Where to begin with Diablo II? Should we start at the very beginning? Should I mention that this game first saw the light of day way back in the year 2000, when the world was just recovering from Y2K hysteria? Perhaps it needs mentioning that it had a long and storied history back on the old PC platform, and that it still has a huge amount of fans even today? Or should I begin with its release onto the latest and greatest generation of home consoles, Series X|S and PS5? After careful consideration of about two seconds, I think the logical place to begin would be with the newly remastered version of the Classic game – Diablo II: Resurrected.
The story of the Diablo games is always a strong point, and so it is here. Set shortly after the events of the original Diablo, the second game in the series sees us attempting to stop the destruction of the world, caused by the return of Diablo. The world of Sanctuary, as it is called, is in danger from the Dark Wanderer, the hero of the first game who took Diablo’s essence into his own body in an attempt to control him. This went about as well as you might expect, and the Dark Wanderer is now corrupted, which causes demons to be able to enter the world around him and generally ruin everyone’s day.
This is explained in a cutscene at the start of the game, and I have to say, the quality of this absolutely blew me away when I first watched it. The animation and work that has gone into the video is amazing, and I highly recommend that you watch it instead of skipping through, looking for hands-on action. Of course, now that the Dark Wanderer is running about the place, someone has to shut him down, and guess who that someone is? That’s right, it’s us!
Now, luckily, we have a variety of classes to choose from in our attempt to stop Diablo and bring an end to his reign of terror. You can choose from an Amazon who specialises in bows, spears and javelins, or a Necromancer who can summon an undead army to fight for him. There is also a Barbarian who likes nothing more than getting all up close and personal with melee weapons (and incidentally the only class that can dual wield weapons), a sorceress specialising in elemental magic, and – the last of the original classes – the Paladin, a holy warrior with special abilities against the undead. Two other classes that came into the original game with the Lord of Destruction DLC are also available in Resurrected, with the Druid being a shapeshifter, able to become a bear or a wolf, along with nature based elemental magic, and the Assassin – a martial arts based character with a nice sideline in elemental traps.
Every class has a multitude of playstyles, and depending on the equipment they get, can be developed into several different builds; finding a play style that suits you is all part of the fun. On my first runthrough I chose an Amazon and built her into a sharp and pointy stick queen, able to poison enemies and heal herself with every poke. The next run out though was focused on the Necromancer – mostly as I like the idea of resurrecting dead monsters to fight for me while I chill at the back of the battle. Switching ideas is certainly doable.
So, we have plenty of combat options, how does Diablo II in Resurrected form play out? Well, it appears that those behind it have decided not to mess about with the formula too much. But this does mean there are things missing from the likes of Diablo III that I really miss. For instance, in Diablo III – which incidentally I did spend an enormous amount of time playing – a quick flick of the right stick saw your character dodge whatever incoming damage was heading their way. That facility is not there in Diablo II, and is a big omission. As the walking speed of most characters is somewhat glacial, being able to run away is always a good plan B, yet it is much harder to disengage from combat this time around. The characters can run, but have a limited stamina bar, and when it is gone, they are back to plodding about like their shoes are made of concrete.
It also seems like much of the time the combat just revolves around standing toe-to-toe, poking someone until they fall over. With health potions now seeming to need about a week to work and refill your health, it is very easy to die. And dying adds a whole heap of issues to your plate, none less than the fact that all the equipment you were carrying is left on your corpse, where you fell, while you respawn in town. That’s great in one way, but on the flipside is the added difficulty of getting back to where you died, with the enemies that killed you generally still milling around your body. A sneaky workaround I discovered is if you exit the game, then reload it, you will be back in town with your corpse beside you, allowing you to recover your gear. Of course, any progress through a dungeon you made is now gone, and you have to start again. Swings and roundabouts, I guess…
Graphically, Diablo II: Resurrected is a vast improvement on how it used to look, and if you need proof, pressing LT and the back button together will revert the game to the original visual style, complete with 4:3 ratio down the middle of the screen. I have to say, it hurt my eyes to play like this, so how people coped back in the day when that was the only way to get involved, I don’t know. Back with the modern graphics, it’s all silky smooth and full screen, complemented with great voiceover work – although if I hear “I am overburdened” one more time I may just pull my own ears off. On the whole though the presentation of Resurrected is pretty much bang on.
One of the great attractions of the Diablo games though is playing with friends and venturing into the depths of the Maggot Lair together. Resurrected scales up the difficulty if you do and whilst the netcode seems to work fine, the promised cross-play action isn’t here yet. Thankfully you’ll find no shortage of Xbox gamers in place, letting you team up without any form of difficulty. There are the odd glitches though, with enemies and characters rubberbanding about the place. But, hey, I lived through playing Bad Company 2 at launch, and so I can cope with the occasional lag spike.
Time spent with Diablo II: Resurrected is certainly an enjoyable one. It isn’t as polished as Diablo III, but then this is a remaster of a 21 year old game and I fear the devs were pretty much painted into a corner: if they changed the systems, the original fans would be up in arms, but keeping the original feel does mean it slightly alienates players who are used to the newer game. It is however a testament to the playability of the game that I fast found myself sucked into the eternal search for loot, and was soon running about the place without a care in the world.
Play Diabo II: Resurrected for yourself by visiting the Xbox Store