After spending the last three years insisting that Diablo Immortal will be a mobile exclusive, Blizzard revealed last month that it was bluffing all along. Next month, the next infernal action RPG will be released on PC and Mac.
That’s exactly what fans wanted. Skeptics had initially balked at Diablo Immortal‘s mobile exclusivity, but many have been won over now they know they can face Sanctuary’s fiends using a mouse and keyboard. Some were concerned that the game would be a simplified version of Diablo Immortal, which was created for the mobile market. However, they are excited to play the original Diablo game in five years.
The announcement of Diablo Immortal’s PC port has certainly done wonders for the game’s image, but it’s a good thing that it started life as a mobile exclusive. TechRadar’s Wyatt Cheng, game director, explains that mobile design allowed the team to experiment with new gameplay concepts and explore new design principles.
“Senior combat designer Julian Love and I worked on Diablo 3 together, and back on Diablo 3, we really wanted to have affixes [modifiers that grant bonus abilities to your character and enemies] that played around a little bit with your movement,” Cheng says.
“There was one monster affix that we wanted to do at the time, but we didn’t, which was Icy Ground – the idea that you’re kind of skating around.”
It’s a simple concept and one that may not strike you as particularly challenging to implement. While platformers such as Mario, Rayman, and Rayman have seen players slide across slippery surfaces for many decades, Cheng claims that Diablo’s traditional indirect control scheme makes it difficult to implement the feature.
With players controlling their character’s movement by pointing and clicking around the map, the game’s auto-pathing takes over to compensate for the icy ground beneath them. You can point your character to move across a frozen lake. However, it is not as exciting as pointing and clicking around the map to control your character’s movement. The game will automatically compensate for the slippery ground beneath them.
“But with Diablo Immortal,” Cheng says, “we thought, ‘Hey, we know that we’re a mobile-first game, we’re going to have most people [using] direct control; let’s go ahead and add the Icy Ground property.’ And now you really feel like you’re sliding around on a slippery surface.”
Designing for mobile allowed the team to play around with other gameplay mechanics, too. The team was able to experiment with new gameplay mechanics by designing for mobile.
“We have what I call charge-up skills,” Cheng says. Cheng cites the great example of Arcane Wind for Wizard. As your thumb holds the button down, the Arcane Wind button charges up. You can increase the damage by holding it down for longer periods of time, while the area-of-effect will also increase. You can aim it even while it is charging up. You can also move your character to get the perfect shot.
“This is something that we couldn’t do with just a mouse input, and so that was an opportunity that we wanted to take advantage of. It’s also why we added WASD keyboard control for people who wanted to be able to do that.”
Diablo Immortal will be the first game in the series to support a WASD-based control scheme, letting you move your character about the map with your left hand, while freeing up your right hand for more intricate combat maneuvers. This means that fights won’t be static, long ones. It will be possible to fire your spells and aim your weapons while you circle your opponents for the best position.
It’s a big change for the series. While Diablo 3 on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch allowed for this kind of direct control by tying your character’s movement to the analog stick, a WASD-based control scheme was never implemented for the PC version of the game. Other large contemporary RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin 2 or Baldur’s Gate 3 have been slow to abandon the point-and-click control system that has dominated the genre for decades.
But while creating a Diablo game for mobile has given the team some room for experimentation, it’s also thrown up a few challenges. When inventory management is not possible, players cannot hover over items with their cursors to reveal their stats and descriptions. You will need to tap on items to reveal their descriptions, regardless of whether you are playing Diablo Immortal mobile or on a PC.
“And that immediately [makes people go], ‘Oh, this is a game that was built for [a] mobile-first client,'” Cheng says. The advantage is that the game itself is identical. You can go back and forth [between the mobile and PC version], with complete feature parity. There’s no hidden functionality that’s available on one platform or another.”
That feature parity is all part of Blizzard’s attempt to present Diablo Immortal as a fully-fledged action RPG that can stand alongside its PC siblings. Rod Fergusson, general manager of Diablo franchise, stated that the main goal was to bring a Triple-A mobile experience to the series. This included fighting in a static manner
This feature parity is part of Blizzard’s attempt to present Diablo Immortal as a fully-f action RPG to rival its PC siblings.
“Diablo Immortal is probably the most ambitious Diablo game we’ve done to date,” Fergusson says. It’s something we are really excited about. The game’s free-to-play nature includes [the] support. We look at new zones and dungeons as well as new classes. All those will be available for free, as we continue to support Diablo for years to come.”
Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. He writes about the latest gaming news and reviews. He was a freelance writer for several sites including Clash, The Telegraph and Gamesindustry.biz before he joined TechRadar. He loves strategy games and RPGs, but will eat any story that tells a compelling story. He is also a big fan of tabletop games and will happily talk to you about TTRPGs or board games.