There are two titles that are responsible for me becoming a Blizzard fan, and therefore ending up as a World of Warcraft fan. Starcraft was the first Blizzard game I really got into, since I loved RTS games and it came along at a time when I had a PC to myself and could spend hours on the weekends in matches.
The title that solidified that fandom and really pulled me in was Diablo II.
Diablo II was the pinnacle of what I wanted from an RPG – fast-paced, strategic with skill selection and gear loadouts, offering near-infinite progression and the ability to play on and on in multiple different ways, and it had a strong base loadout of classes and options. You could play the “wrong” way and still make progress (a topic I wrote about specifically previously!) but the game was good about both setting you closer to a preferable path while letting you make the wrong choices and offering a challenge that you could overcome in many different ways, both those that metagamers would state are right and those they would dismiss out of hand.
For me, Diablo II is my Blizzard Classic moment, the offering that threatens to destroy my relationship with WoW as I no-life through Sanctuary in all its glory. When Diablo II was being rumored as a remaster from the Classic games team at Blizzard, I got really excited and hoped we’d see it much sooner. When the reports of Vicarious Visions being merged into Blizzard emerged, and the reasoning behind that being rumored as them being the Diablo II remake development team, I was very excited and again, eager to learn more.
Blizzconline brought more, and actually, this year’s Blizzconline was very heavily dominated by Diablo, with WoW and Hearthstone on the side and a sprinkling of Overwatch on top. Diablo IV seems to be fairly far out still – the big reveal being a single class reminds me of the “worst Blizzcon ever” (for real) in 2010, where the only new things shown were demos of Starcraft Arcade titles, the Cataclysm login screen, and the Demon Hunter class in Diablo III. Diablo Immortal seems the closest to launching, but it also isn’t my cup of tea – mobile games are just something that my life doesn’t really support, given the mental blocks I have trying to play them at home or at a workplace and because I live in an American city with no commute options outside of a car. Diablo II Resurrected came in to save the day!
My initial impressions of the trailer were great, because it offered me what I really wanted out of a remaster of DII – it’s gritty and dark just like the original sprites, and a lot of care has obviously gone into maintaining the look of the original game while also bringing it to modern technology. Even at the UI level, it is clear that the team working on the title has spent a lot of effort meticulously recrafting the old look of the game in modern 3D at 4k resolution.
The panels detailing what to expect went a long way towards really codifying the effort that had gone into this. Before diving deep into that, I feel it necessary to discuss the end result of the Warcraft III Reforged idea. It was a good idea, but the execution was not done particularly well and it became a blemish on Blizzard’s record, one that, you’ll notice, was nearly completely undiscussed at Blizzconline. Warcraft III Reforged made some bold and incorrect assumptions about what players would actually want – delivering remastered graphics and UI but moving the game to the new balancing even for existing players who did not purchase Reforged, forcing them to the new updates which were panned. While some mission changes were made to match what was shown in WoW years after the original WCIII, the changes were inconsistent as the team reused a lot of older assets like mission cards with older map layouts that did not reflect the Azeroth we all know now. There was a promise of bold change, like an attempted retcon of the story with the help of Christie Golden, new voiceover work, and recreated cinematics, but due to a mix of player feedback and development struggles, only the introductory cinematic was remade, with the others remastered from the original, and with the original voiceover work and story.
In post-mortems, reviews, and interviews, one thing became very apparent about the WCIIIR fiasco – there were too many competing visions for what the end product would be. While the prior Starcraft: Remastered was an excellent, extremely faithful adaptation of the original that made for an identical play experience at modern standards, Blizzard got an impression from some members of the community that WCIII needed more. They set about with an ambitious project in mind, wanting to make big changes, including balancing, art style, story, and all in service of delivering a similar-enough experience to new players while offering something new and evolved that would please veterans of the game. Instead, feedback was mixed and a tug-of-war over the soul of the game clearly happened, as some changes were made (the aforementioned balancing tweaks) while pushing nearly everything else out as largely the same, just upgraded to modern fidelity. In that, the game had no real clear new identity, and it struggled with existing fans, who were irritated about meta changes and being forced to the new gameplay even on the old client, while new fans met an experience with a lot of rough edges.
