August 2, 2021

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Diablo Immortal enters alpha testing – and it seems great

Two years after its unveiling at BlizzCon 2018 met a hostile reaction from fans, Diablo Immortal – the Diablo game that commits the terrible sins of not being Diablo 4, and being a mobile game – has broken a long, cowed silence. After that reception, Blizzard was unlikely to do anything with the game until it had something substantial to show, and so it has proved. At a Zoom briefing with the developers earlier this week, press were told that the game was entering a “very limited” public technical alpha test that has just gone live as you read this. We were also given early access to the alpha, so I’ve had a chance to try it out, albeit briefly.

Unlike the BlizzCon 2018 demo, this is a substantial chunk of game, with a level cap of 45, four character classes to try, many of the game’s features (excluding the in-game shop, but more on that later), a massively multiplayer city hub and multiple adventure zones and dungeons to explore. While there is doubtless a lot of debugging, optimisation and balancing still to do, for an alpha, it is extraordinarily polished. It plays well and it looks, sounds and feels incredibly close to the Diablo 3 experience on PC or (especially) console. Sound and visual effects are instantly familiar, as are many of the class skills, many of the enemy designs, and the gothic stylings and snappy response of the UI.

I’ve tried it on my iPhone 8 and sixth-generation iPad, both of which, I believe, are towards the lower end of devices that are supported by this alpha. It was a good, if not flawless experience on both. The iPhone 8’s 4.7-inch screen is comfortable for the controls but on the small side for presenting the busy action and relatively complex UI. The phone itself does not seem to be struggling though, and the game plays smoothly (though it lunches the battery). Meanwhile, the iPad screen makes for a beautiful portal onto the world of Sanctuary, but it can feel a bit ungainly in the hands and the framerate chugs a little. (Blizzard is planning to make graphical settings available and even 30fps and 60fps modes, depending on the phone you use.) Network stability has been iffy on both, but I’m sure netcode is one of the areas where Blizzard expects to gather the most data and make the biggest improvements during this technical alpha.

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