Ahead of the game’s launch on June 3rd, 2022, we sat down with art director Hunter Schulz and senior content designer Scott Burgess to chat about the launch of Diablo: Immortal, the decision to bring the game to PC and what we can expect from the future of the game.
You recently announced that Diablo: Immortal would be coming to PC as well. What prompted the decision?
Scott Burgess: Right, so this is something that shortly after we announced Diablo Immortal, obviously there was feedback that there was a desire to see Diablo Immortal on PC, and as we built the game further, we fell into that mindset as well where we agreed that it just feels like a game that feels natural not only on the phone but on the PC as well. Then we also concluded that players are going to be playing Diablo Immortal on emulators – they’ll be playing on PC anyway- so rather than have them play on an emulator that they find through a third party, we would just make a polished version of the game and provide that on Battlenet.
Would you say Diablo Immortal is more closely tied to Diablo II or Diablo III? How do you think Immortal stands apart from each of them?
SB: I think, as far as tone and gameplay, it would be right in the middle. The real thing that differentiates Diablo Immortal from the other two titles is that first, it’s a game that was developed for mobile. So that means that there are a lot of features that are mobile-centric, and that includes quick playtime sessions to jump in, intuitive controls that work on your phone, and it includes the ability to play anywhere and everywhere. It’s also a very social game, in comparison. We have a lot of features that are oriented toward playing with your friends, and with your clan. We have a large in-game PvP system which we call the Cycle of Strife which is really fun. It’s definitely a unique game in its own right.
What do you like about using touch controls versus controller and mouse?
SB: Personally, I think the touch controls are fantastic. I have a controller that I use on occasion, but there are a lot of times when I’m like, ‘you know what, touch controls are so intuitive and natural that I’m going to forgo the controller right now and play the game without it.
Hunter Schulz: Just to add to that, I think the first thing I noticed when I picked up the game was just how intuitive the controls are and just how they make a lot of sense, like a natural evolution for an ARPG. You’re able to control your skills in a different way; there’s a bit more nuance in how you feel your way through the game, so I think it makes a lot of sense for it to come to mobile and to use a mobile device with a touch screen.
Storywise, should we expect Diablo Immortal to bridge the gap between Diablo III and Diablo IV?
SB: So, Diablo Immortal lies in between Diablo II and Diablo III; it’s going to take place in the aftermath of the destruction of Mount Arreat and the Worldstone. Basically, the story revolves around the idea that there’s all of Sanctuary littered with Worldstone shards which are all incredible powerful conduits of energy that are also corrupted, so villains all over the world are using these, looking for these stones to enhance their power and cause destruction. So, we’re obviously going to make sure that the plot works with the existing games in that we have narrative concepts that line up and reinforce Diablo III and Diablo IV down the line, but it’s its own story in its own right. It’s a very fun and unique story that isn’t just about bridging the gap as it is about following the story of these Worldstone shards and facing the baddies that arise with it.
What lessons has the team learned from Diablo 3 in developing Immortal?
HS: There are some obvious sort of cues that were taken from Diablo III. I think from the outside, there is a certain style- there’s a different style between Diablo Immortal and Diablo III, but there are also some similarities and that kind of stem from the idea of readability and making sure the game holds up, even more so for Diablo Immortal than it would for Diablo III. So these sort of bolder shapes, these bolder colours even, we tried to use those to make sure that the game was very clear, that the designs were clear and that the gameplay was clear as well. So, I think that any sort of game you can look at it and try to pull positives out of it to use to your own benefit, in a way, as a design tool and so- I didn’t work on Diablo III, but I’ve certainly seen it, and I think there’s a lot of things that we took note of and that we applied.
Have or will any changes be made to dungeon scaling to make it possible for players to run them solo?
SB: So, our current plan is to have dungeons solo-able on normal mode, but we believe that dungeons are more fun when playing with friends, and so we are leaning into the social aspect on Hell and above. You know, that said, we’re also going to make sure that we learn from Beta, and we have put more resources into the party-finder system so that it’s going to be easier and quicker to find players to play within dungeons.
What does Diablo Immortal’s endgame offer?
SB: As with other Diablo titles, the end game is where the game really begins. First off, we’re going to have a great end zone to culminate with the story of the launch. So, that is a place called the Realm of Damnation which is a version of the Burning Hells that we haven’t seen before. It’s got a lot of unique tilesets that are really interesting and exciting, and we have a unique dungeon in the area called the Pit of Anguish which is like a deeper level of Hell where a giant monster roams and is consuming everything that it comes into contact with. Then beyond that, once you reach Hell level and above, we’re going to have Heliquary raids that you can do with your friends, which are eight person raids against an ancient evil, we have the Cycle of Strife which is a large faction-based PvE system, we have paragon levels that you can continue to level beyond max level, and we also have side quests that are going to be endgame then in each zone we have zone events, and we got loot and more loot as well.
