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Diablo Immortal's ongoing closed beta has seen the debut one of the community's most highly requested features – controller support. It's just an initial implementation at this stage, designed to give those with beta access a taste of how it will feel. This means that while all in-game combat and basic interactions with NPCs can be handled with a controller, when you wind up in a menu or inventory, you're reverting back to touch.
That's not a big deal for the time being, and overall the team has done a solid job with this initial implementation. Before we get into how it feels though, I should say that I've spent dozens of hours using Diablo Immortal’s touch controls over the course of various alphas and betas, and I’ve found them intuitive and easy to use. And that’s coming from someone who is generally not a fan of virtual analogue sticks and virtual buttons. Even so, after playing the game with an Xbox One controller (several others are also supported) there's certainly something to be said for the tactility and accuracy of physical analogue sticks and buttons.
The default layout – which can be remapped – has all the skills aside from your character's primary attack on the shoulder buttons, which leaves your right thumb free to aim skills with the right stick. It's the same twin stick shooter-style control method that help make Immortal's touch controls so distinct from Diablo games that use a mouse and keyboard, and feels great.
I definitely prefer using an analogue stick for moving my character in particular, as it feels like I can be more precise and also more effectively evade telegraphed attacks. Aiming skills with the right stick also feels spot on, giving me a high degree of accuracy when lining up, say, my Necromancer's Grim Scythe to catch a group of scattered enemies, or when positioning the cone of my Corpse Explosion skill to blow up as many lumps of meat as possible.
All that said, skills that require positioning a reticule in space can be a little slower to aim precisely with a stick compared with simply sliding a thumb on the screen. I also found my primary attack a little sticky at times – failing to trigger and forcing me to press and hold the button again to make it actually work. I expect that latter issue to be fixed, and overall, both control options are solid.
Even so, I can't help but feel that controller support is a bit of a moot point for me. While Diablo Immortal is a lot of fun to play, and has a huge amount of content to work through and builds to explore, I'm not a huge fan of some of its free-to-play, mobile gaming trappings. I've already run through some of my criticisms elsewhere on IGN, but the short version is that I'm not interested in juggling a bunch of different currencies, of wading through a host of convoluted, overlapping systems, and of attempting to decipher opaque value propositions.
That's not to say I don't want to play Diablo Immortal – I absolutely do – but I've come to realise that I need to have a more casual relationship with it. Immortal is most fun for me when I'm not obsessed with making progress to level up my legendary gems or trying to min-max systems. It's a game to play for the visceral fun of combat, to smash out a dungeon or two when I have some time to spare. Diablo Immortal is an ideal game for quick sessions. It's extremely easy to pick it up for five minutes, complete a task – a bounty, a Challenge Rift, whatever it may be – and put it down feeling as though you've accomplished something.
That is Diablo Immortal's true strength – it can fit into your life wherever you want it to. And for me, Immortal is a game that I want in my pocket, not a game that I'm likely to play using a controller and a propped up iPad at home. At home, I have other Diablo games… that can be played on much bigger screens. On the road, however, there's no competition – Immortal is it.
Of course, while I personally may not take advantage of the controller support when Immortal launches, its inclusion is absolutely a net positive for players (provided the development resources required aren’t at the expense of something else). And for players who want to have marathon sessions with the game, using a controller will almost certainly be the most comfortable way to do that.
And pretty soon everyone will have the chance to test it for themselves. While the closed beta has been restricted to a handful of countries, the team is planning to officially release the game in the first half of 2022.
For more from Sanctuary, be sure to check out IGN’s video on the insane lengths to which the Diablo II: Resurrected team went to take the 2D classic and make it work in a modern 3D engine. That team also recently announced the first balance and content patch for Resurrected; it will be the first major update to Diablo II in 12 years!