When it comes to a remaster, there is a fine line between ‘as good as the original’ and ‘as good as you remember it being’. The problem we all have, is that sometimes your memory can be a fickle thing. Think back to those moments, venturing from the black marshes, through the portal to Tristram. If, like me you remember those dark fields, the constant barrage of Quill Rats and the Fallen hordes. You would likely remember a realistic, unrelenting game with a dark gothic atmosphere and a consistent sense of dread that permeates the world around you. It’s hard to not to be impressed or surprised then, when playing Diablo II: Resurrected and hitting the L2+Touchpad that you are greeted with exactly the game you once played, in its now ropey and pixelated glory.
Indeed, with Diablo II: Resurrected, Activision-Blizzard have taken the approach that they want fans to play a version of their ARPG opus that represents the rose-tinted memory and not the aged reality. Improving visual fidelity and overall performance, while ensuring that nothing else is lost in the process. Diablo II: Resurrected is an impressive transformation in everything that truly counts for a game as beloved and important as this. For the first impressions, this is exactly what has been achieved. So, if you are a Diablo II purist that has been waiting in the wings for yet another excuse to venture back to Sanctuary to mash some demons, then go ahead. Stepping into the Rogue Encampment, hearing that familiar guitar strum while venturing forth with a freshly minted Druid feels as great as ever. However, if you are new to the world of Diablo, or have only played the third game and want to see what the fuss is about then stay a while and listen.
Originally releasing back in June 2000, Diablo II was the eagerly awaited follow-up to the first title which came four years prior. Diablo quickly set the tone for many looter RPGs to come, with its mixture of cooperative dungeon crawling and abundance of stat heavy items, that broke the usually chaotic pace of combat up by giving players some time to think and make choices that impacted their characters efficiency. It may not sound like much now in a post Borderlands, World of Warcraft, and Skyrim world. However, Diablo was one of, if not the originator of this gameplay loop and so important that none of the above could have existed in some way without its influence.
The key to this importance and moreish gameplay loop is in the immediate simplicity. Diablo and its sequel were considered hack and slashers, with gameplay that on the surface looked easy. However, underneath the surface lurks the true game, in which issued stat points and scavenged items become the difference between an unsuccessful build or one that can suitably trounce the denizens of hell without little further thought. It all came down to how you played your character. You could either fumble through like many, placing stat and skill points into what feels effective and fun, which is fine for the normal mode. Or you could go the route that many others did, pick the abilities that you use and plough as many points as you can into those, to create a build that is fit to take on the higher difficulty levels.
It’s a character progression system that is remembered fondly for good reason. There are a lot of toys and abilities to play with in the Diablo series and the game wants you to try them all at some point. However, the real meat of the game comes when you must decide on a more focussed class, relying on the player to make informed choices as opposed to scattering points with reckless abandon. Even then there are still plenty of class makeups to enjoy and usually, there will be one or two that will suit everyone’s individual playstyle and lead to a fathomless pit of depth and fun.
I’m talking as If there have been no changes to the core structure of the experience and this is for good reason. Diablo II: Resurrected, takes the approach to replicate the original game fully, with the high-fidelity visuals and effects being little more than a skin to hide the creaky, aged skeleton underneath. Every system, every randomly generated number and every quest has been ported faithfully in a bid to retain the purity of the core gameplay experience. This is a bold approach, as while there are some minimal quality of life improvements, even some original bugs make it into the game, including some of the balancing issues from the original release which made some character choices unplayable or difficult to counter.
This approach is so at odds with modern gaming or remaster sensibilities that to some, this may come off lazy or underdeveloped. However, for Diablo purists, this will be a welcome attitude as to most players, there was nothing wrong with the original and to change even some small attributes would be to taint what is considered to be a magnum opus in design. The changes that do creep in are welcome. With higher stash amounts being made available to the player, encouraging the creation of alt characters, and applying a bit more accessibility without making the game easy. You also get the benefit of coins being picked up automatically, removing the need to select these from the ground manually like previous.
