Diablo Immortal is an upcoming free-to-play video game in the Diablo series, designed for mobile devices. The massively multiplayer online action role-playing game takes place between the events of Diablo II and Diablo III. Developed by Blizzard Entertainment and NetEase, it was announced in late 2018 and is planned for release on Android and iOS in 2021.
Diablo Immortal is a free-to-play massively multiplayer online (MMO) action role-playing game (ARPG), designed for play on mobile devices. It is an online-only game, requiring an internet connection during play. The fast-paced, arcade-like Immortal has many gameplay similarities to Diablo III (such as destructible environments); however, whilst it retains the vibrant art style of Diablo III, the game's tone is closer to the more sombre style of Diablo II. It features the isometric graphic style common to games in the series.
Many of the game's activities are designed to be small in size (Blizzard advise that dungeons will average 10-15 minutes in length, with shorter activities lasting 1-5 minutes), so they can fit with the shorter play sessions common to mobile gaming; however, unlike many games in the free-to-play mobile space, Immortal does not feature an "energy" system to limit the amount of free play time available.
Players can create one or more characters to use within the game. When creating a character, players select one of the game's six character classes: Barbarian, Wizard, Monk, Necromancer, Demon Hunter, and Crusader, each with 12 unlockable skills (from which the player chooses five to use concurrently). For example, the Barbarian class's skills include slamming a hammer and turning into a whirlwind, whereas the Wizard's skills include a beam of electricity that boomerangs back to its source, dealing damage twice. "Charms" can also be acquired within the game and equipped to further increase skill effectiveness and change how they function.
The game is designed for touchscreen devices, with virtual controls that overlay the display: a directional thumbstick and skill buttons. Skills feature auto-aim (generally towards the nearest enemy), but the player can manually aim each skill by holding down its corresponding button. Unlike previous games in the Diablo series, mana and other class-specific resources have been removed from Immortal, in favor of a cooldown-based system for skills (with typical cooldown times ranging from 8-12 seconds). Performing attacks will also fill the character's "Ultimate meter", which, when filled, allows the use of more powerful attacks, amplifying the perks of the character's basic attack, for a limited time period.
Outside of the game's primary storyline missions, other activities include random quests which appear during exploration, Bounties (such as defeating specific enemies or creating specific items), Challenge Rifts (randomly-generated, time-limited dungeons with ever-increasing levels of difficulty), and Elder Rifts. Elder Rifts are similar to Challenge Rifts, but can be modified using "crests" (which can be either earned via free gameplay, or acquired via microtransaction) for greater reward.
Through gameplay, characters earn experience points, which allow them to increase their level. As characters increase in level, they become more powerful, earning new skills and increasing the power of existing skills. Each character class has its own system of progression.
Once a player's character has reached the game's level cap of level 60, they can achieve additional "Paragon levels", which can be invested into one of four categories (each with their own talent tree of 100 levels): Survivor (increasing odds of survival), Treasure Hunter (increased odds of finding gold and other in-game items), Vanquisher (increasing combat effectiveness against non-player enemies), and Gladiator (increasing combat effectiveness against other players). Blizzard has stated that it plans to add additional paragon trees to the game following its initial release.
In addition to these level-based progressions, the game features a Battle Pass reward system tied to seasons, within which there are both free and paid tiers available, with the paid tier focusing on additional opportunities to earn in-game currencies. Blizzard, however, confirmed that seasons which encourage players to create a new character each time (as seen in Diablo III) are not planned for Immortal, which will focus instead on the concept of players retaining a single long-term character.
Defeated enemies and opened treasure chests drop items ("loot"), and NPCs sell similar items in exchange for the in-game currency of "gold". Some loot items are also specific to particular enemies. These items can be equipped via a pop-up button or via the game's inventory screen. Such equipment can also be made more powerful by inserting "gems", and via the game's "rank up" system, which uses materials salvaged from other items to make "rare" and "legendary" level items more effective. Such ranks also be transferred from one item to another, ensuring that resources can be invested in progress even prior to acquiring a specific item.
The game also features a cross-player "marketplace" in which players can buy and sell materials and gems; however, to avoid repeating controversial issues from the "auction house" feature in Diablo III, the marketplace does not allow purchase or trading of equipment items, which must be earned through gameplay. The marketplace currency of "platinum" can be acquired through free gameplay, the selling of materials, or via microtransaction; however, there is not an option to convert this back into currency outside of the game.
The "Helliquary" is a feature which unlocks by player level 45. Players gain the ability to hunt, trap, and then defeat "boss demons", which will be very difficult enemies. Defeating these enemies will earn players trophies, which they can place within their Helliquary, granting permanent character bonuses. The development team intend for the game to introduce a new boss each month.
