A month after the start, Diablo Immortal is among the lowest Metacritic user review scores all time: 0.4 on iOS and 0.3 on PC. A typical comment says “disgusting design”.

However, in the Apple App Store Diablo Immortal It has a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. “Finally, mobile gaming done right!” one user comments.

Both of them consider these ratings to be correct.

Diablo Immortal Not a new entry in Blizzard’s storied role-playing game series, it frames Diablo in a new context. A few new contexts, actually: It’s designed primarily for mobile devices with touchscreen controls. This is a massively multiplayer online game with a shared world where you see other players running around. It was co-developed with Chinese company NetEase, and more than any Blizzard game before it, it was designed with Asian markets in mind. It’s free to play. All of these are big sea changes for Diablo.

On the other hand, for any Diablo player – especially any Diablo 3 player – Diablo Immortal it will feel comfortingly familiar. The series’ trademark isometric perspective, frantic combat with hordes of monsters, and loot fountains are all present. Besides, Immortal is clearly built on Diablo 3 engine and uses assets from Blizzard’s 2012 game while retaining the feel and atmosphere of that game. Immortal’s artwork has the same richly colored, golden sheen, the combat is the same intoxicating fireworks display, and the clatter and splash of sound effects offer the same deep, Pavlovian satisfaction.

That’s why Immortal it is the same game in a new context that the opinions of different circles of its audience can differ so widely. Existing Diablo fans hate the idea of ​​cashing in on a new free-to-play version of their favorite game, while mobile gamers more accustomed to this business model are impressed by the polish, depth, and scope. Immortal inherited from his predecessors. Neither group is doing anything wrong, so should we just chalk it up to different shots and move on? Unfortunately, no, because Diablo Immortal not just at the center of the video game culture war. He is also at war with himself.

A screenshot of Diablo Immortal shows a barbarian fighting a Shassar monarch

Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

You won’t know it when you start playing the game. First, Diablo Immortal It’s as fun to play as it looks: a lightweight, portable, social, and flammable version Diablo 3. It’s also more generous and open in design than its free-to-play peers. There are no energy-style mechanics that limit the amount of time you can play without paying, and none of its activities are located behind any kind of paywall. The campaign is long, lavish, and largely problem-free. As you’re required to level up, you’ll find plenty of activities away from the main quest to help bridge the gaps, including bounties, replayable dungeons, and random “rifts.” In-game guides, achievements, and activity trackers reward you while helping you explore the game’s amazing systems. There are even innovations here that would do well to copy the base Diablo games, such as a build guide that suggests downloading skills and equipment to work on.

Only if you delve into Diablo, and especially its all-consuming gameplay, will you notice that something is up. It turns out that loot — equippable items that can alter your character’s power, even to the point of changing how abilities work — has been subtly taken center stage.

First, equipment can be ranked and its rank can be transferred to another item in the same slot. This means that a significant portion of your character progression is shifted away from getting exciting drops from monsters and into incremental, colorless grinding, saving you large amounts of unwanted loot for scraps to enter the upgrade machine.

For another, your items are greatly improved by equipping them with legendary gems of great power, and that’s where most of the complaints come from. Diablo Immortalpaid attention to the monetization of

A screenshot showing the equipment screen of a female mage from Diablo Immortal

Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

A Diablo Immortal the character has six legendary stone lairs. Each gem comes with a rating from one to five stars, which cannot be changed and greatly affects its power; five-star gems are rarer drops than one-star. Legendary gems can be upgraded and the easiest way to do this is by consuming them else legendary stones. A fully upgraded gem can then be further upgraded through the “stone resonance” system, which requires up to five more legendary gems per gem slot.

