This might shock some of you younger gamers out there, but, did you know, once upon a time Blizzard wasn’t known for ruining Warcraft 3 and abusing their staff? I know, a totally ‘out there’ concept, but it’s true. I lived during that time. This period was known as the Blizzard Golden Age, and let me tell you straight, that is one of the most accurately named periods ever.
Stay A While And Listen
We got Starcraft, Warcraft 1-3, Frozen Throne, and World of Warcraft. These games pioneered an entire genre and, in some cases, are still best in class. There was one other little series that was released during this era, and that’s Diablo. Diablo was alright. Diablo 2 though, now THAT was a game. It took the pioneering aspects of Diablo, which in turn took its inspiration from Baldur’s Gate, which in turn absorbed the entirety of Dungeons and Dragons (tangent ends here) and made pure gold. Gold so pristine, that there was a measurable dip in the global workforce.
Diablo 2 is so well known and held in such high regard, some people still call the genre in which it resides, Diablo-like. Put it this way; only a handful of games have ever had genres named after them. It’s crazy. Diablo fever was so strong that it was at a dangerously high level of addiction right up until Diablo 3’s release, which took over a decade to land. A global phenomenon that, before Resurrected’s release, cemented Diablo 2 as one of the greatest games of all time, and the best game in its genre.
Now that all of that spiel is out of the way, how is Resurrected? If all you want from your Diablo 2 remake is an almost shot-for-shot, near-perfect replica of a 21-year-old game, that boy, do I have good news for you. In a world where the word remake is loosely defined as a mostly unrelated game that feeds off nostalgia to tell an objectively worse tale (looking at you Final Fantasy), Diablo 2 Resurrected stands alone. This is Diablo 2. Heck, this is Diablo 2 with a free expansion that made Diablo 2 bigger.
Very Minor Tweaks
There are some changes, but these are so bafflingly minor in the grand scheme that they can probably just be called iddy-biddy-diably quality of life(y) changes. This includes a shared storage chest and a quick bar. There’s more, but those two are the ones that stand out as being the most significant. Considering how throw-away they are, I am sure you can grasp just how loyal this remake is to the original vision.
The final splooge icing on the Resurrected cake is the graphics. The sticks eerily close to Diablo 2’s original themes and style. It’s so close, that when I was playing, it looked like what I thought Diablo 2 looked like, 21 years ago. That makes sense, I promise you. Animations are spot on, character designs are mostly ripped straight from the original, with a few changes for the modern visual palette here and there. Similar to the Master Chief Collection or R-Type Dimensions, you can even change the graphical style on the fly, and check out what Diablo 2 looked like, seamlessly. It’s a great feature, but man, Diablo 2 hurts the brain to look at in motion, let me tell you.
If that’s all you wanted to know – if you know what Diablo 2 is, and you want it injected into your veins, then this is all you need. Go off, have fun, it’s Diablo 2. Shoo. For everyone else, it’s time to get real.
Dated, Bland, Boring
Diablo 2 has not stood the test of time. The game is dated, bland, and lacks the depth and nuance the genre has developed in the last 21 years. This game is a nostalgia trip for people who lived during the times of dial-up, and that’s about it. Diablo 3 gets a bad reputation, but Diablo 3 improves upon practically every issue I have with Diablo 2, and it took a remake of Diablo 2 to reveal that truth. I was one of those DIablo 2 mega fans. I am no longer blind to this game’s design, however.
First off, gameplay. Diablo 2 is a loot-based action RPG. You run around with your character, hit things with sticks and magic until cool stuff drops, you level up, and you explore dungeons and progress the story. Do this enough times, kill Diablo, spank his brother and then do it again on a harder difficulty level. This is standard stuff, but Diablo 2 Resurrected feels off.
Combat is boring for starters. Each class is unique, but how you go about building your class is identical. That’s because there is a thin veil of depth lightly covering the shallowness of Diablo 2’s progression system. Each character has three skill trees, and these skill trees allow you to specialize your dude in whatever way you want. So far, not so bad. The problem arises when you realize there is no freedom here. Without freedom, there is no real depth.
Still Not Picking Up
You only get one skill point per level in Diablo, and you can invest 20 skill points into a single skill. This massively incentivizes not experimenting with skills, and instead, pumping one skill and maybe picking up some side skills along the way. Once you hit level 18 or so, you unlock the next tier of attack spells, so you then, naturally, pump that skill and replace your original skill. That’s the depth. Dump points into one skill, then spam that skill until you win. It’s mindless.
Like I said though, it’s also restrictive and lacks freedom. You can only respec your character once per playthrough, with your first respec coming in during Act 1. If you burn it here, you can’t do it again without making a new character or grinding through the entire game. There is also no way of telling if a skill is good, and taking the risk of trying it out is punished due to how restrictive the system is. Skills are underwhelming, to begin with, such as the Barbarian’s Leap. You need to invest a fair chunk of points to get it working decently, but you’d never know it was useless at level 1 unless you wasted your time putting a point into it.
There’s a reason Frost Orb Sorceress’s and Bone Spear Necromancers work so well – it’s because all they do is cast one spell. Little divergence, little thought. The joy of leveling up is taken down a back alley and shanked. What fanfare can be gleaned from a 10% increase in your one skill’s damage?
More Vapid Nonsense
This fake depth seeps into the Attribute system too. You get 5 attribute points on level up, and boy howdy, I do love wasting time putting points into skills for imperceivable increases in performance. You’d think each character would have this intricate weave of stat investments, dipping into Intelligence, Strength, and Dexterity in interesting ways to maximize their effectiveness. You’d be wrong. You put points into strength to hold a big weapon, you barely touch dexterity, your Mana increases naturally so investing in that stat is pointless, so once you’ve got your strength high enough to equip the best kit per act, you pump it all into Vitality. You just throw point after point into health, and that’s it. Again, no depth, just mindless repetition of the same actions on every ding.
