As November dawned, over 40,000 fans, cosplayers, and gaming nerds alike took over Anaheim, eager to socialize, swap exclusives, and to be among the first to scope out the latest announcements during Activision Blizzard’s 13th annual BlizzCon. Continuing the convention’s historical upward trend, Blizzcon is beginning to finally rival behemoth gaming events like E3 and PAX in terms of scale. But for a company like Activision Blizzard, who’s portfolio boasts 12 franchises, this year’s conference was surprisingly quiet, save for a few interesting, if unexpected, updates.
Many gamers—myself included—were hoping and praying and, perhaps foolishly, anticipating a DIABLO IV announcement, despite Blizzard’s warnings that there “wouldn’t be much of an update [on the series].” It’s been six years since the third installment was released, and apart from some expansions, there hasn’t been much movement for the game. That amount of time felt appropriate, organic to the production and development process, and so we waited and held our breaths as the Diablo team took the stage to announce…
DIABLO: IMMORTAL. A diet, skimmed-down, mobile version of our beloved franchise. The tension in the auditorium was palpable, as boos and frustrated titters emanated from the huddled mass of attendees. You could feel the very atmosphere of the room turn, as con attendees around me moved to leave, shifting in their seats as an undercurrent of discontent pulsed through them.
*Muffled Screaming Inside*
Even I deflated, the air and enthusiasm leaving me on the back of a sighed breath. We waited for this? It was all I could think about. We waited for six years. We waited in queues to get tickets to this convention, and we waited in lines and bobbed along in the current hoping to get a seat in this room. And they had the audacity, the gall, to announce a mobile game.
Mobile games are where franchises go to die slow deaths. There, I said it. They’re garbage games made for kids. Most of the recognizable IPs that migrate to the app store are just reskins of flash-in-the-pan indie successes like FLAPPY BIRD and TEMPLE RUN—I’m looking at you, SUPER MARIO RUN and SONIC DASH. They’re colorful, sugary, and meant to be simple. They weren’t created to hold your attention beyond a few hours or days.
Mobile games are what you use to kill time.
And that’s what it felt like Blizzard was telling us to do, in a disappointing, almost insulting way. Kill more time. Keep on waiting. Because maybe, just maybe, in a few years we’ll have something for you. Just don’t hold your breath.
How I imagined I would feel playing DIABLO: IMMORTAL on mobile.
If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, I hate mobile games. Awkward touchscreen controls are the bane of my existence. Many Android phones can’t keep up with the processing demands of some newer, more finessed games, and the screens are just too darn small. Graphics are compressed to keep each game’s storage requirements to a minimum, but they just come out boxy and pixelated. We’re in an age where console and PC games are compatible with 4K. I don’t want any of that PlayStation 2 graphics nonsense, unless it’s intentional like with CROSSY ROAD and MINECRAFT.
As I wandered around the exhibit hall floor, some deep piece of my soul was drawn to the IMMORTAL demo booth. It was a ghost town, a forgotten prom date on the edge of the dance floor. Forlorn and forsaken, highlighted with the electric red lights of the showroom.
The deserted DIABLO: IMMORTAL demo booth at BlizzCon 2018
No one wanted to dance with IMMORTAL. No one wanted to play it, or try it. No one wanted to know the answer to the burning question that we surely all shared.
Why did they make it?
And although I detested mobile gaming, I had to know. I needed to know—because I loved the series. To me, Diablo isn’t just a fun, immersive fantasy RPG. It’s a game and story that brings people together.
When DIABLO III was released on console, my roommates and I ran out and bought it for our Xbox 360. Innumerable afternoons were spent together in our living room, squashed shoulder-to-shoulder with friends on our L-shaped red couch as we fought for turns on the controller. We took great pride in customizing our characters, working in tandem to crawl through the dungeons and defeat each boss.
It’s one of the games we played to hit pause on our lives, leaving work and school and drama at the door while we lost ourselves in another universe. In DIABLO, we could be demon hunters, wizards, monks, and barbarians. Powerful, immortal, ready for adventure… and always together.
Now that DIABLO III is on Switch, we can be always together in more places than ever
As I picked up the IMMORTAL demo, I realized that’s what I was missing. Those moments on the couch, surrounded by people I loved, during a simpler time in life. And what I really wanted from the Diablo series was an extension of those memories. A way to revisit that world again, and forget that any time has passed.
I never expected that DIABLO: IMMORTAL would deliver that, but magically, impossibly, it does. And on mobile. Is it perfect? No. It’s a mobile game, and no amount of booing and hissing is going to change that. But it is Diablo. It’s the world and the characters we all love, and this demo proves that Blizzard didn’t sacrifice anything as it worked to resurrect the franchise. The graphics are beautiful, thoughtful, and crisp, and the controls are smooth.
As with all mobile games, the digital analog controller interface has a learning curve, but after mastering it, it becomes almost second-nature. After a couple minutes, I almost forgot I was using a tablet. As I played, I was transported back into memories of my youth—of long road-trips where I tapped away at my Game Boy Color while picturesque mountains flew by in the background.
DIABLO: IMMORTAL is a game you can lose yourself in, which is exceedingly rare for such a mobile, on-the-go platform. It demands for you to stop—to pause—and to give it your full attention. And, since it is an online multiplayer game, it still provides that connectivity. That sense of community, and of friendship.
Nothing says “friendship” like burning a legion of skeletons to ashes
The world of DIABLO: IMMORTAL and the scope of the game is limited—but that could just be temporary. This was a demo, after all. But in the finite space of the game, everything happens more quickly. It’s snappy and more charming than the console version I’d loved—bite-size and portable in a very uniquely Nintendo way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this title ended up on the Switch at some point. And despite this game being just an extension, a hold-over until a fully-fledged DIABLO IV is ready, it injects a lively, reanimated, and remixed energy into the series.
When it eventually releases, give it a chance. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.