Diablo II released to critical acclaim in the year 2000, with fans embracing the isometric looter wholeheartedly. The Lord of Destruction expansion pack released a year later amped the 8-player craziness to a new level, adding two more classes in the Assassin and Druid, a vastly expanded stash, a fresh crop of Horadric Cube recipes, weapon swapping, new hirelings you can equip with better gear, and new loot abound. Naturally it also brought an all-new threat and locale in Mt. Arreat — a place we’d once again find ourselves in Diablo III. Finally, the expansion threw in a massive upgrade from the 640x480 resolution all the way up to 800x600. Universally acclaimed, Diablo II went on to inspire countless games and effectively cemented an entire genre. Now 21 years later, it’s time to return to the world of Sanctuary, but could Blizzard capture lighting in a bottle two decades later? Stay awhile and listen as we head back to hell to find out.
I’m going to write this from the perspective of a Diablo veteran, but I’ll also be spending a good bit of time on some of the basics. Since the Vicarious Vision team has spent a great deal of effort ensuring that the gameplay remains untouched, retaining every bit of what fans fell in love with so long ago. That said, I think it’s important to also recognize that two decades of improvements to the formula exist. Without further ado, let’s start with the largest improvement — the incredible remastered cutscenes.
Blizzard could have thrown this game together without updating these cutscenes and they’d have likely received very little flak. Perhaps motivated by the misstep of missing remastered cutscenes in their Warcraft III Reforged efforts, the team instead built these entirely from scratch. Unless I miss my mark, I’m going to suggest that this may have even been built using Diablo IV’s engine. The cutscenes look like 3D renders more than full CGI, and wow do they look gorgeous. Shot for shot remakes of the original, the team has managed to improve the animations and recreate these scenes without changing the tone or altering the masterful voice performances. Marius sounds even more pathetic and broken when combined with these new scenes. Like when we played it for the first time, the anticipation of a new cutscene between the different acts of the game makes dying to Duriel and his maggots once again worth it.
Diablo II’s soundtrack has stuck with me for the last two decades, and hearing the carefully-plucked music once again presented in a gorgeous Dolby 7.1 surround sound remaster is a thing of haunting beauty. Rest assured, Diablo II purists, that the rest of the sounds haven’t been tinkered with in any way. The konk sound of dropping a skull into your inventory, or the clink of a gem being socketed have been lovingly preserved and are untouched. If you are anything like me, you have a near Pavlovian reaction to those sounds, so it’s good to hear them once again. Let’s pick a character and set off to find that Den of Evil.
As Diablo II Resurrected contains the base game, as well as the Lord of Destruction expansion, you have all seven characters at your disposal right from the start — Barbarian, Necromancer, Sorceress, Amazon, Rogue, Paladin, and Assassin. All characters have gotten a complete cosmetic overhaul, cementing in a more stylized and realistic look for each. The Amazon looks more harrowed and battle-worn, and the Asian ethnicity of the Assassin looks more dialed in. You can totally believe the Necromancer has done horrible things and made awful deals for his power, taking a toll on his body. The Barbarian actually sees a bit of a reduction, looking less like an overinflated sack of balloons and far more realistic and muscular. The Paladin’s armor gains a metric ton of detail, as does the stoic face of the holy warrior. The Sorceress now looks properly Indian. The Druid finally came off his extreme diet, beefing up quite a bit and covering himself with fur armor. It’s something you’ll really only see in the menus, but popping out to the character select screen to see your gorgeous newest piece of gear never gets old.
Heading into the game, it’s immediately apparent that this is very, very far from a simple remaster — resurrected is a very apt description. Using a physics-based engine and moving from 2D sprites to fully 3D realized rendering, complete with dynamic lighting, this looks like a totally different game. The character models come to life with smooth and fluid frames of animation. Gone is the awkward stiff-legged walking motion of the original, replaced with fully-rigged 3D movement that looks far more natural. All of the monsters have received similar updates, with each creature lovingly crafted to be as disgusting as possible. The goatmen have individual hairs and teeth, each sinew of flesh on the Unraveler flexes and stretches as it swings its massive claw, and Andariel has never looked more dangerous and beastly, yet feminine. Despite the incredible amount of work put into these beasts, the team has worked the timing in such a way that, while they look very different, their attacks are exactly the same as they were in the original game. Once again we see Vicarious Vision preserving the soul of the original.
