Last week, Blizzard launched Diablo Immortal, the next entry in its long-running loot-focused action-RPG franchise. However, unlike previous games, this one is free to play and was designed from the ground up to be a mobile game first. Although it was also released on PC last week, the reality is that it is a very different kind of Diablo. Between being a phone title, having F2P-style in-app purchases, and being part of a popular legacy franchise, it’s created a big debate about the game and how much it really costs.
Kotaku Writer Zack Zwiezen and editor John Walker both played, so sat down to discuss the game, how much they enjoy it, and why it might not be the evil, money-sucking monster that some have claimed. If nothing else, it’s a perfect way to kill time watching old episodes of The simpsons.
John Walker: How many precedents Diablos did you play?
Zack Zwiezen: I played a plot of Diablo III and its expansion and some Diablo II…
John: When you say a “plotdo you mean you ended up playing online with a regular band until it accidentally became your full-time unpaid job?
Zack: Well, not that much. I did, however, buy it and play it on three different platforms for at least 250 hours.
John: It’s impressive that you weren’t fired. You know. In one of them.
Anyway, I’ve played a bunch of them, but never “correctly”. I always approached them as single-player ARPGs, something to aimlessly click on while watching a crummy TV show. And absolutely loved them for it.
Zack: Same. Back in the prime of my Diablo III days, I’d burn through podcasts and long YouTube video essays while killing thousands of demons and skeletons. It was a perfect thing to combo with another piece of entertainment, assuming you didn’t want to focus on either entirely. And Diablo Immortal has started to fill a similar role in my life.
John: Yeah, me too. Except, I keep finding myself teaming up with other people.
Zack: Disgusting, John. I thought you were better than that.
John: I hate doing that normally. As soon as other people are playing, I become certain they all hate me and I’m ruining the game for them. But here I both don’t care and clearly aren’t.
Zack: This has also been my experience when I play with others in Immortal. Usually, we just plow through a dungeon creating a mess of particles and fire that cause my iPad battery to weep softly as it quickly dies.
John: And then we part, without even a goodbye. Cheap, meaningless raiding. The best kind.
Zack: Yeah, it really is. I never feel like I need to look up a guide or yell at anyone for messing up. We all get the assignment and without voice chat can quickly pull it off. Good shit.
John: Yeah, I’m playing it, like, all the time, both at my PC and then picking up right where I left off on my phone, and I’m having a great time with it, and the more I’m enjoying it, the more I’m convinced that people who vociferously like Diablo must surely hate it. Because die-hard Diablo people usually hate anything I love. Like my wife, and son.
Zack: But John, I’ve been told by folks online that Diablo Immortal is actually bad and evil! That it will steal your bank account or something.
John: Have you, at any point, felt like you needed to pay for anything?
Zack: No. I’ve definitely seen some ads pop up and the game isn’t shy about that stuff, like pestering you that a cheap chest is on sale. But hours and hours into the game, at level 32 or something like that, I’ve never hit a paywall. And as someone who has played a lot of mobile games in my life, that is not always the case!
John: Why has Blizzard just made this whole game for free?
Zack: I don’t know. I keep thinking about how this game with a few changes could easily be a $40 thing. And yet, if you just want to play the story of Diablo Immortal and run some raids online, you can do all that for…nothing? At least that’s what it feels like to me. What level are you at?
John: I am level 51! And I am a Shadow!
Zack: And have you spent any money in-game because you needed to or felt like it was the only way to move forward?
John: Never. I paid for a Battle Pass because I’ve never done that before in any game, and wanted to know what would happen.
Zack: I’m so proud of you. The grumpy old man can evolve.
As for buying stuff in-game, I know that if you want the best of the best gear and items, the stuff you’ll need to win in PvP and top the leaderboards, you’ll likely need to fork over a lot of money. But I just don’t care about any of that. As we established, this is a game that I play when I’m watching YouTube or old Simpsons episodes, so all the anger around it has confused me. You don’t have to spend $100k in this game, as that one YouTuber alleged. I promise!
John: Yeah, the game just doesn’t seem to want me to have paid for any of that to do anything it has offered so far. So, say, in a couple of days I hit some sort of end-game wall, Shadows vs. Immortals I think it’s about, and to take part in all that bullshit I’d need the best equipment? I’d say, “Yay, I finished this extraordinarily detailed free game!”
