It was the year 2000 when Diablo II unleashed a new wave of hungry demons against stalwart heroes. Having finished the first game many times, I was excited to return to Hell. But something happened. Sega’s Dreamcast console stole my attention with a Siren’s call of spiky, blue hedgehogs and high-quality graphics (for its time). When Diablo II finally launched, I was presented with a tough choice: the sequel to one of my favorite ARPGs, or Phantasy Star Online. Still enchanted by my muse, I chose the latter. I don’t regret it; PSO was fantastic. My younger brother, however, wasn’t swayed. Every so often I would head into our parents’ old computer room to see what Diablo II was all about. If you asked me then, I’d say it consisted of killing a shitload of cows again and again. It took many years before I braved its depths firsthand, recently with the original build, and later in Diablo II: Resurrected now that it’s on PC.
Diablo II and its popular expansion sat on my backlog for two decades. I finally completed it only last year, having defeated the Prime Evil and Baal’s forces with my pallid Necromancer. Time had certainly taken its toll. Many ARPGs had come and gone, evolving the genre to new heights. Diablo II both looked and felt ancient, but I can’t deny that I got it. The game is fantastic even 20 years on, though its archaic skills system needed some getting used to. I finished the game only once, which many Diablo II fans would probably say means I didn’t really play it at all. Trust me, after 350 hours in Diablo III, I know. Still, I was glad to get it done once and for all. Or, at least I thought it was for all.
The Prime Evil reawakens
Diablo II: Resurrected got announced the very next month, causing some air to escape my mouth. “Okay,” I thought, “I’m still good for another round in Diablo’s ring.” And so here we are, seven months later and the forces of Hell have returned. Diablo II: Resurrected is here, breathing new life into the classic dungeon crawler.
I spent the weekend roughing up demons as a man who could turn into a bear, and I came away with some thoughts. I believe Diablo II: Resurrected is the Diablo II most fans and early players of the game remember, through the fog of time and rose-tinted glasses. We all recall games of our youth looking and even playing better than what the march of time allows. Diablo II: Resurrected is like that memory given form — a beautiful veneer over a game that stands the test of time, even with its age-induced shortcomings.
The game itself has some drawbacks. there’s the lack of TCP/IP, despite prior promises, which will sting for some. Characters are separated by offline and online variants. The game, though designed for modern monitors, can’t fully support ultrawide screens. You’ll have to settle with 19:9, which isn’t too terrible. And so far, the servers have been sketchy. You also still have a stamina bar, not for attacking but for running. It’s aggravating and feels so out of place. You also drop all items and gold on death, and are forced to run back and retrieve your gear — assuming you can. If you can overlook those, though, then you should be happy with what the game provides.
All new style
Much of that can be attributed to the work by its developer Vicarious Visions. The team managed to avoid the missteps taken with Warcraft III: Reforged. Diablo II: Resurrected surely must do the original creators proud, refreshing the game with modern graphics and improvements. The game can be played at up to 4K at a much higher framerate.
Everything has been remade. This includes character models, special effects, and the world around. Audio has been tweaked and remastered, increasing clarity and intensifying weather like rain and wind. Efforts were taken to make the game more accessible with UI scaling, gamma and contrast settings, and variable font size. You can even turn on a special effect that shows if your character misses a strike, as the base game was made with classic RPG rules. Even the CGI cutscenes have been completely redone and no longer look like fancy claymation. It should be a shock for some older players to note that the black patch on the grass was water all along, and can now reflect their character’s forms. That being said, the game isn’t quite as dark and dank as it used to be. You can even better spot enemies hiding beyond your circle of vision, whereas the original wouldn’t even load them.
Naturally, as the new graphics are an overlay on to what is mostly old code, you can return to the original look. You can swap between new and old visuals, still set at 800×600, with the press of a key. But don’t be too taken aback if you remember the game looking better.
Not big on surprises
Despite the new visuals, which surpass that of even its sequel, Diablo II: Resurrected is still Diablo II. I’ll pause here for the shock to subside. There. I’ve paused. Honestly, I didn’t expect any sweeping changes outside of visuals. Sure, the quality of life improvements are definitely welcome. The game includes multiple shared inventories, which means I no longer have to have to make a separate character to be a loot donkey. However, it’s still mostly the old code. Vicarious Visions and Blizzard made it frankly clear what the goal was: giving the game a new lease on life, for both fans new and old. Assuming otherwise doesn’t make much sense.
Regardless, it’s impossible to ignore the creaks and groans of this aging game. Compared to more modern compatriots like Path of Exile, Diablo II feels like a relic. Nothing makes that more clear than its severely outdated skills system. To be fair, it’s not the skills that are the issue, but the way you choose them.
Like in the original, you can set skills on the left or right mouse button. As your skills grow, you are able to keep them sorted by binding them to one of the F keys. However, pressing the key won’t activate the skill, only prep it. You still have to activate it with the right mouse button. You can also use the mouse scroll to change your bound skills. It’s not so bad if you only have a couple of abilities to worry about. But once you have a good amount in stock, frustrations mount as you desperately try to choose a needed skill while being swarmed by enemies. But there is a better way.
Feeling a bit controlling
I was smashing bugs through the game’s second act when I decided to commit a grievous sin: I started using my controller. Okay, I’m mostly kidding about the sin. For the most part, I prefer playing ARPGs using the standard mouse and keyboard, as I’m sure most do. But I have to say, playing Diablo II: Resurrected on a controller was an eye-opener. The game is much more enjoyable on a pad than otherwise. When you press a button, the game pauses for a moment to swap over, and you’re good to go. I haven’t played Diablo III on console, so I can’t compare.
But in Diablo II: Resurrected, you can set skills on your face buttons. Pressing the button instantly activates the skill, giving you a much better chance at survival. You press a button for a standard attack, and holding it lets you pummel enemies without having to tap. There’s also a small health bar that appears above enemy heads, giving you an idea of how much damage you’re dishing out. Even the menus get changed to suit a gamepad. I would have preferred the developer create an option for something like a skill bar seen in Diablo III. However, it honestly feels like the game gets that modernization with a controller. The only caveat is that you have to move a floating cursor in your inventory, and manually moving potions to your belt is a small pain. Despite this, the game is so much more fun to play on a pad, and I can’t see myself going back.
Into the depths, once again
I only managed to get to the end of the second act, but I know for sure I’m heading back. Regardless of any grievances, Diablo II: Resurrected is still fun as hell. Its story, which has you hot on the heels of the Dark Wanderer, is better told than that of Diablo III or PoE. It’s easy to get absorbed in its Gothic architecture, or shaken by grotesque demons and dark caverns. Aside from some issues, this is the game older fans wanted. Those new to the game, kind of like myself, may balk at its outdated control scheme. If that’s the case, then I suggest using a controller. No matter how you choose to play, however, Diablo II: Resurrected is quite good. It’s more difficult and far grindier than some modern ARPGs, but it’ll feel good to take out the forces of evil, all over again. And when you’ve conquered the hardest difficulty, what’s next? Of course. Cow levels.