Five Things Diablo Immortal Needs to Get Right12 Nov 2018 0
The buzz going into BlizzCon—the annual convention where Blizzard reveals what’s to come in its slate of games—was that exciting Diablo news was coming. Diablo is one of the biggest RPG franchises in gaming history and launched the action-RPG genre, so news about a new game is always hotly anticipated. The conventional wisdom held the long-awaited announcement of Diablo 4 was upon us. As it turned out, the conventional wisdom was wrong. Instead Blizzard revealed plans for the franchise's first mobile game, Diablo Immortal.
A mobile Diablo game is, perhaps, even bigger news for mobile-gaming enthusiasts than Diablo 4 would have been. We’ve long had to look elsewhere for titles that evoke one or more characteristics of Diablo on our phones and tablets. Luckily, we’ve had a great deal of success and many Diablo-like mobile games are excellent in their own right. With so many worthy substitutes Blizzard can’t just throw out any old game, slap the Diablo name on it, and expect to claim the title of top mobile ARPG.
What will it take for Blizzard and their development partner NetEase to win us over?
Role-playing games, even action-centric ones, need a good story. The Diablo games all feature an epic good-versus-evil tale that is interesting and serves as a great wrapper for combat and character progression. Diablo Immortal will need to deliver the same type of story with a compelling main quest line and plenty of side quests to keep players busy, expand single-player content, and provide opportunities for more XP and loot.
A great example of this already on mobile is action-RPG-crafting-survival game Crashlands. It centers on a central quest line that moves through three distinct zones and works in new aspects of the game as it progresses, but also has a ton of side quests you can play if desired. We don't know much about the story, and it's quite possible given the early stage of things that Blizzard and NetEase don't either, but something similar with that tasty Diablo flavor will be important for the game's success.
Combat Matters More
Story is important but in an action-RPG combat is even more important. Diablo is known for fast-paced, non-stop, and hazardous-to-your-health-bar combat. Nailing this is absolutely critical for Diablo: Immortal. It shouldn't feel like every other ARPG on mobile it should feel faster, more challenging, and more exciting. It should feel like Diablo III. High expectations? Certainly, but hey, if Blizzard wants to be the best on mobile that's what it'll take.
Things look pretty good on this front from what we've seen so far…
Combat in Diablo Immortal certainly looks fast, fun, and exciting in the trailer. It will make use of a virtual joystick on the left side of the screen and ability buttons on the right. A virtual joystick is not ideal in a touch-screen environment and is in fact a straight-up deal-breaker for a lot of mobile gamers. It has, however, become standard for isometric, action-RPGs on mobile given how much is going on in combat. NetEase uses the same type of layout in its existing ARPGs Crusaders of Light and Endless of God, so perhaps it was too much to hope Diablo Immortal would try something new. Hopefully there is some customization possible, like in Barbearian where you can choose where you want the virtual joystick and various ability buttons.
Part of making combat compelling and fun is providing a variety of ways to play. This means lots of interesting character-class options, preferably featuring different ways to play each. This is a huge reason for the seemingly unending success of Diablo III. Blizzard did a great job making sure each class could be played a few different ways and felt different from each other. Blizzard confirmed the existence of six of the franchise's classes: Barbarian, Crusader, Demon Hunter, Monk, Necromancer, and Wizard and hopefully there's enough powers to offer some nice customization.
The Diablo games are well known for including a metric-ton of loot. Diablo III is the best example and is full to bursting with different sets—with more coming all the time—of gear that conveys a wide assortment of bonuses. What's more, there are ways to alter and optimize your gear as you seek the best-possible kit for a character. It's this variety of stuff that contributes the most to the huge number of character-customization options that makes it a min-maxers paradise.
Having a similar loot setup will be a requirement for Diablo Immortal to rise to the top of mobile options. There are several existing games that do a nice job with loot. Rogue Wizards, a turn-based mobile RPG, offers a very similar gear and loot-dropping system to Diablo III including options to optimize dropped loot and the ever-elusive Treasure Goblin. Eternium offers a bunch of different gear slots and sets to seek out as well. I'd expect Diablo Immortal to surpass what these games have done since Blizzard has the very best model from which to work: Diablo III itself.
Diablo III came out over six years ago and remains one of Blizzard's most-popular games for one reason: end-game content. Once you finish the main-quest line the game isn't over, far from it, it's just beginning. Story gives way to optimization and pushing more and more difficult content in Adventure Mode. There are bosses to defeat, dungeons to clear, events to complete, and places to explore. There are also Nephalim Rifts, effectively speed-based killing sprees complete with leaderboards.
Including sufficient content to keep players coming back and not moving on to other games is a big part of mobile games these days. Diablo Immortal will need to recreate the amazing replay-ability of Diablo III to keep fickle mobile gamers from bouncing to the next thing. Again, Blizzard has the benefit of knowing exactly what works to keep players engaged so there's no reason not to expect them to get it right.
Blizzard and NetEase can nail all the above and create an amazing game and still fail if one last thing doesn't work: monetization. The Apple and Google Play stores are littered with good games bogged down by oppressive freemium mechanics. It's too much to hope for a premium game here and there will be micro-transactions. Blizzard owns Hearthstone, Overwatch, and Heroes of the Storm. They clearly understand the value of in-app purchases to the bottom line.
Ideally, they figure out how to make the game wildly profitable without going the route of exploitative energy timers and random loot crates. We have very little information on how monetization will work, and probably won't for some time. Games like Fortnite have shown you can be free-to-play without resorting to terrible tactics, and still earn boat-loads of money in the process. Would you pay for new character skins? Weapon and/or outfit skins?
If Blizzard and NetEase can distill the elements that has made the franchise great—compelling story, great combat, lots of loot, and a fun endgame—and bring them to life on mobile devices Diablo: Immortal could be one of the biggest games on any platform. It would take its spot as the best action-RPG mobile-gaming has to offer and would be a win for gamers. A win, that is, unless the game is riddled with annoying and exploitive freemium mechanics. Only time will tell whether Blizzard and NetEase can make it happen.
You can find out more about Diablo Immortal, including where to pre-register, from the official website.