No, it wasn’t Diablo 4. Blizzard made that pretty clear before Blizzcon even started, but some were probably still holding on to some sort of hope. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t an announcement from world of Diablo today, however: we’re getting a new mobile title called Diablo: Immortal, which looks pretty slick in action even if we don’t know much about price point or monetization model. Let’s look at the trailer below:
As is often the case with mobile game announcements from established IP, the reaction from the core set wasn’t great. We’ve seen some absolutely unreasonable behavior from ostensible fans of the franchise, which is always disappointing. There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about this title, but none of them justify the sort of rage we’re seeing now.
In an odd way, what concerns me most is that what we see here looks a whole lot like Diablo 3. The problem is that it isn’t Diablo 3, and it isn’t Diablo 4, either.
I should be clear that I’m a big fan of mobile games in general. I’ve played Command and Conquer: Rivals and it’s a tight, excellent little game, perfectly suited to touch controls and the mobile platform. I have no issue with bringing beloved IP to new platforms, even with major changes. Especially with major changes, actually.
This looks like something we’ve seen before: an attempt to take extant IP and game concepts and then translate them over to both touchscreen controls and the different expectations of playtime that come with mobile. The result isn’t usually great: we can take Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp as an easy example of that. I worry that’s what I’m seeing here: a kind of Diablo-lite, even though it’s being referred to as a “full-fledged” RPG. It doesn’t look either different enough to be its own thing or similar enough to be the same thing.
The most successful mobile games tend to bear little relation to the PC or console ecosystems, and for good reason: mobile is really different than PC or console. It’s true whether or not you’re working with existing IP: people can tell if they’re playing a watered down version of the “real” game, and it causes trouble. Some of my favorite adaptations take a core concept or feeling and build something else from the ground up. Here’s an example of taking an existing IP and making it mobile-native: Pokemon GO. Nobody’s going to mistake that for a mainline Pokemon RPG.
The other way is a relatively new approach, but one that I predict will only become more and more prevalent in the coming years. This is what we see from Fortnite, Civilization 6, XCom or, Bastion or Transistor: don’t release a watered-down version of your game on mobile, just release your game on mobile. You ease up on graphics and you’ll have to make it work for touch controls but keep the game intact: in the case of Fortnite, cross-play and cross-progression put a fine point on the idea that you’re playing the same game, just on a different platform.
I don’t know if Diablo 3 could work on mobile: it’s an old game, so there are likely all sorts of technical hurdles in there. But what about Diablo 4? That would be an announcement I’d pay attention to: that Diablo 4 was going to be a fully cross-platform, cross-play title you can take with you or play on your PC. That’s something I’d put money down for. That’s something I’d idly grind while watching Netflix. But I’m not sure I feel the same way about a mobile-only version of Diablo.
I worry that any sort of Diablo-lite experience won’t grab any new players, because if they wanted that they’d already be playing Diablo, and the license just isn’t as valubable in the hyper-competetive mobile market. And it won’t grab too many old players, because they’ll be grinding greater rifts all day anyway, waiting for Diablo 4. We’ll see more as people get their hands on the thing, but I’m just not sure what sort of an appetite there is for something that looks this much like Diablo that isn’t Diablo 4 or 3.