It’s been a bit since the technical alpha for Diablo Immortal, and the game returns to its development grind once more. While the world waits on news for its full release, we had Lead Producer, Caleb Arseneaux and Senior System Designer, Kris Zierhut, spend some time with us to sate our need for info regarding the mobile title. Let’s get right into it!
POST TECHNICAL ALPHA
Naturally, we wanted to know what they and the team figured out from the end of the technical alpha. The technical alpha was primarily focused on getting feedback on device performance, ensuring it can run on a wide variety of devices, according to Arseneaux. Zierhut goes further into gameplay, highlighting the Wizard.
“Digging into the feedback, people had this idea that they were going to be kiting other monsters as a Wizard, but the Wizard wasn’t very good at this and a lot of that had to do with their Chill abilities.”
Chill abilities are meant to slow down monsters, and the Wizard will be better at that. Ray of Frost especially has been picked out, as it didn’t do a lot of damage and the slow also wore off too quickly. With the design change, channeling the skill longer will accumulate more Chill on the target, and with the monster now slowed down to a crawl, you’ll be able to fling your more damaging spells like Scorch or Arcane Wind to properly murderize the monster.
So, whether you were aware or not, Diablo Immortal is an MMO, and you’ll be coming across countless of players along your journey. Imagine that you got no credit towards kills because some other guy was a little bit faster than you and sniped all your targets. They’ve addressed this: as long as you help in the kills, you’ll be getting the credit for your quests. They want you to like seeing other players, instead of worrying about them kill-stealing.
The reason for such a limited testing area for the technical alpha simply ties back into testing the game’s performance and compatibility on devices, first and foremost. They will want to increase support for more devices, consequently, regions, to test in, with hopefully announcements to follow very soon.
Some of you may have felt that Immortal looks really reminiscent of Diablo 3. It does take place between 2 and 3 after all. Arseneaux would like to point out that while yes, the team has taken cues from 3, but Immortal is a different beast with a new system, story, design choices and an as-yet-unrevealed end-game. “The game would definitely be different,” he says. Zierhut chimes in about the classes who have different skills, legendary items, gems, playstyles and don’t fight the same enemies in the same environments, so it’s most definitely not simply a mobile clone of Diablo 3.
With the customization options available, the player can be the first characters of colour in Immortal if they so choose:
“You’re not a specific Nephalem character like you were in Diablo 3. This is an MMO where you get to choose your avatar as one of our classes, and express yourself differently.”
They want to provide customization options that reflect the variety in our real world, and have put in the work to provide multi-cultural representation within Immortal. Your character is meant to be an extension of yourself and your identity, and Zierhut acknowledges it can be very empowering to see a version of yourself in the game. It’s something Blizzard is likewise implementing across the company.
Your facial appearance, skin colour, hair, jewelry and the like will be customizable along with additional cosmetic items that will be purchasable. Besides those cosmetic changes, your actual gear and its properties can also be tweaked as you like, with the gems you want and in the combinations you can think of, so that your character can stand out even more from the pack.
MECHANICS AND STORY
The hallowed Auto button is of course, common and expected in most modern mobile titles, but Immortal has some restrictions with regards to this. They’ve made this world, and they want you to explore it. Auto walk will not be unlocked till you fully explore a zone, like if you’ve already emptied out Ashwold Cemetery after going through the story, but if you have yet to poke around, say, Bilefen, you’ll have to pull up those boots and get trekking. The auto walk is compared to World of Warcraft‘s flight paths: a convenience to get you to some place you already know, not some place new. There’s also that idea where they’re not letting auto take you into battle when you’re not ready yet, so take your time plodding around the map or run away screaming when you have to.
Your character in Immortal is looking for the shards of the Worldstone, making a clear point of where the story begins proper: right at the end of Diablo 2 after Tyrael shattered it. Lore enthusiasts can look forward to meeting familiar 2 cast and learning about the story through the world, the NPCs, quests, in-game books… and all the while, as you keep going, you’ll also find the threads leading into Diablo 3. All methods of story telling will be utilized to tie the arcs together, that’s for certain.
