It's been almost three weeks since Diablo: Immortal was finally released in its full version to everyone. Since then, I have been avidly playing and enjoying the gameplay; and yet this is the most complicated review I've ever had to write. The reason for this is that DI is two games in one, the actual gameplay we all expect from Diablo games and the monetization schemes which add another layer to everything. One is an excellent experience that leaves me excited to see what's next, while the other isn't surprising but quite disappointing. This will be a long one, so let's dive in.
This won't be a shock to anyone who read the review in progress a few weeks ago or the alpha preview last year; I love the gameplay of Diablo: Immortal. The minute-to-minute gameplay is fun, and I did enjoy the storyline. It all follows a style very similar to Diablo 3, which is excellent for me. Plus, there are plenty of options to turn off and on to customize your gameplay experience. Don't like having auto navigation? Turn it off. Don't like clicking things to loot them? Turn on auto pick up for everything except legendary items, those you have to loot actively.
There's also a lot of flexibility in building out your character, not just how they look but how they function in game. I like having to pick specific skills to have at the ready rather than a full list of skills always available, as it forces me to focus on how I'm playing more. Plus, since legendary gear augments different skills in different ways, that also pushed me to try things I hadn't before. There's even a list of suggested builds to give direction to players who don't know where to start with creating a build. It's about as straightforward as possible to get into and figure out while saving some things for later discovery.
I've seen many players reporting leveling slowing down around level 35, but this is a bit of a misunderstanding of what is happening at that point. Until the level 35 story block, I could keep up with the required level for each story mission by only doing the story and other activities when they were introduced. I hit the level 35 block at level 34, so I wasn't far behind. There is some variability to this, though, because some mobs drop extra experience orbs, and if you aren't diligent about picking these up, you'll quickly fall behind. Unfortunately, these level blocks are hard-stopping points in the live version of DI. Unlike early access, where I could push on to the next part of the story if I wanted to, the launch version does not allow this.
However, rather than the leveling speed significantly slowing at level 35, the story segments between these blocks get much shorter. This, in turn, requires doing more side activities to keep up. The worst offender of this is at level 41, and I needed to get to level 43 to continue. After doing some Elder Rifts and Bounties, I reached level 43 in short order. Then the storyline was a quick introduction to the Circle of Strife, which wasn't even enough experience to get me to level 44. Immediately after completing that story section, I was hit with another block needed to get to level 46. That's just terrible pacing of the storyline in general.
For the most part, leveling kept fairly steady through bounties, rifts, and extra activities in various areas. For example, there are various hidden lairs in each zone that will become available and are quite fun. They are essentially dungeons that can be done solo or with a party, but you don't know who you'll be fighting at the outset. Initially, the goal was to find and kill the lair boss, but other objectives would pop up as I explored. Most of the time, these new objectives were obvious, but sometimes I wouldn't see what triggered the new objective. For example, there's one where I needed to interact with a moldy book, but I didn't see it on the map. I could tap the objective, and it would highlight it for me on the map.
I was also sad to discover inventory isn't endless, which was a given considering that inventory expansion can be bought in the cash shop. Thankfully what we get by default is substantial. The only times I ran out of space were when I ignored the blacksmiths I went by and kept going with whatever I was doing. As someone who habitually picks up everything I see and can't stand leaving anything behind, I only felt this squeeze when I made terrible choices, which says a lot. Too many games, especially f2p and b2p, keep the default bags extremely small, so players have little choice about upgrading or not.
One downside regarding inventory space is that by the time I reached level 47, I had six simple charms sitting in my bags, taking up space, and I couldn't use any of them because they required level 56. A bunch of them were for other classes, so I wouldn't have been able to use them even after I reached level 56. I probably should have just destroyed them, but I thought once I reached the correct level, I'd also be able to salvage them at that point. So, having these things sitting around taking up space in my bags was pretty annoying. Mainly because nothing else in DI works this way. Every other drop I received was for crusader and my current level.
