In the first part of our Diablo Immortal deep-dive, we poked around at its various single-player aspects and narrative concepts that went into its development. But that's only half of the equation, and like many other modern games nowadays, it's arguably Immortal's multiplayer features that makes up the bulk of the gameplay steak.
Specifically, for today we'll be homing in on the Cycle of Strife - a newly-introduced PvP server-war of sorts that's shaping up to be one of the most ambitious inclusions not just in Immortal, but in the Diablo franchise at large. Still, like any holiday tour, we'll need a guide to lead the way, and for this PvP deep-dive, we were lucky enough to have Principal Game Designer Scott Shicoff and Senior System Designer Kris Zierhut in our "adventuring party".
For those who might have missed the past few Diablo: Immortal memos, the Cycle of Strife is an optional PvP aspect that all Immortal players can choose to take part in after reaching a certain level. As such, if you're already well-acquainted with how it works, feel free to skip directly to the interview segment below.
At its core, this is basically your average guild war on steroids, as the competition is carried out across the entire server, and whatever accolades the winning faction earns is forever "immortalised" (pun intended) in the game's equivalent of a Hall of Fame.
But what goes into one of these "cycles"? To sum it up quickly, the competition takes place between two factions called the Immortals and the Shadows. The former, which is made up of the server's "best" adventurers will attempt to retain their title as Immortals, while the latter, which are further split into different Dark Houses, will compete amongst themselves for the right to challenge the reigning Immortals. They (the winning Dark House) can attempt to wrest "control" from the Immortals in a number of different ways, but of course at the very end it all comes down to one great big fight, and whoever wins the said fight gets to become or remain as the Immortals.
Right. Now that everyone knows the basics of the CoS, let's get started with the actual session!
Now the biggest question at the top of everyone's heads right now, especially if you're familiar with how PvP guild wars work in other titles is probably "Will I miss out on anything significant if I don't take part in the CoS?". That's an excellent question, and the short answer from the developers is a heartening "No.".
As mentioned before, the CoS aspect is purely optional, and according to Shicoff, the only thing you might "miss out on" are the bragging rights if you happen to take the Immortals' crown for yourself. Otherwise, all of the other fancy loot players can get during these wars, as Zierhut explained are just as likely to drop anywhere else in the game, so don't worry about skipping out on the competition if it's not your cup of tea.
In fact, by a similar token, both developers were adamant that even if you're a casual player who only logs in every now and then to do a bunch of faction quests, you would still be contributing to your faction as a whole, since there would always be other players filling in the other "blanks", in that sense. After all, it is a common oversight for players to assume that everybody is always going to be online or offline at the same time, but that just isn't the case in reality. Even if you're not online at a given moment, chances are someone else is, and in this way everyone will still be able to contribute in some capacity regardless of they're a casual or hardcore player.
Speaking of hardcore players, we then asked if the developers were worried about particular groups of players continually dominating the top ranks of the Cycle of Strife, be it as a Dark House or as Immortals. To that end, Shicoff explained that although there is the chance that we might see some players attaining the Immortal seat more often, it is simply not possible for them to be there 24/7.
He reiterated that the entire concept of the Cycle of Strife was one founded on teamwork and shared efforts. For example, if the Dark Houses initiate a Rite of Exile just when the Immortals' strongest players aren't around or aren't able to perform at their best they can still wrest power away from them. Essentially, we're all still human, and the fact that we can still make mistakes regardless of how good our gear and skills are provides an innate countermeasure of sorts.
In addition, when quizzed about how the team might approach power-balancing for particular "meta" builds like many PvP titles do, the duo reaffirmed that this was one aspect that they would definitely keep a close eye on and adjust accordingly. After all, we're sure nobody wants a PvP game, much less a Diablo title to turn out like Overwatch did during its notorious GOAT meta. Accordingly, if some of the more dominant builds do end up causing low composition diversity, they'll be sure to dial it down in order to let other builds and compositions have their chance at the spotlight.
So far, most of our queries were about Dark Houses, competitive builds and other community-centric topics, but what actually happens if you do manage to make it to the top and become an Immortal? Do you get a special dance emote or player signature? Do celebratory fireworks pop out of your rear? There has to be some benefit of being an Immortal besides the bragging rights, or else it would just be way more trouble than it's worth.
Okay, so that whole fireworks thing from your backside definitely doesn't happen, but in order to explain what you do get out of the achievement, the develoeprs had to dig a little deeper and explain the sub-ranks within the Immortals themselves. Fundamentally, the faction's hierarchy is made up of a single leader and four lieutenants, followed by Elite-tier Immortals and finally, Member-tier Immortals. Being a Member already grants you access to most of the perks that Immortal status comes with, although some faction tasks, like Kion's Ordeal will require you to be Elite-tier or higher to participate. In order to move up, you could say it works much like your average guild does - make friends with the "superiors", contribute regularly, and so on.
However, things get even spicier when you reach lieutenant-level - each of the four "officers" is assigned a particular passive buff that can be shared with friendly entities. Notably, this will prove to be especially useful during Rites of Exile, and Shicoff even took a minute to share what these buffs do in general - here's a quick look!
Wrapping up the session, we asked whether the Immortals would be able to abdicate their positions voluntarily if they decided they wanted a break from the mental pressure. After all, it can be mentally and physically draining to always be on the lookout for Dark Houses looking to raid your loot caches, and it seems that just like the mode itself, players will not be obligated to finish their terms as Immortals if they aren't in the mood anymore.
At the end of the day, this team-based PvP is built on team and community involvement after all, so if a member wishes to depart from the Immortals in the midst of their tenure and go back to being a humble Adventurer, they're perfectly welcome to do so and let their respective leaders select a replacement representative if required.