Not So Massively: Diablo II Resurrected is a lot of old school jank in a pretty wrapper

    
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I admit I debated whether I should write this column at all: After all that’s happened lately, giving coverage to Blizzard games doesn’t feel quite right. But for better or for worse, it is still a big name, and its games are still big news. ARPGs are on of the chief genres covered by the Not So Massively column, and Diablo is the single most important franchise in that genre.

So let’s talk about Diablo II: Resurrected, which I had a chance to try during the recent open beta event.

Before we start, I should state my own personal biases. My long love of Blizzard games might make me judge the company less harshly than most; I still think there are and have been lots of good people working on their games, and that legacy can’t be entirely erased by the actions of the bad actors. But even I find my opinion of the company at an all-time low, and I’m not much in the mood to praise it right now, so that may negatively impact my view of D2: Resurrected.

It’s also worth noting, as I have in the past, that despite my love of ARPGs and Blizzard games, I was never a big Diablo II fan. I enjoy its story and setting, but the gameplay always felt shallow and clunky to me. So take that into account as well: I’m not starting out here as a Diablo II superfan.

In a perfect world, a video game remaster should satisfy the long time fans while modernizing enough to bring in new players. Personally I would love a game that gives me the moody feel of D2 with smoother, deeper gameplay, and I had held some hope that Resurrected might achieve that.

That hope was not fulfilled.

Simply put, this is just Diablo II with better graphics. Nothing more. What tweaks have been made beyond the visuals are so minor as to be scarcely worth mentioning.

The visual updates are great — I’ll give it that. It’s very recognizable as Diablo II and yet light years ahead of the original in visual fidelity. The character animations are still a bit stiff (an engine limitation, I assume), but the textures and monster models are incredibly detailed. The dynamic lighting, meanwhile, is superb, especially when playing a magical class. Dark caves briefly explode with light with every fire spell cast. It’s fantastic.

The remastered cinematics are also impeccable. You can see the lingering horror in every shifty movement of Marius’ eyes.

The sound hasn’t changed much, but that’s all to the better. If there’s one thing I’ve always unequivocally loved about Diablo II, it’s the sound design. From the evocative sound effects to the brooding music and distinctive character voices, it’s easily one of the best-sounding games I’ve ever played.

But when it comes to the gameplay, Resurrected leaves me cold. Virtually nothing has changed compared to the original, and while that may be good news to some, for my taste there are some aspects of the game that badly needed updating.

Most notable of this is the limited key-bindings for skills. You can bind skills only to the left and right mouse buttons, so pretty much the whole game just boils to spamming one button most if not all of the time. There’s a system to quick swap between different skills using hotkeys, but it feels very clunky.

For my money, this game really needed to be updated with a full action bar. Yes, a change that big would have necessitated some rebalancing, but I think it’s the bare minimum necessary to modernize the gameplay.

Another mechanic I was disappointed to see return is stamina, a resource that depletes as your character runs, eventually forcing you to slow to a walk.

If you haven’t encountered this firsthand, it might not sound so bad. Most games these days have a sprint feature, and it’s pretty common for sprint to be resource-limited. But those games usually have three speeds: walk, run, and sprint. If they leave one out, it’s the walk speed. But Diablo II doesn’t have a sprint speed. Stamina limits your run speed, meaning when it runs out, you’re reduced to walking at a very slow pace.

I genuinely don’t understand why this mechanic ever existed in the first place, let alone why Blizzard kept it for Resurrected. The only thing I can think of is limiting kiting on ranged classes, but… why? That’s skillful play; it should be rewarded, not punished. At any rate in practice mostly all stamina accomplishes is to make travel miserable.

However, much as I dislike both stamina and the limited hotkeys, they are pretty core to the Diablo II experience. While I believe they should have been changed, you can make an authenticity argument for them. What’s harder to justify is the lack of other quality-of-life improvements.

For example, inventory space is still severely limited, and I just don’t see a need for this. Even at low levels, scrolls of town portal are easy enough to acquire. There’s no gameplay tension or interesting decisions to be made because of the limited inventory. It’s just inconvenience for inconvenience’s sake.

Resurrected is lacking many other simple modern conveniences that should be a no-brainer for a remaster like this, such as buff duration tracking, double clicking to equip or sell items, and custom key-bindings.

In fact just about the only gameplay tweak is that you can now pick up gold simply by running over it, and even then the radius for gold pick-up seems smaller than it needs to be.

If you’re a die-hard fan of Diablo II and all you wanted was the same game with shinier graphics… yeah, this is that. If you wanted anything more from Resurrected, you’ll be disappointed, and if you’re someone who never played the original, I’d honestly be more inclined to recommend the fan-made Reign of Terror mod for Grim Dawn. It has some issues of its own, but in my view it does a better job of balancing Diablo II faithfulness with refreshed gameplay. And you won’t have to deal with the moral quandary of supporting Blizzard in the current climate.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
Activision-Blizzard is considered a controversial company in the MMO and gaming space owing to a long string of scandals over the last few years, including the Blitzchung boycott, mass layoffs, labor disputes, and executive pay fiasco. Most recently, the company was sued by the state of California for fostering a work environment riddled with sexual harassment and discrimination, the disastrous corporate response to which has further compounded Blizzard’s ongoing pipeline issues and the widespread perception that its online games are in decline.
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Jonathan Padgett

