldenRhino – we always aim to be honest and thorough!

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