As far as gearing up goes, it is straightforward. Armor and secondary gear follow usual conventions regarding rarity and color, and the UI is beneficial in pointing out what might be an upgrade. There might be some instances where you might not want to equip something which it says is an upgrade depending on what kind of build you are going for, but for the most part, it's reliable. The upgrade indication also shows in the salvage window, which can help prevent accidentally salvaging something you'd want to use.
All gear benefits from the rank-up and transfer systems, so you never have to worry about waiting to rank up equipment. Get started on that as soon as you can. Additionally, legendaries can use essence transfer. As I was leveling, I'd get higher-level legendaries that would drop, and I'd need to replace what I was using. One time this happened, I received a legendary that augmented a skill I didn't use. After trying it out, I still didn't like it, so I decided to return to judgment and transferred the essence from my previous legendary to my newer, higher-level one. Then, when I found a better one, I extracted the essence of the original legendary, so nothing was lost. Systems like this, which respect your time and offer the player more flexibility in how they play, are currently the best thing about gaming.
I was also a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed the Helliquary. The storyline for opening it was quite fun, but when I got to the part where I needed to find seven other players to do the raid, I figured that was all I would do with it. I've always preferred playing Diablo games as a solo experience, so grouping up with seven other people wasn't appealing. I finally decided to give it a go while leveling 51. Finding the group was easy, and once we were full, we went in, fought the boss, and collected loot. It was quick and easy, but that was the lowest difficulty. It completely changed how I felt about participating in raids in DI, and I will continue to do more. I am looking forward to when new bosses are added as well.
I do have one bone to pick with finding the group to do the Helliquary boss, and that's the fact players can go into dungeons while waiting on a group to fill. I understand that waiting on a group to fill can take a while, and being able to do other things is good. However, if the group is full and you're in a dungeon, everyone else is now waiting on you before they can do the content they want. I had to go through five groups before finding one where everyone was ready to go when we were full. It isn't a huge deal, but it isn't enjoyable either.
Endgame is currently a bit shallow; a lot of things you were already doing while leveling and finishing up objectives from the previous zones. The Circle of Strife is interesting, and there are multiple ways to participate, which is fantastic. I was not too fond of doing higher-difficulty dungeons that require a group to complete. I know this is supposed to be an MMO, but considering it is possible to get through most everything alone, retaining this option at the max level would have been nice. However, for the most part, I am still enjoying my time in game and looking forward to what is coming next for DI.
Before I get started on this, I was to clarify that I have nothing against game companies making money off their games. I don't think everything should be free, and people should be paid well for their work. In the capitalist world we live in, that's just a reality we face. If games weren't big money, very few would get made, and they'd all be on a small scale. But "there's a way to be a person" even when doing business. A lot of this treads very heavily on not being a person.
The first stop on the monetization express is legendary gems. These gems can only be placed in rare or higher gear and can be upgraded as the normal gems can. However, unlike normal gems, legendary gems have a star rating (1-5) and many different effects that are added when socketing. These are very powerful, and there are only two guaranteed ways to get them. One is through the battle pass, and the other is from the hilt merchant, once a month. You can only equip one of each type of gem, so getting a good collection of them is crucial, and they can also be upgraded the same way everything else can be upgraded.
There is also an option to craft legendary gems, but obtaining those mats is mostly random, making it hard to target specific ones. The most reliable way to get legendary gems and be more readily able to upgrade them is to run Elder Rifts using a legendary crest. These crests not only gain you extra boons to help speed the rift along but also guarantee a legendary gem drop. One can be bought for 1600 hilts a month. Aside from that, the quickest way to get them is to buy them with eternal orbs, the real money currency, which is where things start to feel a bit uncomfortable.
