It is an incredible time to be an ARPGamer, especially if you have a phone… “because you guys all have phones, right?” That now-infamous line has stalked the internet's dark corners since late 2018. At the time, it caused a negative ripple effect among PC gamers that would linger for years to come. The mere mention of mobile ARPGs would cause PC gamers everywhere to quote that line and mock the genre altogether.
However, Diablo Immortal pushed through that and released an Alpha and Beta test that left gamers impressed. Fast on its heels, though, is another mobile title from Developer XD Network that hopes to pave the way for AAA ARPG experiences on a mobile platform, much like Diablo Immortal. Torchlight Infinite is currently in Beta and is impressive, to say the least. “But Matt, the controls, complexity and sheer magnitude of an AAA ARPG could never possibly work on a phone”, you say with passion and vigour.
Until recently I would have agreed. However, I’ve now had the opportunity to spend time with both titles, Most recently with Torchlight Infinite thanks to a beta access key provided by the developer. Though today won’t be so much an impressions piece, be sure to check our site for our Diablo Immortal review-in-progress, I do have some thoughts on how Torchlight and Diablo compare, how they are on a mobile platform, and want to attempt to wrestle through how each will impact that space. So grab that coffee, kick back and check out this review…impressions…my thoughts on Torchlight Infinite, and how it and Diablo Immortal will fare at release.
More Than A Name Drop
I wanted to take a quick moment to give context to my experience with these franchises as well as to the titles themselves. I’ve been a huge fan of both Torchlight and Diablo since their first title releases. In fact, I still remember “discovering” Runic Games during their initial 11-month development cycle of the original Torchlight game. I was rooting for the underdog and was not disappointed when I finally journeyed to the town of Torchlight for the first time. As for Diablo, let's just say that I was PK’ing players in Diablo 1 before Chumbawamba was Tubthumping their way up the music charts.
All this to say that I’ve seen some things and have loved both of these franchises dearly. When both Diablo and Torchlight were announced for a mobile release I was a bit skeptical. No torches and pitchforks skeptical but concerned that these dearly loved franchises were going to be dumbed down reskins of other mobile ARPGs on an already saturated Playstore. Thankfully both Torchlight Infinite and Diablo Immortal carry forward their predecessor's pedigree and style.
In the case of Torchlight Infinite, the visuals and design fall right in line with the likes of Torchlight 2. Creative classes and linear level design are both present and feel right within the context of the Torchlight universe. XD Network is working hard to capture the essence of what it means to be a Torchlight game and package it into a mobile (PC coming soon) title.
Diablo Immortal also leans into its roots and has created an excellent addition to the Diablo franchise. Immortal fits perfectly from narrative to mechanics to style within the universe it was created for. Blizzard has once again taken an existing idea, reworked and refined it into something uniquely Blizzard.
Based on my experience both with these franchises as well as with each title, it feels that both Torchlight Infinite and Diablo Immortal are truly working to be the next AAA title in their respective franchises. Though they have taken different approaches to this, it feels like each is succeeding in that endeavour. These aren’t cheap reskins of other mobile ARPGs. Each feels unique and focused on being a AAA experience on your mobile device.
Torchlight Infinite takes place 200 years after the events of Torchlight 2. It's an age of technology and prosperity, yet there is an underlying current of chaos on the rise. Like the stories before, Torchlight Infinite draws from its lore and delivers a story that feels in line with the content before it.
I do love the mix of technology and magic, something that is seen in the previous titles but to a lesser degree. However, being set 200 years in the future, Torchlight Infinite feels detached from all that has come before. There is very little here that links to previous titles. This in turn makes me feel much less invested in what is happening in the world.
Story delivery as well feels a bit lackluster. Some interesting cutscenes make some moments feel impactful but the overall delivery of the story in between did make me wonder who some characters were when I saw them in a cutscene. It's not that the story isn’t engaging its just that its lack of connecting to games' past means that it misses out on gaining an early engagement with players who love the franchise.
On the other hand, Diablo Immortal gives us a story that takes place firmly after the events of Diablo 2 but before the narrative of Diablo 3. This was a brilliant move on the part of Blizzard. While I felt disconnected from the characters and story beats in Torchlight Infinite, every character in Diablo Immortal was connected to an overarching universe that I already know. Callbacks to Diablo 2 and early introductions to characters that become important to Diablo 3 made me feel right at home. Every new area had some nod or easter egg to other titles in the franchise that left a grin on my face.
Story delivery as well followed a similar style to that of Diablo 3, which means that narrative in many cases is delivered while I'm in combat or engaged in activities. This helps keep the pace of gameplay a bit more consistent.
The reality is that story in Diablo and Torchlight has never been the main attraction to the game. I would, however, venture to say that those who simply disregard the narratives of each universe do themselves a disservice. Each has historically rich lore to draw on and in the case of these two mobile titles, Diablo definitely leans into it a bit more making this gamer feel much more invested in what is happening there.
Combat and Skills
Combat in both Torchlight Infinite and Diablo Immortal is absolutely amazing. I intentionally chose not to use controllers for either title and instead leaned into the mobile controls on my phone. For context, I’m an old gamer and these hands do not like to use touch controls. It typically feels cumbersome, cramped and lacks the accuracy of a keyboard and mouse or even a traditional controller.
