What is it? A remaster of a twitchy action-RPG set at the gates of hell.
Expect to pay: $40/£35
Reviewed on: Windows 10, GeForce GTX 1070, Intel Core i7-9700 CPU, 16GB RAM
Multiplayer? 1-8 players online.
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)
Diablo 2 moves at two distinct speeds. You're either carving through swathes of undead with impunity, watching their bones crumple into dust, and downing health potions with liberal decadence, or you're navigating each fork in the road with taut reluctance, nursing the small puddle of red in the bottom left corner of the screen, hoping against hope that you're not about to provoke yet another dispiriting death. Action-RPGs are a known quantity in 2021—with games like Torchlight, Grim Dawn, and Path of Exile optimizing the genre to a mirror shine—so what I most appreciated about my return to Blizzard's classic was the way it made me fear the dark again, with no friendly checkpoints to save me.
Diablo 2 came out in 2000, and Diablo 2: Resurrected dogmatically sticks to the original design while layering new, high-res graphics over the old ones (you can swap between the new and old looks at will), and adding new technical features. You take control of a lonely warrior—chosen from seven different classes—and are condemned to wander Blizzard's arid, Old Testament wasteland, completing quests, plundering chests, and clicking zillions of cloven-hooved demons to death.
The real Diablo 2 grognards stick around long after the credits roll to max multiple characters to the staggering level 99 cap. This game took over countless lives at the turn of the millennium, and it still has the capacity to dominate your time in 2021. With the right group of friends, you might find yourself running multiple dungeons over and over again, desperately excavating the most remote corners of the loot table.
That's probably my favorite thing about Diablo 2: Resurrected. The modern game industry frequently saddles all the fun parts of games with depressing stat grinds. We log in to be bombarded with timed storefront discounts, a cutthroat cosmetics market, and a litany of different currencies and stat tiers crowded on the home screen that makes us go cross-eyed. But this remaster is proud to be a dinosaur, with no monetary retrofitting around the edges to bring it further into the 21st century. We're out here killing zombies and studiously comparing the blue trident on the floor with the one currently attached to our character sheet. No auction house economy or crafting matrix gets in the way. Honestly, that's downright revolutionary when compared to the constant sales pitches sucking the joy out of just about every other experience available on live servers.
Every single change in Resurrected is whip-smart and subtle. No longer will you be forced to create sad, brutish characters who serve only as an inventory mule for your mains. The player stash is shared across your account, weaponry passing unburdened between your Druid, Necromancer, and Barbarian. Tired of scraping up the piles of gold coins from corpses in your wake? Diablo 2 adventurers soak those up automatically now, adding a faint dash of idle-game efficiency to Sanctuary. Have the decades since high school burdened you with back pain? Lean back grandpa, and enjoy Resurrected with a gamepad.
Blizzard has reupholstered much of its back catalogue to varying degrees of success (looking at you, Warcraft 3: Reforged), but there's a tender attention to detail in this new version of Diablo 2 that exceeds what's available in those other efforts. At any moment, players can tap the "G" key to shift back to the original graphics and witness how they've been airbrushed with much more detailed artwork and lighting effects. I was often surprised at what I found. Streams of putrid water run through the sewers of Lut Gholein, and I was surprised to find they simply didn't exist in the game back in 2000. It's amazing what's possible when everything isn't rendered in 800 by 600.
The updates aren't limited to the beautiful devastation of Sanctuary either. I've spent most of my time in Resurrected playing a stout-hearted Amazon named Arlene. She's currently coiffed in steel battle dress, and I noticed the earlier depictions of her regalia were much more revealing. Blizzard is currently in the midst of a cascading legal situation following allegations of widespread sexism and harassment at the studio, and given those circumstances, isn't going to earn big praise for de-objectifying one of its old heroes. But it's a nice gesture.
And yet, despite all of these tweaks and innovations, there's a voice deep within me that wishes Resurrected went a few steps further. I love and respect all my hardcore Diablo 2 lifers who want their dungeon-crawl dipped in formaldehyde, but… does our inventory really need to be this small? Are the constant corpse runs, where we pluck our displaced gear off our bodies, all that necessary?
I'd forgotten that Diablo 2 arrived before the action bar revolution. You can map two abilities to both the left and right click, while the rest of your spellbook is condemned to standby status on the F1 through F8 keys. Just four years later, Blizzard would release World of Warcraft and completely revolutionize the way they designed RPGs. Forever more, we had a sturdy set of icons in easy reach. Surely, that's preferable to this chronic maintenance of 2000, as we clumsily attempt to remember exactly where we left our poison darts.
But again, I'm not a dedicated Diablo 2 head, and that's who Resurrected is beckoning. This is not a videogame designed to inaugurate a fresh generation of Tristram survivors—that duty is surely left to the forthcoming Diablo 4. Instead, the players gathered here have all been playing Diablo 2 for years, and now have a prettier, smoother, more accessible, and slightly less finicky version to enjoy. Newcomers may learn the same fear of the dark I rediscovered and come to love it just as much, but only if they're willing to accept the terms of the year 2000, however archaic they may seem.