HS: Then there’s what comes after as well in the story. The end game is not the end of the game. It’s just sort of a pause before the next content comes out. Even if you’re not big into end game activities, there will be more gameplay and more story to unfold.
Is it possible to play Diablo Immortal on a Macbook via the iOS app?
SB: I believe that technically, people can be able to use emulation technologies if they really want to, and we do not plan to somehow prevent that from happening.
Do you think we could ever see Diablo Immortal on the Nintendo Switch?
SB: You know, give it a lot enough time, and it might be possible, but this is not something that we’re currently working on.
A lot of Diablo fans are concerned that paid services in the game will generate an unfair advantage, essentially rendering Diablo Immortal a free to play but pay to win game. How are you working to prevent this and make the game enjoyable for everyone?
SB: So, when I was playing Beta, I played the entire Beta without spending a single dollar. That was my goal, and I was able to keep up with World Paragon, I was in one of the top Dark Houses, I was often the MVP in the battlegrounds, and then I had colleagues that also didn’t pay a dollar, and they were in the Immortals. I also want to say it’s important to remember that there is no paywall, this entire game is free. The entire story, all of the zones, all of the dungeons, all future content is going to be free, so you’re going to have a blast playing Diablo Immortal without paying a dime.
Can you share any data collected from the beta testing phase, like what class most people are playing or how long their Immortal sessions typically last?
SB: Yeah, we definitely saw a lot of necromancers which made sense because they were new to the Beta and necromancers have always been a very popular class, so I’m sure that a lot of players really wanted to try that out. We also saw a lot of other classes being played, and it’s actually something that we’ve been very happy with, with the pretty even distribution of players across all classes. Another thing we saw, you mentioned the time period of play, we saw a lot of players playing in short bursts, and we saw a lot of players playing for hours at a time, and this is very exciting because this is exactly what we designed Immortal to be played. We wanted to make sure that we had quick content that you could get into, like if you’re on your way to work- hopefully, you’re not driving, but if you’re commuting, you can jump in for a few minutes of play and then after work, if you want to unwind on the couch for a few hours, we have enough content to keep you entertained.
What classes are you currently playing on Immortal, and why?
HS: I like the Demon Hunter – I mean, there’s something I like about them all, but I think the Demon Hunter really taps into the mobile controls, not better than other classes, but I think the game experience is something much different than I felt in other games. Being able to keep your distance, to kite, to move your way around the enemies and fire at them and then swing over their head, it’s just an acrobatic, fast-moving class, and you’re much more mobile, and I like that. I want to see the world and I want to move around, and I want to bring the enemies with me instead of just planting my heels into the mud and then swinging away. So, that was my favourite class from the get go, and I think it still is.
SB: I keep going back and forth with which class I choose, and it might come down to the day of launch on that character selection screen, but right now, I’m leaning toward the barbarian. I usually play the berserker class that just jumps into groups of enemies and swings without worrying about what my health bar looks like, so why stop now?
What else would you like to say about Diablo Immortal?
HS: One thing to remember is that this game is massive. That is something that I think is overlooked a lot of the time – you know, like, oh, it’s a mobile game, so it’s something that is, in essence, smaller than other Diablo games just because it can fit in the palm of your hand, but this is not true. There are a lot of maps in our game that are actually bigger than these same zones in other games, so I think for the players who are already familiar with Diablo when they get into it, I like to think that they’ll be surprised by how much world there is. From my perspective, that’s what I’ve always loved about Diablo is the lore and the world and being able to experience that, and this is very much on par with delivering what you’d expect from a Diablo game. You just get into it, and you find all of this story, and you’re taken to all these different parts of Sanctuary, and it takes a long time to actually get to the end, which is cool. Then when you get to the end, it’s not even over. That’s where I’m at now, too, is creating new content. I think as an artist, you’re always looking ahead to the next thing that you’re going to design out and the new concepts, and I’ve been working with Scott and the lore team, trying to see how the puzzle pieces fit together. So yeah, there’s more to come.
Is there anything you can share then on post-launch content?
HS: There’s a lot.
SB: Yeah, we have a lot planned. We’re planning for the long term years in advance, and we’re planning on releasing content on a very regular basis.
HS: It won’t be your traditional expansion pack drop that happens in a year or two years, we want to be much more frequent with it, and again, as I mentioned, we’re in the process of developing that future content right now to ensure that the stream is as steady as we can make it.
SB: And it’s all going to be for free!
Diablo Immortal is out now and is available exclusively on iOS and Android devices and PC via the Battlenet launcher. You can read more about the game and sign up for pre-registration right here.