Diablo Immortal punishes free-to-play players with hidden progression caps

Three characters in Diablo Immortal, one holding a mask
(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

Diablo Immortal includes several hidden progression caps that deliberately limit the amount of loot players can obtain through the free-to-play portion of the game, seemingly encouraging them to spend real cash.

The hidden caps were discovered by YouTuber and Diablo Immortal aficionado Echohack, who outlined their findings in a 15-minute video (thanks, Forbes). While the game makes no explicit mention of these loot ceilings, Echohack was able to identify seven caps in their extended time with the game, including reduced items and gem drops.

They said side quests, purple bosses, and random map events all stop giving loot rewards to players after they complete the first five a day. Similarly, the drop rate of Legendary items significantly reduces after your sixth Legendary drop of the day, as does the gem drop rate bonus given to players who have partied into a four-person group. 

On top of that, players can unlock only five Zoltan Kule's treasure rooms a day. Hidden Lairs, too, only reward a maximum of six gems per day, regardless of how many of the random dungeons you complete.

Echohack was reportedly able to discover these hidden caps after “sheer massive amounts of gameplay and testing”, with their findings based wholly on the observations made by them and their buddies. While a few of the caps are difficult to verify, others – such as the cap on side quest rewards – can be more easily measured.

Crucially, these caps aren’t broadcast in the main game. Players can hit the reward ceilings without knowing it, not realizing the marginal benefit of their grinding has dramatically reduced. They throw up intangible obstacles against players, who must keep track of what rewards they’ve earned in a day, or face completing a challenge for no reward at the end of it.

Free-to-play woes

On top of that, it appears no similar caps are applied to Diablo Immortal’s paid elements. The game doesn’t operate a loot box system, per se, but instead offers Elder Rifts that serve a similar function. These short dungeons provide rewards to players but must be unlocked by spending Crests (keys that can either be found in-game or bought with cash). 

As Forbes highlights, there appear to be no limitations on the number of Crests a player can buy or Rifts they can enter. You’re free to purchase as many Legendary Crests as you fancy, and use them to enter as many Rifts as you’re able, earning valuable gear and loot as you do so. Consequently, while players enjoying the free-to-play side of Diablo Immortal face deliberately reduced drop rates and penalties, those willing to spend real-world money can circumvent the limitations.

Echohack says the system sends a very clear message: players who spend money in Diablo Immortal have a huge leg-up, while those who want to enjoy the game for free often can’t progress their character, despite hours of grinding.

Some Diablo Immortal players have suggested the caps are imposed to counter bots, but Echohack reckons the ceilings are so stringent that they undermine Diablo Immortal’s core game design. “In a game that’s supposed to be about grinding and killing monsters, what the heck is the point if everything you do is so aggressively limited?” they said.

Casual players who only play Diablo Immortal in short sessions each day are unlikely to hit these soft caps, but more enthusiastic players hoping to drop into the game for a couple of hours may well find themselves bumping up against the limits. That’ll do nothing to improve the game’s standing among a Diablo community already wary of predatory monetization practices.

Callum Bains
Gaming News Writer

Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and Gamesindustry.biz, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games.