Diablo Immortal is better than Diablo

Diablo Immortal is better than Diablo: It’s impossible to talk about Diablo Immortal without mentioning the moment that’s defined it for years. When the game, which launches this week, was announced at Blizzcon in 2018, it was met with a hostile reaction from attendees. During a Q&A, one fan asked if the game would be available to play on PC. When principal game designer Wyatt Cheng confirmed it would be a mobile exclusive, the crowd booed prompting Cheng to drop a confused response that now has its own Know Your Meme page.

“Do you guys not have phones?” he infamously quipped.

I don’t bring up that moment to mock Cheng. In fact, he might get the last laugh after all because Diablo Immortal is an excellent mobile game — and that’s because of the very thing fans booed it for. By creating a mobile-first experience from the ground up, Diablo Immortal avoids the traps that so many small-scale adaptations of big games tend to fall into — though its excessive microtransactions are sure to leave some feeling justified about their long-standing skepticism.

Diablo, but better

Diablo Immortal’s most impressive accomplishment is that it doesn’t feel like a spinoff. It’s a full-fledged Diablo experience with a lengthy campaign, full voice-acting, several activities, and a deep endgame. If you don’t play a lot of mobile games and still think of them as match-three puzzlers where you have to pay money to get more lives, you’re in for a major shock. This is a PC or quality console release on a small screen.

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In fact, I might prefer Diablo Immortal to the mainline series. That’s largely thanks to the game’s pace and intuitive control scheme, both of which make excellent use of its mobile framework. Since the game is made to be played on the go rather than during long PC sittings, quests and activities are more bite-sized. I can get through a dungeon or complete a major story beat in 10 minutes, making it easy to make a lot of progress in a short time. Those shorter chunks help keep the experience from ever feeling too repetitive, which can become an issue in dungeon crawlers with long, sprawling levels.

The core gameplay in Diablo Immortal isn’t much different from that of the core PC games. Players choose a class, walk around maps from a top-down perspective, slay mobs of enemies with a host of special skills, and collect a whole lot of loot. Much of its gameplay resembles Diablo 3though there are some key tweaks. For instance, skills don’t require any res to use. They all operate on brief cooldowns, which makes combat feel much faster-paced. It almost feels closer to a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game in that sense.

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What’s especially impressive is the depth of the game’s combat. For my testing session (I’d only have a few days to play before I’d have my progress wiped), I chose a wizard. My primary attack was a magic missile that I could spam with ease thanks to a short cooldown. As I leveled up, I unlocked new skills and could equip three extra moves alongside my primary attack. I quickly discovered that those attacks all interacted with one another, widening my toolset far beyond four basic attacks.

For instance, wizards can drop a crystal that pulses over time to deal damage in a small radius. At first, I treated it like a turret that I would just set and forget. What I soon learned is that I could bounce certain skills off of it. Wizards have a Ray of Frost spell that allows them to shoot a blue beam at enemies that slows their foes down while causing damage. If I aim that at the crystal, the beam refracts off of it, bouncing to every nearby enemy. That level of strategy and skill synergy goes above and beyond what I’ve come to expect from the series or even the genre at large.

Mobile-first

While fans might have booed at the idea of the game not being on PC in 2018, I understand exactly why Blizzard made that decision initially. The mobile-first approach to design makes the final product much stronger. Take its controls, for instance. Diablo Immortal sports some of the best touch controls I’ve ever used in a game of this scale. I move with my left thumb, while my right one manages my skills. Being able to quickly flick out spells with some thumb presses feels more tactile and faster than mapping everything to various number keys.

Diablo Immortal addresses all of the complaints that I recently voiced over Apex Legends Mobile. While the latter is undoubtedly a tight shooter, it doesn’t do enough to rework the PC and console game for a small screen. Its control scheme is too complex for a touch interface, its UI is a mess, and you’ll need to squi