I’m glad that you admitted to being biased before even starting the review. That kept you from losing around 1,500 relationship status with me and I would imagine some other hardcore D2 fans.. maybe. I too, in the spirit of divulging biases, will admit to having been a rabid D2 fan from pre-1.09 days on. My brother and I both installed the beta as soon as it was available and played just about every waking moment,(work and children responsibilities excluded), until they pulled the plug. We both were completely satisfied with the remastered aspects of the game. I think that one aspect alot of critics don’t take into consideration is the level of appreciation and devotion that the cult followers of the Sanctuary lore possess. I, for one, was ecstatic to see that the gameplay wasn’t tampered with much. I think that would have been a HUGE turn-off for many loyal Blizzard fans. I certainly didn’t mind the quality of life changes that were made and I can’t state enough how glad I was that they didn’t screw with mechanics and gameplay. I’m not really sure how folks who never played the original will feel about Resurrected. I could be mistaken, but this honestly felt to me like them throwing myself and other D2 fanatics a bone. If so, I for one was thankful for the attention thought it a refreshing change of pace from the apparently go to marketing strategy of trying to appeal to and draw in new players, and hoping that the established player base will hang around. To sum up, if you enjoyed Diablo II: Lord Of Destruction even half as much as I did, you’ll feel the paltry sum that Resurrected costs is money well spent.

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Cymek

While I don’t understand the author’s criticisms of what was supposed to be a remaster, I find myself at the following:

Old Blizzard – Would have pre-ordered D2R without hesitation
After WCIIIR – maybe I’ll wait and see what the reviews say
After the last few weeks – Think maybe I’ll pass and give my money to a more deserving dev/publisher.

Reader
Normalisation

I played the open beta on the weekend and recall you could bind 3-5 skills, at least on the console edition. That and holding LT quick changed to other hotkeyed skills.

As for a lot if you enter with a negative opinion, despite being upfront about said negative opinion. Your perspective will only shift so far.

I was a big diablo2 fan in the day, still am and sure I’m probably bias too. But playing some of the OG diablo 2 right after the beta for resurrected just amazed with the differences. Also tracking is a lot better considering they”ve smoothed out object collision.

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tht1quietguy

This game is exactly what Vicarious Visions said it was and is exactly what the fans asked for. They added meaningful changes like stash tabs, something that’s a game changer.

You can’t increase inventory space because charms are tied to it. More inventory space means more charms. More charms means your theoretical stat ceiling is higher and then they have to rebalance the game.

Look, we all hate stamina but the thing is, take away stamina and the stamina drain enemies in the game become obsolete. Vicarious Visions has put a lot of thought into the changes they’re making and how it effects the game.

As for the boycott of the shady things they’ve done, I haven’t purchased a Blizzard game since 2014. I’m already basically boycotting them for being a bad game developer. However, Vicarious Visions has done some good work here. I love D2, it’s one of my favorite games. They’ll get my $40 and then I go back to not giving them my money.

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GoJammit

Sounds like you wanted Diablo 3, but with Diablo 2’s story. As I have never played this game, I really enjoyed the old school feel that I missed out on the first time around. I don’t know if it is worth 40 bucks, so I’ll wait and play things more worth the money or stuff already in my library. But I will for sure get this.

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Jesse James

Sounds more to me that you didn’t actually geared a character the way it meant to be…i.e. an sorceress needs loads of FCR (faster cast rate) before she starts to shine, get like 80%+ FCR then it’s something to behold, a monster slaying super char…yes making a perfect char isn’t easy but once you get there it is very satisfying and worth all the hours of endless farming!

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Brad Mash

When I read the author wasn’t a big d2 fan to begin with, and that they thought it was always clunky… and then right at the outset read: “That hope was not fulfilled.”

Okay, guy, that’s just like your opinion, bro. :)

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Diablo Rises

The whole point of a remaster is to just make it look prettier than it was.
You seem to want it to be easier than it was too, which would honestly take a lot away from the game. Also, the stamina issue isn’t even that bad and you are making out like it is just a horrible thing.

(Edited by mod to remove personal attacks. Please review our commenting code.)

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MaynardKeenanX

Sure, keep sitting with the 20 other [dudes] in the D2 lobby after a few weeks when peopIe reaIise how garbage it truIy is.

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Diablo Rises

How is it garbage? Just because the inventory isn’t bigger? Just because you can’t bind skills? Just because you have to walk because the stamina runs out?

I mean there are plenty of worse game mechanics out there, a great example is Diablo 3.

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avat3r

There are plenty of better games available now too :)
Played Diablo 2 20 Years ago and liked it a lot, played a little in the open beta and wholy shit, besides from the graphics this game is outdated as fuck…

No way I pay this shitshow of a company 40€…If I want a competent arpg I play Grim Dawn, Torchlight 2 or Titanquest :)

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Diablo Rises

Titanquest? Are you kidding me?

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Jan Thijs Pabon

Thanks for the good read! A little heads-up, and minor corrections though about the Reign of Terror article you’ve linked. It’s seen a few patches since your article. The balancing is still an on-going process in terms of difficulty, however. There’s a few major things happening there.
For one, the Grim Dawn classes are there to stay. This was decided after D2R got announced, as it no longer made sense to recreate the original as close as possible, since it was already done. Alternatively, the Grim Dawn classes have seen a buff, so they’re equal in power level.
There have been some changes to many D2 classes, for the issue you mention (2 button gameplay).
Lastly, but certainly not least: a new act 6 has been added. Act 6 being the entire Diablo 1 story campaign, including all original sounds, music and dialogue files etc.

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Chris P

I don’t understand. Diablo 2 with new graphics and nothing else is exactly what we want.