In the case of Torchlight Infinite, the controls feel responsive and easy to reach on the phone. Abilities are spaced out and easy to identify and use as well. Framerates were also solid and seems to hold steady at around 60Hz refresh rate. This translated into some seriously smooth gameplay. I never noted any lag or shuttering while playing, despite using a pet class and joyously filling the screen with as many pets as I could.
Diablo Immortal as well runs exceptionally well. Combat here is also silky smooth averaging about the same refresh rate though it did dip a bit more than on Torchlight. Full disclosure though, I was running Diablo on my old Note 10 and Torchlight on my Pixel 6 so I imagine that any dips felt in Diablo were more due to my two-year-old hardware than to optimization.
Combat in Diablo Immortal functionally works much the same as Torchlight, with similar button payouts and responsiveness. Both titles are amazing to play in this department, feel great, and always left me wanting to play more. I also quickly forgot I was playing with touch controls as everything worked seamlessly.
Skill management, though is where things start to differ. Torchlight Infinite leans into a modifier approach to its skills system. Each active skill can unlock five modifier slots. You then get to pull from a bank of modifiers and customize each skill to develop further how that skill works in combat. This, coupled with Infinite’s Passive skill trees, leads to some serious customization options for reach class.
Immortal, on the other hand, uses a new system for the franchise. After receiving a base ability, players can collect legendary gear with modifiers attached to the gear. You can then actively level up the gear or even transfer the modifier to new gear. This means that your equipment becomes much more than a simple stat boost. It's a nice way to make gear feel much more impactful and worth chasing after.
When I compare these two systems though I’m a bit torn. I love the gear transfer system of Diablo Immortal because, as mentioned, it makes gear drops feel much more impactful and rewarding. However, it can also feel a bit restrictive as you farm gear waiting and hoping for the right drop to finish a build you’ve been working on. It can also be costly to transfer a modifier to a new piece of gear, making you more hesitant to try new builds.
Torchlight Infinite, however, gives me all the customization I want on my skills and makes it easy for me to swap out modifiers to try new builds. This to me is a much more rewarding way to handle active skills as it balances impact and flexibility. This in turn leads to an exploration of some pretty interesting builds.
Do I look good In This Hat?
Like any good loot-filled ARPG, I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a little more time talking about gear. Namely, that there is a lot in both games. You will find yourself clicking for loot almost as much as you click your primary attack. As an ARPG player, there is nothing more satisfying than getting new loot. It is also handled differently in each game.
As mentioned earlier, Diablo Immortal’s loot system feels exceptionally impactful, with each new piece potentially changing up how you play your character. Even gear that isn’t of use to you can be deconstructed and its parts used to upgrade your current gear. Finally, when you equip a new piece of gear in Diablo Immortal, you can see how it looks on your character.
Torchlight Infinite, on the other hand, doesn’t really carry the same kind of weight. Drops seem to have little impact on the overall gameplay, and although frequent enough, new gear rarely replaces existing gear in a meaningful way.
Lastly, new gear doesn’t mean a new look. Other than weapons which thankfully do change appearance when equipped, no other gear has a cosmetic impact on your character. Unfortunately, the only way to change your character’s appearance is locked behind a cosmetic tab buried in the shop. It's a bit disappointing really, as it's a departure from the previous games in the series.
Going The Distance
So at the end of the day, what is going to keep us playing these two titles? I did manage to spend more time at the end game in Diablo Immortal than I did with Torchlight Infinite so I have to say that I don’t have as much insight into the latter’s longevity plans. I will speak about my experience, however, of playing both titles through various levels. Both games are a lot of fun to play.
They are the first mobile titles I have wanted to spend more than five minutes playing. Each leaves me with a desire to jump back in and spend more time leveling my character. As a long-time pet class player, the Commander from Torchlight Infinite and the Necromancer from Diablo Immortal scratch that pet class itch uniquely.
As to how they will fare at launch, I actually think both will do well as mobile titles. Diablo Immortal is planning to release both a mobile and PC version at launch with full cross-play and cross-progression available through a linked Battle.net account. This will help Diablo Immortal gain the early traction it needs to be a long-term ARPG for gamers.
Though Torchlight Infinite has just announced that a PC/console version (with cross-progression and play) will come after its mobile release, I do worry that if it doesn’t come shortly after the mobile release some early needed hype might be lost. However, if the marketing can be handled well and there isn’t too much time between mobile and PC/console releases Torchlight Infinite should do well.
As to which one you should play? Why not both? If you’re an ARPG fan I honestly don’t know why you wouldn’t give both a go. As free-to-play titles, the barrier to entry is literally as low as it can be and both really do offer an AAA game experience. Though I didn’t spend any time in the write-up on it, both cash shops really didn’t seem to impact my gameplay experience and I certainly didn’t see any pay-to-win items available in either shop.
Overall I’m excited for both of these titles and hope it starts a more mainstream trend of mobile/PC/Console releases in the future. We’ve had a few releases in the last couple of years which show us that it can be done. Hopefully Diablo Immortal and Torchlight Infinite will show us that it should be done.