Although all of Immortal's core activities can be completed by a solo player, in the style of other MMO games, players can join and leave groups ("parties") of up to 4 players and play through "dynamic events" together, with some high-level in-game dungeons designed specifically to be tackled by four players cooperatively. Players may also encounter each other randomly when exploring the game's world. These gameplay elements are similar to Blizzard's long-running MMO, World of Warcraft. The game also provides voice chat features, allowing players to communicate both with other members of their party, and with a broader range of players via "public" channels. Immortal is also designed to feature guilds for bringing together larger groups of players.
Player versus player combat
In addition to cooperative multiplayer elements, the game also features competitive PVP. For example, some areas of the game feature treasure chests which respawn on a timed basis and can only be opened by the last player left alive in the area. Another PVP feature is "Battleground": an 8 vs. 8 mode in which teams escort "Zealous Idols" to the opposing team's "Ancient Heart".
The "Cycle of Strife"
The "Cycle of Strife" is an optional PVP system open to all players who have reached Immortal's "endgame" phase. Each of the game's servers will allow up to 500 players within the "Immortals" faction, but an unlimited number of players to opt in as part of the "Shadows" faction. The feature is entirely optional for players; any players who do not opt in during a specific cycle are simply designated "Adventurers" not affiliated with either group.
Shadows players attempt to displace the current Immortal players by forming "Dark Houses" and participating in the Shadows' activities. Immortals players will also have designated activities, distinct from those of the Shadows. For example, Immortal players can participate in "Kion's Ordeal": a 48-player raid, with four groups of 12 players fighting four bosses simultaneously. Loot earned from Elder Rifts by Kion's Ordeal players is added to a vault, which gets handed out to Immortals players on a weekly basis. Shadows activities include "Raid the Vault", where 4 players attempt to steal from the Immortals' vault (beginning with PVE gameplay, until the Immortals send players to defend the vault).
The "Wall of Honor", which is located in Westmarch for all players to view, details achievements of all Immortal faction leaders and their four lieutenants.
Once the Shadows reach a sufficient level of progression, this will trigger the "Rite of Exile", whereby the strongest eight members of the top ten Dark Houses will battle against the best players within the Immortals (in ten simultaneous 8 vs. 8 battles). If at least half of these battles are won by the Immortals, the structure of these factions remains unchanged; however, if at least half are won by the Shadows, players in the top-ranked Dark House will become the new Immortals faction (with all other players being returned to "Adventurer" designation), at which point a new cycle begins.
Cycles in the game are expected to last between one and three months.
Part of the Diablo series, Immortal is set 5 years after the events of Diablo II, but prior to Diablo III. Players begin their adventure in the town of Wortham, which is being threatened by cultists and the undead. They learn from recurring Diablo character Deckard Cain that they must locate and destroy shards of the Worldstone across the world of Sanctuary in order to prevent a world-threatening disaster. This journey continues into areas including the city of Westmarch (which serves as the game's main location for trade and social activities), Ashworld Cemetery, Dark Wood, the Shassar Sea, Mount Zavain (location of the Sanctified Earth Monastery), and the Frozen Tundra (populated by Barbarian tribes).
Aspects of the game's plot focus on conflict between the "Immortals" (a group dedicated to the protection of Sanctuary) and the "Shadows" (a secret group established to test the Immortals) in what is known as the "Cycle of Strife". In the words of the game's principal designer, Scott Shicoff:
“A long time ago, there was a powerful individual called Daedessa the Builder… she wanted to protect Sanctuary from demonic invasion but she wasn’t a fighter. She was, however, a master crafter, and she created a powerful artifact called the Eternal Crown. She gave it to her son Kion… and charged him with forming a group whose sole purpose would be the protection of Sanctuary from the Burning Hells. Kion took this powerful artifact and created a guardian group which he called the Immortals.
“Daedessa knew that power, especially that kind of power, can lead to complacency and corruption for even the best or most well-intentioned individuals like her son. So she gave her daughter Akeba a secret heavy burden. It would be Akeba’s job to make sure that the Immortals would never falter or waver. That they were always worthy and capable of defending Sanctuary, as they were charged. So working in secret, Akeba found those brave enough to help her constantly test and challenge the Immortals. They would look for cracks and weaknesses and they would do everything they could to make sure the elite defenders of Sanctuary were always up to the task. She called this group the Shadows.
