More than a Reforge
After Warcraft III: Reforged, I kind of gave up hope that Blizzard would do right by their back catalog. They’ve been so wishy-washy about even remastering Diablo 1, and it ended up becoming a sparing Diablo III event. The good news is, they called in the big boys when it comes to preservation for Diablo II: Resurrected: Vicarious Visions.
And they did right by it.
Diablo II: Resurrected (PC, PS4, PS5 [reviewed], Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment, Vicarious Visions
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Released: September 23, 2021
Diablo II is one of my most-played games of all time, up there with Pokemon Red/Blue, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy XIV. I have several thousand hours logged since launch across every class. A launch, mind, that I rushed to Toys”R”Us to buy with my Diablo 1 TCP/IP partner (those were the days). It’s one of those games that you could play endlessly with friends. Maybe a new generation will be able to do just that with Resurrected.
It was a shock to see the story of D2 again through new eyes. For years I didn’t even see some of the cutscenes because they didn’t run well on my PC. In fact, for a while I never even saw Duriel, the Act II boss, because my machine would completely lock up when entering Tal Rasha’s tomb. While I did eventually upgrade and get the full Diablo II experience (or played it at many friends’ houses, LAN style with better rigs), it was a blast to play through it again on a console in performance mode with very few hitches.
That initial salvo of Quill Rats and zombies is still magical, as is the opening questline. Diablo II is a grimdark world that rarely pushes over to the realm of “edge,” and helped define so many dungeon crawlers and action RPGs after it. The tone is near-perfect, and it feels like there are actual stakes at play. There’s a reason some people didn’t react as positively to Diablo III, and part of that is because Diablo II is such a tough act to follow.
Pretty much every moment allows for strong highs. The thrill of finding an errant experience shrine and going HAM. The joy of speccing your character into a tree for the first time and finding an ability you really like. Or taking two of the same class for a spin in a multiplayer game, only for both players to find completely different ways to play off each other.
The depth of Diablo II is very much alive and well, as is the sense of experimentation of taking a character for a spin. For this review, I tested a few classes, most notably ice sorceress and elemental druid (you can also choose amazon, necromancer, barbarian, paladin, or assassin). It’s a large array of playstyles in all, in tandem with the aforementioned triple ability tree system. Unlike some other re-releases, Resurrected is wholly justified, because Diablo II‘s legacy has lived on for all this time through hardcore fans and the modding community.
Again, it’s important to remember that this preserves the original game, as you can swap the style between “retro” and modern with a quick tap (on PS5 it’s L2+the TouchPad). It happens instantly, and you can even adjust the resolution for it slightly on consoles via a menu option. It’s perfect for nostalgia and function, as I had a good deal of fun playing one class entirely on retro mode, and another in just modern mode. It should make replays a little more fun, and hardcore players will appreciate the more responsive animations of the modern visual style.
Yep, hardcore mode (where your character is deleted if they die) is still in, which I was told once by someone feels like “dying in real life” when your character dies. You can also opt for a ladder or non-ladder character, as well as “expansion or classic” mode: the latter of which eschews all Lord of Destruction/Act V expansion content from the game (nice to have that option).
Speaking of Act V, we should probably talk a bit about the core Diablo II level design for those of you who haven’t already been immersed in it. No surprise, it still holds up in Resurrected. As I hinted at above, Act I is a fantastic intro to the game, providing a design that feels simplistic, but also freeing, with several optional zones and quests. It’s not overwhelming but it’s also not fully linear.
Act II continues that formula, opening things up a little bit more and doing some very clever things when it comes to map layouts. The open zones of the desert lend themselves well to fighting off droves of enemies with all the new abilities you’ve picked up while letting you run around unfettered — of course, this is juxtaposed with tricky sewer and tunnel areas. The story also ramps up in a very exciting way by the end, spinning yarns of lore all the while.
Act III, consisting of lush and sprawling jungles and temples, is still very much polarizing. My main Diablo II group called this “Act Skip” as a career sorceress would often teleport through some of the larger, more aimless areas and send the party a town portal. I will say, it does have that same vibe for several zones, which are not completely redone in Resurrected. That said, everything looks like it has a little more character now, so first-timers are getting Act III with its best foot forward.
Acts IV and V tighten things up again and really showcase Diablo II‘s diverse enemy roster and go a little crazier in terms of level design. They’re also really pointed and don’t overstay their welcome, and house tons of great loot to grind endlessly for. Diablo II has very few low points.
Running through Diablo II on a console after roughly two decades of PC play was tough to adjust to, but I managed. There are some growing pains, especially managing pots (potions) with a controller, which have a finicky way of getting to the actual bar (though you can still “piano key panic” swipe at your potions when you’re about to die by rolling the d-pad). Some inventory busywork takes more time with a controller compared to a mouse, but shortcuts that let you instantly move stuff to your stash or sell/buy help. Everything else, controller-wise, is relatively smooth.
The hotbars do work, and you can bind pretty much anything to them, including basic attacks and scrolls of town portal. Most endgame and leveling builds don’t go too hard on diverse abilities across all three trees, so a hotbar with 12 options (six on one, and another six that triggers when L2 is held) is perfectly fine. Potions are tied to direction pad presses.
As far as performance goes in Diablo II: Resurrected, the retro mode is janky by design, and the modern mode is extremely smooth, provided you play offline or the online servers are cooperating. So for the most part in my tests the past couple of days, servers waxed and waned, albeit through a pre-launch period. Act I was perfect, but by the time I hit Act II, there was a little lag (which Blizzard noted was a pre-launch issue). When I hit Act III, the servers went offline for a bit, then came back on 20 minutes later.
In a vacuum, it was a mild inconvenience. It could also be an ill portent. These various ups and downs might hit people on the full launch, so be aware of it if you’re going in day one. Again, thankfully, this is not an always-online game, and you can opt for offline play (and you would miss out on online components as well as ladder play if you did that). Sadly, TCP/IP mode was removed after it was tested in the game’s alpha period.
Diablo II: Resurrected did what it was supposed to as a re-release, and it managed to simultaneously preserve the original game. It’s a shame that the talented studios behind it have to deal with the failure of Activision leadership overshadowing their work.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. You can follow Destructoid’s ongoing coverage of Activision Blizzard, and the failings of Activision leadership, over here.]