When I sat down to tickle the ivories about this product, I thought about the title for a moment.
The implication there is clear. Diablo 2 died, at some point, this is its resurrected version. Beautiful new visuals and cinematics. Quality of life improvements that leave the skeleton of the game intact. Updated online play.
But the truth is that Diablo 2 never died. It's not hard to find a horde of streamers who still love the original game. Who never gave up on it, and its community. The expertly curated fansites that exist, to this day, with comprehensive libraries of knowledge across all matters of the game.
Just as Brood War was "solved" decades ago, but continues to be loved and enjoyed by its fanbase. In much the same way, Diablo 2 never died, and has continued to enjoy cult status. There are plenty of content creators that toe the line between D2 and D2R, which should demonstrate to the layman just how powerful the pull of "old faithful" truly is.
But we're not here to talk about Diablo 2. We're here to talk about the resurrected version of something that never truly died.
Or, maybe we are? D2R is Diablo 2. In fact, the degree to which Diablo Resurrected is Diablo, makes you *almost* wonder why they bothered to remaster the game at all.
The reason this product exists is because Activision-Blizzard can ask people to pay $70 for a game released in 2000 with a new coat of paint. It's an extensive visual update that greatly aids accessibility and immersion in the modern realm, but as the legions of die-hard fans will probably tell you, they never needed it.
In fact, so little has been done to alter the base game, that the remaster has a button that will revert the game's visuals. In glorious 800x600 resolution, pixelated to all hell, and subtly reminding you why it was a good idea to spend $70 on a vast visual improvement. I hate to say, they were right.
Visuals aid immersion. It should take a back seat to gameplay, but you shouldn't neglect it. The remastered visuals reinforce how cold, and dead, the world is. How you are a lone bastion of hope against the countless hordes of darkness.
Unless you played the game with a friend, like I did, in which case you're TerryTate, office barbarian linebacker, who runs in and gets stomped to jelly. He's accompanied by his close friend, wizened Necromancer Blackend (spelt wrong on purpose) who outsources the entire game to a loyal cadre of skeletons, golems of various materials, and blokes scraped up from the ground.
It's not just atmosphere, though. There's been plenty of work put in to the enemy design. It's incredibly satisfying to plough through a horde of bad guys. Along the way you'll tear bad guys into bloody chunks, freeze them, electrify them, and the thousandth enemy feels just as crunchy to kill as the first.
It's not just the enemies, either. In my playthrough as a sorceress, the game sparkled, as I covered screen in blizzards, fireballs and lightning bolts. I'm sure my ten-year old self who discovered the game as a kid would've been amazed.
If it feels like I'm dragging my feet moving past the game's visuals, that's because I am. This is a remastered product, so the core of the game has been unchanged... mostly, more on that in a moment.
I am glad that D2R has left D2 largely unchanged, because it doesn't need changing. The more I play old, remastered titles, particularly Blizzard titles (hello, World of Warcraft!) the more I appreciate the game's flaws and the role those flaws play in raising Diablo to magnificence.
At its core, Diablo 2 is an action role-playing game. You gain experience, skills and gear on your way to kill diablo. It doesn't have the depth of a proper roleplaying game, but it doesn't need that depth, that's not what it was designed for.
You'll travel through five worlds trying to push back the demonic legions of hell, defeating the prime evils. There's plenty of world building to be found through the characters you encounter in each zone, but if you want to leave it as set dressing, you have that choice.
As the game gets harder, the requirement to gain avatar strength via gear increases, and so you'll find yourself revisiting old locations to kill bosses to find the items you'll need to make progress. Unless you play a class that's designed to do more with less.
Once you kill Baal, the final boss of Act V, and complete the game for the first time, you then get into the real game.
Famously, Diablo has two additional levels of difficulty - all of the mainline series titles do, this isn't new. This adds to the replayability by allowing you to take all the fancy toys you acquired in your initial journey, and put them to the test against harder enemies.
The harder the enemies you kill, the fatter the loot you get. The more you do this, the more progress you'll make, and so the gameplay loop goes. And it feels so good.
Eventually you'll run out of difficulty, so the aim shifts to travelling through previously conquered areas looking for fat loot to give to your next character to take them through the journey from normal, to nightmare, and then to hell, until they're helping you obtain gear for your next character.
Even as a casual fan dipping his toe in the ecosystem, you can see the appeal that has allowed Diablo 2 to last for more than two decades through its cult following. And with D2R, you'll likely see it last for another twenty years.
Not content with redelivering one of the cornerstone games of its generation, however, Blizzard has also seen fit to add additional features on top. These don't change the gameplay experience, but add additional layers once you've exhausted what the original game has to offer.
The first of these new changes are terrorized zones. After completing Diablo, some areas gain monsters that are much higher level than they were originally - matching the player's own level. This means you can reach the elusive level 99 much quicker, and also gain access to exclusive gear from those locations.
Among these new items come ways to break the immunities of enemies in higher difficulties - something previously not possible. These advantages come at great cost, making the character more vulnerable, but the tradeoff is most certainly worth it.
The second are new runewords that get previewed in the game's ladder mode. The ladder gametype is a seasonal way to play Diablo 2, in the form of a race to level 99, inevitably won by a class that's able to kill lots of dudes very quickly.
Runewords are powerful enhancements for normal weapons and armour in the game. They increase the effectiveness of those items significantly, often being the most powerful pieces of equipment in the game. Each ladder season adds exciting new runewords for different classes to try, thus ensuring the game continues to grow in some small way.
This title isn't perfect, however. Obviously there's hideous imbalance between classes - playing a Barbarian or a Feral Druid (no, not that one) puts you at an immediate disadvantage. This is balanced out by the fact that anyone can play a a more powerful class, however, and build up a weaker class using gear acquired from higher difficulties. Playing a weaker class deliberately could be seen as challenging yourself.
The entirely new gripe introduced by D2R, is the reimagined stash system. Both online and offline play is poorly designed for a game centered around building a collection of loot. Previously, you had an infinite number of stash tabs which you could label and organise your gear properly. In D2R, you get three tabs shared between all of your characters, which is like having an inflatable pool to store a dam's worth of water.
All wrapped up in a neat little bow, D2R is the modern way to play Diablo. Like Dark Souls, and Pokemon, any "gamer" should pick this title up to have it on their palette. Like Metal Gear Solid, it's part of the building blocks of the modern industry, and you can see the title's influence in future titles like Torchlight, Path of Exile and of course, the rest of the franchise.
Which highlights the best part of this title. It's Diablo 2. It is as you remember it, with nicer visuals. It is immediately recognizable. You can see the decisions the designers made 25 years ago, flaws and all, and a new generation of video game players can love it.
Catch you next time,
Critical Information Summary:
Review Platform: PC
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Cost (At Time of Publish): $70 AUD (Base Game)
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