Following the shock that Diablo Immortal would be making an appearance on mobile devices, which came as a surprise to many at BlizzCon 2018, it seems that the only way fans can respond is with continued resistance from the community. Yet, the title seems to still be going strong, as it slowly ramps up to its eventual release.
In an interview with Geek Culture, Caleb Arseneaux, lead producer for Diablo Immortal, revealed more about the game, and as with most mobile games these days, developers are quick to declare that while there will be in-game purchases, all purchases are completely optional and only supplementary to the core gameplay experience.
Gear and weapons will have to be found by the player by just playing the game. And only from playing the game.
“At Blizzard, gameplay comes first. All of your gear is self-found [as you play the game]. That also means you cannot use in-game purchases to buy gear either. We want to ensure that players who do not spend money still have access to every piece of gear in the game as well. Second, players who choose to spend money should feel that purchases are worthwhile and deepen their engagement and enjoyment of the game and where possible, the enjoyment of other players as well,” said Arsenaux.
Killing more and more enemies will not only net players experience and gold, but more importantly the equipment that they will equip themselves with and replace as they find something better. That means there will be no purchasing of gear of any kind in the in-game cash shop, which is the core gameplay loop of any Diablo game anyway, and, as the developers feel shouldn’t be any different even on a mobile title like Immortal.
Currently, the game is only in its technical alpha stage, which will be available to the public in limited quantities soon. Arseneaux explains that the radio silence for over two years was due to the fact that the mobile platform is relatively new to the Diablo franchise. So the team’s partnership with Chinese tech company NetEase, who is well-versed in the art of making mobile games for the commercial market was essential in the development of Diablo Immortal.
“We’ve been very busy in the past few years since our initial debut. We’ve really built out the game. The technical alpha is an immense milestone with a ton of content, new features, all of these things that we’ve been hard at work on for the past couple of years. And so we feel like our process, both internally and with our partnership with NetEase, has allowed us to make sure that we committed to quality, first and foremost, for this game, because the expectation for this game is very high. And so we want to meet the experts those expectations for veterans of Diablo but also newcomers that have never played an action RPG MMO on the phone,” explains Arsenaux.
For those who have been following the long-standing action RPG franchise since its very first game, Diablo Immortal takes place chronologically between the events of Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction, and Diablo 3. This lets Immortal serve as a narrative bridge to link the two games together, given that there is a 20-year gap in terms of the narrative timeline between them.
While the full story details are yet to be shared, players will start in Wortham, the game’s starting area, and embark on story quests, and meet with familiar faces in Diablo history such as the iconic scribe Deckard Cain, and face off against past Diablo villains in The Countess, who is back for blood against those who felled her in Diablo 2.
In addition, there will be tons of other content to pursue in side missions such as bounties, randomised instanced dungeons called Elder Rifts, and participate in multiplayer content such as Zone Trials a.k.a world bosses, and Challenge Rifts, where players get to duke it out on regional leaderboards for who can clear dungeons the fastest.
As far as playable classes go, there will be four available in the upcoming technical alpha as well as the full launch version: Barbarian, Wizard, Monk, and Demon Hunter. The two other classes that were seen in past trailers and promotional materials – Crusader and Necromancer – as well as subsequent future classes, will all be launched as part of future updates at no additional cost.
Diablo Immortal will be free-to-play on both iOS and Android. This marks the first time a brand-new game in the franchise has been released free of charge to players, which instantly makes it accessible to the ever-growing mobile demographic. While there will be in-game purchases, the developers say they are completely optional and only supplementary to the core gameplay experience.
To complement the free-to-play experience, there will be a Battle Pass system similar to most other mobile MMORPGs, where players can purchase a premium progression system that gives them access to unique quests and objectives that, once complete, will award bonus XP and gold. Like most other Battle Passes in other games, the one in Diablo Immortal will be a season-based system that refreshes its progression bar on a regular basis. On top of the premium progression track, there will also be a regular version that rewards free-to-play players as they play as well.
