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Diablo Immortal's closed beta goes live today, and brings with it a stack of new features, such as the addition of controller support and the debut of the Necromancer as a playable class. Elsewhere, the game now has set items (but they're a little different to what you might expect), a ladder system for its Battlegrounds mode, and more collaborative raid-style end game content, among many other changes.
Before we get into all that, however, as with the closed alpha, not everyone will be able to access the closed beta. It's running on Android only and is restricted to players in Australia and Canada for now, with access for Korea, Japan and China in the coming weeks. Now, let's go through what players can expect from the closed beta, with a little help from Diablo Immortal's game director Wyatt Cheng and production director Caleb Arseneaux.
We'll start with controller support given that's been one of the most requested features for Diablo Immortal. Indeed, the team had said on numerous occasions that controller suport was not something they were really looking at, because Diablo Immortal was being developed very specifically to make the most of touch screens. "After we did closed alpha, the feedback for controller support was overwhelming, I would say," explains Caleb Arseneaux, regarding the team's change of heart. "We anticipated that there would be some feedback for it, but we didn't anticipate the volume… feedback we get from these tests matter to our development. So our plans changed and we pivoted so that we could put some resources toward doing an early test of controller support with our next milestone. This one here – closed beta."
As Arseneaux alludes to, that "early test" is just that – an initial implementation to give players a taste of how a controller will feel with Immortal. Thus, for the closed beta controllers will only work for navigation and combat, with all menus still requiring touch inputs. The Diablo Immortal team will continue to iterate on the feature, but does not have a timeline for full support.
For the closed beta, players will be able to use the Xbox One Wireless Bluetooth Controller, the Xbox Series X / S Bluetooth Controller, the Xbox Elite Controller Series 2, the Xbox Adaptive Controller, the Sony Dualshock 4 and the Razer Kishi. The default bindings will allow players to move and aim separately using the analogue sticks, with basic and ultimate attacks assigned to face buttons along with use potion and interact. Your character's four skills will be fired off with the bumpers/triggers. Players will be able to change the bindings in the beta if they'd prefer a different layout.
With the closed beta, Diablo Immortal's roster of playable classes is expanding once again. In addition to the Barbarian, Crusader, Demon Hunter, Monk and Wizard, players will now be able to check out the Necromancer. As has been the case for all the other classes, the Necromancer will have some familiar abilities, but will still feel distinct from previous iterations.
Corpse Explosion, for instance, is an iconic skill, but the team has made some changes so that it works seamlessly with Diablo Immortal's twin stick shooter-style movement and targeting. Instead of targeting a specific corpse, players now point in a direction to create a cone that the skill will encompass, "and every corpse in that area blows up," enthuses game director Wyatt Cheng. "And it's awesome because you cast the spell once and like five corpse explosions will go off, chain one after the other."
That's not all though. "It's tough when you don't have any corpses to explode," he states. "And so… a number of other skills can generate corpses. There are some legendaries that'll help you generate more corpses, but we realized we don't want people to have to wait until they get legendary items to generate those corpses. We want players to just have corpses from the beginning. And so some basic skills will generate corpses as well. For example, there's an ability called Grim Scythe that you get very early on and when you hit enemies with it, it just generates corpses as an additional effect of the scythe so that you actually can power your corpse explosion without necessarily having to wait until enemies fall, which is really helpful for fighting bosses."
It's going to be fun to see how other skills have been reinvented, what new abilities have been added and how they can all change based on legendary gem affixes.
A number of other changes are also debuting with Diablo Immortal's closed beta. The end game PVP, for instance, has changed drastically. The set-up is still the same – there's a group of players known as Immortals who earn the right to be the protectors of Sanctuary, but they only stay in that position as long as the Shadows – a rival faction any player can join, comprised of sub-guild groups known as Dark Houses – can't overpower them. In the closed alpha attempting to overthrow the Immortals culminated in a series of 8v8 battles that would determine if a new group would become Immortals – and crown a new leader, but that's all changed.
