Everyone seems to hate Activision Blizzard. Accusations of discrimination and sexual harassment, intimidation of employees and prohibition to form unions, already traditional problems at the launch of the fresh Diablo II: Resurrected… It feels like the release of another game from these villains can interest only the sexists, racists and masochists.
But please: let’s leave all the scandals in the newsfeeds and try to look at the game with an open mind. It is worthy of that.
A Billion Clicks Backwards
I doubt that people unfamiliar with Diablo II can read this material: an icon of the action-RPG genre, after all. The paradox is that there’s no action and almost no role-playing component other than pumping. This is no Bloodborne, much less The Witcher 3 – expect no battle acrobatics, no moral dilemmas, no varied dialogues. What’s more, here you are not even given experience for quests: almost all development – only through the extermination of countless enemies. Clicking on a monster gives you a corpse, clicking on the second one gives you another corpse. Clicked the key – got ten corpses.
Fun? Sure it is! Dumb? Sure, especially compared to something like Planescape: Torment. But it’s probably not the right approach to Diablo II as a one-button affair. Because tactical thinking, manual dexterity, and general skill are no less important here than in CS: GO, World of Warcraft, or Dota 2. Or maybe even more. In fact, that’s why online battles in the original Diablo II are alive today – even after Diablo III and a huge number of clones. And it’s not likely to stop for years to come. An icon, I tell you.
The game still has drive, style, balance, honed over the years… The only thing that can seriously alienate a newcomer (or an old person) from Diablo II is its archaic appearance. Graphics at the time wasn’t too good, and by today’s standards even ugly, as Duryel, Lord of Pain, without makeup. In the remaster, Blizzard decided to fix this very flaw first – which makes sense to me, since everything else works here as it is. The result is the same Lord of Destruction that made me skip school a couple decades ago. No new characters, locations, items, or plot twists: Resurrected is not a remake, but purely a graphic remaster. A completely new picture has been pulled over the old basis – and quite pleasant, it must be said. Animations are smoother, the interface – nicer, the resolution – higher, fonts are now readable better (I personally finally stopped mixing up the five and six – I do not know if this was a problem for others). And in the upcoming updates promise to add support for DLSS technology. That’s pretty much it.
In the center of Resurrected, under strata of volume dynamic lighting, anisotropic filtering and TAA-smoothing, hides the same two-dimensional core. The new videos almost frame by frame replicate the old ones, the skills work in exactly the same way. Familiar villains cook up the usual tricks. In general, you can blow the dust off the old pumping guides, find a list of recipes for Choradric Cube and a guide to rune words from the early noughties – it’s all 100% relevant. The only thing missing is the ability to transfer the pumped heroes from the original game. And, in general, it does not matter how many years have passed since its release.
Diablo II is the Tetris of action-RPGs: you can master it in seconds, but perfecting your skills can take years. Memorize every boss, whip out the best gear, and kick your friends’ asses on Battle.net. Build a druid, pump it up to level 99, realize you’ve screwed up the build, and start all over again… Thankfully now all the skills and characteristics can be reset in one move – without having to start developing a new hero from scratch.
In fact, progress is the main thing in the game. And this applies both to the player himself and his characters. No, it’s not Dark Souls: the masterpieces of FromSoftware and Blizzard are the products of completely different eras and completely different approach to game design. But they definitely have something in common. A sense of growth, a sense of overcoming, sometimes even overcoming. Catharsis. To rip out Duryell’s cheeks for the first time – what an indescribable thrill it is! Especially if you had to break your teeth on him ten times before that, and lose all the gold you had accumulated. Believe me, you will experience this feeling of purification through torture more than once, and it is worth any suffering.
Diablo II was like this the day it was released, June 29, 2000. It remains so today… Though it certainly feels peculiar. After all, the old mechanics mean the old difficulty – unusually high by today’s standards. No one is leading the player by the handle and not giving pumping automatic, no pointers are placed anywhere and there are no guiding arrows in the spirit of Skyrim. Even on normal difficulty you can meet an impenetrable monster or inadvertently move the horses long before the first boss. With a good-natured Diablo III here is not even comparable – pure old-school. But the oldschool is very inventive.