One area that really benefits from the new engine is the particle effects that now adorn every spell and power. Light dances away from the sparks of the Sorceresses lightning powers, and fireballs light up the space and explode in a shower of sparks. The limited light radius in Diablo II was a purposeful thing, drenching the player in darkness and limiting their vision. The new lighting effects seen here have to make the original team shout “Yes! This is what we were trying to do” as it creates an almost claustrophobic feel to the game in the deeper and darker parts of the game. When a fireball hits an enemy, that fireball explodes off their chest, lighting up the space momentarily to reveal other enemies lurking in the dark. Seeing those reflections on the slick floor surface reveal sinister shadows brings the game to life in a brand new way. It’s not often the things we see that are most terrifying, but what lurks just beyond our vision.
Beyond the eye-poppingly gorgeous visuals, Diablo II Resurrected also brings the technical bells and whistles. The game supports 4K resolution, and 68 fps running on a 2080 Super, or 112 fps running on a 3080 Ti. If you like really high numbers, the game will hit 300fps at 1080p on a 3080 Ti, but that’s just silly. Pumping up the resolution re-adjusts the font and UI respectively, ensuring you can play this at a very high resolution from your couch without needing to squint to read the text. The game also has wide-screen support up to 19:9 (any wider and it’d break the game due to enemies not “seeing” further than this). With DLSS on the horizon shortly, the performance will only improve, but even in this current state the game is smooth as glass.
Diablo II Resurrected supports up to 8 players on PC and consoles, with the exception of the Switch. The Switch version supports 4 players, and frankly that’s enough. On both current gen platforms there are two modes — quality and performance. As you might expect, quality is going to give you the best looks at 4K, but with a 30fps lock. Performance drops quality just slightly (hardly enough to notice to be fair), but bumps the framerate up to 60fps at 4K. The great news is that current gen platforms are able to deliver on that 4K/60 promise easily with nary a stutter. The Switch is another matter.
Let’s be frank here — the Nintendo Switch is in need of a mid-cycle upgrade. We were hoping to see that very thing with the upcoming OLED version, but alas it was not meant to be. As such, you’ll see 1080p and 30fps on the Switch while docked with only the most minor of dips down into the mid-20s when the action gets heavy, such as with four players and four minions.
Docked or undocked, there is a marked reduction in the overall texture quality on the platform. Alongside a persistent shimmering at the edges of every surface, it can be a little bit rough on the eyes. The wonderful lighting present on all other versions is drastically reduced here, making the deep and dark spaces dark enough to be frustrating on occasion. Still, Diablo II on the go is fantastic, and 720p/30 holds up without a hitch.
In terms of gameplay, there are some odd choices here. To be clear, the gameplay is precisely how you remember it, but for whatever reason the team also opted to include some of the more odd bugs. For example, there is a bug in the original unaffectionately called Next Hit Always Misses whereby any time the player is hit, triggering their hit interruption animation, causes the next swing on an enemy to always miss as the client and server disagree about player position and weapon impact. It operated this way in the original, so the team kept it in for this release, but I imagine I speak for most when I say that this bug can go the way of Rakanishu. Funny enough, they did feel the need to fix the ebug (a trick where you could boost armor by 50%), so clearly some bugs were bad enough to kill off. Beyond this there is a massive list of quality-of-life improvements in Diablo II. Picking up gold no longer requires players to wear out their left mouse button picking up individual bits. Similarly, you won’t be wearing out your alt key to see the loot on the ground, instead being a simple toggle. Comparing your gear is now as easy as holding shift, showing what you have equipped against what you are about to pick up or already have in your inventory. The stash size has been increased to a 10x10 grid, and three more shared tabs have been added. This means you can skip making mules and enlisting your friends to transfer gear between your characters.