Significantly though, the biggest feature addition is the ability to play on console. Diablo II in its original incarnation was one of those games that felt like it would never make the cut, despite its older sibling being available on PS1 all those years ago. Key to this were two factors; firstly, the scale of the game and its randomly generated locations would have been too much for the hardware of the time, not such a problem today. Secondly, is the control method. Diablo II benefitted from mouse and keyboard play, notably in the ability to target distant foes, loot drops in the thick of combat chaos and with the many hotkeys needed to multi-task abilities on the fly. The most effective addition to this remaster is the fact that it takes all this and turns it into a game that feels made for a console.
Console players get the benefit of two hotbars which offer the ability to use any configurable face button for abilities, while PC gamers must work on the old system with two mouse buttons and a bunch of hotkeys that require muscle memory to really benefit from. I will say however, while the controller is a great option now for the Diablo series, there are a few nuances that can be annoying. Trying to target distant enemies becomes a bit of guess work as while you are pushing an analogue stick in a certain rotation, the character underneath all the remastered glitz is still operating on digital aim. Looting and menu management can also be an exercise in frustration, as with the limited inventory space, I found myself juggling items that I had accidentally picked up, as opposed to the agility seen with a mouse.
We learned a lot of this from Diablo III of course, Blizzard already did a stellar job of translating what is considered a hardcore PC gaming experience to console well enough. However, if you have only played D3 and are expecting an easy ride with all the bells and whistles of a decade of game design then you have another thing coming. The big downside of using the original structure is that it is as unforgiving and relentless as it always was and is this will be jarring to those who are used to the more streamlined and accessible experience.
It’s the little things. Accidentally sold your prized weapon to a vendor and want it back? Tough luck. Want to learn how to use rune word enchants on your weapons? Either experiment until you figure it out or hit the guides. Died at the end of a difficult dungeon after legging it through mobs of enemies that are still roaming the halls? I have bad news for you, you must run back to your body with only the clothes on your back, weapon-less or grind up to standard again to get back.
That last one is particularly harsh if you are not used to the way that Diablo II generates its map or are playing online. Each time you quit the game or are disconnected from the server, the world regenerates. This was originally designed to save on RAM, but also a bid to keep the world fresh for new and returning players alike. It meant that unless you are playing cooperatively, that players will not experience the same world layout as each other and simple directions from others become a bit useless. This also is problematic in the sense that if you quit the game after a death or have not reached one of the few waypoints, you are going to have to search the world again to find your body or way again.
It’s harsh, but indicative of a time where games didn’t pull their punches, and this is something I welcomed back when playing Diablo II: Resurrected. The game retained that feeling of threat and dread that I experienced decades ago when I first ventured through it, with every step or decision being one that I had to consider along the way. It makes the blisteringly chaotic combat exhilarating and the times spent in retreat as fun and genuinely tactical at the same time.
Of course, if all of this sounds daunting then you can play cooperatively with up to four others. This is still by far the best way to enjoy the game, whether you are a new player or returning pro as there is nothing finer than gearing your group to synergise with each other and coordinating tactics against the hellish bosses. I will say however, this could be easier to work with and this is an area that could have been improved with some modernisation. For example, looting bosses becomes a game of trust, as any one player can run in an hoover up the spoils before anyone else gets a chance. Also, the servers have been a bit unreliable in the launch window, so that can lead to disconnects whether in single or multi-player mode.
These issues are minor in the grand scheme of things and truly, Activision-Blizzard have done a great job making Diablo II work on console and bringing it to a modern audience in a form that many will love. For returning players, this should be a no-brainer, the game is every bit as good as it was twenty years ago. New players however, you have a daunting hill to climb to get the most out of this. Likewise, if you have played any ARPG in the past few years, then you might feel that this is too clunky or rudimentary by today’s standards. Stick with it though and you will likely come to realise why Diablo II is considered not only the originator of modern ARPG action, but a stone-cold classic worthy of the praise it receives to this day.
+ Still one of the strongest ARPG’s, with some of the deepest character customisation options going
+ Takes a risk by being as unforgiving as the original, goading players on to embrace the challenge
+ Still great fun to play online with others, especially when you get that “good group” who share loot and synergise classes
- Newcomers have a lot to learn with this one and that may seem alienating to some
- Simple things, like looting from the ground is made much fiddlier with controller play
- Some online technical hitches, even when adventuring solo