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Diablo 2: Resurrected technical alpha impressions: Play awhile—it glistens

Blizzard is resurrecting one of the most famous games. Does the technical alpha bode well for the full release?

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More than ten years separated the release dates between Blizzard’s Diablo 2 and Diablo 3. The run-up until the release of the third game in the series was met with surprising backlash over things like scene coloring and a shift away from the classic skill tree progression. If it were up to the loudest voices in the community, Blizzard would have been better off re-releasing Diablo 2 with a fresh coat of paint. Now a decade after the launch of Diablo 3, Blizzard is giving its community exactly what it asked for in the form of Diablo 2: Resurrected.

You can’t go home again

The elevator pitch for Diablo 2: Resurrected is as simple as it gets. Diablo 2—now with fancier graphics and alterations made to fit 2021 gaming standards. What we get is pretty much exactly that. The first time you re-enter the rogue camp in Resurrected, everything feels just like you remember. The NPCs are where they should be, the firepit at the center of the camp cracks in the evening wind, and the wonderful tones of the classic soundtrack seep out of your headphones.

The thing is, this may be how you remember everything looking, but you’d be wrong. The team at Blizzard responsible for this project included a quick toggle that gives a glimpse of the man behind the curtain. Diablo 2, in all its 640x480 (or 800x600 if you had Lord of Destruction installed) glory. This new version runs over the top of the original code in a near 1:1 fashion. The revamped art and objects look so much better than the original but remain true to the original feel. Proper widescreen support without the use of clunky mods is also a reason for applause.

Having the new edition running directly on top of the original allows the experience to feel exactly like it does in your mind’s eye. However, your mind may have forgotten how far the series moved forward with Diablo 3 once you cruise around the Blood Moor and Inner Cloister on your way into Lut Gholein. Player movement feels exactly the same, hitboxes remain as clunky as it was in 1999, and other quality of life improvements we gained over the last twenty years aren’t going to be found here. 

Diablo 3’s skill system replaced the skill tree from the first two Diablo games with much controversy. It tackled one of the biggest issues the older games had where making any sort of change to your character required an entirely new character. The leap to 3D also allowed for a jump in animation quality that was light years ahead of Diablo 2 and the moment-to-moment gameplay really shined across a variety of builds that were tied to items rather than strict skill tree expansions. While Diablo 3 certainly had its own issues at launch, it became an outstanding representative of the loot-filled action RPG genre the franchise helped create.

Much of this is lost when going back to Diablo 2. Working through the first two acts in the technical alpha gave me warm nostalgic feelings while at the same time reminding me that time had erased some legitimate gripes with Diablo 2’s design. Resurrected offers many more frames of animation for character and NPC movement, giving an illusion of smoothness that is appreciated, but it has zero effect on how it feels to play. Unlike the original, Resurrected lets the player re-spec their skills and attributes. I saw the option when I spoke with Akara at the Act 1 Rogue Camp and presume it will be available in all camps. This certainly fixes one of the biggest shortcomings of Diablo 2, but not entirely. 

The power of nostalgia

As it was limited to only two Acts and lacked multiplayer functionality, it is hard to say for sure how much one can infer about the quality of the final release of Resurrected from the technical alpha test. There is time for further improvement, but the game has still been sitting around for twenty years. Diablo 2 is what it is. The world will get their chance to stroll back through the five Acts later this year when Diablo 2: Resurrected is finally released.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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