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We’ve reached a point where if any given game of notoriety has not yet been given the remaster or remake treatment, it’s probably on some publisher’s shortlist of things to show off at next year’s E3 event. Naturally, the brightest stars of gaming’s past are ripe for the picking, so Blizzard's Diablo 2 becomes the next classic game to live again in a new era. Like most other remasters or remakes, it can be difficult to understand exactly what kind of treatment a game like this will receive, be it a simple patching, graphical overhaul, or complete restoration. Diablo 2: Resurrected falls into a hybrid category. It is largely the exact same game as it was twenty years ago, with a fresh coating of 4K art assets and re-rendered CG cutscenes. While there are some random quality of life changes in this package, if you were expecting anything other than shiny Diablo 2, with its warts and all, you may wind up feeling disappointed.
Trailing the Wanderer is as compelling as ever
In the original Diablo, players took control of the Wanderer, a man who happened upon the small village of Tristram. Tristram was home to an old monastery. This facility was built atop a massive underground network of catacombs that were infested with all the worst denizens the demons of hell could conjure. The Wanderer entered the monastery and worked his way through the demons and undead until a confrontation with Diablo, one of the Lords of Hell.
Diablo had been imprisoned inside a soulstone as part of an everlasting battle between heaven and hell. A corrupted bishop had destroyed the soulstone restraints that prevent Diablo from running amok. By the end of the events of the first game, the Wanderer had toppled the great demon, returning the beast to its soulstone prison. The Wanderer then shoved the soulstone into his own forehead, hoping to contain the ancient evil himself.
Diablo 2 jumps into the story as the stone begins corrupting the Wanderer. He loses control of himself and begins moving across the lands in an effort to unleash the other Prime Evils, Baal and Mephisto, from their heavenly imprisonment. Players assume the role of one of the seven available classes as they attempt to intercept the corrupted Wanderer and prevent the return of hell on earth.
Even more than twenty years after its original release, the story, characters, and narrative progression from Diablo 2 are still top-notch. When the first Diablo hit shelves, it brought along a presentation and vibe that was second to none. Gamers flocked to its dark gothic aesthetic, bleak tone, and gripping soundtrack. For the sequel, everything got amped up and, despite the passage of time, Diablo 2 can still lay on the vibe. There were lots of loud detractors when Diablo 3 finally came around in 2012, and while many of their gripes proved to be unfounded, the drop in narrative quality, as well as its watered-down vibe, deserved the criticism.
In Diablo 2: Resurrected, Blizzard has chosen to give you Diablo 2, and nearly nothing but Diablo 2. This works both for and against this remaster. From the moment you log in, everything feels just like Diablo 2. The menu system, UI layouts, the sounds — this is the dream scenario for purists. Much has been written about the visual overhaul that comes along with this package. The development team at Blizzard, headed by Rod Fergusson, former head honcho over at The Coalition, has come up with all-new art and assets for the game that help it pass for a modern title while losing none of the charms that won over hearts in 2000.
Where the original game was a 2D affair (with the ability to offer 3D accelerated colored lighting if you owned a 3Dfx graphics card), Diablo 2: Resurrected is rendered in 3D and scales all the way up to 4K resolution. Portals now glow brighter, washing their immediate surroundings or any players in intoxicating blue and red hues. Swapping armors is more rewarding than before as the increase in resolution allows all the art for gear to be seen like never before. Character and demon art is strong, as are all the new animations for attacks, running, spells, and whatever else you could think of.
Oddly enough, the one thing that didn’t get a remaster might be the thing I love the most about this package. Everyone already knows how great Matt Uelmen’s Diablo soundtrack is. Uelman returned for Diablo 2 and delivered an absolute masterclass in video game scoring. Every single note of every composition is as good as it gets for a video game (and even most movies). I knew going into this review that I would like the music, but it still manages to hit me like a pile of bricks. Yeah, this is the 4800th time I’ve broken through to the Inner Cloister, but the music still sounds as wonderful as the first time.