There is notable omission in this version, namely TCP/IP support, though it comes with a great tradeoff. While you won’t be able to play LAN-only like you could back in 2000, you also don’t have to recreate your characters to move between global regions. The original had no way to transfer your toons between the various regions, but in this day and age of cloud saves, that’s no longer a thing — play with your friends from Europe if you want. Just know that you won’t be able to do so by IP, meaning you are subject to some of the launch woes that have been nipping at this title from the word go. Characters being “locked” in inaccessible servers, maintenance activities, and more continue to be problematic. While these will be solved shortly, I have no doubt, it’s a reminder of the problems with an always-on game.
Frankly, I could write an entire article about all the improvements here, such as better stats for your characters as well as your mercenaries, cross-progression with Nintendo Switch, as well as PlayStation and Xbox consoles, and more, but the other really big change here is controller support. After the success of Diablo III’s couch co-op outings, it’s clear Blizzard has figured out how to bring Diablo to a controller. Here we see that support come to PC as well. While I’m not sure just how many people will actually use a controller on the PC version, it does make the game remarkably accessible. Face buttons are used for attacks, with the D-pad handling potions. It’s also remappable, so you are free to set it up however you see fit.
Speaking of consoles, the cross-progression system is absolutely flawless. You don’t need to fiddle with copying characters back and forth or anything so cumbersome — you simply log in and your characters are waiting for you. I’ve got a short video to show you exactly that.
Taking the game to consoles does bring a few hiccups, but none that are insurmountable. There are UI challenges with hosting and joining players on both PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch, and searching for other players could use work, but ultimately it all does work. The chat system in the lobbies on PC are as broken as they were 20 years ago, with lobbies being conspicuously absent on consoles. Trying to have any level of conversation is like swimming upstream through molasses as bots flood the chat with garbage, so maybe that’s for the best, but it’d be nice to be able to browse for a game on consoles. Still, there’s a lot to be happy about as well. Beyond controller support you can now adjust text size, toggle colorblindness options, and more. The simple addition of controller support is very important to overall accessibility, so it’s welcome even if it likely won’t see wide use on PC.
Maintaining the game’s soul also means maintaining the problematic balance issues that plagued the original. Naturally, these tend to only affect you if are a hardcore player who seeks to min/max the game — casual players will likely never even notice. Still — if you were irritated by running out of stamina so you could move at a reasonable pace, you’ll still be irritated now 20 years later. Being stunlocked is still going to murder you in doorways, just as it always has. Being faithful to the original means being entirely faithful in this case. That said, it’s precisely what the team promised, and precisely what they delivered — just what I wanted.
One of the major missteps of Warcraft III: Reforged was that it replaced the original. Here, it’s an completely separate game, meaning you don’t have to choose between one or the other. If TCP/IP is that important to you, you’ll have the option of the old client if you already owned it. I can’t say that I’ve tried this, but I’ve heard from several friends that you can import your save file from the original, equipment intact, and pick it up in Resurrected without a hitch. This is one of those dream features that you’d never expect to make an appearance, but Vicarious Visions made it a priority and a reality.
By simply hitting a key you can flip back and forth between the original 2D sprites and the new 3D goodness in Diablo II Resurrected, and no matter how many times I did so it never got old. It’d be impossible not to recognize the incredible results that Vicarious Visions have achieved here. With that simple keystroke I’m transported back in time to see what Diablo II looked like in the year 2000, but that’s not how it looks in my mind. In my mind, this game glows like what we see here. Somehow the team has reached into my skull and tenderly scooped out the beloved and cherished memories of a game that I love and brought that vision to life. Nostalgia deceives us, but somehow Vicarious Vision delivered that nostalgia right to our doorstep.
Diablo II: Resurrected
Diablo II: Resurrected delivers on the promise of a rebuilt original, without tampering with the soul of what made it amazing in the first place. With completely remastered graphics, all-new cutscenes, and console cross-progression, Diablo II: Resurrected takes us back to Hell, and it’s every bit as amazing as it was when we played it 20 years ago.