Diablo Immortal was announced at Blizzcon's Opening Ceremony. Since then, it's reception can be charitably described as lukewarm at best. A foray into mobile gaming for Blizzard Entertainment's premiere Action RPG was certainly unexpected, nevermind the fact that it was apparently outsourced to NetEase. Fans were understandably upset, and a man going by the name of Dontinquire summed up the fan's feelings in question asked during the Q&A Session for the game:
"Hey, uh, just was wondering... is this an out-of-season April Fool's joke?" -Dontinquire
That man is Dontinquire, and his poignant question perfectly encapsulated what many fans of Blizzard Entertainment's dark fantasy had on their minds: what the heck was Blizzard thinking?
Going by the numbers, it isn't looking good. The like-to-dislike ratios on its trailers are pretty bad on YouTube. The Cinematic Trailer is currently at 5.8K/169K and the Gameplay Trailer is sitting at 3.7K/78K. What's more, Blizzard is alleged to have swapped out the Cinematic Trailer link in the Blizzard Battle.net launcher for an Unlisted one that is at a 381/37K like/dislike ratio.
The response on the /r/Diablo subreddit and the game's official forums was icier than a Cold Sorc. Indeed, the reveal of Diablo Immortal was one of the top five posts on /r/all for some time after its announcement and the reception was less than kind to say the least. It certainly didn't help that there was neither hide nor hare of the other Diablo projects the company said they were working on.
I took a shot at asking Dontinquire if he would be interested in having a chat and he agreed. Our hour-long conversation revealed a man who is deeply passionate about Blizzard games and ARPGs in general. By his own estimate, he has thousands of hours in all of the Diablo games so far and equally hefty amounts of playtime with other games of the genre like Path of Exile. What spurred him to ask the magic question?
"I went through a number of questions that I thought I might ask while I was standing in line and this was ultimately what I came up with," he said. "Why a third-party Chinese developer? Why is this reused code from another game? Why is this Diablo III Lite?"
The latter questions he didn't ask may seem strange if you're unfamiliar with NetEase and Chinese game development in general. Redditors and other fine folks on the Internet have pointed out several games that seem suspiciously similar to Diablo Immortal. Endless of God and Crusaders of Light are just two of who knows how many titles with an astonishing number of similarities at first glance. Blizzard responded to this notion with the following statement: "Blizzard, in partnership with NetEase, has built Diablo Immortal from the ground up for iOS/Android."
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A side-by-side comparison of Diablo Immortal, Crusaders of Light, and Endless of God.
Diablo Immortal may very well have been made from the ground up. Just because a first-person shooter has the gun on the right doesn't mean that code was necessarily reused. Even if it were, a developer would be kinda nuts not to at least make use of UI elements that worked in a previous title. The similarities are nonetheless disquieting to fans who are used to the kind of quality games that Blizzard entertainment regularly puts out.
The reputation of developer NetEase doesn't help the situation much, either. Reviews of the Steam version of Crusaders of Light sit at Mixed and are filled with complaints of annoying popups and the game being a pay to win, buggy mess.
Dontinquire's assessment of what we've seen of Diablo Immortal isn't exactly glowing, either.
"The gameplay seemed completely subpar. It looked unpolished. There is a level of quality that I think any Blizzard fan anticipates when they release a new title, whether it be an expansion pack, add-on content, a new character, and it was not even remotely close to that level of polish and quality that I think any Blizzard fan has grown to anticipate.I'm a longtime fan of the Diablo franchise myself - I've got thousands of hours in Diablo II alone and I can still, to this day, talk at length about the merits of a Bone Necromancer build as compared to a character that's dependent on elemental damage. (After all, there are only two groups of enemies in the entire game that are Immune to Magic unless you get an unlucky roll from RNGsus.)
