Even after more than 20 years, this classic ARPG exudes an uncanny fascination. Now console gamers can finally face the lords of hell too.
"Just remember that you're playing an old game." That was the advice a co-worker wanted to give me before I started playing the remaster of Diablo II. I booted the original many years ago, but the early 3D graphics did not age well, which was one of the reasons why I ultimately decided to drop it. With the new Resurrected version, which was recently released by Vicarious Visions, 21 years after the original release of Diablo II, I was finally able to to erase an old remark in my gaming history and restore the fate of Sanctuary.
The developers have ported the iconic action-"RPG" to the console for the first time, taking the technical presentation to a new level while at it. Vicarious Visions created real 3D graphics from the old 2D sprites that were used at the time. The new assets can be illuminated and they cast shadows, to highlight the eerie atmosphere of this dark fantasy world. The production qualities of the environments go beyond what Diablo III was able to offer and while you don't immediately notice that in the grassy steppes of Khanduras, in the desert sands of Aranoch or in the swamps around Kurast, the purely visual level design becomes more and more insane and brutal the deeper we throw ourselves into the dark. The rampaged palace of Lut Gholein or the blood-drenched Travincal in Kehjistan contain more blood and organs than any slaughterhouse could ever imagine - and that is the case, even before we drive the armies of Hell away from there.
A real eye opener is the Legacy display mode, which immerses old fans in nostalgia while it shows everyone else how much graphics changed in just over 20 years. You can switch between the new appearance in sharp 4K and the upscaled original in 800x600 or 640x480 at any time if you want a direct comparison. Because the art design of Diablo II was (and very much is) so pioneering and distinctive, you can still recognise the locations and opponents, but the remaster's surroundings have been provided with so many new details that even the old veterans should get a new experience.
At its heart, the Resurrected remaster is still the same game from before. This iconic Hack & Slash classic introduced the loot spiral, influencing how RPGs are played up until today. You kill opponents, gain experience and simultaneously pick up dropped equipment in order to become more powerful and defeat increasingly dangerous enemies. There are a total of seven different characters to choose from: Amazon, Barbarian, Necromancer, Paladin and the Sorceress from the main game, as well as the two additional classes Assassin and Druid from the Lord of Destruction expansion. In Diablo II these battle-hardened heroes follow the footsteps of the Dark Wanderer who travels through Sanctuary and corrupts the people. We must expose this stranger's hideous goals and prevent him from unleashing hell on earth. In the add-on, which also serves as an epilogue, we make sure those ventures weren't in vain.
After hundreds of hours with Diablo III, Diablo II feels like a step backwards in almost every way. Players are pretty much set in stone when upgrading their characters, the battles are very rigid and modern gaming habits clash with the many technological corners and edges that go back to the original design. What is particularly interesting is that even in non-Hardcore mode, players leave their gear behind when they die. Your money (and on the higher difficulty a few of your accumulated experience points as well) remain at your grave and you have to run for it, if you want it back. The system is not as punishing as it first appears (your items don't vanish if you die again while you are on the way to your corpse), but in a game that is all about getting dressed up and being the deadliest mercenary in the country, it is the ultimate shame of having to walk back naked to the place of your own failure.
Nothing about that changed in Diablo II: Resurrected because it is still the same game. In addition to the very pretty graphics, the console port is ultimately the most exciting innovation here. Unfortunately, playing Diablo II with the controller doesn't work as well as it did in Diablo III. A real downside is that instead of freely positioning spells and abilities, range combatants have to place them with rough directions using the control stick. Apart from that, it can be exhausting to pick up the right item out of a mountain of rubbish that arises when you pull together several groups of enemies and eliminate them in one fell swoop. Such problems are of course irrelevant if you play with the mouse.
There have been a few quality-of-life adjustments, like potions that automatically head into the belt pouch or gold that will be picked up automatically, but purists can deactivate those if they want to click themselves to death. Vicarious Visions is introducing a few accessibility options as well, ranging from HUD font sizes to remapping/key binding. Up to four players can head into battle at the same time and Crossplay is also there to support multiple platforms. Your progress is Battle.net-bound, which is a nice addition when visiting friends. What the game would definitely benefit from in online play is a clear indication of where your comrades are currently located, since you end up losing sight of them very easily on the small map.
Diablo II: Resurrected might be something that is really exciting for old fans, but besides them, I honestly don't know whom I should recommend this game to today. The successor is so much better from a gameplay point of view and it is also much more beginner-friendly. If you start Diablo II, you should already know very well what exactly you are up against, because the game won't tell you. It's still great that so much energy and work went into this project, but in terms of mechanics and content, the old adventure just can't keep up with today's standards. If you too like to look back on the past and want to catch up on old games, then Resurrected is an ideal opportunity for you. Above all, I will remember the memorable surroundings, which now shine in an unprecedented splendour. If this is the direction Blizzard is aiming for with Diablo IV then we really have some things to look forward to.
7 / 10
Environments usually offer fantastic visual qualities. The Legacy-Mode display is a journey through time. Challenging and relentless core gameplay, set in a dark fantasy world. Late Game changes the experience quite a bit.
Game progress and customisation options are outdated. The start is still very rough and not that fun to play. Playing with a controller works considerably better for melee classes.