"During closed alpha," says Caleb Arseneaux, "it was a numbers game to determine who was going to be that one ruling Immortal on the server, but we've made some changes to this system for closed beta. We now have a new mode called Challenge of the Immortal. In the faction war between the Immortals and the Shadows, if the Shadows get into a position of trying to overthrow the Immortals, it climaxes now in a 30 on one PVP battle. And it's the one [top] Immortal player on the server is transformed into a giant raid boss… And they are going to face off against 30 of the top Shadow players on the server. So in this battle, the Immortal, if they defend and defeat all of the Shadows, then their reign continues. But if the Shadow players overcome and defeat the Immortal player, then something also new happens.
"The Final Battle is where the Immortal has been defeated – if the Shadows get that far – and all 30 Shadow players, they're resurrected, and then all of a sudden there's a timer… and all the names turn red. And it is a battle royale amongst the top Dark Houses that are present for the battle to determine who is going to be the next Immortal and to claim the crown… for themselves. So it's no longer just a numbers game or trying to grind certain values up before the climax. The climax itself has a lot of say about who is the next Immortal… And it really focuses on a good combat experience."
The idea of the top Immortal becoming a giant and turning into a raid boss is an interesting idea, but impossible to judge without playing. It sounds, however, like the Immortal will have some serious power. "We've designed new skills for the Immortal to utilise when they're in that raid form," says Arseneaux. "And so they'll… one shot you if you're standing in the wrong place. It is a hard fight."
The Cycle of Strife isn't the only aspect of PVP that has changed for the closed beta. The PVP Battlegrounds – which featured 8v8 fights that allowed players to hone their skills ahead of a Shadows vs Immortals showdown – now have a ladder system to compete on, giving them more purpose. In addition to player rankings, competing in the Battlegrounds will also earn new rewards, some of which tie into a new system called Legacy of the Horadrim.
"As you go through the main story quest and complete different achievements in the game," explains Caleb Arseneaux, you will receive a new item called a Vessel, which is "able to be slotted into the shrine which exists underneath Westmarch." Each Vessel "has an identity with an old Horadrim, and you're able to slot these… into the shrine and they will actually generate bonuses for your character.
"Now, that's not all, adjacent to the shrine is a new daily dungeon crafted specifically for people to go in and clear it with some effort and get new resources." These resources can then used to power up the Vessels to gain even more bonuses. "We're really excited about this as a way for every single player to be able to make progress on their character every single day."
A Hellish Quarry
But how about PVE? Well, there are some changes there too. Perhaps the most significant is the change to the Helliquary. In the closed alpha, this tome contained a series of increasingly difficult bosses for players to clear – solo or with help, but the team have now retooled them to be eight player raids that really rely on teamwork. "We've actually added and changed the mechanics of these fights as well," adds Arseneaux. "It's not just the same exact boss fights from closed alpha, so that it is a real challenge for eight players."
Another important change that came alongside this shift in the Helliquary is the ability to see at a glance whether your team is powerful enough to take on the boss. Yes, Diablo Immortal now has a recommended offense and defence rating for each Helliquary monster. Players build their ratings in both areas primarily through their gear, but their offense and defence can also get a bump through things like legendary gems.
On the subject of legendary gems, the closed beta also debuts two new systems that play off these items: Awakening and Resonance. Awakening is something players are able to trigger when they attain a rank 10 legendary gem – whatever item they socket it into can then be awakened, which "will grant that item increased stats as well as an upgraded cosmetic appearance," says Wyatt Cheng. This means more effects like flames or swirling mystical energy, and if players can awaken all six of their primary items, they'll have a pretty impressive looking character. It's likely to be a long road to get there, however, as the resources required to level legendary gems were one of the major gripes I had with the closed alpha.
Resonance, meanwhile, also concerns legendary gems. "The Resonance system allows players to use any additional legendary gems that they have to resonate some of their existing legendary gems for a little bit of an additional bonus and increased cosmetic effect," explains Cheng.
Another change sees the introduction of item sets. Previously, the idea was that set items wouldn't be an element of Immortal because so much of a player's build is determined by their gear. Each of the six primary items a player can have equipped (helm, chestplate, shoulder guard, pants, main hand weapon and off-hand) can modify specific skills – much like skill runes in Diablo III – so sets and set bonuses were very much at odds with the system. The team, however, has still found a way to introduce sets, and that's through the six seconday items (rings, boots, etc).
