Impressions: 'Diablo Immortal' is shaping up to be a faithful mobile rendition

As a 38-year old gamer, I have fond memories of playing Diablo.

From being the "fresh meat" against the terrifying Butcher of Diablo I and Diablo II as a teen to my traipsing through through Sanctuary in Diablo III as a monk and crusader a few years back, Diablo is a game series I enjoyed playing, even when my tastes toward gaming changed as I grew older.

It's likely because the nature of the Diablo games skewed toward making the game more accessible between the second and third titles that I found myself curious at the mobile phone title Blizzard was working on, called Diablo Immortal.

Blizzard recently offered me a chance to try out the alpha for the new game. We played it on a high-end Lenovo Legion Phone Duel, which Lenovo had lent us.

Does the game experience translate well to mobile? More importantly, can I still hack (and slash) it in this day and age of twitch gameplay and reflex-based butt-kickery?

Here are my thoughts on Diablo Immortal, as someone who grew up playing the series and who is now more wizened storyteller in spirit than a barbarian in physicality.

A crusade begins

Taking place in between the events of the second and third games, Diablo Immortal tries to fulfill a gap in time we know little about for gameplay purposes – how Diablo keeps coming back after we've bashed his head in.

The series has never been about being completely whimsical, so the tone of the game's story and the return of a darker mood for the art direction make it an interesting choice in a mobile space.

I took on the mantle and flail of the crusader class, which was introduced in Diablo III, mostly because I enjoyed its gameplay in Diablo III above that of my second favorite class, the monk.

Diablo Immortal ramps up the intial 30 to 45 minutes by giving you at least eight to 10 levels by that time, depending on how kill-crazy you get.

You have a primary attack as well as 4 special attacks you can slot on the right side of the phone screen, and you'll get your fourth attack by level eight, so it's plenty of time to get acquainted with the controls.

Much like any mobile game, movement is done using touch feedback on the left side of the phone by thumb-dragging, which moves your character accordingly.

The Legion Phone Duel handled the tech specs easily, and with a relatively large screen, I didn't have to worry about losing visual cues trying to maneuver or while playing. Of course, the experience will vary depending on the phone you use.

So far, on a flagship-type phone, the game has looked great. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 or its equivalent is the minimum chip requirement while a Snapdragon 855, Qualcomm's 2019 flagship, is recommended. The Phone Duel sports a Snapdragon 865 chipset.

All the available information needed to make a game work in the 2020s – from the character actions, the enemy and player hit points and mana equivalents, to the mini map, quest guide, inventory and skill interfaces – were all easily visible despite my trepidation at my fat thumbs obscuring details.

In other words, even as a newcomer to mobile gaming, I had an easy go of it because everything felt "just right."

Of giddy-ups and minor gripes

The funny thing about playing a mobile version of Diablo? Aside from requiring an always-on connection, you're going to need that connection to be stable.

Personally, my main gripe around Diablo Immortal was the constant reoccurrence of a red connection warning-slash-latency notification. My latency was at least hovering in the 190-250 ms range for the entirety of my time playing. I was on WiFi using a decent broadband connection.

As a player in the Philippines, knowing the internet we have here, I knew I wouldn't have the most optimal experience playing a game unless I was on a Southeast Asian server.

AND YET.

It ran even better than I expected, despite having persistent latency warnings that I'd probably lag out.

When I hit an enemy, damage numbers would pop on screen and the hit registration and sound effects would occur as expected. When I smack a pot, it breaks on cue. When I bludgeon a zombie in the head with a mace, it crumples into a heap, just like you'd hope it would.

My favorite skill, which basically let the crusader giddy-up on a horse and then tether a number of enemies behind him with magical chains as he increased his movement speed and whacked all of them the entire time? That skill did not lag whatsoever and felt responsive even when I was being warned by the game itself that I wouldn't have fun due to lag.

What 'Diablo III' did right, but darker and pocket-sized

What I love about Diablo Immortal is that it has just about all the bells and whistles of Diablo III in the right scale for the epic adventure it wants you to undertake.

Loot is given aplenty and tends to be and account-wide, but is usually character class-specific, so you're never fumbling for stuff you don't need. Loot is also a one-tap affair where you can pick up gear by just tapping the right spot above your attack buttons, and gold is automatically picked up if you walk on top of it.

The game also features upgrade systems for the loot you get, such as a smithy to salvage and strengthen armor and weapons.

The item comparison system is simple and easy to understand, since you don't have to worry about allocating statistics so much as picking skills, and hoping your gear gives you stronger attack and defense statistics, as well as some nice bonuses if you're lucky.

My favorite bit of Diablo Immortal? It's another chance to say hello to an old friend. Since this is set between the mainline Diablo games, Deckard Cain is really here for you to interact with, if only for the meantime.

Immortal is still expected to come out in 2021 though no specific date has been announced.

The spirit is willing but the body is weak

It's at this point when I must regretfully mention my biggest caveat.

As I said earlier, I'm more of a wizened storyteller now than a raging hulk of a barbarian, and I have to monitor how I play just as carefully as how much I play.

Older gamers like myself who want an on-the-go Diablo experience may find themselves enjoying this in short bursts, gradually revealing more story while on a commute. Meanwhile, younger gamers will probably want to play the story to completion and then grab character-specific loot all the time in a sort of hardcore frenzy of daily play and endgame shenanigans, kind of like playing Diablo III's endgame, but on their phones.

For myself? I want to play the game to complete this tale and understand more of the world of Sanctuary, but I do not find myself liking the idea of coming back to the small screen after the story's concluded.

Much like playing on any handheld device as an older gamer, you are going to hurt your neck and potentially lock your elbow joints if you don't stop every 30 minutes or so.

I was, so to speak, engaged and "in the zone" for 90 minutes of uninterrupted play once, and when I finished my play session my joints and neck suffered from staring down at my phone without flexing my arms and stretching.

I look forward to spending more time with the game as it develops further, but please Blizzard, unless you're planning to make this compatible with Windows 11 in the future, give me some kind of hourly warning to stretch – or maybe chuck in a "Deckard Cain" reminder mode.

If you do, I'll certainly stay a while and listen. – Rappler.com

Special thanks to Lenovo for lending us a Legion Phone Duel to test the game out.

Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.

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