Versus series: Diablo Immortal VS Diablo IV

This installment of the versus series became inevitable pretty much right after I did the Diablo IV server slam. But that little weekend-thin slice wasn’t enough to build a solid idea of what the full game would offer. Since then, I’ve played a lot of Diablo Immortal, and I got Diablo IV around three weeks ago. You’d think I would play one character to the end of the story, but no, I played every class. My main, a Rogue named RhodaRargh, has just entered Act III at level forty, and all my other characters are around level thirty. At this point I can safely say I’ve seen the core loop even if I’m not yet ready to fire off a review.

What I am ready for is an in-depth examination of what Diablo Immortal offers in relation to Diablo IV, and I’ll say right up front, I am genuinely shocked at who is winning this contest with flying colors. I’m coming into this contest with years of bias against free mobile games and all their bullshit. So believe me when I say how shocking it is that I am endorsing Diablo Immortal as the winner by a freakin’ landslide.

Before I get to the apples to oranges fight, let me be clear to avoid drama with the die-hard fans. I’m not saying that Diablo IV sucks, okay? I’m just saying that Diablo Immortal manages to do a better job of getting me into the game while respecting my time and my budget.

Let’s start at the beginning with the tale of two tutorials. Diablo Immortal walks players through the basics by explaining the controls before adding a basic attack, a core skill, and a movement technique. It explains how to work with the map, use equipment, and then how to salvage with a blacksmith and upgrade equipment.

Once all that feels comfortable, the game begins dropping gear that changes the way core skills work, sometime in radically different ways. After the basic introduction is out of the way, new modes are introduced and explained. All of it is drip fed at certain level gates until players reach the point where they can do everything the game has to offer, and nothing is a mystery. Of course, on following plays, it would be nice to turn off the tutorials, but still…

Moving over to Diablo IV, the game pretty much assumes you’re a returning veteran, meaning there’s no explanation of anything. You get a primary attack with all the other buttons locked off, but from the moment you have to choose your basic attack from a list of four, NOTHING is explained.

Expanding on that, every skill and ability in Diablo Immortal has explanations for what they do baked in. With Diablo IV, I had to open a browser to get explanations for what Thorns are (retaliatory damage) or how Overpower attacks and Lucky Hits are calculated. There’s so much jargon in the game that they apparently just assumed players would either know, or look it up elsewhere, and that’s off putting to anyone just entering the franchise now.

Next up is a major surprise for me, the inventory size. I’ve seen a lot of mobile games be stingy with inventory size to force the purchase of more space, but Diablo Immortal has easily twice the inventory space of Diablo IV, making it so much easier to Hoover up the loot and keep doin’ what I do best, mauling woodland critters with ridiculously overpowered weapons.

Adding to this issue is that the respawn rates in Diablo IV mean that if I should dare to teleport back to a hub to scrap my current haul, it’s one hundred percent guaranteed that I’ll use the portal back to pick up that one pair of pants, only to discover twice the monsters populating the space. Every time my inventory fills up, I have to debate leaving behind loot or risking a goatmen gangbang by using a portal.

Up next is respect for my time, and Diablo Immortal wins again by making most questing in the game available in bite size bits. Say I’m waiting for a pizza to deliver home. I can hop in the game to do a Legendary Crest dungeon and put away my phone right as the pizza arrives. Or if I have a bit more time because I’m at the laundry mat, I can run through some story missions, or just wander around to fill out the rest of the map.

With Diablo IV, even the side quest dungeons can take thirty to forty minutes to complete, and they’re all based on the same formulaic process. Step one, kill the three mini-bosses. (Or kill everything to unlock the next section.) Step two, find the random number of keys to unlock the next area. It might be two mechanical keys, one ward stone, or three bloodstones. But every dungeon drags out the process of getting to the boss.

To add insult to injury, a lot of these dungeons have the same cookie cutter bosses so that nothing stands out. When I was playing through Diablo Immortal the first time, I kept commenting to anyone who would listen that it had some amazing bosses. And yes, once you start doing Crest dungeon runs, they do repeat. But it just feels like there’s more variety to the bosses and mini-bosses in Diablo Immortal.

Oh, and here’s a real important difference. In Diablo Immortal, it’s pretty easy to transfer talents from lower level gear to higher tier stuff. This is really important if you find an ability that you love, but it starts getting weaker within just a few levels.

But in Diablo IV, transferring involves super rare materials to hold onto so-called Aspects of Power, and while the in-game information suggests that these materials can be salvaged from any legendary equipment, the truth is that it’s possible to salvage five or six weapons and still not get one material item. Oh, and you need two to transfer an aspect. So, you know, get on that hamster wheel and keep grinding, bi-yatch.

Lastly, Diablo Immortal is just more generous with content. They launched new zones and new modes as well as a new character class, all for free. This month, they’re launching another new region to play in and releasing familiars to fight alongside the players.

Now to be fair, maybe there’s similar additions in the roadmap ahead for Diablo IV. But I haven’t heard anything about it yet, and so far, the only new stuff is coming out with paid temporary expansions. (More on that later.)