“And should the Shadows ever prove stronger and more capable, they would overthrow the current reign and take up the Eternal Crown as the new Immortals. Which, of course, they eventually did, with Akeba becoming the next Immortal. But Akeba could never get too comfortable because she knew that as she rose up, so too would new Shadows to make sure she was always worthy of her station. And thus the Cycle of Strife was born.”
Immortal is being co-developed by Blizzard Entertainment and NetEase, the latter being Blizzard's partner for Chinese market releases. Blizzard intended to bring the core Diablo experience to the smartphone platform, making interface design choices to best fit that experience to the medium. By designing for a smartphone gaming audience, Immortal was intended to reach demographics and geographic regions that use mobile phones as their primary gaming platform, and therefore may not otherwise interact with Diablo in other formats.
The game was first announced during the opening ceremony of BlizzCon in November 2018, where the release platforms were confirmed as Android and iOS, with cross-platform play and progression carry-over between the two. Blizzard also announced plans to keep the Immortal experience fresh after its initial release with the regular addition of stories and characters. Shortly after the game's announcement, Blizzard began allowing players to pre-register on the game's website for admission to playtest the future beta version.
In February 2019, NetEase's CFO, Yang Zhaoxuan, stated that the game was "pretty much ready" and still planned for a 2019 release; however, he also stated that Blizzard would be the ones to determine the exact release timetable. In November 2019, during BlizzCon, Blizzard posted an update on its official blog, confirming that Immortal was still in development; however, it stated that there was still no specific release date for the game, because "It takes significant time to meet the Blizzard quality level we’re aiming for, and we have a lot of ambitious goals for Diablo Immortal." Additional details confirmed in the post included that the game would feature six playable classes (Barbarian, Crusader, Demon Hunter, Monk, Necromancer, and Wizard) and chargeable, class-specific 'ultimate' abilities.
At the start of August 2020, at ChinaJoy, Blizzard and NetEase released a new gameplay trailer for Immortal, showcasing each of the six playable classes, and featuring the first appearance of Baal, one of the main antagonists from Diablo II and its expansion, Lord of Destruction. The trailer also revealed improvements to the game's graphics and character models, which had been implemented since the release of previous promotional material.
Public alpha testing
A "very limited" public alpha demo of the game took place from December 2020 until January 2021, featuring its first 45 character levels and four of the six playable classes. The alpha was released specifically for players in Australia on Android devices; however, some media outlets were also given access. Character progression from the alpha cannot be carried over into the full game. During a question & answers session at BlizzConline (an online-only version of BlizzCon, due to the COVID-19 pandemic) in February 2021, the development team confirmed that the game's next phase would be an additional alpha, likely featuring the game's full launch level cap (60 levels), additional story elements, and all six playable classes. During this discussion, the team also confirmed that they were working to bring game controller support to Immortal, alongside its on-screen virtual controls, and that they plan to introduce additional classes and locations (all free for every player) after the game's initial release.
In further February 2021 interviews, development team members stated that although they remained focused on mobile platforms, they were "not necessarily going to block" efforts by others to emulate it on other devices. They also confirmed the game to be based on a brand new engine, not used for any previous NetEase games, with the same quality standards as other Blizzard-developed games:
"Game development at Blizzard is all about making sure that we ask ourselves the questions, like 'is this good enough?' That's sometimes why it takes a long time for us to make what we make ... [NetEase] completely subscribe to our commitment to quality, which was a pre-requisite to having this partnership ... This is an engine that NetEase is using for the first time. It wasn't [used for] any of those previous games people are comparing it to. It's being built from scratch on a new engine, and it's not a re-skin of Diablo III ... It is a wholly new game that we've built."
The team also revealed how they had made player feedback a core component of the alpha test, implementing a system which allowed them to look at all of the feedback submitted through the in-game feedback tool:
"At the end of our Technical Alpha, we looked at every single piece of feedback we got ... We basically did a summit where we had all the team on a Zoom, and I was sharing my screen, and we just went line-by-line ... In the end, we do have to make a judgment call, but we really do value that kind of feedback, especially when we see clear trends over multiple players. And we're also looking at Reddit and other community channels to get anecdotes and other feedback from there, as well."
An example given of changes made in response to this feedback was how the team had strengthened the wizard class's ice-based attacks, to support ways in which players wanted to use these skills, and address concerns that the class was "underpowered".
In April 2021, Immortal entered a new closed alpha test, also limited specifically to Android players in Australia. The new test featured addition of the game's Crusader class, a raise of the character level cap to 55 (compared to 60 from the full game), and introduction of the "Cycle of Strife" feature (with the alpha lasting "at least a month" to allow sufficient testing of this new gameplay element). At the beginning of this second alpha, the game's director, Wyatt Cheng, confirmed that there would be a minimum of one further testing phase (with the full level cap of 60) before the game's release.