It looked like a lot of those free-to-play mobile market games that have been copy/pasted and reskinned just to make a quick buck. It looked like something that would cheapen the brand of Blizzard and that would be kind of very negatively-received. It looked like a bad port of Diablo III, it really did. It looked like a worse version of Diablo III." -Dontinquire
Doninquire's insight - encapsulated neatly in his sarcastic question at the Diablo Immortal Q&A - perfectly reflects what I and many others have been feeling. From what we've seen, this just doesn't seem like a game that matches the quality of past Blizzard titles.
Other fans on the show floor appear to be equally unenthusiastic about the title. Several images are circulating on the Internet showing nonexistent lines for the Diablo Immortal demo station. I asked Doninquire about the lines, and he corroborated what we see below: there was very little in the way of interest on the show floor. Mind, this is just a couple of firsthand accounts... but it certainly doesn't look good for a game at Blizzcon to have anything other than a jam-packed queue filled with excited attendees.
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Two images from /u/mitchconnorTV on /r/Diablo purport to show a mostly empty queue for Diablo Immortal and very few people playing.
Dontinquire's question was certainly a big hit with irate fans, but it was far from the only bodyblow that Blizzard took during the session. Another attendee asked if Diablo Immortal would ever come to PC or if it would be strictly mobile forever. The response from Blizzard reps was, at first, a perfectly understandable vague non-answer: there were no current plans to bring the game to PC.
What was somewhat less okay was the follow-up statements to that response by one of the three people on stage: "Do you guys not have phones?"
Diablo Immortal is not in the unique position of being a mobile game of a beloved franchise. E3 2018 saw two franchises announce mobile titles: Gears of War and The Elder Scrolls. In the former case, Gears Pop was followed with announcements for Gears Tactics and (perhaps most importantly) Gears of War 5. The Elder Scrolls: Blades was presented before Bethesda showed a simple confirmation that The Elder Scrolls VI was in development.
As for Diablo Immortal, the only thing following the game's presentation was an uncomfortable silence.
The reveal of Command & Conquer Rivals at E3 2018 (timestamp 55:36) got tepid applause at best.
Command & Conquer Rivals - a lesser mobile version of Command & Conquer - faced similarly poor reception at its E3 2018 debut. Indeed, the livestream of the conference (timestamp 55:36) showed a weak around of applause after its namedrop and dead silence after that. Fans of that classic RTS were empathetic with the Diablo fanbase - they too felt wronged.
I presented some of these examples to Doninquire and asked him if Blizzard Entertainment might have been spared some of the Internet's ire with even the tiniest of announcements of a new core game in the franchise.
"This was literally the worst possible way to announce a project," Dontinquire said. "I think that a lot could have been done to smooth things over. Yeah, if they just showed a Diablo IV logo and fade to black it probably would have been better received. I probably wouldn't have lined up to ask a question at the Q&A. I would have just ignored the mobile and waited for the big one. But if the mobile game was different and unique and tried to establish itself as an independent kind of entity rather than just being a watered-down version of the game we already have had for the last [six] years - I think that could have gone dramatically differently."
In my estimation, Dontinquire was the right man asking the right question at the right time. He had the good fortune to wear a red shirt, an omen of difficult questions to come. Not only that, but it was a Blizzcon 2017 exclusive shirt from the Diablo franchise. It could not have been a more serendipitous event.
Dontinquire, myself, and many others have a deep appreciation for Diablo (and many of Blizzard's other titles). To many of us, Diablo Immortal was at best a disappointment and at worst an outright insult. Personally, I think this apparent misstep can only be redeemed after a Diablo II remaster or Diablo IV is announced. Even EA finally had the sense to answer the community's complaints about their mobile game, albeit several months later.
As for Dontinquire, his answer to my question of how Blizzard could pull out of this nosedive was, perhaps, a bit more severe: "Cancel this game's release in North America."
What do you think of the reception to Diablo Immortal? Do you think the fan furor is justified or is it simply overblown? What can Blizzard do to redeem themselves after the game's apparently terrible reception? Let us know in the comments below!