Diablo Immortal is one of the most average games I’ve ever reviewed at Tom’s Guide. The gameplay is diverting, but the quests get repetitive. It doesn’t cost anything to play, but the microtransactions are predatory. The setting is rich, but the story is rote. I can’t quite decide whether it’s a best-case scenario or a minimum viable product. But, for better or worse, this is the Diablo adventure we have right now. And if you’re waiting with bated breath for Diablo 4, then this might be the best you can do for the moment.
We’ve had a lot of Diablo 4 news over the past few weeks, from exciting beta news to intriguing leaks about the campaign. But no matter how much we hear about the game, one thing is clear: It’s not coming out before 2023. And, given that Blizzard has been reticent to share an exact release date with us, the smart money would be on the second half of 2023. Right now, Diablo 4 could be 14 months away. And while I can’t recommend it with my whole heart, Diablo Immortal could be a pretty good choice to pass the time until then, assuming you’ve already replayed the first three games to death.
A never-ending threat
On the off chance you’ve missed the hubbub surrounding Diablo Immortal, it’s an F2P mobile spinoff from Blizzard and NetEase Games, a Chinese game developer and publisher. Even before it came out, the game had a rocky development cycle since fans seemed to hate it from the very start. They had wanted Diablo 4, not a mobile spinoff. And they had definitely not wanted a mobile spinoff that sustained itself on microtransactions, given just how avaricious that model tends to be.
But, regardless of what fans thought, Diablo Immortal came out in June 2022 on mobile devices, with a pretty respectable PC client for folks who preferred to play the old-fashioned way. Without rehashing my whole review here, it’s basically the game that fans expected. That’s not entirely a bad thing — or a good one.
First off, it’s impossible to discuss Diablo Immortal without discussing its F2P mechanics. The game is as predatory as they come, assailing you at every turn with a thousand different ways to purchase a thousand inscrutable in-game currencies. When the game debuted, I calculated that you could easily spend $100 or more if you simply bought the “bundles” that the main story offers you, and completely ignored the dozens of other microtransaction prompts. Bear in mind that you can currently buy the first three Diablo games for $70, total, and each one offers dozens of hours of gameplay.
By the same token, it’s impossible to deny what Diablo Immortal gets right. The moment-to-moment gameplay is classic Diablo fun. You can still choose a character class, build up your skills, and hack and slash your way through thousands of varied demons, optimizing your health and mana as you go. The game offers you plenty of worthwhile loot, even if you don’t pay a penny, and teaming up with other players to tackle tough dungeons and bosses feels rewarding.
Structurally, Diablo Immortal is a bit of a mess. But the core gameplay is there, and that’s worth acknowledging. It’s easy to imagine an even more cynical version of Diablo Immortal, still packed with microtransactions, but lacking the series’ signature gameplay. It happened to Dungeon Keeper; it happened to Final Fantasy; it could have very easily happened to Diablo.
The story so far
There’s one other reason why it may be worth checking out Diablo Immortal, and that’s the story. Granted, the Diablo games have always prioritized gameplay over story, and plenty of players have gleefully skipped past the cutscenes to get back to the business of mowing down demons. But the world of Sanctuary has a pretty interesting backstory, and the Diablo series has had a handful of intriguing characters. From the wise scholar Deckard Cain, to the conflicted archangel Tyrael, Blizzard put a lot of work into making Diablo a little more than just a mindless hack-and-slash, and Diablo Immortal respects that legacy. Sort of.
In my review, I noted that Diablo Immortal had a dull, repetitive narrative that copied Diablo II’s story almost beat-for-beat. My opinion on that hasn’t changed in the last few months. But I do think that the game deserves credit — however slight — for at least having an original story, and for tying it explicitly to Diablo 2 and Diablo 3.
Diablo 4 may or may not have explicit links to Diablo Immortal’s story, but I have to imagine that Blizzard will take advantage of the connection somehow. Especially once Diablo 4 gets closer to launch, some kind of tie-in event seems inevitable. While Diablo Immortal has a complete start-to-finish narrative at the moment, Blizzard has confirmed that it will add more story content to the game over time. The game’s first major update added a new raid boss, and bosses don’t just pop out of thin air. They need contextual lore and quests. Over time, these additions will make Diablo Immortal’s story a little richer, and it’s not at all inconceivable that the Diablo 4 writers would choose to incorporate some of them.
My initial reaction to Diablo Immortal was a resounding shrug, and the last few months haven’t done much to change my mind. But as long as we’re waiting for Diablo 4, we may as well play something new — even if the “new” content is a drip feed of quests and bosses every few weeks. But there’s no law that says you have to play the game every day. A few hearty sessions over the next few months could be just what you need to get immersed in the world of Sanctuary again.