"We're going to have four different sets [in the closed beta]," explains Cheng "These are six piece sets. The sets have three piece and six piece bonuses. So you'll be able to mix and match two different sets to get the three-piece bonus of each, or collect all the pieces of one set to get both the three and that juicy six piece bonus." Better still, actually finding the pieces for each set will be logical. "Every set item has a specific dungeon that it drops from," Cheng continues. "And so if you were looking to complete a particular set, you know which dungeon to go to, to farm to get that set item, and that gives players a lot of agency over how to actually acquire the pieces that they want to complete their set."
Because the primary items – and their skill modifiers – define player builds in Diablo Immortal, the fact that sets are built around secondary items means that sets in this game are a fundamentally different thing to, say, Diablo III. "I would say that those roles have almost flipped [compared to Diablo III]" says Wyatt Cheng. In Diablo Immortal "the legendary items are the build defining items… the set items in some ways play a complementary or a supporting role… [and] since the sets are actually shared between all the classes, the sets don't reference specific skills, so they are not changing how your skills work. The sets tend to be designed around themes like mobility, or healing or group play, or movement speed. The sets are more general… you're picking a set that is complementing whatever your main play style is established to be."
There are a number of other broad changes coming with the closed beta. The team is introducing a new difficulty level – Hell IV – as well as making all the higher difficulties more meaningful. "We got feedback during closed alpha that the higher difficulties weren't worth doing," Cheng reveals. "So we're making it so that if you take on the challenges of Hell II, Hell III and a newly introduced Hell IV, then you're actually going to be able to find better items than lower tiers. The stat ranges on the items will actually have the potential to roll higher values. This guarantees that there is a concrete incentive for taking on those higher difficulties.
"We're also adding a system that… allows you to use your Paragon levels to augment the quality of your drops as well. What happens is when an item drops, it checks to see what Paragon you're at and gives another potential bonus to your item stats based on your Paragon level. Combined, this means that players who take on the highest difficulties and have the highest Paragon level are going to have the best items."
The Paragon system itself – which allows players to continue to power up their characters beyond the level cap – is also changing a little. Previously, a player would have an account-wide Paragon level, which meant that if they had Paragon points on one character, the bonuses would be active on any other characters. That's no longer the case, largely because there is now a World Paragon system, which replaces the old weekly experience cap.
"The World Paragon system addresses some of the feedback that we got [from the closed alpha]," explains Wyatt Cheng. "For example, some players might say that they started playing two or three weeks late, and then because of the weekly XP cap, they just felt permanently behind. With World Paragon, there's a World Paragon level that increments by two every day, and as long as you're lower than the published World Paragon level, you'll get an increase to all of your XP and gold rewards, as well as the upgrade materials that you get. This helps players who start late or are farther behind to catch up to whatever the World Paragon is. Once you get to the World Paragon level, then your rate of reward drops back to a hundred percent, which should roughly match the rate that people saw during the closed alpha." The new system, then, would interfere with players' abilities to quickly level characters if they had account-wide Paragon points active, hence the change.
Finally, the closed beta will also see optional in-game purchases become active, whether that's unlocking the paid track on the game's Battle Pass or buying Platinum to spend in the player-driven marketplace. Purchases will not directly carry through to the game's launch, as there will be a full wipe when the closed beta ends, but money spent will not be lost. "The way it's going to work," Cheng says, "is any purchases that are made during closed beta will be credited back to a player's account in between so that when the game comes down on worldwide launch, they link their Battlenet account and they'll be credited whatever amount they spent during the beta period."
Diablo Immortal's closed beta will go live at 5pm October 28th PDT / 11am October 29th AEDT on Android devices only and will initially be available in Canada and Australia before expanding out to Korea, Japan and China in the next few weeks.
For more on Diablo, read my in-depth impressions of Immortal's closed alpha, and be sure to check out IGN's detailed look at the insane hurdles that had to be overcome to turn Diablo II's 2D sprite-based presentation into glorious 3D.
Correction: A previous version of this report said that Diablo Immortal would have full support by launch. It has been corrected to note that there is no firm timeline for full controller support.