Diablo II: Resurrected Review

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I am the resurrection…

I’m going to start this review with a confession – until this Resurrected edition I had never played Diablo II. Shocking, I know. The thing is, I thought I had – I thought I’d picked up the game on its initial PC release, something that I even mentioned in my Switch review of Diablo III back in 2018, but very quickly into my XBox play through of Vicarious Visions snazzy new remake I truly had one of those Gandalf “I have no memory of this place…” moments, something that very quickly scuppered me – but we’ll come to that later.

Let’s start with a recap. For those not in the know, Blizzard’s Diablo games are arguably the granddaddy of the modern ARPG, all isometric viewpoints, grim dark dungeons and tons of loot. You choose your character from a selection of archetypes; in Diablo II this ranges from the tanky Barbarian and Paladin, to the all rounder Amazon and weirdo magic users the Necromancer and Sorceress. The original PC release’s expansion pack, Lord of Destruction also added the Assassin and Druid classes – as this is spun into the game here, those classes are all present and correct. With your newly minted character you spawn into an encampment near the recently destroyed village of Tristram (see the first game in the series) where you’ll chat to some NPCs, grab a quest and set off into the wide world to slay monsters and restore peace to the land across a 5 Act story.

Vicarious Visions, fresh off their success with Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1+2 last year, have done a fantastic job in semi-modernising this PC classic. The widescreen presentation and newly minted 3D visuals look great, especially in 4K (although there’s sadly no support for HDR) and the Series X and PS5 versions come complete with the option to shun resolution in favour of a crispy smooth 60FPS performance mode. The new lighting complements these crisp visuals, with torches and spells casting shifting shadows across the scenery, adding no end of atmosphere to the game world. The controls on the console versions are also very tight, eschewing the PC’s function key and mouse based input for a more elegant system of mapping your characters abilities to the controllers buttons, similar to the console editions of Diablo III – and that’s great, because it’s these abilities that make the gameplay loop tick.

As you batter your way through hordes of undead beasties and demons your character will level up, allowing you to tweak their key stats and purchase new abilities to use. These could be anything from fireballs, shields or the ability to heal on the fly, a swift shield bash to stun enemies or even the ability to summon your own skeletons to do your dark bidding (hello Necromancer, you cheeky lad!). Having these skills quickly available at the press of the button, in addition to the more fluid control stick driven movement, makes the console controls of Diablo II far more accessible and easy to get to grips with – which is critical, really, as this game is remorselessly old school.

Diablo II is fairly uncompromising in its difficulty and in its stubbornness to hold players hands. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for this! I grew up playing games like Knight Lore on the ZX Spectrum and class Dark Souls as one of my all time favourite games, so figuring out how to keep getting quests and explore the world in Diablo II was fine for me. You won’t find any waypoint markers here in the games randomly generated maps; instead you’re thrust out into the world on your quests and made to explore; sure, there’s a dirt road through many of the overworld areas which will guide you to key points of interest, and a handy mini map which you can position in either of the top corners or (handily) as a full screen overlay, but the randomisation means that even if you don’t plan on straying too far from this beaten track you’re likely to wind up in the middle of a mob of enemies who’d like nothing better than to ram your own sword where the sun doesn’t shine. Die, and it’s a mad run back to your corpse, empty handed to get all your loot back – you’d best hope you found some fast travel points on your journey! Add to this a limited inventory screen where you have to shuffle your items around a grid to make sure you can hold shiny new weapons, armour and gems and combat that requires the quick glugging of copious mana and health potions to survive the kicking you get, and you have a game that does not hold back.