As crisp as it all looks and as great as it still sounds, Diablo 2: Remastered is ultimately a mirage. Rather than being rebuilt from the ground up, the new graphical presentation just sits atop the legacy code for the game. For those who haven’t played Diablo 2 in a long time (or never did), you may have forgotten that the game only operates near a cap of 25fps and this applies to all facets of gameplay, including animations, breakpoints, and more. On PC, players can simply tap the ‘G’ key to swap between the original graphics and the remaster. Despite how good the remaster appears to be operating, it still follows all the rules of the twenty-year-old game code.
While I do appreciate that Blizzard had a goal of reviving Diablo 2 for modern audiences without trying to alienate established fans, the package here feels a bit underwhelming. Lots of progress has been made in the genre over the last two decades and even Diablo 3, for all its issues, moved the design of these types of games in a positive direction. While Blizzard does offer a few scant quality of life changes that returning players will appreciate (particularly the new shared stash, 8-player limit, and moving runewords away from the Ladder), you should know ahead of time that you will be paying top dollar for Diablo 2 all over again.
Yes, there are now more ways to potentially respec a character, but this new system is still frustratingly limited versus the Diablo 3 approach to builds and skills. For those who want to play the game beyond a super casual jaunt through the normal story, you will still be stuck doing endless Baal or Uber Boss runs. Depending on which classes you take into battle, many encounters in Diablo 2 will come down to attrition by health potion. You'll also be just as befuddled at why your sword won’t make contact with a Steel Scarab despite the fact that you swung at it 28 times. When the sword finally connects and the Scarab emits lighting down a narrow hall that you can’t move in and kills you because you ran low on potions, you will still pound your desk in frustration as you did two decades ago. The less said about the stamina system, the better. While these mechanics were borderline acceptable in 2000, mindless pounding your head against a wall to clear content did not grow more compelling in the years since.
Blizzard has paid lip service to expanding the scope of this product post-launch, but we can really only judge Diablo 2: Resurrection based on how it ships. Even for massive Diablo 2 fans like myself (I’ve put an estimated 3000 hours into the game over the years), this feels like a missed opportunity to improve the game and keep it relevant for twenty more years to come. Offering a remix of game assets to provide gameplay diversity such as Diablo 3 did with its adventure mode would be a godsend. Now that Diablo 2 is on multiple platforms with this upgrade, crossplay would have been a feature that made a lot of sense. Even some of the ‘helpful’ changes have proven frustrating. Most of the game is now heavily internet-connected (unless you opt for an offline-only character) and I lost progress several times because my online and offline characters had the same name. Ultrawide monitor owners should note that Diablo 2: Resurrected does not offer support for resolutions beyond the 16x9 aspect ratio.
For when I dreamt, the memories would return
As a big Diablo 2 fan, Resurrected has let me down in many ways. What little changes have been made to the original formula are welcome, but feel like leftover bread crumbs from a larger pie that could have been. Diablo 2 was in a bit of a weird place in that it was not hard at all to access and play the original game, even on modern PC hardware. This new release does make the game available to console audiences, which is an awesome change, but the lack of crossplay really hurts here. Resurrected could end up becoming a much better value down the road as the development team begins introducing updates and upgrades, but as of right now, you should avoid this package unless you are happy with straight-up Diablo 2. That being said, there are many reasons to be thrilled to revisit the game, particularly for the timeless soundtrack and to get a glance at the spiffy new paint job. Just make sure to set your expectations accordingly. 7/10 Steel Carapace Shadow Plates
This review is based on the PC Battle.net release. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. Diablo 2: Resurrected is now available for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch.
Diablo 2 Resurrected
- Matt Uelmen soundtrack
- Revamped 4K art assets and re-rendered cutscenes
- A few quality of life improvements
- Extremely dated underlying game tech/mechanics
- No crossplay
- Missed opportunity for more improvements
Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Diablo 2: Resurrected review - Timeless and dated
You can't say both of those words at the same time.
Tough but fair. Good review, Chris.
Good review, and I enjoyed the recap of the events of Diablo 1. I’m a bit more lenient in what they’ve delivered - it’s good value for the price, though I wish movement a bit faster.
Reading the review, I was left with the impression that you’d prefer D2 graphics , story, and music in the D3 engine.