Moving on to examining Diablo IV’s side of this fight, there are some things it does better, such as making it possible to use transmogs to keep a certain style of outfit if I think it looks badass. I can still swap in new gear and get the joy of numbers going up, but my Fashion Souls game can always be on point. And if I do want to see what a new pair of boots looks like, I can just turn off the effect in my inventory, and then turn it back on if I’m not feeling the new stuff.

Of course, Diablo IV has an actual skill tree instead of a list of stuff that unlocks at a set level. This means I have an insane amount of build options to play with no matter which class I decide to play.

For example, I love the Rogue. With their class, I’m able to knock back enemies with the basic attack and topple a whole crowd of monsters to the ground before unleashing a Legolas-like rapid fire volleys of arrows. But when the mobs pack in too tight to make that work, the Rogue can swap to melee weapons and Blade Shift, meaning that they can walk through enemies for several seconds. It is then possible to escape a mob trap without using the dodge or dash. Oh, and of course, dashing can both do damage and stun enemies if two dashes are chained on the same mob, which gets me right back to using that rapid fire technique to mow the monsters down before they can recover. It’s pretty sweet.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the list of abilities from Diablo Immortal, particularly because of how legendary gear can alter the same skills, allowing for just as much build customization. But Diablo IV brought back the thing that I really loved most about Diablo II, being able to design my own version of Death Incarnate. It’s truly a delight to come up with a new build, and then bring it all together around level thirty.

Finally, what I absolutely love about Diablo IV is being able to skip the whole story and just get into the nitty gritty of making up a new build and running with it. The game without the story offers lots of activities that players won’t even see in the campaign mode, and these can help offer new loot and easier ways to level up.

In the campaign mode, I might not get to level twenty until playing for a day or two. Turning off campaign mode and just going free form berserk, I can do it in about three hours. Getting to forty obviously takes a bit more, but by twenty I can see what my build will look like and decide if I want to invest time to get the other skills. It’s everything I love about dungeon crawling and boss slaying, without having to deal with cut-scenes and all that “No, guy I talked to three times! You were my best friend! *choked sob*

Since we’re about to cover things that both games do well, I might as well mention that neither game’s story left much of an impact on me. I’d give Skarn from Diablo Immortal a slight edge as a villain because I still wanted to kill him when I got to the end of the game. Meanwhile, I didn’t even get out of Act I in Diablo IV before I wanted to join Lilith in wiping Sanctuary of every last Light worshiping fuckface. But still, I wouldn’t give either game credit for writing a good story.

One thing both games do is put a clock on the screen at all times, and I tell you, I wish more games would do that. It’s very easy to fall into that “one more quest” trap and end up staying up late enough to see the break of dawn, and that’s not healthy. So it’s good that in both games, I can look at the time and sort out if I should be pushing for one more quest, or if it’s time to save and quit to get my ass to bed.

Both games offer options to pin a location and created a trail to follow to the goal. This is great because when I need to find a new fast travel point or the entrance to a dungeon, it is way too easy for me to get lost without these in-game navigation tools.

Granted, if I’m just roaming for adventure, both games also let me leave the navigation off and just go wherever I feel like wandering. It’s the kind of freedom I enjoy in gaming, so it’s nice to see both games nail that sense of letting me choose my play style.

This last item is something both games have, but Diablo Immortal wins here as well. The Battle Pass is a familiar means of milking money out of players, made popular by free-to-play behemoth Fortnite. You would think that Diablo Immortal would have the costlier battle pass to make up for being free. You would be wrong. A battle pass for Diablo Immortal is 4.99, and the pass for Diablo IV is 9.99, over twice as expensive. But wait! Act now and pay 24.99, and you can unlock the accelerated battle pass so you don’t even have to earn the items through regular gameplay. That’s right you can just buy all that digital junk by paying one third of the price of the game…every. Single. Season.

A lot of folks gave Diablo Immortal a ton of crap for being a blatant cash grab, and in theory, I agree with them that it has some shady habits like pushing the store front and the limited time seasonal stuff. But did any of you have on your gaming BINGO cards that the mobile Diablo would come off as both less greedy and less stingy with content updates? Because I sure as shit didn’t.

I’ll tell you something else, too. I can see there being a point when I burn out on Diablo IV because the game loop there is kind of limited right now. Maybe Blizzard will come up with better ideas for the season pass, and maybe they’ll add more regions and character classes to try and make it feel fresh. No one can say yet, but right now, I can feel there’s a limit to how much of this loop I can engage with.

Compare that to Diablo Immortal, where I am literally counting down the days until their next update so I can jump back in and check out the familiars and the new zone. I’m even going to give them that 4.99 when the new pass drops on the same day because they have earned it.

So again, could any of you have ever predicted that NetEase would make the better Diablo experience? Because I didn’t, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more pleasantly surprised by a free mobile game.

That’ll wrap up this edition of the versus series, but I want to mention not to expect a review on Diablo IV anytime soon. I’m ready to declare it the loser in this contest, but that doesn’t mean I’m not having a great time with all of the classes. And yes, I’m playing all of them at the same time. So when I come to you with a proper review, you’ll know I’ve squeezed and teased out every last secret this demon stomping simulator has to offer.

Until then, y’all have fun ya hear?