Diablo Immortal is a game designed to exploit your love of Diablo

Diablo Immortal Demon Hunter close up
(Image credit: NetEase / Activision Blizzard)

The truth about Diablo Immortal is that it's a Diablo game for people who pick all the M&Ms out of the trail mix. It's built around the dopamine that comes from whacking demon piñatas for loot, meticulously designed to give you a jolt of satisfaction every 30 seconds—and then, when that's not enough anymore, it charges you for it. For Diablo Immortal and games like it, the fun parts of games are money extraction devices .

Diablo Immortal started first as a mobile game, and its PC beta makes little effort to hide that. The buttons are big, there are almost no graphics options, the camera is way too zoomed in on your character, and the levels are empty. Despite all that, it plays just like you'd expect Diablo to. You click or WASD through sprawling levels and poke demons until they pop into loot. And then you do that over and over while accumulating weapon and armor upgrades.

I played as a Wizard and a Necromancer that echo the classes already available in Diablo 3. Wizards can channel frost beams and energy beams and Necromancers can send their undead minions out into the fray as they set corpses off like bombs. Immortal replaces mana with ability cooldowns, which simplifies things a little. It's still satisfying to blast through hordes of demons in exactly the same way it is in the other Diablo games. There are even some neat spell interactions in here: Wizards can plop down an ice crystal that makes any channeled beams sent into it reflect in the direction of nearby enemies.

It's interesting stuff in a game that's so focused on MMO-like cooperation: Other players pass by as you complete quests in the open world, and every dungeon can be played with others. You're rewarded for working together and quickly cleaning out dungeons with extra loot. I was nowhere near seeing the endgame dungeons, but I could see a version of this game where people have to work together and rotate their abilities to defeat tough monsters. 

But right now, Diablo Immortal's multiplayer dungeons are mostly about your group of players colliding with groups of demons and cleaning up the gold afterward. Everyone is running the same rifts and dungeons over and over to counteract the extremely slow leveling speed once you reach about level 35—which, to me, seems like a soft cap aimed at getting  you to engage with daily battle pass activities and the like. The game funnels everyone into a desire to get to max level to start the slog toward the real game: gem grinding.

A loot box by any other name...

This Diablo game revolves around gems, little crystals that give your gear special perks, like transforming a charged spell into an instant one or giving you some sort of lifesteal. On paper, it sounds like a normal sort of Diablo upgrade path. The goal of collecting these loot-based games is to equip yourself from head to toe with the best little knickknacks you can get. But Diablo Immortal has been designed around the grind for gems to the point that it's hard not to see the ways this game wants you to spend either loads of time or loads of money.

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Since Diablo Immortal's release, people have been picking apart its monetization scheme, and it seems pretty bad. Its Elder Rifts are essentially loot boxes. They're randomized levels stuffed with enemies that may or may not drop the rare gem you want, and you can increase your chances or guarantee that you'll get a rare drop by spending money on Crests or Legendary Crests. 

Diablo 3, a 10-year old game, is still a much better experience even though it's also basically about spending loads and loads of time trying to get better stuff.

The only thing going for Rifts is that you technically have to play a little bit of the game before finding out if you were lucky. The endgame grind is about farming for little invisible gems to slot into your gear and not the gear itself, because the best-looking stuff is reserved for the real money store. Diablo Immortal feels like it was designed to exploit people's love for Diablo rather than to be a great Diablo game. 

The shoddy PC release reinforces that perception. Even small quality-of-life additions that were in previous Diablos are gone here: You can't use multi-key keybinds, you can't overlay a minimap onto the screen, and you can't even dye your gear. All of my friends that gave Diablo Immortal a shot stopped playing once they landed on the same conclusion: The 10-year-old Diablo 3 is much better than any of this.

What's funny is that Diablo 3 is also about spending loads and loads of time trying to get better stuff. The difference is that it's trying to make itself satisfying enough to justify all the time it eats up rather than trying to get me to put money down by stymying progression.

Diablo Immortal takes the parts of Diablo that already felt addictive and makes them explicitly exploitative. It's hard to see how updates down the road can erase that. And even if you were to cut out the monetization (which obviously wouldn't happen), Immortal can't compete with any modern action RPGs like Lost Ark or Path of Exile. It's shamelessly trying to survive off of love for an established series, adding nothing but a way to tie gear power to wallet opening. Here's hoping Diablo 4 shares almost nothing in common with it.

Associate Editor

Tyler has covered games, games culture, and hardware for over a decade before joining PC Gamer as Associate Editor. He's done in-depth reporting on communities and games as well as criticism for sites like Polygon, Wired, and Waypoint. He's interested in the weird and the fascinating when it comes to games, spending time probing for stories and talking to the people involved. Tyler loves sinking into games like Final Fantasy 14, Overwatch, and Dark Souls to see what makes them tick and pluck out the parts worth talking about. His goal is to talk about games the way they are: broken, beautiful, and bizarre.