Tobold's Blog
Saturday, July 23, 2022
Descending into hell

Having now successfully persuaded Apple of my German credentials, I was able to switch the region of my App store, giving me access to a bunch of apps not available on the Belgian App store. That included Diablo Immortal, which is banned in Belgium for its lootboxes and real money market. Time to check it out while I am in Germany, and make some comparison with other games with excessive monetization. For reference, I played a barbarian to level 36, which means I am past the first significant level hurdle at 35, and all the systems of the game have been introduced. And I haven’t spent anything, which is the good news: As long as you are content to play Diablo Immortal in a casual and non-competitive way, you don’t need money.

Having said that, I have a long list of “special offers” unused in the in-game store. Right from the start the game wants to sell you a 99 cent beginner bundle, and after every major dungeon you clear there are other bundles on offer, with increasing prices. There is also the battle pass, the player market where you can only buy things for a currency you get for real money, the infamous legendary crests, and a host of other options where I could have spent a lot of money and didn’t. It occurred to me that in many cases Diablo Immortal disguises your purchases as rewards for playing. You don’t buy legendary gems at random, you buy legendary crests that make elder rifts drop a random legendary gem. That is most noticable if you consider the timing when to buy the battle pass: If you buy the pass at the start of the season, it very much looks like you getting rewards for playing, as you fulfill the tasks of the battle pass and go up ranks. But you could also buy the battle pass on the last day of the season and suddenly get all the added rewards for all the ranks you achieved at once, which makes it a lot more obvious that you spent money on those virtual “rewards”.

Like Genshin Impact, for a mobile game played for free, Diablo Immortal is of quite good quality. A bit grindy maybe, but smooth gameplay and good graphics. Elden Ring it is not, there is a near total absence of challenge playing through the single-player campaign. I died only once up to now, and that was only because I didn’t hit the healing potion button in time. The barbarian is a very nice class for beginners and people who aren’t very good at action RPGs. With the basic attack Lacerate healing you on every third hit, I rarely drop below half health; and if I do, I can collect health globes or drink a potion, which regenerate with time. There are squishier characters, but as far I know they aren’t overly difficult to play either. The barbarian has a whirlwind attack which not only is jolly good fun, but also very useful in getting kill streaks, which reward extra xp. The game does a reasonable good job of making combat look exciting, even if most of the time I could easily get by with just my basic attack. The only difficulty is having to use a touch-screen “joystick” and buttons, which is far from my preferred control method, due to the lack of haptic feedback.

The tutorial is over 30 levels long because Diablo Immortal has a large number of different currencies and reward systems that all interact with each other. Typically loot is only found as drops, but then you can use various materials and gems to upgrade the items you found. If you find better gear, you can transfer all those upgrades from the previous item you wore in that slot to the new one. That has obvious advantages for the player, who can start upgrading gear before reaching the endgame. But it also enables wallet warriors to have massive advantages through highly upgraded gear from early on. I really don’t know why anybody would want to play the PvP mode of Diablo Immortal under these circumstances, it is pure Pay2Win. For the PvE part this matters a lot less.

If I compare with a list of other mobile games I tried recently, the battle pass is the feature that Diablo Immortal shares with a bunch of other games. Lesser mobile games frequently have lesser forms of monetization, like advertising, which Diablo Immortal thankfully is missing. Mobile games advertising is really, really bad: Usually you get the option to watch like 30 seconds of an ad for getting twice the reward for some in-game action. But the frequency of those ads can be quite high, leading to you frequently seeing the same stuff over and over. And mobile game advertising in over half of the cases is very misleading, with the content of the ad having little or nothing to do with the game being advertised. I had one game in which ads were so frequent and so annoying, that the game offered you the option of skipping all ads for $4 per week. On the positive side, most mobile games have fewer possible purchases than Diablo Immortal, and are clearly not designed to cost you tens of thousands.

Apart from the monetization aspects, Diablo Immortal is a very trivial game. What I am missing the most is a sense of exploration and discovery, Diablo Immortal is mostly on rails, sometimes literally so with auto-navigation to your quest target. There is a lot of content that can keep you slaughtering monsters for hours, but nothing very interesting in the story or the game mechanics. You can play this pretty much mindlessly, smash a bunch of virtual buttons more or less randomly, and for the most part of the game you will be okay. I’m not really tempted to spend any money on this: Why spend money to make the grind shorter when there is nothing more fun to reach behind the grind?

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