Diablo Immortal

Diablo Immortal came out a few weeks ago. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, this is the free to play mobile Diablo MMO that was announced to great fanfare years ago. I wasn’t planning on playing it at all, despite my love of ARPGs, because MMOs turned me off for a long, long time. But in the past year or two, I’ve played a few MMOs: Guild Wars 2, Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy 14, and most recently Lost Ark.

Diablo Immortal owes a lot to Lost Ark. DI is essentially “Lost Ark, but Diablo” in many ways. But I guess that’s sort of over-specific, because the best way to describe Diablo Immortal is to say that “it’s a Korean free to play MMO, but Diablo”. It has all the classic MMO mechanics, like limited daily quests and routines to get into.

I was very hyped for Lost Ark, but eventually realized that it isn’t really a typical loot-based ARPG. Instead of killing monsters to grind out loot drops, you’re really just accomplishing tasks to hoard materials that you then use to improve your gear. Diablo Immortal is a bit of a middle ground: yes, there are tons of different currencies that you need to upgrade legendary gems, but there’s still a strong foundation of killing and looting to get incrementally better legendary and set gear.

The core main quest is very Diablo 3, very typical ARPG. It’s a fun experience and you can have probably 40+ hours of fun for no money at all. That’s a great value, right there, and for the casual player there is a solid sequence of milestones to keep you progressing: first you want to complete the main quest, then you want to hit level 60, then you want to get your paragon level up to 30 to be able to unlock Hell 2 difficulty, and then… well, to me it seemed like the next obvious milestone was to be in a Dark Clan that achieved Immortal status.

That seems to be the real endgame of Diablo Immortal. There’s a very neutered version of the typical MMO “World vs World” concept where the various clans in DI compete every week or two in a ladder competition to see who can rise to the top, called Shadow War. The winning clan gets to pick two other clans to become “Immortals”, who then get access to some special shop items and are used in a special PVP mode called “Raid the Vault”. So it seems like that’s kind of the true goal of Diablo Immortal, to win this ladder and become Immortals.

And that’s where the game falls apart for users who don’t want to spend money, and where the massive internet hate machine around the game truly kicks into overdrive, because most of the game prior to this point is PVE and it doesn’t really matter what kind of gear you have unless you’re absolutely desperate to progress through the PVE difficulty levels.

If you wanna play 60 hours of a game for free and then bounce off it (like most people do, I assume) then none of this should actually matter to you. But if you’re the kind of fool who feels like you want to ‘complete’ a game before you move on, then this Shadow War mechanic is designed specifically to try to extract money from you, and to make “whales” (people who are willing to spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on the game) feel like they’re getting their money worth.

I say this because it’s probably impossible for any clan to win the Shadow War without a bunch of whales on the team, because they have such clearly superior gearing that there is no way for a free player to beat them. And hey, if they spent that much money on the game, I guess they should always win. You can understand that financially it would be a bad move for Diablo Immortal to ever let those whale players feel bad about anything, because then they’d take their massive bags of Saudi Arabian money (assumably) to some other game.

Once the whales become Immortals, the Raid the Vault game mode becomes very unsatisfying for most players. In that mode, you’re in a party of four people fighting PVE mobs to collect some other form of currency. After a floor or two, NPC Wardens start calling out for Immortals, and four people from an Immortal clan will join the game and, being whales, they will instantly obliterate you and kick you out of the vault. It’s not great, it feels bad, and it’s no fun.

So, I followed the path that I could follow: I beat the main quest, I got to level 60, then I got to paragon level 30, discovered that in order to progress in Hell 2 difficulty in any way, I was going to just have to grind out gear and likely never achieve any real level of power or success in comparison to the people who were willing to shell out more money, and realized that there was little to no chance I was going to make any sort of meaningful contribution to a clan that was going to win the Shadow War. So… I bounced off.

There’s also one other reason for my departure: I paid $10 for the battle pass. In most games when you buy a battle pass, there’s an optional upgrade (usually $10-15) that jumps you ahead in the battle pass. It’s totally optional in mostly all games and you can grind out the battle pass content yourself, so I skipped it in Diablo Immortal (it’s called the “Empowered Collector’s Battle Pass”). Imagine my surprise when I hit level 40 (max level) in the battle pass and I still didn’t have the full cosmetic set promised in the battle pass. Then I looked closer: if you want the teleport cosmetic and the blue avatar frame, you also have to buy that battle pass upgrade for another $10.

Well, there’s no fucking way I am doing that. I am not paying $10 just for a teleport cosmetic and an avatar frame. At the same time, I feel extremely insulted and misled that there are battle pass related items that you can’t get unless you paid $20 for the battle pass instead of just $10. It just seems so incredibly greedy in the end. I paid $10 for the battle pass, $10 for the ‘boon of plenty’ to show my support, and then $20 for the “Prodigy’s Path” that gives you legendary gems as you grow in paragon rank. So all told, I spent $40 only to be told at the end of the BP “lol jk you gotta give us more money if you want the full BP cosmetic set”. No, nope, not going to do that. That’s a bridge too far for me.

All told, with the amount of time I got out of the game, my cost per hour of enjoyment was less than $1, which is still a pretty great value when it comes to a game. It’s just too bad the very end of my experience was kind of shitty and negative. I think that really sucks.

So to punish Blizzard for their transgressions I went online and bought Diablo 2 Resurrected and I’m having a ton of fun with it. C’est la vie.