Phil Villarreal: More than two decades after its original released, the beloved dungeon-crawling, loot-grabbing "Diablo II" is back in remastered form as "Diablo II: Resurrected."
With a visual overhaul, a streamlined interface and numerous quality-of-life improvements, the goal was to rejigger the old game for current audiences while still retaining the nostalgia factor. Sean, you go way back with this one. What changes most stood out to you?
Sean Newgent: The biggest change is definitely the look of the game. As you said, I remember when my dad purchased this game twenty years ago and I'd spend countless hours flipping through the giant instruction booklet's bestiary. All those little compressed JPEGs of the games' multitude of hoard villains certainly charged my imagination. It wasn't until years later I actually played the game when I purchased my own copy of the Battle Chest boxed set back in the mid-'00s.
As a game that's been with me through most of my life, it was exciting to see it updated and remastered for this modern audience. The graphics aren't going to blow you away but they are more in-line with modern dungeon crawlers, with better textures, lighting, and animations. It still retains some of that clunkiness like characters' walking and attack animations; but it plays well regardless. It's a perfect mix of that old, nostalgic feel and some modern polish and veneer.
It also maintains the grim-dark, grungy look of the early "Diablo" games, rather than completely updating to the more cartoony look of Diablo 3 that turned many hardcore fans against the series.
What are some of your impressions of the game as a first-timer to "Diablo II?"
PV: My entry point to the franchise was "Diablo III" on PlayStation 4. I dumped dozens of hours into that game, wasting many a night playing co-op with friends online. I've deemed it one of the best co-op games ever. I also appreciated the surprisingly serviceable 2018 Switch port.
Even though this "Diablo II" remaster was meant for gamers like you, who have a deep history with the game, I think it's got even more to offer newcomers like me. Never having had experience with the first two "Diablo" games, I was pleased with how well the game lives up to 2021 standards.
Gamers like you, Sean, may see playing "Diablo" on a console as heresy, but without that in -- and if these games weren't so well acclimated to the controller setup -- a PC-averse player like me would have never given it a chance.
Still, while I appreciated "Diablo II" and the clever way it crafts its lore and sets the stage for future developments in the franchise, I found myself yearning for "Diablo III," which is a fuller, more robust experience in nearly every way.
What differences did you see between the PC and PS4 versions?
SN: I did play some of "Diablo II" for PS4 and found that the transition to console was surprisingly smooth for the most part. While I wouldn't say it's the optimal platform for this type of game, it only felt annoying to me to manage my inventory without a mouse cursor to quickly click on things.
When I did move myself over to PC I found it a lot friendlier experience. "Diablo" was built for mouse and keyboard and there is some snobbish part of me that thinks it just NEEDS to be played on a computer to really get the full experience.
As far as where the game falls short I think it all comes down to how aged "Diablo II" is. There are a lot of character classes and variety in how you can build your character but at the same time it's nowhere near as deep as modern dungeon crawlers of its ilk like Path of Exile or the recently released "Last Epoch". And on top of that, the enemy variety and gameplay also feels more dated and less dynamic. Skeletons, zombies, demons, mummies; it's a who's who of generic video game fodder and while a lot of that is to be expected, it doesn't make "Diablo II's" world interesting enough for me to really want to keep pushing forward into the next map. As a kid with little experience in fantasy video games it was a bestiary that really opened my mind to grimdark. But now it all seems very baseline and dull.
One of my favorite parts of a game like "Diablo" is filling out each areas map and while I still find some bizarre joy in watching the little white lines connect into boxes filled with little paths and buildings, the world feels very empty and uninteresting. Part of that is the apocalyptic, menacing vibe but another part is the sparsity of characters to interact with outside of the enemies or some quest givers. For me, it's an experience that may have been formative back in the day, but now just makes me want to dive back in to the "Diablo"-likes that have really refined this type of game.
But the soundtrack. The haunting acoustic chords, the dark atmospheric Brian Eno-esque pieces that crescendo in drum heavy finales pulled straight from a prog album. If "Diablo II" left me with nothing else — it's the killer soundtrack that will never get old.
Was your experience in Sanctuary more positive?
PV: Yeah, I was also taken aback by the sheer desolation of some of the maps. At times it really did feel at times like a half-finished game. I realize the need for vast spaces to give players chances to steer clear of chance encounters with baddies, but some "Diablo III"-style accouterments and variance would have been welcome.
I also had an embarrassingly hard time doing simple things such as affixing gems to weapons or sorting through inventory. I get anxiety in "Diablo" games when I'm lugging around so much junk that I don't have time to sort through it all and discard what's necessary to pick up some good drops. "Diablo III" lets you craft and salvage material, making no piece of equipment you pick up feel like a waste of time.
"Diablo II" too often makes me feel like one of those recycling cops, always sorting through the junk in order to find something serviceable.
Grips aside, I adore that I have more "Diablo" to play. These suckers are endlessly replayable, and it's always a joy to scrap your build and start over with a fresh character in a class nothing like the one you used before. I've always got so many characters going that I tend to lose track of which one does what. It's the joy — and stress — Michael Keaton's character gets in the movie "Multiplicity."
Now that I've pretty much exhausted my tolerance for the more extreme "Diablo III' rifts, I'm happy that I'll have "Diablo II" to fall back on to tide me over until "Diablo 4" comes out in 2023. I recommend this one for fans of "Diablo III" who are looking for a fresher, more innocent — if more cumbersome — version of the obsession. Final thoughts, Sean?
SN: Like most of the things I have revisited from my childhood, "Diablo II" doesn't quite live up to the excitement it instilled in me fifteen years ago. It is certainly a game well worth playing if you have never gotten the chance to and all the quality of life improvements makes it the best version of an already polished game. But that game is dated and trying to swim in a sea of contemporaries, including its own sequel, that offer more robust gameplay and interesting worlds.
There's a lot of game here and a ton of replayability. Perhaps with friends and the new shared inventory system the game is a more enjoyable romp. "Diablo II" is a gaming milestone that has inspired countless developers since its release and getting the chance to see where this genre came from is going to be a treat for fans. For me, the treat was bite-sized. A classic is a classic, but, as high school literature class taught us, that doesn't mean it aged well.
Review codes were provided by the studio.
Sean reviewed the game on PS4 and PC; Phil on Xbox Series X.
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