Those two paragraphs are worth remembering when I say this – I feel really good about the way that the team on Diablo II Resurrected is planning to tackle the game. There is a clear vision to bring the game up to a modern level in ways that address annoyances from the original – providing a larger stash with an account-wide stash tab to remove the need for muling, bringing the visuals up to a modern 4k resolution at 60 frames per second while maintaining the visual style of the original artwork completely, remastering all of the cinematics to an identical standard, adding new UI elements for advanced stats, linking items, doing tooltip comparisons, and allowing an opt-in for automatic gold pickup. Layered on these changes are clear aspects of the original – the original game ran at 25 frames per second and the animations and some combat math was built on this standard, and the team has maintained that through some sort of technical solution to allow the game to run faster without corrupting the game logic, allowing a real-time toggle to the old art assets if you want the original experience in more ways, and maintaining the existing game balance and 8-player cap per game. They’re also launching it on PC and a large handful of consoles including PS4, PS5, both current-gen Xboxes, and the Nintendo Switch, whose Diablo III port is surprisingly great. With this, they’re offering “cross-progression” so that you can manage your roster of characters from any and all versions of the game you’ve purchased, with the caveat that due to platform-holder limits, you cannot play multiplayer real-time with friends on other platforms. Lastly, they’re not making the WCIII Reforged mistake – the original game on the original client will remain entirely separate and playable for those wanting to keep at it, with Resurrected existing as a separate game altogether (that just so happens to have the same base content).
For me, I feel like the Diablo II Resurrected talk was tailor-made to alleviate any and all concerns we’d have after the Reforged disaster. Almost every talking point ties back to the missteps of that game and indicates exactly how they’ll avoid it. New client? Yep, but separate in every way from the old game. New art? Yes, but the style is maintained exactly and the other weird technical things that happen with framerate in old sprite-based games are already worked around to success, oh and if you don’t like the art, just change it to the old stuff, won’t hurt our feelings. Can I mule? Well sure, but it was often annoying to do, so here’s a new thing you can use if you want to avoid it.
All we know besides this is that we’re waiting for a technical alpha, followed by a beta, and the full release of the game is supposed to be due by the end of this year.
My personal take? As I said above, this is the Blizzard title with, bar none, the most nostalgia for me possible. While a lot of my readers and the bloggers I follow were very big into the WoW Classic phenomenon from launch onwards, Diablo II is the title with the most rose-colored glasses for me. I liked Diablo III overall, especially post-2.0, but a near-perfect remastering of Diablo II that I can play on my modern PC with modern tweaks and updates? Hell yes, I am all in on that. I signed up for the technical alpha immediately, and read the whole site, including clicking the old lobby jewel they put at the bottom and discovering you could make it sprout blood that you can paint the website with! (Makes the pending ESRB rating logo a little bit more interesting, certainly.)
All the updates offer me something that I think is great and worth celebrating. High resolution 3D graphics at 60 FPS? Awesome. Shared stash space and a reduction of muling? Awesome. Cross-progression with the PC and 5 console versions launching? Great.
The only nit I can even pick at is that having to buy each version you want to play separately feels a bit bad – it would be cool to see a coupon code or a bundle with a discount for multiple versions, but I’m looking at a very small user base of people wanting to progress on more than a single platform. Like, assuming the world isn’t a pandemic-riddled hellscape by the release date of the game, I could see buying the PC version for home (because duh) and also buying the Switch version to play on the go for vacations and such. I have at least one friend (my main Diablo II friend from way back in high school) who is planning exactly this as well. I suppose the only type of person who would even buy more than PC+1 would be someone at Digital Foundry, comparing the quality of graphics and resolution/framerate stability across platforms. Even if I owned all 6 platforms it will launch on, there would be no need for more than 2 versions tops, and even then, I am very overtly stretching the meaning of the word “need” here.
Diablo II Resurrected is exciting for a myriad of reasons and to me personally, it might actually be the news from Blizzconline I most enjoyed (despite writing near to 10,000 words about World of Warcraft over the weekend!). I feel like Diablo II has so much appeal to so many different people – endless progression, freeform gameplay centered on your choices good or bad, action gameplay with a feeling of speed and chaos that you can master to bring some control in, epic boss encounters, a robust random map generator that makes every session feel different, and a laser-focus on fun gameplay overall. If Resurrected keeps even just the spirit of those ideals intact, it will be one hell (ha!) of a product. That being said, I am watching it with the gaze of someone who was disappointed in Warcraft III Reforged until I see more!