Paul Verhoeven relieves his glory days by diving back into the dark and spooky world of Diablo 2 Resurrected.
The first time I played Diablo II, I was sitting in an internet cafe in Manly, tucked behind the library. I was fifteen years old, I’d handed over five whole bucks to the swarthy guy who ran the joint, and had seated myself at a dinky little PC in the corner.
I blew on the mouse wheel, cracked my neck and logged on. Every day that week, after class, I’d head down and send my pixelated Barbarian scurrying around the ruins of Tristram and Lut Gholein, clicking frantically, utterly enthralled by the gothic horror of this world.
Diablo II was such a formative gaming experience for so many people. It was also my first time gaming online, encountering strangers who (mostly) wanted to help me. Up until Diablo II, I never understood the appeal of teaming up to fight a common enemy – sharing gear, strategising, running pell-mell through darkened corridors from a glowing spider spitting acid… this game had it all.
Diablo 2 Resurrected Review
Diablo 2 Resurrected is a proper remake. Mapped over the bones of the original, it’s a wonderfully faithful recreation of the classic RPG, allowing players to bask and revel in what it got right, and what it got wrong.
I can’t actually drive, so forgive me for straying into a field of metaphors well outside my remit, but I imagine it’s like recreating a classic car. You want it to feel like it used to. Sure, you could whack a hybrid engine in the chassis of a Pontiac, but then it’s not a Pontiac, is it?
And just like a classic muscle car, this remake has a very distinctive feel for the person in the driver’s seat. If you’re playing on PC, hit G and the game will magically strip away the remake’s fancy new graphics, leaving you stranded back in the year 2000. Here’s my barbarian, Barbara, in the remake:
And here he is after tapping G.
I mean… talk about a glow-up. Do me a favour. When you’re playing, hit G every once in a while. It’s kind of alarming just how much time the developers have poured into bringing the denizens of Diablo 2 roaring into the present day, without compromising any of the menace from the original. One of the great things about older games? They leave more to the imagination. Somehow, the crunchy, grimy, shifting pixels let the players populate every nook and cranny with an almost infinite reservoir of menace, of possibilities.
This remake seems to tap into that – it’s like a police sketch artist heard our description, then somehow made the end result more real than we remember it. It’s like stepping back into a dream from long ago.
If you’ve been grinding away at Diablo 3, prepare to feel like you’ve hurtled back into the stone age. There’s no convenient action bar – as it was back in the day, you’re confined to left and right-click. You can bind your unlocked abilities to hotkeys, sure, but you’ll be scrolling then clicking to activate them. It’s imprecise, sure, but that’s how it was back in the day, dammit! This game truly does want new players to experience the game more or less exactly as it was all those years ago.
The remake was undertaken by Vicarious Visions, the studio who did an absolute bang-up job remaking Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2. The quality of life changes implemented don’t mess with the anxiety-inducing mouthfeel unique to the original – there’s now a shared stash system that lets you effortlessly flick gear between alts. Stashes are bigger, picking up coins happens automatically when you walk over them, and cross-platform character progression is on the horizon.
The cutscenes have been redone, too. Honestly, the whole package feels so lovingly crafted it’s hard not to feel simultaneously transported and elevated whilst playing. You can have a group of up to eight adventurers in-game, but I’ve been working through the campaign with The Cutlass Wonders, my regular gaming group who usually stick to Sea of Thieves (hence the name).
We’ve been spending several hours each day since launch brutalising the denizens of the game, swearing profusely, gasping, sharing loot and generally reliving our glory days. The stunning graphical upgrades have led to some terrific new spins on classic characters – the Necromancer looks like Iggy Pop, the Barbarian looks like Dave Bautista. The Druid looks like the kind of guy you’d see lurking at a renaissance fair (side note: beards without moustaches are never a good look). But the sense of perpetual delight in rounding a corner to see a setting, NPC or monster you know so well rendered in such a brilliant, realistic way is one of the most potent things Diablo 2 Resurrected does, level after level.
Remember that scene in Back to the Future II, when Marty schools those little kids by absolutely nailing the shooting game, and they mock him because of how primitive it is?
I’m curious as to how many young gamers are going to feel that way about this remake. The bones are, at times, really quite primitive. But there’s a clean, slick, no-fuss element which I think shines through, and whilst I hope I never have to show off my skills to a pair of kids in an internet cafe somewhere (do those places even still exist anymore?), my Barbarian, Barbara, is ready to go if the opportunity arises.
Diablo 2 Resurrected was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by Blizzard.