It’s been twenty years since Diablo II took the action roleplaying genre by storm. Activision Blizzard set out to recapture the magic by completely remastering Diablo II with Diablo II: Resurrected. What Vicarious Visions has accomplished with the remaster is impressive. It recaptures the old feeling of slashing through Hell with your buddies while maintaining the nuances and rough edges of the original release. But are we seeing this game through a nostalgic haze, or is Diablo II indeed still one of the greatest games of our generation?
In cooperation with Blizzard Entertainment, Vicarious Visions remade Diablo II from the ground up. Gone is the old 2D style of 2001, which was beloved at the time but doesn’t age well. Diablo II: Resurrected features a fully 3D world with familiar sounds but new animations and character models. Vicarious Visions—previously known for its Crash Bandicoot remasters—has given Diablo II the love it deserves with Resurrected. The game has gotten a fresh look while retaining what made it so special in the first place. For better and for worse, the gameplay systems, inventory management, and complex character building are all the same as they were in 2001. More quality-of-life changes would have helped elevate the experience for a new audience. Systems like updated potion management and an improved multiplayer interface with inspecting characters would have done much to boost quality. To be sure, there are some quality-of-life changes; the addition of auto gold pick up removes a lot of the looting monotony, for example.
Original Diablo II (2000)
But as with any remaster, game makers must be careful to avoid alienating existing fans as they lure new ones. This is especially true of the Diablo franchise. Many fans who have been religiously playing Diablo II for the last twenty years feel that Diablo III leaves a lot to be desired. There is a line that Vicarious Visions and Blizzard have to toe with this remaster, and I believe they succeeded. It’s a testament to the quality of Diablo II that most of the gameplay holds up in 2021 (while also, incidentally, making its sequel Diablo III seem even worse). One of the best features added to Diablo II: Resurrected is its ability to jump between the current 3D remastered version and the old-school, 2001 Diablo II version. The weird thing about nostalgia over video games is that you seem to recall a game in its best possible form. As I played Diablo II: Resurrected, I was thinking that, minor updates aside, it looks exactly as it did back in 2001. Couldn’t have been more wrong. Pressing G on the PC version switches you to the original game as it was in 2001. The facilitated comparison makes super-clear how genuinely impressive are the updates, which maintain the tone of the original game perfectly. (By contrast, Diablo III is way too cartoony and bright, eliminating the despair and horror of the two earlier versions.)
Early in the game, I found myself thinking that it was a bit clunky and was showing its age. But this feeling soon dissipated. The first part of the game does feel a bit barren. But once your build starts coming together around levels 10 to 12, the class identity and gameplay pop.
Diablo II: Resurrected has seven unique classes, all with their own builds, gameplay styles, and strengths and weaknesses. I played through the main story with multiple characters to get a feel for each gameplay style and eventually chose one to move into Nightmare and Hell difficulties. Diablo II is an exceptionally punishing game, and, like many games in the genre, it requires outside reading if one is to understand the systems fully. This requirement may deter some players, but, for my part, I love the fact that I have to plan my builds only after hours of external research. Even without planning your character build, you can get through normal difficulty pretty easily. But you will run into walls in Nightmare and Hell difficulties. Sure, you can forge your unique build, but you will need a complete understanding of the class builds before doing this. Each class build strives within different aspects of the game. Some classes will clear hordes of mobs in seconds; others will focus on boss runs and farming Uber bosses in Hell.
If you’re finding the game clunky or unfun, I recommend trying another class or even another build. The importance of planning the builds becomes clear in higher difficulties, and you have only one respec per difficulty. This makes the build system seem overly punishing. But it rewards planning, and in the end game you’ll be able to farm bosses for respec tokens.
Diablo II: Resurrected comes alive in the endgame. Endgame begins at level 40 with Nightmare difficulty. Nightmare difficulty increases enemy damage while decreasing your resistance by 40 percent. This resistance debuff jumps to 100 percent for Hell difficulty. Resistance is a massive part of the core game mechanics of Diablo II; gearing your characters revolves around capping resistances. Once you’ve capped the resistance, you can focus on stats like damage and attack speed; but if you can’t survive a barrage of lightning, that damage won’t do anything. Nightmare is where Diablo II come alive. Endgame in these difficulties requires you to find bosses or areas you like to farm and to do these continuously until you get the drops you want.
Diablo II: Resurrected is a loot-chasing dungeon crawler, and like many games in the genre, it relies heavily on repeatable content. If you don’t want to grind out the best sets and repeat the content on higher difficulties, you may as well pass on Diablo II. I would not recommend the game solely for the story and normal difficulty; many of the classes do not come alive or even have unique builds until later difficulties and levels. For example, the Paladin has several viable endgame builds, like a hammer-swinging holy crusader, an evil-smiting paladin, and even a Dreamlike lightning-wielding warrior. But these builds do not become entirely conceivable until somewhere around level 50, and it’s fairly cookie-cutter until then.
After 150 hours with Diablo II: Resurrected, I am still thinking about gear and builds. I can’t wait to start the ladder season in a few weeks, and it seems as if Diablo II will be making its way back into my regular rotation.
Diablo II: Resurrected is not for the faint of heart. It is a punishing experience that rewards planning and executing your perfect builds. It is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Vicarious Visions and Blizzard Entertainment have achieved something remarkable. They understood the best aspects of Diablo II and made this twenty-year-old game feel fresh and rewarding in a way few modern games do. If you’re in the market for a hardcore loot-hunting ARPG, Diablo II: Resurrected is for you.