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I tried out Diablo Immortal on my Galaxy Tab 7+ and, well, it’s pretty convincing off the top. But I wonder if it’s ethical to play anything from Blizzard, these days? Protip: At the moment you can’t get into the closed beta unless you’re on Android in Canada.

History · I’ve never been a serious gamer — often going months or years between playing anything at all. But Diablo is kind of an exception; back in D2 days I was in a pretty serious Amazon-focused guild and put in a lot of hours. Then a mere nine years ago I took a D3 Demon Hunter to level 60 and then at some more recent point I worked a Barbarian pretty deep on the PS4. I was having trouble getting past Malthael when boredom set in.

So I’m pretty well steeped in the culture.

Ethics · When I turned on my Pixel and Google Play popped up the Diablo invitation, I was about to flick it away because who wants to spend hours dungeon crawling on a handset? Then I remembered the big tablet, which has a beefy CPU and 120Hz screen, and decided to give it a try.

As I was getting spun up, there was this little voice in the back of my head saying “Wasn’t there some nasty news about Blizzard recently?” Well, yeah, it turns out to have been a shitty company with shitty leadership and shitty culture. They got hit with state-government #metoo litigation, which they characterized as “irresponsible behavior from unaccountable state bureaucrats.”

Ewww. I mean, seriously. But wait… maybe there’s hope? The CEO got dumped and then, just last Thursday, Blizzard apparently hit “Reset”, making apologetic noises and announcing a range of measures with serious money behind them, and going along with a lot of the disgruntled employees’ demands.

Normally I’d be pretty cynical about this sort of corporate arm-waving, even though they’re doing a pretty convincing job of sounding like an organization that recognizes it fucked up and is sincere about getting its act together. But, the changes were welcomed by the ABK Workers Alliance, which says they are the direct result of widespread grass-roots employee pressure. Which is something I’m very strongly in favor of. If I hadn’t seen that I would have uninstalled the game already. Now I’m feeling uneasy and watching closely.

Diablo Immortal on a Galaxy Tab 7+

Heading out after Leoric

What it’s like · There’s only one question, really: Is it possible to have a convincing Diablo-like experience on a mobile device? My initial answer: Apparently, on a big expensive tablet. And on a handset? Dunno, and I’ve no interest in trying.

Anyhow, check out that screenshot, which I’ve enhanced a little in Lightroom, partly because Diablo on a tablet, just like every other Diablo, is very very dark. The way it works, you move around using your left thumb; you can see the move-around doohickey in the lower left corner, dimly; normally it’s hardly visible till you drop your thumb on it, then it lights up.

Then, with your right thumb, you bash away at your attacks and spells and health orbs and so on. The big circle down at the very bottom right is your primary attack and, just like regular Diablo, you spend most of your time bang-bang-banging away at it. The other attack buttons have mechanics like long-press to charge up an attack and so on. So I guess the biggest delta against “real” Diablo is that you can’t use the mouse to direct your attack.

In practice, it feels… a lot like playing on a PC or Playstation.

More random notes, in no particular order:

  • Aesthetically? Yep, Diablo, nailed it.

  • “Leoric?” So this is the same story as D3? Um… so far, yeah. In fact, I played last night until, at L18, I got ganked by the Skeleton King. And yep, Deckard Cain is there.

  • The little blue blobs at the top right are mobs entering the scene.

  • The combat is pretty crisp but, even on the big Sammy screen, it’s really hard to see what’s going on when you’ve twenty or so skeletons and rats and grave robbers clustering around you. Hey, just like Diablo!

  • Performance was perfectly OK, except for moving my toon around with the left thumb, which felt kind of sluggish. Maybe that’s because the Crusader character is just slow?

  • It looks pretty wonderful on that 2800 x 1752 OLED screen.

  • Dunno why I picked a Crusader. I might just go back and re-roll because it’s not fitting with my style, so far at least.

  • It’s multiplayer without any extra work or effort. I was a little surprised and disoriented when other characters were darting around my game. When you enter a dungeon, you get a chance to assemble a raiding party first. I haven’t tried this yet, but will before I go take another run at the SkellyKing. My crusader can tank him for a decent amount of time, probably long enough if there were effective ranged attacks happening.

I’ll keep an eye on this because I’m wondering if you could possibly have a good time playing this on a handset. But as of now, I’m convinced that there’s fun to be had on decent modern tablets, which I assume includes recent iPads. In 2001, if you’d told me I’d still be playing Diablo twenty years later, I’d have laughed at you.

And maybe I won’t be if it turns out Blizzard remains a shitty company.



Contributions

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From: Nelson (Oct 31 2021, at 08:08)

If you get tired of the on-screen controls, Bluetooth controllers work great with Android games. I think you can get a PS5 controller working with little drama. Or 8bitdo makes a wide variety of high quality Bluetooth controllers.

I appreciate you highlighting Blizzard's awfulness. Not sure what you mean about the CEO being dumped though. Various execs have left / been pushed out. But not Bobby Kotick; he's the CEO of Activision/Blizzard and the guy in charge. He just took a symbolic pay cut but after receiving $156M last year it's not clear how big the gesture really is.

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From: Nathan Schnarr (Oct 31 2021, at 12:50)

We missed an opportunity for a d2 LAN party at Amazon, it’s the game that got me into programming.

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