Zack: Right. I’m at the same point. If the awesome free game stops letting me play after 30 hours or whatever, I’ll just move on and enjoy something else.
This all reminds me of how some folks will waste days or weeks playing games they hate, that they find broken or unfair or bad. And I just wish some people would realize that it’s okay to hit a wall and move on. Not everything needs to be min-maxed and perfected. You don’t always need to get the best of the best and win the whole thing. You can just…move on.
John: Yeah! It’s like a Happy Meal toy that’s surprisingly decent. You won’t be playing with it forever, but you didn’t throw it away the same day.
Zack: And yet, there are people reading this who will leave angry comments below saying we’re complicit or ruining the game…
John: Well, here’s the thing. The other thing that never ceases to amaze me is how unnecessarily detailed it is. I know it’s Blizzard, and it does, but at the same time the game says “NetEase” when it loads too. But you’re doing a dungeon and suddenly the boss fight turns into three stages, each involving a big change of environment, and then there’s a surprise bonus at the end. Or maybe I just do some of the bounties from the bounty board, and instead of “killing 10 of these” like some are, it turns out to be a very short story, a crime investigation or something.
It’s not disposable. It’s a real Blizzard game. It’s weird, because it really does not want to play Diablo at all. He may feel closer to World of Warcraft?
Zack: Yes! And all the little animations and all the details of the world too. I saw someone being dragged to death and it was kind of shocking and awful and I thought…wait, it’s on my iPad! Not the kind of game I expect to play for free on a tablet. I keep looking around, thinking a cop is going to come and arrest me for stealing this $60 game.
John: Well, I mentioned it earlier, but it’s both on my phone and on my PC. I can really walk away from my desk and still play on my phone.
Zack: Which is another very impressive thing about Immortal.
John: You know what? If I had paid $60 for this, I would probably be a little miffed by the graphics and how incredibly flaky and buggy it is. I forgive a plot for the $0 entry fee. It logs me out so often, and I’ve had it crash on both my phone and my PC a lot of times.
Moreover, the PC version is catastrophic. It doesn’t even have resolution settings and looks like what it is: a mobile game stretched way too thin on a monitor.
Zack: I can’t play the PC version at the moment. It’s too dark and the map keeps breaking. But thanks to Blizzard for making a PC port so I don’t have to try to emulate it using Bluestacks. And yes, the zero dollar price helps me not to be too bothered by all these problems and shortcomings
John: It’s strange, given Blizzard’s PC origins, that the desktop version is so poor. Although it’s rather brazenly called a “beta”. Mmmmmhmmm, this product identical to the phone version is magically in beta now that it is on my PC? Hmmm…
Zack: It’s definitely a weird thing, but hopefully it gets better. Otherwise, the iPad version worked well for me, even with its touch controls. But ultimately, I keep wondering why this game broke some people online.
John: Oh, because there is the word “Diablo” involved. I remember writing in 2011 how heinous it was for Blizzard to impose permanent internet requirements on Diablo III, and was roasted online for my dissent. Then the game comes out and I say I’m having fun and also being harassed.
Zack: Yeah. I think Diablo tends, ironically, to drive people crazy. And I’ll admit that if it was the only one Diablo game that we knew Blizzard was working on, I would be a little sad. But Diablo IV arrived. We have seen it. So I just don’t understand the strange army of angry fans who seem bent on attacking people who love Immortal.
John: But is it? Will it ever be really go out, Diablo IV? Is that okay? Also, if Blizzard hadn’t wasted all their time making this great free mobile game, they would have ended up Diablo IV over 40 years ago!
Zack: Well, the future of Diablo, the next game and what happens next could be the perfect reason to do another VGchat. However, seeing as you’re British, the sarcasm is starting to seep into this current chat, so I think we should wrap it up.
And also, to answer your sarcastic question, I guess Diablo IV will one day be finished and released simply because the Diablo the brand is…Immortal!
John: I feel good that I ironically mocked people who haven’t read this far and are already leaving their comments, rather than acknowledging your terrible “joke”.
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