Resurrected isn’t an amusement ride like the third part, but it’s not a dirty gray first Diablo, where besides the monotonous dungeons under the Cathedral of Tristram, there’s not much to look at. Yes, the remaster is still as flat as a pool table, but there’s plenty of variety. The green lawns around the Robbers’ Camp are replaced by the sun-burned deserts of Loot-Golain, the damp, rainy jungles of Kurast, the snow-covered slopes of Arreath… Ancient tombs, giant maggot holes, caves, castles, dungeons – you name it. Moreover, the size, complexity, and intricacy of the levels are pushed under the belt of most competitors. Some kind of spider forest – just the first location of the third act – is the size of a whole chapter of Diablo III. Oh yes, Diablo II is not only unusually difficult, but it’s also quite a long game. And if you want to go through all the options for every character on every difficulty level and play your heart out online, it’s almost endless.
And throughout this infinity, veritable hordes of fantastically brainless but extremely motivated monsters are coming from everywhere. Goat-headed scarecrows with halberds, some devils, skeleton mages, zombies, cursed archers, giant spiders, snake-men… And all of them are really dangerous: not only the boss can send the hero to hell. A regular scarab overgrowth that flashes lightning when it gets damage, or a trivial stash with a trap – and no way, Diablo can take a day off. Even bloated barbarians die instantly if handled carelessly, let alone skinny mages and goth necromancers!
Yes, the heroes here are truly unique. They do not have the same skills, and the gameplay for different classes and even different builds within the same class differs radically. But micromanagement is equally important for all: from the distribution of skillpoints to the stuff lying in the duffel bag. If you want to live, be able to put potions in the cells on your belt and keep your hand on the quick buttons. The unfortunate ring “+5% resistance to lightning” separates victory from defeat, and the synergy of skills with the effect “+8% to damage” can be a decisive argument in the battle with the next infernal giant. And we’re not talking about “Hell” with “Nightmare”, not about Baal with Diablo, but about the usual monsters on the first difficulty. Diablo III, where at first even the bosses can be killed literally with one finger, about this never heard.
What the hell.
In short, we have a real live classic here. Too bad it’s not always in a good way. Diablo II was created in the blessed days when a low fence was considered a perfectly normal level boundary. Back then the idea of suddenly stealing the sun and making the player run around in gut-wrenching darkness for hours seemed like a great joke, but a lot of water has flowed since then.
Of course, a lot of things have been improved in the remaster. For example, instead of bowing to every coin, you can now pick up gold from the ground automatically. It would seem a trifle – but how many millions of clicks per passage it saves! Or setting the sound: you can separately control, for example, the volume of skills, monsters and the environment. There are other nice little things – say, a system clock, which is allowed to simply hang in the upper right corner of the screen. Most importantly, there is finally full-fledged gamepad support. Slash monsters with the Xbox Series controller on PC is no less comfortable than in the console version of Diablo III, and often even more comfortable than with a mouse and keyboard.
True, there are moments that the authors still have not thought or left unattended. For example, at least the interface: now it is allowed to scale, change font size and generally adjust for yourself. They have thought of everything, it seems. Even expanded the total stash for all the player’s characters, and immediately by three times. Excellent solution. But here is an elementary button automatic sorting trunk did not get: all the bottles and stones have to shift back and forth manually, to accommodate a couple of set of boots “to grow. Comfortable? Not really. But the funny thing is that the gamepad for some reason has a separate key for this function.
There are plenty of those little rough edges and antiquated conventions that the entire genre has long since abandoned. Why does the game need an endurance mechanic? You need it only for running and constantly running out, forcing the hero to slow down for a long time, and making the player nervous. Why do we need expendables in the form of potions, return scrolls, throwing knives? Why do we need trivial abilities like flaming arrows, damage bonuses for certain weapons, or “+X to defense” auras? Competitors have learned to do without such relics of the past.
On the other hand, all this even gives the game a special charm. I have a suspicion that if Resurrected came out as a brand new project from independent developers, it would already be singing the praises. And the same people who are criticizing the remaster today for the “non-canonical” appearance of the Amazon. So maybe it’s better to give a meat grinder to the demons instead of the developers, don’t you think?
A surprisingly addictive game, capable of captivating even a generation later – and not a console game, but a demographic one. Against this background, the problems with bugs seem completely irrelevant. The holes will soon be fixed, but the addictive gameplay will remain relevant for years to come. Diablo II has already survived Diablo III. I’m sure it will survive Diablo IV… If it comes out at all.
Diablo II is alive and kicking, and it plays just as well as it did 20 years ago. No childhood illness can spoil it. The best way to pass the time until Diablo IV’s release – and maybe even after.