One of the cooler visual features, though, is the ability to, at the tap of a button, strip all the modern shine off Diablo 2 Resurrected and turn it back into that old 2D PC release from over 20 years ago. Incredibly there’s even settings to tweak the resolution and other visual effects of this version of the game, lending it the feeling of an emulator, with the new visuals being a shader running over the top. I guess this is essentially what Resurrected is, with a few welcome quality of life changes such as auto pick up for gold, shared stashes so that you can give unwanted gear to your other characters, and remade cutscenes. One of the more interesting additions is that of cross-play, allowing you to bring progress with your characters across platforms – including, for PC owners, the ability to bring in their old characters from the original Diablo II. It’s this last point that brings home how much this remaster pays a great deal of service to existing fans; you better not come in cold because, hoo boy; are you going to be in for a rough time!

But there was one aspect that threw me for a loop and brings us back to our opening paragraph – the game doesn’t do enough to explain to you how playing online differs from playing offline. When creating a character in Diablo II, as with Diablo III, you get an option to choose whether to play online or offline – you can’t share character stashes between the different modes so it’s important to decide which is going to be your approach to tackling the game. If you’re playing online then you can take part in multiplayer sessions, co-op and participate in seasonal events. Offline and you’re going to be looking at solo play with the bonus that you don’t need a persistent internet connection. But there’s more than that.

One of the key things that threw me and kept throwing me for a large chunk of my initial play through was how the world kept respawning every time I started a new session – sure, the overworld has distinct areas and you can fast travel around them if you find waypoints, but the fact that I was coming into new play sessions and finding my map wiped, having to retrace my progress in an unfamiliar land was frustrating. The reason for this? I’d picked an online character where each session takes place in a completely randomly generated world, akin to a new run in a Roguelike game. Had I chosen to go offline I’d have had a persistent (but still randomly generated) world that I could explore over the course of several play sessions, coming back to high level areas and gradually making progress rather than feeling rushed to find my way around again. Initially this mechanic seemed fun but it gradually got frustrating, even with those aforementioned directional paths. The world stops feeling like it’s “yours”, a place that you can put your own story on. Remember when I battled that named, high level Brute over there? He was a tough cookie, but boy was it satisfying when I finally downed him! Instead, loading up and finding yourself once again “doing a Gandalf” quickly gets tiring.

I think this sums up my main gripe with Diablo II Resurrected. It’s painfully stubborn, digging its heels in and not wanting to be anything more than its initial release with a bit of spit and polish. In some respects this is a great thing – the core gameplay loop is fantastically fun, wiping out waves of enemies, finding shiny new gear, upgrading your character and earning new abilities, all enhanced on the console editions by the tight controls and smooth frame rate. But on the flip side of that the game feels cold to anyone who doesn’t want to learn its mechanics by trial and error, almost mechanical in its focus on that gameplay loop. It’s interesting juxtaposing it with the later Diablo III and successors such as the Torchlight series; these are games with persistent over worlds, replete with lush visuals and undulating landscapes. In contrast, Diablo II has fairly dull, boring flat fields and plains which are formed of clearly squared off areas, feeling far more clinical in their execution. But in some ways this older game is more focussed, with less fussy loot, less complex abilities and, once you learn to read the land, clearer paths to your destination. It’s a hard sell for new players, though, especially those who have likely been introduced to the series through Diablo III and, given the pedigree on display here, that’s a real shame.

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Article Rating
7.5

A superb update of an ARPG classic that is unfortunately starting to show its age next to the new kids on the block, Diablo 2 Resurrected feels like it’s clearly aimed at those players who don’t want the fuss and muss of Diablo 3 or the Torchlight games and instead want a more focussed experience. While this certainly delivers that, it comes at the cost of being cold and uncaring to newer gamers who risk feeling like that kid that’s been invited to a party where they recognise people but don’t really know them and end up being a wallflower till they shuffle off back home by themselves. If you want a challenge, or are a fan of the game from its original release, then jump in with both feet - everyone else may feel more at home elsewhere.

Writes and produces films at independent outfit Shortorme Productions. Records music under the guise of Stage of History. Gamer since the days of the ZX Spectrum. Always on the lookout for something new and fresh.

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