Now, they didn’t want to step on the Diablo 4 team’s toes by setting their game after 3, hence Immortal being between 2 and 3. They feel that there’s this unexplored area, that gap in lore if you will, for them to play around and tell their own story and not overlap into 4. So it’s not like they’re not taking advantage to build hype for the next game in the series. Instead, you’ll be coming across the Libraries of Zoltan Kulle, your character literally diving into the worlds within the books.
Here’s where they’d like to clear up something about the whole “time travelling”: you are simply experiencing the stories as though you were there, but you will not be influencing the events of the past. For those of you familiar with World of Warcraft, it’s likened to the Caverns of Time. Zierhut hints that there will be stories about Diablo’s past, or events even before the start of Diablo 1. He says it’ll be strange to have a story about the future so it doesn’t seem likely at this time, but perhaps we’ll have to see how the story develops.
As with the end-game, both men reassure that we haven’t seen all the legendaries in the game yet, or even all the classes. Zierhut talks about the Necromancer, the most classically pet-focused class in the series, bringing along a veritable army of minions to fight monsters with. Demon Hunters can also set down sentries and traps which could count as “pet-focused”, with as yet unrevealed spaces for players to later dabble in. These legendary items and gems will be coming, so stay tuned for that.
They also have more plans for the social elements of the game, as well, a “large social system”, as it’s put, while they also have systems in place to cater to those who prefer to play alone so that everyone with different playstyles can enjoy the game the way they like. Are you the one to solo run Challenge Rifts to get on the leader board? Or are you going to bring along friends for your Bounties? They want the activities to be compelling, even if they can’t disclose exact details just yet.
ON FUTURE TESTS AND ITS RELEASE
It will be two years since the original announcement of Diablo Immortal, and the technical alpha was a limited release in December 2020. Zierhut acknowledges the announcement would have been “challenging”, no matter when they would have announced it, whether or not you think it was revealed prematurely.
“The audience at Blizzcon wasn’t really a mobile audience… the audience were expecting the next big news of a PC game.”
He also admits the reception wasn’t what they wanted, but also tells how the Hearthstone team had sent them emails about a similar experience, about how their players weren’t expecting “just a card game”, instead of a big hit release. As you all would know, Hearthstone is now a wildly successful title, and the Immortal team aspire to follow in achieving similar heights. Zierhut adds that with the release of the technical gameplay and with the motto of “playing is believing”, people who’ve played the game are now far more receptive of the title, and the team are pretty happy too.
Mobile games don’t typically take that long, but Arseneaux points out that this is how seriously Blizzard takes their games, ensuring it reaches that standard of quality and polish you would come to expect, and the team will be doing their best to make Immortal a AAA mobile MMO. As such, they will not be discussing too deeply about their future launch plans, but they CAN say they’re now in another testing phase to ensure the stability of the game. They want to get people engaged in what they have first as they gradually roll out their end game plans and ensure they do interact with the systems.
They want there to be a game that you can actually play, before they start on the whole monetization design. For now, they want to ensure that their monetized items are worthwhile bonuses for the players to actually get some value that it’s worth paying for. What seems set in stone for now is the battle pass system, with both the free and paid track to accumulate points for over the course of the season, and you can pay anytime to access the paid track to claim whatever rewards are on it. No exact pricings, regional or otherwise, will also be disclosed, but tangentially related will be a market feature where you could trade your items which don’t have to be gear, with prices set by the server.
As an aside, they’re also still working on getting controller support, so if there’s any further updates about this, we’ll let you know.
That’s about all we got regarding Diablo Immortal for now, pending any breaking news in the coming months! As someone who played the Wizard in the alpha myself, I’m definitely curious to know how the class has changed, but then again, I much prefer using a minion class…
Till next time, Immortal, till next time.