With Diablo 2: Risen, Developer Vicarious Visions has had the unenviable task of releasing a game published by Activision Blizzard.
Starting in July, a storm of controversy raged around the publisher, which was the subject of several lawsuits alleging toxic work environments, a “pervasive culture of fraternity boys” and discrimination at work. ‘respect for women, one of which was instituted by a federal agency and ended with a recent settlement. Vicarious Visions released its creation in an environment steeped in cynicism and anger against its affiliate publisher and the creator of the original game. Long-time gamers have stopped participating in the Activision Blizzard ecosystem; high-ranking employees have left. Even at the best of times, working for a company like Activision Blizzard – or any large corporation – at lower levels can be difficult. Adding additional toxic layers can make it, to use a term apt to Diablo 2, hellish.
I want to review this game. But I also want to be aware of the alleged horror of men in power towards workers at Activision Blizzard who just wanted to do their job. Tasked with remastering a classic, originally created by this same besieged company, Vicarious Visions does not deserve this taint. The question is whether Vicarious Visions was successful in its task.
In short, he did.
For the uninitiated, Diablo 2 is an isometric action-adventure with RPG elements, set in a dark fantasy universe with angels, demons, and all kinds of evil entities. When it was released in 2000, it was the video game equivalent of a self-conscious black metal album, with a performative seriousness that isn’t meant to be taken seriously. It stays campy like hell, and it’s a joy to be.
Diablo 2: resurrected is a remaster of the dungeon crawling classic. There aren’t any big updates to controls, camera angles, or map design. It is, in essence, Diablo 2, with all the joys and inconveniences players can remember.
Players choose from a pool of seven character classes, with whom they magically smash, shoot, and weave their way through random environments ranging from rural encampments to spooky graves. For the purposes of this review, I’ve gone through them all. However, there were some strong points. My Assassin martial artist would be right at home in a Yakuza game, stringing together jabs that turn into a devastating final blow. In contrast, my Necromancer stands back to let his army of foul beasts, ghouls and skeletons simply sweep over the land, leaving nothing but destruction in its wake.
The controls are wonderfully responsive and each class has its own mechanical feel. While playing on PS5, I feel every stroke and every magic flash on the DualSense.
However, in keeping with the theme of old school games, Diablo 2: resurrected does little to guide players. Tutorials are almost non-existent. When I got a new skill, I thought it would automatically be mapped and linked to an available button. Instead, I had to find the binding and do it manually myself. I also had no idea that when leveling up I could choose to learn new skills and abilities, in addition when upgrading attributes. It’s not hard to understand, but a bit more advice would have been welcome, especially for new players who have never played the original.
Once I understood the mechanics of button mapping, the characters opened up. Resurrected allows me to map a secondary set of actions to the left trigger of the controller. For example, I press X to perform a basic attack, but by holding L2 and X, I can perform a character’s strongest magic attack. I tend to use these secondary buttons for magic or special abilities (which drain characters’ mana pool), while keeping my buttons vanilla for immediate, non-draining attacks. By mixing and associating combat and magic, my characters were transformed into absolute machines. Considering the responsive controls, it became a pleasure to play with any class.
Diablo is a franchise notorious for its addiction, although it consists almost entirely of fighting from the same fixed angle. But the monotony is broken by the variety of enemies, evolving environments, dungeon randomization, and loot. I was constantly delighted when I found a mighty wand or a unique sword.
However, upgrading my character was the main driver. No doubt many MMORPG fans can talk about this thrill: I just wanted to level up one more time to save one more skill. Before I knew it, hours had passed, despite the fact that I had set a limit. With a max level of 99, there are a lot of hours to go; even the original base game could last just under 200 hours for the finalists.
The plot remains the same as before, with shot-by-shot cutscenes told through awesome updated cutscenes. Well written, performed and directed, they remain campy scenes we can all love and cherish.
Since this is an early 2000s game, NPCs drown me in words, rather than engaging in interesting or heated discussions. They are played extremely well, but they get sickening nonetheless. I almost never skip dialogue in games, but in Resurrected I often did, because the captions served the same purpose. Indeed, the first two Diablo games don’t have so many characters as glorified audio logs on two legs. (It’s only in the third game that we find real NPCs, who grow up, learn, come into conflict, and have their own agendas.)
But maybe Diablo 2: resurrected‘s the worst problem is its inventory “management”, another hangover from the old-fashioned design of the original. If you like finicky administration and Excel balances, you’re going to love this. Otherwise, expect hellish clerk work. Inventory space is extremely and unnecessarily restrictive. You are given a large hiding place to dump items, but there is no way to send an item directly to the hiding place, because games like Demonic souls‘redo allow. Here you have to play pack mule. While slaughtering countless enemies, I had to take a break, return to camp, and throw or sell items to make room for Following loot that I should throw away or sell. The cycle is tedious and boring. It interrupts the flow of combat and exploration. I only hope that a solution will be put in place.
It’s hard to talk about it Diablo 2: resurrected without insisting too much on what made Diablo 2 great to start with. It’s also hard not to dwell on what makes the original frustrating by today’s standards. The updates are a pleasure to see: load times are instant, controls are well designed and it remains a very easy game to pick up and play. The graphics, animations, increased frame rate option and sound design are a feast for the senses. But its startup problems – bad tutorials, boring dialogue, and maddening inventory management – remain. The test is not really whether you like Resurrected but that you like Diablo 2. And considering it’s been 20 years, you probably know the answer to that question.
However, there are a few new issues to consider: Resurrected allows both online and offline characters, but the two columns will never overlap – so if you’ve elevated your Amazon offline to higher levels, it will never be able to play with friends. This barrier is unfortunate, because I To do recommend playing offline first, as the game is more responsive. In fact, I would recommend that you use the offline play as your own intro, to familiarize yourself with the gameplay before jumping online where you’ll be faced with lag, slightly delayed entries, and co-op partner trouble. But otherwise the co-op was very easy to set up and play with friends. Resurrected benefits from co-op, especially when the characters complement each other (Paladin and Witch are a great combo!).
There were also network issues on launch day. The biggest impact was that I lost all progress on an offline character (an issue the developers are aware of), restarting it at level 1. There are more minor issues with playing online, including lag and occasional stuttering (even in private, solo play). However, it was mostly a smooth experience, whether online or offline.
Diablo 2: resurrected is a game of contrasts: it is a solidly designed dungeon robot with the attributes of a game from the early 2000s; it has incredible and intense performances from its actors but the whole plot is ridiculously silly; it’s made by a talented team of developers but lags behind the undeserved smoke of its struggling editor.
The original Diablo 2 was the pinnacle of dungeon bots back in 2000, but in its current form it’s more of a fossil. Vicarious Visions did an amazing job enveloping it in amber. I loved my time with it, despite the flaws that are still visible through the hull. For better or for worse, the story remains.
Diablo 2: resurrected was released on September 23, 2021 on the Windows computer, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox one, Xbox x series, and Nintendo Switch. The game has been tested on PS5 using a pre-release download code provided by Blizzard Entertainment. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find further information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.