OPINION | Money-grubbing in video game ‘Diablo Immortal’ disappoints players

In "Diablo Immortal," players encounter bloodthirsty Dune Threshers in the Shassar Sea. 
(Blizzard Entertainment)
In "Diablo Immortal," players encounter bloodthirsty Dune Threshers in the Shassar Sea. (Blizzard Entertainment)

There's no question that "Diablo Immortal" is a technical masterpiece for mobile gaming, ably delivering the top-down action of sending countless demons back to hell in gruesome, explosive ways.

Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo franchise, now 25 years old, has sold nearly 100 million copies over the years, with 30 million of those coming from 2012's "Diablo III." It has a passionate fan base, and for many of them, "Diablo Immortal" seems like a devilish betrayal.

Set between the events of "Diablo II" and "Diablo III," "Immortal" feels thematically much like the Diablo games fans have loved for decades. Choosing from one of six classes — Wizard, Crusader, Monk, Barbarian, Demon Hunter or Necromancer — players search for shards of the Worldstone, a relic sought by both angels and demons in "Diablo II," fragments of which are now sought by the demon Skarn.

This is the major plot of the story mode in "Immortal," which will take players six to eight hours to complete. Some familiar faces and voices return, and while the story is short, the dialogue and narration are solid.

The game feels like a great port of "Diablo III," as though that game is being re-created here. The virtual controls are responsive and combat works pretty well, although the comfort of gripping a smartphone for extended periods of time is going to vary by device and by person.

Many of the social aspects of "Diablo Immortal" are new to the franchise, with Blizzard drawing on its "World of Warcraft" chops to implement a massively multi-player-style experience where players can interact online with each other, join clans and fight both cooperatively and in versus modes. Players can tackle dungeons in four-person cooperative groups, and there are even 48-person boss raids available.

"Diablo Immortal," like the other Diablo games, isn't as much about experiencing a story as it is about creating a fun, powerful character. Once the storyline is complete, that's when the "real" game begins.

At first, "Diablo Immortal" is very similar to earlier entries. You run around with your character, killing monsters and watching as they explode into gear that you can then equip your character with and grow stronger, with gear having both level requirements and rarity levels. Skills unlock at higher levels, allowing varied character builds and game-play styles. Even hitting the maximum level of 60 isn't the end, because then it's time to grind Paragon levels, as new skill trees unlock to make a character even more powerful.

Equipment gained can alter a character's skills in many ways, such as adding lightning to attacks, increasing damage or immobilizing enemies. Players are always on the hunt for the best equipment — legendary artifacts that increase their most important stats and help them build the perfect character. Those items can be further upgraded in "Diablo Immortal" with Legendary Gems — and that's where the player experience in "Diablo Immortal" comes to a crossroad.

"Diablo Immortal" is a game that's free to download and install, and pretty much all content can be played without ever spending a dime; but it's still the most predatory example of a mobile game cash-grab I've ever seen.

"Immortal" will bombard players with offers to spend real money, and the more money you spend, the more powerful your character will get. It's a pay-to-win system that will encourage and allow you to spend ungodly amounts of money chasing the high of being the best and strongest.

The core game-play loop to grow stronger is grinding Rifts, procedurally generated dungeons that take about five minutes to complete, culminating in a battle with a boss that will explode into randomly generated loot when defeated. The amount of loot, however, is determined by how many Legendary Crests the player spent before the Rift, with players being able to add up to 10 — $25 worth of crests — to each and every run.

That $25 will gain a paying player as much loot as a free-to-play player might experience in six months of daily grinding, and Blizzard will happily let you spend $400 an hour grinding away at Rifts, trying to get the best gems to socket into your best legendary equipment.

That's to say nothing of the multiple other ways Blizzard asks for money — through its Battle Pass system, after every dungeon clear, limited time events and more. And just getting the gems isn't enough — you always need more gems to keep upgrading your gems. It's unclear exactly how much money is needed to maximize a character, but it's easily in the tens of thousands of dollars.

What's more is that all that equipment and gear is locked to that one character, on one server, and can't be transferred. Whoever designed "Immortal's" monetization aspect was an evil genius. I've played a number of games with gacha mechanics that encourage spending, but this is by far the worst and has severely damaged Blizzard's reputation.

"Diablo Immortal" is fun in the way that video poker is fun — it tickles the parts of the brain like an addiction does — and its monetization mechanics are such that it's banned in the Netherlands and Belgium. I recommend staying away, because some people are definitely going to lose their souls.

‘Diablo Immortal’

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows PC

Cost: Free, sort of

Rating: Mature for violence, blood, gore

Score: 4 out of 10


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