During its first quarter financial earnings release in May 2021, parent company Activision Blizzard confirmed Immortal to be "on track for global release later [in 2021];" however, no specific release window for the game was stated.
Response to Immortal's announcement at BlizzCon 2018 was largely negative. While traditional gaming audiences often express skepticism towards mobile versions of game franchises, the Diablo series community's discontent was compounded by their anticipation for a larger announcement. They expressed their discontent through online channels, likening Immortal to a "reskin" of prior NetEase games, such as Crusaders of Light and Endless of God. Later in the same day, developers participated in a Q&A with attendees. Two particular questions leveled at Wyatt Cheng, Principal Game Designer at Blizzard, drew significant attention from media and audiences alike, with one attendee asking if the announcement was an "out of season April Fools' joke", and another asking if there was a possibility for a PC release, leading to the crowd booing when the answer was negative.
Blizzard responded to the announcement's reception the following day, stating that Immortal is but one Diablo series game in active development, and pointing to the company's multi-platform development experience and the success of the mobile version of Hearthstone as evidence of their capacity to overcome uncertainty and do right by their core audience. They also addressed a rumor that they had withheld announcement of a main Diablo sequel due to the negative response at Immortal's reveal:
"First off we want to mention that we definitely hear our community. We generally don’t comment on rumors or speculation, but we can say that we didn’t pull any announcements from BlizzCon this year or have plans for other announcements. We do continue to have different teams working on multiple unannounced Diablo projects, and we look forward to announcing when the time is right."
Following the announcement, Activision Blizzard's stock fell 7% on the first weekday of trading. As of February 17, 2021, the two official 2018 trailers on YouTube stand at 342,000 dislikes to 27,000 likes for the gameplay trailer, and 766,000 dislikes to 32,000 likes for the cinematic trailer. Later in November 2018, newly-appointed Blizzard president, Allen Brack, thanked fans for their feedback, because it showed their love for the franchise:
"I think it's clear there's a lot of players who are eager for more Diablo PC and console content. That came through loud and clear from BlizzCon. Frankly, we feel fortunate to have a community that cares so much about that franchise. The commitment and the engagement of our community is one of the things that makes Blizzard very special and something that we really appreciate. "We feel that Diablo Immortal is going to deliver a very authentic Diablo experience, and we're not going to compromise on that mission ... Launching the game is only going to be the beginning. There's going to be ongoing support. We're only going to release the game when we feel like it is meeting the community's very high standards. In the end, Diablo Immortal is going to fulfil that, and we think that people are going to experience it, and we think they're going to love it."
Previews based on the game's earliest demos in 2018 included both positive and negative sentiment. Mashable, for example, described the game as "a lot of fun" and praised its visual style compared to Diablo III, while GameSpot & VentureBeat cited its many unknown factors (especially how its business model would work, which Blizzard were unable to confirm at the time) as one of the biggest areas of concern. Some writers expressed approval for its controls, its interface having been tested by prior NetEase games, although Polygon noted difficulties with the precision aiming of abilities,and Kotaku felt it to be "occasionally slow to respond." Multiple writers felt that where Immortal captured the series' look and feel, it omitted some of its core tenets, or as Polygon put it, Diablo's "soul". Although the mobile game captured the basic Diablo experience, the reviewers questioned whether the new entry had enough new content to remain fresh. In these early previews of the game, newly equipped items did not change the visual appearance of the player's character, which also received criticism; however, this feature was added by the time of the game's subsequent alpha demo.
The official gameplay update video released on YouTube in November 2019 (following BlizzCon) received a closer ratio of likes to dislikes compared to the game's initial trailers; however, as of February 17, 2021, the video still stands at 13,000 dislikes to 12,000 likes.
In contrast to those from 2018, previews based on the game's late 2020 alpha featured a higher level of positivity: IGN, described Immortal as offering a "fully fledged new Diablo" experience, and "not a watered down mobile lookalike" (a message reinforced by Eurogamer and The Verge, who described it as "[feeling] like a proper Diablo game"). IGN made specific callout of the fact that, despite Immortal being a free-to-play game, there were no core gameplay elements (such as missions, character progression, or loot items) which required players to spend money. Other areas of praise included the game's combat and art direction (including the look of different equipment items on character models); however, the lack of controller support was identified as a shortcoming. Game Informer's reviewer explicitly stated that the game's new alpha "looks, feels, and plays much closer to a core Diablo title" than the previous demos they had seen; however, they felt that whilst the game had a number of positives, it made them wish it was available on a non-mobile platform, without virtual touch controls.
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