Now you see the year 2000, now you don’t
[Narrated by Dan Vincent]
There is a part of my head, some reptilian section of my brain, that just loves watching numbers go up. It finds joy in methodically kiting and whittling down enemies, clearing the area of loot, and moving on to the next; like a farming simulator for pillaging and plundering.
Because of that, Diablo should be right up my alley. And while I’ve enjoyed a fair bit of time with the third installment of the series, I have only the faintest memories of Diablo II and its expansion, Lord of Destruction. Diablo II: Resurrected felt like the right opportunity to revisit those distant blobs of memory, and understand better the reverence that fans hold for this particular dungeon-crawler.
On boot-up, I thought it looked pretty nice. There were all the old sights and sounds, a campfire and a ring of adventures gathered around it. I could only pick from three specific characters: the Barbarian, the Amazon, or the Sorceress. Obviously, I picked the one that launches fireballs from her hands, and set off.
It didn’t take long for me to start using those fireballs either, because Diablo II really drops you into the thick of things. After a few short paragraphs of expository text, you’re given free reign to wander out from the makeshift camp that’s been established and start slaying monsters. It might seem sparse by modern standards, but there’s a certain degree of reverence I hold for this. Diablo II knows what you came here to do, and it isn’t going to take several tutorial missions and guided segments to get you there.
As I wandered around the plains outside the encampment, blasting Fallen monsters and irate undead, everything was certainly enjoyable. Most of my points were going into making my Fire Bolt better, but that was okay; there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in the simplicity of early-game Diablo II, as I simply kite around enemies, dancing around attacks and slamming back potions.
It’s easy to note the absence of Diablo III‘s additions, like the dodge roll. Other parts might feel a little arcane, like playing inventory Tetris, but they fit—being forced to manage all the gear I was picking up and decide between a club I could sell for gold or a charm that gives me bonuses when it’s in my pack is a fun little decision to make in the heat of the moment. Inventory space made me realize how easy I had it with the console version of Diablo III, and now the older Diablo is giving me a newfound appreciation for a well-managed backpack.
Really, the magic of this remaster is in one single keystroke. For a solid 30 minutes, I had enjoyed Diablo II: Resurrected as it’s presented. But by pressing the G key, I could swap the game back to its original look and feel. Up until that point, I thought Diablo II: Resurrected looked like Diablo II, and then the G key reminded me what Diablo II really looked like back in the year 2000.
Good lord. It’s a magic trick, and a good one at that. Other games, like the excellent Command & Conquer remaster and Halo: The Master Chief Collection, have offered options that let you swap between the new and original graphics, and it’s just as striking, if not more so, here.
The work done by Blizzard and Vicarious Visions—who developed last year’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater remakes—is incredible. It might sound cheesy, but Diablo II: Resurrected really does look like you remember Diablo looking. The disparity is easy enough to show in side-by-side comparisons, but seeing it in action is really wonderful.
As I blew through more quests in Act 1, I found myself constantly hitting the G key to see the differences. Areas morphed, enemies changed, but all of it remained structurally similar. It’s the same geography, the same experience, but it looks altogether different thanks to this aesthetic revision. I almost died a few times just because I saw a named enemy running at me and immediately started graphics-swapping instead of running.
Also, death! It happens a lot more often in Diablo II. Aside from not having a dodge roll, Diablo II: Resurrected just feels altogether more challenging in a good way. Early fights saw me chugging magical concoctions just to keep up my Fire Bolt spam, as I ran circles around a horde that would strike me down if I stopped for more than a second. It never felt like too much though, and once I got more accustomed with the way I should be allocating my stats, fights kept up a steady balance of tough-but-fair.
Really, Diablo II: Resurrected feels like a good example of what to change and keep the same about an old game when remastering it. The gameplay that made Diablo II such a standout in the first place remains, and it’s just as compelling as it was two decades ago. Meanwhile, the updated graphics can make it feel all new, and offering the ability to time-travel to the original look and back adds an extra bit of fun, either for curious newcomers or nostalgic veterans.
Diablo II: Resurrected was already on my radar as a means to fill in a barely-formed hole in my gaming memory. Now, after spending a couple hours with its opening areas and experiencing the joy of blasting Fire Bolts in modern resolutions, I’m even more intrigued. As an historical record, it’s a mark of how different gaming is from 2000, and what Diablo IV could look like in the future. But for the gameplay, it’s a testament that Diablo II still withstands the test of time.