In addition to in-game purchases, Diablo Immortal will see a feature very much akin to that of the Auction House in Diablo 3: a player-to-player marketplace. In this online marketplace, players can put up ancillary items up for sale for additional in-game currency, such as gems and reforge stones, for some additional gold income.
However, the developers have specifically stated that this marketplace, while similar to the Auction House, is not a direct replica of that model, as no real-world money is used (market rates for items are based on in-game currency, and is based on what players are hunting for the most in the respective server), and player anonymity is enforced as they put the items up.
Though the two entities are ultimately different from one another, Diablo Immortal’s lead game designer Wyatt Cheng concedes that the team based the player-to-player marketplace on previous experiences in developing and maintaining Diablo 3’s Auction House.
“I think probably the biggest [lesson we’ve learnt from the Auction House] is that the gear is not on the market. So in [Diablo Immortal’s] market, you can’t get gear that guarantees that players ultimately want to play the game; you know if you want to make your character more powerful, you go to a dungeon, complete some quests [to earn gear]. Another lesson that we’ve learned there is that we’ve put in protections against bots. That’s not something that we talked about a lot in the past, but it’s something that we’re taking into consideration in the design for Diablo Immortal,” explains Cheng.
Though Diablo Immortal draws its roots heavily from the single-player action RPG experience seen in past games in the franchise, the title will include a massively multiplayer component as well. Players will be able to take on dungeons alongside others with parties of up to 4, similar to what was done in Diablo 3. In addition, there will be the aforementioned Zone Trials, massive world bosses that will spawn at regular intervals that will require practically the entire server to beat in order to gain access to equally massive rewards.
The latter feature especially, in many ways, parallels the world boss feature seen in the upcoming Diablo 4. Though Cheng ultimately dismisses the possibility of any direct overlap between the two games in terms of content, there is plenty of reason for players to look forward to Immortal simply due to the fact that its unique to the mobile gaming space, with a similar scope but much greater accessibility as it all takes place on one’s mobile device rather than logging on to a stationary PC to get in on the action.
“The Diablo Immortal and Diablo 4 teams are two separate development teams, and each team has been empowered to make the best decisions that they can for their game. So we get along well, we talk and we share ideas, but ultimately, we focus on our game and doing what’s right for that game,” said Cheng.
“In the case of Diablo Immortal, I love to be able to share that our world bosses are pretty cool. In Ashworld Cemetery, there is a ghostly carriage that comes through the area every one or two hours that all players in the zone can gather and attack. And as you deal damage to it, loot comes out and then if you manage to destroy it and all of its guards before it reaches the other end of the zone, you’ll get a big shower of loot at the end and there are all sorts of different zone events like that. So that’s a great moment for players to come together.”
So in order to get the most number of players to get together to play Diablo Immortal as one community, the development team has taken steps to ensure that the game is playable on devices that are three, four, even five years old. This is important for the team in their efforts to reach out to as big a player base as possible, given how the mobile market, especially in Asia, is a big, booming business.
“It’s very clear that our goal at Blizzard is to make sure that as many people can play the game as possible,” said Arseneaux. “So we want to be able to afford to support as wide a range of devices as we can, while still making sure that it’s a great experience for players. We don’t have the full details on [the technical specs for mobile devices] yet, but we will have details [at a later date].”
The stage is set for Diablo Immortal to launch on mobile devices, though Blizzard has yet to announce a release date for the final version of the game. The technical alpha will be first available in Australia, though a launch date has yet to be announced as well.
Marion has a serious RPG addiction. Sometimes it bleeds into real life; he forgets to sleep because he thinks he has a Witcher’s body clock. Forgive him in advance if he suddenly blurts out terms such as “Mind Flayer” and “Magic Missile”, because never once does he stop thinking about his next Dungeons & Dragons game.