Why Diablo Immortal had to be a mobile game first

After spending the last three years insisting that Diablo Immortal would be a mobile exclusive, Blizzard revealed last month that it was bluffing from the start. The next entry in the hellish action RPG series is actually coming to PC and will be released on both platforms next month.

This is exactly what the fans wanted. Skeptics initially balked at Diablo Immortal’s mobile-exclusiveness, but many have been won over now that they know they can take on the demons of Sanctuary using just a mouse and keyboard. Others feared the game was little more than a stripped-down Diablo clone created for the mobile market, but they’re now excited to play the first original Diablo release in five years.

The announcement of Diablo Immortal’s PC port certainly did wonders for the game’s image, but it’s a good thing it started life as a mobile exclusive. As game director Wyatt Cheng tells TechRadar, in designing the mobile game, the team was able to explore new design principles and experiment with new gameplay concepts that were beyond the reach of previous Diablo titles.

Slippery movements

“Senior Combat Designer Julian Love and I worked together on Diablo 3, and back on Diablo 3, we really wanted to have affixes [modifiers that grant bonus abilities to your character and enemies] it played with your movement a bit,” Cheng says.

“There was one monster affix that we wanted to do at the time, but didn’t, which was Icy Ground – the idea that you’re kind of skating.”

It’s a simple concept and one that you may not find particularly difficult to implement. Platformers like Mario, Kirby and Rayman have had players sliding on slippery surfaces for decades, but Cheng says Diablo’s traditional indirect control scheme has made the feature difficult to implement.

“Diablo Immortal is probably the most ambitious Diablo game”

Rod Fergusson

With players controlling their character’s movements by pointing and clicking on the map, the game’s auto-pathing takes over to compensate for the icy ground beneath them. Directing your character to cross a frozen lake and watching the game automatically take care of the slippery surface isn’t nearly as engaging as directly controlling their movement and blasting their way across the tundra.

“But with Diablo Immortal,” Cheng says, “we thought, ‘Hey, we know 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 it really feels like you’re sliding on a slippery surface.

Fluid Combat

A barbarian leaping through the air in Diablo Immortal

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Designing for mobile also allowed the team to play with other game mechanics. It allowed them to use the touch interface of a phone screen to explore new combat features that weren’t compatible with the mouse and keyboard configuration of older Diablo games.

“We have what I call recharge skills,” Cheng says. “Arcane Wind for the Wizard is a great example. You press the Arcane Wind button, and when your thumb holds that button, it begins to recharge. The longer you hold down the key, the more the damage increases and the area of ​​effect increases. But you can also aim while it charges. And through it all, you can move your character around to really line up that perfect shot.

“It’s something we couldn’t do with just a mouse, so it was an opportunity we wanted to take advantage of. That’s also why we added WASD keyboard control for people who wanted to be able to do that.

Designing for mobile allowed the team to play with new game mechanics

Diablo Immortal will be the first game in the series to support a WASD-based control scheme, allowing you to move your character around the map with your left hand, while freeing up your right hand for more complex combat maneuvers. This means that fights will no longer be prolonged static struggles. You’ll be able to aim your weapons, charge spells, and unleash every blow while circling your enemies for the best possible 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 binding your character’s movement to the analog stick, a WASD-based control scheme was never implemented for the PC version of the game. other massive contemporary RPGs, such as Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Baldur’s Gate 3, have been slow to move away from the traditional point-and-click control scheme that has characterized the genre for decades.

Equal platforms

A spinning character in Diablo Immortal

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

But while creating a Diablo game for mobile gave the team some room to experiment, it also presented some challenges. Inventory management, for example, is tricky to implement when players can’t hover over items with a cursor to reveal their descriptions and stats. Whether you’re playing Diablo Immortal on mobile or PC, you’ll need to tap on items to view their descriptions.

“And that immediately [makes people go]’Oh, it’s a game that was made for [a] mobile customer first,” says Cheng. “But the advantage is that the game is identical. When you come and go [between the mobile and PC version], we have full feature parity. No hidden features are available on any platform. »

Fights will no longer be prolonged static struggles

This feature parity is part of Blizzard’s attempt to present Diablo Immortal as a full-fledged action-RPG that can stand alongside its PC siblings. As Diablo franchise general manager Rod Fergusson says, the team’s primary goal in creating Diablo Immortal was to bring a triple-A experience to mobile devices; to create a mobile game that would not only rival previous releases in the series, but continue to surpass them.

“Diablo Immortal is probably the most ambitious Diablo game we’ve made to date,” says Fergusson. “And that’s something that really excites us. Part of the free nature of the game is [the] support for the game beyond launch, and we’re looking at new areas, new dungeons, even new classes. All of these will be available for free, as we continue to support Diablo for years to come.

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