Given that gaming is my primary hobby and one of the few things I’m always passionate to write about, few things serve to highlight the passage of time like the remaster of a game I played in my youth. It’s been over 21 years since my high school friends and I would sit huddled in a small room, warmed by the constant hum of our underwhelming Celeron PCs, LANing Diablo II for hours at a time. I still have fond memories of my utterly useless Necromancer build, which simply served as a short-lived distraction as we tackled Hell difficulty.
Fast forward two decades and an adult lifetime of dubious choices, and the opening cutscene of the Diablo 2: Resurrected Beta sent a shiver down my spine. I immediately jumped on to YouTube to watch the original version and was amazed at how impressive Blizzard’s early CG work was. That scene-for-scene remake also served as a herald of things to come.
I split my time between the PC and Xbox Series S version of Diablo 2: Resurrected (if you link your account, there’s support for cross-progression) and both platforms impressed me. Aside from the PC-specific visual settings and the console-specific “quality” vs. “performance” modes, there’s a raft of customisation options on all platforms. You can tailor the gameplay experience (visual information and auto-loot options), configure your preferred input (gamepad support is available on PC now), and there are dedicated options for the Legacy Mode (including native rendering resolutions of 640×480 or 800×600!).
After exploring the customisation options and picking from one of three characters – I chose the Amazon – it was time to get going. It was a surreal experience to wander around the Rogue Encampment all these years later. Instantly familiar yet intricately detailed, Diablo 2: Resurrected is a remaster that wants to present the game you remember, not present some radical audio-visual overhaul. You can switch between the remastered visuals and Legacy Mode at any time. However, I’d only play this as a short-lived curiosity to highlight what visual remastering was done. Stick with it for long enough and your eyes will start bleeding, while the cropped 4:3 borders don’t inhibit enemy targeting or stop info-bars popping up on the screen.
When it comes to gameplay, on PC or console, I was impressed with the gamepad support but settled on mouse-and-keyboard for the bulk of my playtime (this should be available on console too at launch). You see, Diablo 2: Resurrected is primarily a visual remaster built on the back of the original code. There are stats to consider, no dodge rolls, dice rolls to determine if you hit and for how much damage, dice rolls to determine if you block or evade, and no real connection between the animations and damage dealt. It presents a disconnect that wasn’t present in the action-oriented Diablo 3 (online network issues aside). This is less obvious for mouse and keyboard players but feels off-putting when playing with a gamepad that offers direct character control.
Otherwise, it’s Diablo 2 again, for better and worse. Mice will perish, keyboards will have their key-stroke guarantees tested, gamepad buttons will take a pounding, but you’ll find several quality-of-life gameplay improvements in addition to the audio-visual remastering. Using the gamepad, your character moves with the left analogue stick, while targeting is automatic and seems to have a simple priority system (useful as a ranged attacker). Sure, menu-ing and inventory management is less efficient with an emulated mouse cursor, but it works considerably better than my many failed attempts with key-to-gamepad apps in the past
As a fan of the original and someone with strong nostalgic hooks, I quickly lost track of time clearing out the moors, graveyards, and monasteries of the first act. Slaying hordes of Fallen, the undead, and corrupted Rogues; using shrine buffs to clear areas quickly; looting everything I could and hoping for an armour piece that buffed my preferred skills; and discovering stamina meters were always a rubbish idea.
As far as those gameplay QoL changes go, you’re looking at features like automatic gold looting, higher items stacks (a godsend for ranged character), and a shared stash between characters. Maybe it’s just the beta or the default difficulty on offer, but it felt like the random maps were less convoluted in layout, and less likely to put the entrances to key locations in far-flung corners that required trawling the entire map to find.
The dark visuals and grim, blood-soaked atmosphere are intact, as is the remastered, wonderfully moody, and understated soundtrack – now with surround sound support – that only comes to the fore during boss battles. The world looks detailed and sharp, though on the consoles you’ll need to select the softer-looking performance mode to play at 60 fps. Aside from the resolution and frame rate trade-off, overall visual quality remains consistent. Given this is designed to run on last-generation consoles as well, lower-spec PC owners can rest easy knowing Diablo 2: Resurrected looks to be well-optimised and scalable.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in the open beta, and I think fans of the original are well catered for. However, I worry that gamers who were first introduced to the IP with Diablo 3 – especially console players – will pick this up thinking it’s Diablo 2 rebuilt in that engine.
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