Where do you stand on the separation of art from the artist? Perhaps you’ve been wondering whether to watch a Roman Polanski movie or listen to a Michael Jackson album – and God knows, art history would indeed be impoverished if we rid it of all its monsters. There is never an easy answer. After the appalling recent revelations about the studio’s “frat boy” culture, we have to ask ourselves the same question about Blizzard games.
In some ways, this beautifully produced remaster of Diablo 2 is unfortunate enough to be Blizzard’s first release since the state of California filed a lawsuit against the studio. Much of the work on this was done by Vicarious Visions, an impeccable outfit that was only incorporated into Blizzard earlier this year. (In fact, former studio boss Jen Oneal was recently named co-leader of Blizzard, a new broom believed to be spearheading reform there.) Additionally, the original 2000 game was developed by Blizzard North, an autonomous studio that completely different from SoCal. distinguishes motherhood. Diablo 2 is an adopted child of Blizzard culture at best. But Diablo also helped set the tone of Blizzard, with its no-longer-metal aesthetic, lore of kitchen sinks, innovative online multiplayer, and endgame of abysmal depth and intricacy.
It feels important to lay out all of this, but it is not my job as a reviewer to tell you how to play Blizzard games in 2021. It can only be a personal choice. Personally, as someone who loves the studio’s games, I am ambivalent and still undecided. But I didn’t let it have on the rest of my review.
That’s not to say I don’t have complicated feelings about Diablo 2: Resurrected for a variety of reasons. Diablo 2 is a beast of a game that 21 years later still casts a long shadow – about the tortured development of its successor (a fate doesn’t seem to have escaped Diablo 4 either) and the action-RPG genre that defines it. As influential as it has been, it is a unique, bloodthirsty, almost clumsy work, and a defiantly unfashionable work.
The most important thing about Diablo 2: Resurrected is that it changed almost nothing about it, for better or for worse (spoiler: it’s both). You get a few minor but significant quality of life changes, including a shared stash for your characters to swap loot in, an automatic gold pickup, and – since the game now has console versions – well-implemented gamepad support. But that’s the limit of what the developers have allowed themselves for fear of changing the character too much. You’re still playing Item Tetris in a tiny inventory grid. You still run to your corpse with empty hands and heart in your mouth for your armor, weapons, and cash when you die. You are still browsing a list of public games with garbled titles like ONLYDURIELPLS in the lobby when you want to play online. You’re still limited to a single respec per difficulty level – and if you end up with a character build that you don’t like afterward, tough. This puristic approach is certainly the right choice, but it has its price, which goes beyond the level of difficulty and the balance of the game. For example, local co-op play on consoles, which was such a pleasure in Diablo 3, was unfortunately not implemented here because it would have thrown the game too much out of shape. In fact, it would have required a radically different approach.
To understand why, you have to look under the hood of this one-of-a-kind remake. Fortunately, Blizzard made it possible for you to do this with the touch of a button, which instantly displays the game as it looked in 2000 – pixelated, grainy, isometric, low-resolution, and very two-dimensional. This is not a remaster in the broadest sense: the game’s original assets, updated or redrawn to run with higher fidelity on modern hardware. It’s not exactly a remake either: the original game’s content was created from scratch, more or less faithfully, in a brand new engine. It exists as the latter, but only as a dumb 3D audiovisual overlay that mimics the output of the underlying 2D game logic of the original game. This is the game that you are actually playing. Her detailed 3D avatar reaches out to meet the monster next to her, but it’s the chunky pixels underneath (or rather, the math that goes underneath.) she) that determine whether or not the beat connects.
It’s a fascinating approach that results in a remarkably faithful replica. Aesthetic achievement is one thing: I am amazed that the artists have succeeded in conjuring up the dirty, roughly structured, dim atmosphere of the original pixel art with clean, modern rendering and lighting, in which gloomy details are fleetingly suggested in the gloom. The feel is even more remarkable. By keeping the original game logic behind the scenes, Diablo 2: Resurrected retains all of the features of the 2000 game, from the fast, stiff running of your character to the speed of the crack of the whip and the binary flatness of interactions.
Diablo 2 is fast. For all the sophistication of its character building and dizzying play with objects, rune words and everything, it plays with brutal simplicity. When you play with the mouse and keyboard, you still only have two skills on the mouse buttons at a time and are forced to use function keys to turn others on. You will rarely do that because you rely on a single attack for most situations and tweak your character structure and around it. Besieged by hopping creatures, you hammer furiously and spam potions to maintain your health and mana in tougher battles. (Console and gamepad gaming allows you to assign multiple skills to the Diablo 3 style face buttons, and it can add your combat flexibility and loosen up your play style a bit. I recommend giving it a try, but wouldn’t call it a game. Change .)
The action can still be exciting in its ferocity and persistent in its bite. Of course, there is a lot of math going on behind this rushing frenzy, although for some reason (and this goes with other Diablo games, to be fair) the shaky spire of escalating numbers tends to tip easily and painlessly from slaughter to grinding frustration in the blink of an eye Dice roll.
That sums up Diablo 2 – it’s a very binary game. It’s either one or the other: easy or difficult, voracious or minimalist, mindless action or deep theory. I’m glad that with this nearly flawless and well-equipped revival it has been preserved exactly as it always was. (This isn’t Warcraft 3: Reforged – it has CG cutscenes, remastered audio, cross-progression across formats from scratch.) But I doubt whether it has aged that well. Diablo 3 has been heavily criticized for not being Diablo 2, and in fact it is not. It has a flowing, elastic, rhythmic fight that emphasizes situational awareness and a complementary set of skills. Character building gives you the freedom to craft and explore and express yourself instead of sending you on the web to create a tweaked build for fear that you might go wrong and ruin your character for another dozen hours. It even has a winking self-confidence about Diablo’s tormented Edgelord stylings.
Diablo 2 is starting to look like a relic: a beautiful, intricately carved, historically significant relic that has been carefully polished and restored here, but a relic nonetheless. I think I could put it back in its velvet-lined box.