I thought buying legendary crests wouldn't be that huge of a deal because you could only ever put three in, which somewhat limits both the impact of these and the rate of use. A limit of three makes it a slower burn-through than if there were more used in a single run… but then it turned out that when you put three legendary crests in an elder rift, suddenly you have the option to put in seven more for a total of ten. That's a much higher burn rate for a chance of getting a legendary gem you want, whether it be to use, upgrade another gem, or sell on the marketplace. This can dramatically increase the balance of power between players who spend money on these and players who don't.
Seeing the fully implemented battle pass also threw me off a bit. I was pretty shocked, though I should have expected it, to see both legendary gems and legendary crests available in the battle pass. The free battle pass will get one legendary crest, whereas the premium line will get a total of three. The free line will get two legendary gems, while the premium line will receive seven legendary gems in total. Now, in the current battle pass, there are only two different gems on there, which means the premium line gets some duplicates, allowing players to rank up their gems more quickly.
On the upside of the battle pass, leveling is easy, especially while leveling and still completing the main storyline. Almost everything I did rewarded points, and there was a handy menu that showed me what each activity would reward and what the daily cap on that activity was. I know there have been complaints about too many daily activities because players feel they need to do all of them, which is certainly one point of view. I prefer a long list of various activities I can choose from rather than a narrow list of specific activities I may not want to do.
As I previously mentioned in the review in progress, the dungeon bundles are the area where spending your money in DI is the best bang for your buck. Their cost is based on the eternal orbs, and you also get various other items in addition to legendary crests as a bonus. Also, the upside to these bundles is that once you have unlocked them, they are available until you buy them, so there's no "omg, I need to get it now or forever miss out" feeling. The downside is that these start off cheap at $0.99 USD and steadily increase in cost equivalent to how many eternal orbs you are getting, so it can ease people into spending more money than they realize.
I have to say, one of my biggest disappointments in playing Diablo: Immortal was discovering it costs platinum to create a clan. My group of friends and I were ready to go, made a warband and started working together to get content done and geared up. Then we went to make a clan and were quite surprised the cost was platinum instead of gold. We had gotten a fair amount from playing but nowhere near enough to create a clan. Our options for getting more were to buy eternal orbs and use those to buy more platinum (none of us had anything to sell on the marketplace). So, that took the wind right out of our sails right there. It's so confounding to me; to put one of the core social experiences in an MMO behind a currency where you feel pushed to use the cash shop just feels wrong.
The last significant aspect of how the monetization for Diablo: Immortal is set up is that everything is character bound. All the gear and cosmetics you unlock are just for that one character, start a new one, and you are starting over. This is likely why Blizzard announced the class change feature before launch, even though it isn't available at launch. When switching classes, you'll only have to farm up the legendary gear and sets you want because all of those are class-specific. Players will retain their level/paragon level, legendary gems, and any cosmetics unlocked in the shop. Plus, class change has been confirmed to be free. With this in mind, class change can't come quickly enough.
If I had to sum up the overall monetization of Diablo: Immortal, I'd have to say it is paying for the chance at obtaining power rather than directly buying power. On the surface, this might not seem as bad as going to a shop and buying the best gear in the game, but this is worse for players in the long term. If you could directly purchase the item, you'd know exactly how much money it would take to get what you want and be able to make an informed choice from there. With this set-up, that number is a variable; you could spend thousands of dollars and still not get the items you wanted. Better for the company, but not good for players.
I had such excitement for Diablo: Immortal through development, and the game itself is a solid experience and well worth the time. I'm not sure how well it will hold up over the long term as an MMO, but it's a good effort, and if I could just score that alone, it would be a 9. However, the monetization is very player unfriendly currently. Rather than getting out of the way and letting players enjoy the game and then spend money because they want to support a game they love, we are consistently being leveraged into feeling like we have to spend an indeterminate amount of money just to have a chance. Heck, you might have to shell out money just to make a clan to play with your friends. This isn't the worst monetization I have seen, but it's still a far cry from good.
Review performed on iPhone 11 Pro.