If you want to max out your character – and maxing out is really what Diablo is all about – you’ll need a ton of legendary gems: find the ones that fit your build, give good star ratings, upgrade the gems you own, and finally, every gem nesting in additional resonance slots. It is infinite.

between Diablo Immortalabundance of currencies, upgrade paths and reward systems, legendary gems are where the business model bites the most. Blizzard and NetEase haven’t been stupid enough to sell them directly through a loot box or gacha mechanic, but what they’ve found is, in some ways, even more disturbing. Legendary gems only drop from randomized Elder Rift dungeon bosses, and you can only guarantee a legendary gem drop by applying the legendary crest modifier before starting the dungeon. Otherwise, drop rates for legendary gems are very low.

You can only get one legendary emblem without spending any money in the game for each month, and even buying a battle pass will only reward you with one or two extra legendary crests each month. Also, you have to buy them directly. Legendary tops range from $2 to $3 each. The sheer number of gems you’ll need to max out your character’s equipment is the reason for maxing out your character, especially given the extremely low drop rates of five-star gems. Diablo Immortal Estimated at $50,000 to $100,000 – potentially even higher if you go deep into the gem resonance system. (There’s Rock Paper Shotgun very comprehensive cost breakdown It falls on the more conservative end of the scale.)

Screenshot showing a female Crusader's gem inventory from Diablo Immortal

Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

Diablo Immortal For this business model, it is allowed to play disproportionately, disproportionately. Genshin effect and Lost Ark They are hardly free of similar gacha mechanics to attract big-spending “whale” players. Diablo’s fame and reputation with the mainstream PC gaming audience it’s earned over a quarter of a century is certainly a factor. But it’s also true that this system is inherently problematic, and the nature of the Diablo games is related to that.

You don’t roll dice when you buy legendary tops like when you buy a Fifa Ultimate Team card pack. You get the chance to load dice, access the game engine, and change the drop rates (slightly) in your favor. Addictive gambling mechanics are not separated from addictive game mechanics, but instead tied directly into combat and in-game loot. Diablo is frighteningly well-positioned to do this; as my colleague Maddy Myers points outthese heavy loot-centric games have always had a slot-machine quality, which Diablo Immortal‘s business model is literal.

A blizzard took pains to note that Immortal‘s monetization can be safely ignored until the end of the game, it’s true, and it claims that the majority of players enjoy the game without spending a dime, which is believable. But it’s an understatement to say that the main joy of the Diablo games lies in playing the story rather than developing your character. It wouldn’t be equally disingenuous to deny that these games have always been built to create a hunger in their players to hit the power cap. For people with gambling addictions, or the addictive features of Diablo’s item game – or worse, both – the legendary crest system is exploitative and potentially very damaging.

For everyone else, it just makes Diablo less fun.

A screenshot of Diablo Immortal shows a monk fighting a Guardian of the Tear in an icy dungeon.

Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

We’ve been here before, or somewhere like it. When Diablo 3 Launched in 2012, there was a real money auction house where players could buy and sell their items. In theory, it was there to prevent fraud and scams involving the trading of items. Diablo 2. But in order to drive players to the auction house, Blizzard lowered the loot drop rates in the game so much that equipping your character became a thankless task and the game as a whole became useless to play. When the unpopular auction house was removed in 2014 and drop rates were increased, Diablo 3 it became instantly more fun, even before the innovations The reaping of souls expansion elevated it to classic status.

Lesson: Trying to cash in on Diablo’s loot might make sense on paper, but as soon as you do it, you’re taking the fun out of the game. is the same as Diablo Immortaland this does It’s noticeable even before you hit the end of the game because it’s deeply worked into the game design. Loot drops are less effective, while character progression is artificially reduced and thinly spread across overly refined and overly granular systems. More artfully disguised than at the beginning Diablo 3, but it’s an equally reward-free slog. Buying a battle pass or spending big on legendary tops hardly helps, because paying for a great item to drop will never be as exciting as just getting it.

I’m not sure if there’s a way to separate the core of what makes Diablo fun from the free-to-play monetization mechanics. If there is, Blizzard and NetEase haven’t found it. They’ve made a mobile Diablo that, at first glance, is uncluttered, pleasant, and even generous. But if you spend enough time with it, there’s no escaping the fact that the heart of the game is cut, chopped, and sold to you piecemeal.

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