If you compare the vibe around Blizzard’s first mobile installment of the Diablo franchise at last weekend’s BlizzConline 2021 to the controversy surrounding the debut of Immortal back in 2019, the two couldn’t feel more different.
There are still skeptics, of course. However, with both Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 unlikely to arrive until 2022, Immortal may yet ink a legacy for itself as the company’s biggest release of the year.
Lead Game Producer Caleb Arseneaux says that “We like to say that we are Blizzard’s first dedicated title on mobile.”
“Hearthstone obviously is awesome on mobile but one of the team values we have on our team is that we’re pioneers. We’re pioneering things for Blizzard and for Diablo. Whether or not other teams look at the trail that we’ve made is up to them but we’re happy with where we’re at."
Kris Zierhut, Senior System Designer for Immortal, adds that “our goal is to make a Blizzard-quality mobile game. Blizzard has a reputation for high-quality games and we want to bring that quality and depth and dedication to a great experience into the mobile space.”
Asked for a big picture update on the progress of the game, Arseneaux says that “We’re confident that the parts of the game we’re showing represent Blizzard and Diablo well. Now it’s about testing the game, not only so that it functions correctly but that the servers are stable. We don’t want a repeat of previous launches in the past that have been really difficult on players. We want this to be seamless.”
To that end, future testing phases for Immortal will see the required specs for the game widen in order to allow those with more modest handsets to get in on the fun.
According to Arseneaux, “because the endgame is not present but we do have a lot of social features planned we want people and volume to get in there and actually experience those needs give us feedback and we want to kind of see how the community responds to these because they're huge. We’re in public testing phases now. We’re happy being in that phase for a while and we’ll see how it goes.”
When the game finally launches, in-game seasons for Diablo Immortal will look very different to what they’ve traditionally been for fans of the series. In many ways, Immortal veers far closer to stepping on the toes of full-blown MMOs than any other Diablo game to date.
Arseneaux says that “We want people, for Immortal, to be very invested in their character and have a main. There’s gonna be paragon and other endgame systems that were not in the alpha that we will be testing in the future. We had the early and some mid-game but there’s a whole other part of the game that really was not present and that we are going to be testing in the future.”
Zierhut clarifies that “It’s not going to be like Diablo seasons where you’re constantly creating new characters and starting from scratch again. You’re building up this stuff across your characters. You'll make new characters and those characters may inherit the paragon levels from your other characters like in Diablo 3 but you’re not going to start over from scratch.”
While the technical alpha for Diablo Immortal only showcased a handful of playable classes, it’s something of an open secret that more are on the cards for the future. If anything, it’s the open-ended scope and scale of Immortal that stands up as one of the project’s greatest appeals. Akin to World of Warcraft, Diablo Immortal promises a fantasy RPG experience that never ends.
Citing his experience working on Blizzard’s genre-defining MMORPG, Zierhut says that “you want to make sure each class has a really unique fantasy and identity. As long as you keep that sense of identity, you can keep adding classes. But there may come a day where we’re at our limit.”
During the recent technical alpha for the game, Zierhut notes that the Wizard class wasn’t quite living up to the fantasy - specifically when it came to kiting enemies using frost spells. He says that the team has already begun responding to this feedback by redesigning and compounding the effects of spells with a chill mechanic like Ray of Frost. For instance, “The longer period of time you hit [something] with Ray of Frost, the slower they get and the longer they stay slow.”
On the other side of things, Arseneaux notes that the positive response of players to PVP events in the third major zone of the game - Bilefen - was particularly affirming.
“I really enjoy that sort of PVP play in the area. So when I was watching Twitch and watching people give feedback on that part of the game, that was really validating for me.
“People really enjoyed killing each other for loot. Who knew!” he jokes.
Diablo Immortal has no official release date but is expected to launch on iOS and Android sometime in 2021.