I’ve already touched on this, but when your leveling system revolves around one skill, that kills the combat. Diablo 2 falls deeper into the well of tedium, however, thanks to bad level design and repetitive enemy designs. Each Act is visually different from the next, but every Act suffers from the same basic issues. Firstly, the levels are flat, expansive and there is next to nothing to find of interest. You might find a shrine, or a chest that grants loot, or a small buff. If you’re lucky, you might find a procedurally generated dungeon. It’s mostly an empty void, however.
Enemies are repeated Ad nauseam, with almost immediate reskins of the same enemy used over and over again. Why kill something interesting, when you can kill your 5th reskin of a goat person? Enemies are also mechanically boring. You have your archer dudes, wizard guys, hordes of little guys who are programmed to run away based on player actions, and usually one or two big dudes to distract you. Elite enemies exist, and these spruce things up, but these are, again, just a reskin and they act no different from anything else, and their Elite bonus effect is more often than not, totally irrelevant.
Even The Loot Is “Meh”
Leveling up is boring, combat is lackluster on multiple levels, but what about loot? Mostly throwaway nonsense. As is to be expected, most loot is useless in Diablo 2, which is fine. What isn’t fine is how underwhelming the actual good loot is. Especially early on. You could get a magical helmet that applies percentage increases to a bunch of things. Percentage increases to anything are not interesting. It felt like I was just ticking boxes. “I must put my points here, my attributes here, and if I nab just a 10% increase in poison resistance, man, this build is going to pop off”. Sets exist, and these are exciting to find, admittedly, but the drop chance is so low, that I found less than a handful of these drops across my playthrough.
The worst part about the loot system is the inventory system that ties into it. In Diablo 2 you have a shockingly small inventory, and if you want to hold more than a few items, you’re going to struggle. The game also doesn’t stack most of its consumables, so if you want to have a bunch of potions on hand, well you won’t have space for loot. This means constant trips back to town to sell or store the kit you’ve just found.
Speaking of potions, this is a just dated design and makes the difficulty laughable. Enemies hit hard in Diablo and skills can cost a hefty chunk of mana. To counteract this you can just drink a pint that has a 0-second cooldown and recover whatever resource you need topping up. There is no punishment for chugging potion after potion, so having a lot of them is a natural conclusion. They are also common drops, meaning you’ll run out. At best, this is micromanagement that could be considered a mechanic on a good day. At worst, it’s a means to cover up a lack of combat depth.
The argument can be made the Diablo 2’s depth comes in the harder difficulties, such as Nightmare. To an extent, this is true. The issue here, however, is that in order to unlock Nightmare, you need to complete the entirety of Diablo 2 – twice. If I have to play 20+ hours of a bad game to unlock a good game, then that game is badly designed.
There Are Some Good Points…Somewhere
Other dated mechanics exist, such as a stamina bar that feels terribly out of place and serves as nothing but a means to pad the game out by forcing you to periodically waddle for a bit. Identification Scrolls existing at all. Town Portal Scrolls, again, existing instead of being made a general skill. Little things that could, and should, have been tweaked to bring Diablo 2 up to modern standards.
But let’s veer off into the good again. Despite all of these niggles and gripes, Diablo 2 Resurrected can be a fun time. It can even be addictive. A lot of that comes from the multiplayer aspect of the game, which like with any game, covers up the blemishes. Now, I had a lot of trouble getting online to work, but I assume a patch is coming to fix that.
Speaking of bugs and patches, there are a bunch of reported bugs in Diablo 2 Resurrected, and I bumped into a fair number whilst playing on PS5. On more than one occasion my character got deleted between play sessions. That cut deep and having to replay the first three Acts three times, was far from pleasant.
Topping it all off are the controls, which are not good. On pad, there is no way to free-aim. This invalidates so many skills because the game will autotarget for you. Bone Wall is worthless if it defaults to casting behind enemies, and not where you want it to be. Even attacking and picking up loot is awkward because you can’t select anything manually. Mouse and keyboard fix this, although there have been reports of issues with that control scheme too. I haven’t been able to test it myself, but it’s worth mentioning both control methods are surprisingly flawed.
At Least The Story Holds Up
At least the story is good. Diablo 2’s plot is engaging, interesting, and has the occasional twist and turn. It feels like you are traveling through the aftermath of a great devastation in your quest to track down the Dark Wanderer – the protagonist from Diablo 1. The story is told through fully voice-acted text boxes and beautifully pre-rendered cutscenes. Blizzard was renowned for their mastery of this art back in the ’90s and Resurrected honors that memory here.
Finally, the sound design is fantastic. Voice acting is top-notch throughout. Sound effects are meaty and give a nice weight to all your actions. The use of ambient noises gives the game a horror edge that makes it feel very unique. This is enhanced further but the excellent music is hauntingly fantastic and sells that juicy gothic style the game is going for.
Diablo 2 Resurrected is a fantastic remake of Diablo 2, in the sense that it is Diablo 2 with prettier graphics. Outside of that, Diablo 2 feels dated at best, bland at worst. There are so many better games in the genre that outshine Diablo 2, and one of those games exists within its series. This is a nostalgia trip of the long-toothed foggies, and not much else. The bugs don’t exactly help either.
WAIT FOR SALE ON DIABLO 2: RESURRECTED
Many thanks goes to the wallet of the writer for a Nintendo Switch copy of this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.