As a ’90s kid who saw Warcraft as the Dungeons & Dragons of videogames, I found Blizzard Entertainment’s legendary PC catalog a little too nerdy for my Nintendo-obsessed preteen tastes. It wasn’t until I fell deep into World of Warcraft that I began to crave the old-school PC experiences I’d stubbornly shooed away in my youth, but the moody pixel graphics of Diablo II couldn’t capture my heart.
After a few hours with the Diablo II: Resurrected technical alpha, I went in expecting to fall in love with its gritty 3D visuals. Instead, I’m left thinking a new lick of paint isn’t enough to make it stick. It looks fine — it’s just not particularly fun right now.
Diablo II: Resurrected attempts to fulfil two goals: Enticing a new generation to experience a classic by reworking aging visuals and ensuring veterans can continue to play the game they love easily across modern hardware. Butchered cinematics and the forced erasure of the original 32-bit client killed any hope of Warcraft III: Reforged being the start of a worthwhile effort to preserve Blizzard’s storied past, and refreshing the original sprite graphics of Diablo II is a far grander yet more delicate project. But by running the old 4:3 version beneath the remaster for seamless switching, Blizzard is playing things safe.
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A blast from the past
After watching a widescreen opening cinematic that certainly hasn’t seen the fat end of the remake paintbrush just yet, you’re dropped straight into the displaced Rogue Encampment. With a tiny bit of subtext from nearby NPCs, you’re sent on your way to explore the sprawling wilderness, smashing your way through a good hundred or so enemies before you’re able to explore without limits. Unless you happen to accidentally slap the H key on your keyboard to bring up the UI explainer, it’s a trial-by-fire approach that’s sure to bewilder a generation brought up on hour-long tutorials disguised as intros. And with death punished by the loss of your equipment and gold, curiosity is sure to get the better of you sooner or later.
After putting hundreds of hours into Diablo III across several platforms since launch, I thought I’d find immediate value in a revitalized version of its predecessor. Their visual styles are obviously very similar, but their approach to blasting down demons is anything but. Though it starts off relatively slow, Diablo III quickly delivers the endorphins by giving you the means to chop through hordes of the undead like a lawnmower on the first cut of the year.
Diablo II, on the other hand, wastes no time in having demons swarm you from every inch of the wilderness, yet it holds back the tools to satisfyingly take them on until very late in your adventure. For a Barbarian, at least, you’re left to slowly swat individual enemies like flies across the game’s gargantuan labyrinth of a landscape or form a relationship with the Shift key, burning through any sliver of stamina to sprint to the next zone.
It’s far more of an RPG than its successor, that’s for sure. Old-school stat points and skill trees dictate how you’ll take on the damned, and with randomized loot being a major part of the experience, figuring out how to spend your hard-earned points is never an easy decision — something that always felt far more free and fluid in the most recent iteration of Blizzard’s iconic franchise.
Questing takes a different approach, too. Rather than burning through a relatively linear story just to teleport you around the world to farm equipment materials over and over, Diablo II: Resurrected retains its proper quest log. The lack of a large map screen and markers means you spend more time traipsing through infuriatingly similar plains and caves searching for your objective than you do earning the loot that drives these kinds of experiences.
For the first few hours, I genuinely had more fun flicking between the old and new visual styles, appreciating the warm glow of fireballs hurtling toward Hugh Grant’s face. That’s the character name I settled on: Hugh Grant. He eventually died after kicking an explosive barrel in the hopes of striking it rich.
Oddly enough, it’s loot that actually feels like the worst aspect of this once timeless classic in the face of newer titles. You need to burn through relatively uncommon consumables to reveal the stats of any potentially half-decent piece of equipment you find on your travels. From roaming the near-endless battlefields to searching for the extra goods you need to inflict disappointment on yourself, Diablo II: Resurrected is nothing but a reminder of the conveniences similar games have wisely implemented in recent years. The artificial grind of MMOs and service games lives to remind us of the times when we had more time than money.
With so many free or otherwise readily available titles making up our backlogs, Blizzard’s second attempt to reintroduce a relic of the past might only help us appreciate the games we play today that little bit more.
From both a technical and historical standpoint, the existence of Diablo II: Resurrected is a dream come true. The extensive visual improvements and the easy shift back to the charming (but unavoidably choppy) sprite graphics will go a long way toward encouraging millions of gamers to experience a piece of videogame antiquity before it’s otherwise lost to time. With Blizzard receiving flack for spoiling the core experience of Warcraft III with its rushed remaster, the decision to keep character progression and certain systems of Diablo II stuck in the past is the right call for game preservation.
The game’s drab and generic environments and comparatively slow and restrictive combat, however, may struggle to keep the attention of today’s gamers long enough to have its legacy be fully understood and its teachings rightfully respected. Making use of class roles by adventuring with a full party is a big part of the experience, but with technical alpha access hard to come by, it’s impossible to try right now.
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