Playing Diablo 2: Resurrection has given me a newfound appreciation of Diablo 3, not that I wasn’t a fan of it already anyway.
Those quality of life features that avid Diablo 2 players guffawed at when they were announced all those years ago – it turns out they do indeed lead to an experience with more forward momentum. Less time buying potions in towns and walking rather then running to conserve valuable stamina means more time killing the hordes of hell and collecting their valuable loot, which is surely the highlight of the series. But yet it’s still hard not to be impressed with Diablo 2: Resurrected, and be utterly consumed by it once it has you in its grasp. Ultimately it’s not better or worse than Diablo 3 – it’s just very different.
Now over 20 years old, there’s a reason why Diablo 2 is still popular with players today. It remains one of the best action RPGs around, with cavernous depth. And so in setting about remastering it for modern-day consoles and PC, Vicarious Visions has chosen to do little with it other than vastly improve its visuals. While the original Diablo 2 runs underneath, astoundingly detailed 3D assets are displayed on top, bringing its world and characters to life like never before. And if you’re playing on a console or PC that supports it, there’s even a 60fps options to make the gameplay absolutely shine.
Of course, a generous new coating of paint can’t smooth over some of Diablo 2‘s now more obviously clunky aspects, such as its poor pathfinding, but you soon learn to accommodate for them. Having to move things around in my inventory to fit more items in, for example, seemed like a chore after the changes made to the inventory system for the console version of Diablo 3, but after learning the shortcuts and getting into the swing of things again, it’s actually not all that cumbersome. And while having to acquire potions to fill your belt now seems like busywork, it also makes you more appreciative of their value.
And there are areas where Diablo 2 is still unapparelled in the genre, especially in its new Resurrected format, such as its ability to create such a thick atmosphere. Each of the game’s five acts presents a whole new environment, and there’s plenty of variety to be found even within them, but there’s one thing you can always be sure of – that they’ll be packed with stunning detail. Not every area is quite so dark, but they’re all foreboding, and with a multitude of monsters to encounter, there’s always an element of dread. The Diablo games are undeniably power fantasies, throwing hordes of monsters your way that, with the right combination of gear and skills, you can dispatch with ease. But in Diablo 2 you know that death could quite easily just be around the next corner as well. And unlike in Diablo 3, there are actually penalties for meeting your demise.
Complementing the foreboding visuals is stunning soundtrack that perfectly accentuates the gameplay. When you’re in a town a soothing yet somehow still haunting jingle will play out, letting you know that you’re safe, for the moment, but more of hell’s minions are to be faced. Then, out in the hostile world, there’s a wonderful mix of more ambience-driven tracks and some with melodies that just will not leave your head. Diablo 2 has not aged one bit in the audio department – it was outstanding then and it still is now.
Thankfully, it’s the gameplay of Diablo 2: Resurrected that still remains the biggest draw. The never-ending cycle of killing monsters, returning to town, optimising your gear and then heading out to kill more monsters again still remains mightily strong here, even though it lacks some of the brilliant end-game offerings of Diablo 3. It’s perhaps because Diablo 2: Resurrected feels more challenging from the get-go, and never really lets up as you then move onto its Nightmare and Hell difficulties. Playing on console, you can’t do the nifty trick of manually setting the player count higher like you can on PC either, allowing you to boost your character’s level in the early stages of the game.
With the Lord of Destruction expansion included, players have access to seven character classes, each wildly different from one another. Whether you choose the melee-focused Barbarian, the magic-wielding Sorceress, or even the Paladin with his team-bolstering auras, you’ll find a range of skills available that make your experience unique, even amongst characters of the same class. The loot and character development system here means there are many more endgame build possibilities than in Diablo 3, where it’s a case of just getting one of numerous class sets, pumping points into your primary stat and complementing them with select unique items.
Some will perhaps rue that more quality-of-life features haven’t been introduced via Diablo 2: Resurrected – you’re still limited to just three character respecs, for example – but there are just enough to lend a helping hand while not breaking the game’s uncompromising nature. The biggest is the increased shared stash, allowing players to set aside three times the number of items they previously could for other characters. You might start the game with no intentions of playing as a Necromancer, but when you find a class unique helm that has phenomenal stats, you’ll probably feel the urge to do so just to try it out. The increased shared stash works like that, nudging you to try other classes and builds thanks to the interesting loot you’ve acquired and then squirreled away.
There are some aspects of Diablo 2: Resurrected that will be truly off-putting for some players, however. For a start, the characters you’ve created need to be defined as either online or offline, and the game’s strict with it – they can’t be mixed. The progress of your online characters is stored on Blizzard’s servers rather than locally, which means you can’t play as them when you don’t have an internet connection. Offline characters, on the other hand, with their progress stored locally, can be used at any time, but can’t engage in any multiplayer activity whatsoever – Diablo 2: Resurrected doesn’t even have local co-op, unfortunately. For those who have spent hundreds of hours playing Diablo 3 with friends or family members sat by their side, it’ll be a crushing blow.
Never would I have believed that in the year 2021 I’d be sat playing Diablo 2 on a console. And thanks to Diablo 2: Resurrected, with its wonderfully mapped controls and stunning visuals, it doesn’t have to be an eyesore or an ordeal. Some will instantly be put off by the lack of local co-op, but for those happy to play on their own or with others online, Diablo 2: Resurrected remains one of the best action RPGs of all time. It may be a bit clunkier than I remember it to be, but not offputtingly so, and once you’ve taken your first steps and started developing your character of choice, it’s hard to not be totally consumed by the game’s dark world and all that it offers. Diablo 2 is back, and until Diablo 4 emerges from the bowels of hell, it’ll do just nicely. Though I’ll probably be playing it beyond that, too.
Diablo 2: Resurrected Review – GameSpew’s Score