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How Diablo II: Resurrected has made a 20-year classic even better

When Diablo II first hit PC in the year 2000, it was quick to make waves in the gaming community. Reviews at the time called it “hypnotic”, “addictive” and “moody” in all the best ways. As the years went on, gamers continued to toil away at the alluring loop of hacking, slashing and looting – cementing it as a video game classic forevermore.

Just over 20 years later and we’re finally being treated to Diablo II: Resurrected

Resurrected throws you right back into Sanctuary, a world ravaged by the Eternal Conflict which saw angels of the High Heavens battle demonic denizens of the Burning Hells. It also pairs you with an unlikely hero whose quest sees them pursue the mysterious Dark Wanderer and uncover the fate of the Prime Evils: Diablo, Mephisto, and Baal.

But why retell this story now?  

“Well, through our history, we [Blizzard] have definitely had an interest in revisiting and remastering some of our games that have been out for a while,” explains the game’s Lead Producer, Chris Lena. “Diablo II hit its 20th anniversary about a year ago, so it seemed like a perfect time. It’s also a big undertaking, so we had to gather the right people… the right team, and the team at Vicarious Visions provided a perfect opportunity for us to get this kicked off.”

After spending many hours with the final product, it’s incredibly evident that fans of the action RPG will notice that Diablo II’s core DNA remains firmly intact throughout Resurrected. Buttery smooth combat, for example, allows the constant hunt for new and improved loot to feel as great as it always has. According to Resurrected’s Associate Art Director, Dustin King, that was a very conscious decision from the outset. It’s all part of the plan for the game to not only satisfy long-time Diablo fans, but prevent newcomers from simply assuming that jumping in will be too daunting a task. 

Watch the remastered cinematic for Diablo II: Resurrected‘s Act I

When asked if he was worried about achieving that delicate balancing act, all King can do is laugh. “Absolutely,” he immediately responds. “This is a very passionate fan base, right? And we come from the fan base, so we’re passionate as well. But with that passionate fan base means you’re tinkering with nostalgia? We had to be very careful about not alienating the fans, but at the same time had to look at things like control schemes that modern gamers are looking for right out of the box.

I think that’s how we’ve kind of threaded into these newcomers. We’ve tried to make the control scheme, especially on console, much more newcomer friendly, as well as just the pacing to get inside the game. Once you hit that start screen, we have a giant start button to zip you right in there.”

Speaking of controls, it’s another huge advancement for the remaster – players no longer restricted to a humble mouse and keyboard. Instead, Resurrected skilfully branches out with a new controller-friendly scheme for PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo systems. It’s not the first time this has been done–Diablo III paved the way for the series back in 2012 after launching on the PlayStation 3–but Resurrected has tightened things up even more.

Controversial though it may sound, a controller may actually be the best way to play Resurrected. By utilising the flexibility of analogue sticks, movement provides a deep level of freedom, and having so many action buttons readily at your disposal means your reaction time can be faster than ever. 

According to King, people who have yet to experience the new method will be legitimately surprised about how well it plays, even in the upper tiers. 

Watch the Cinematic Trailer

“It’s something that we started on early,” he reveals. “And because we started early, we knew that when we got to the point where it started to feel good we could hand it off to people and they would come back and say ‘Oh, wow, I kind of want to start playing it on the controller now’.

It’s one of my favourite ways to play and, you know, you can pop it onto the [Nintendo] Switch, right? Like that is a controller. So being able to pack that sucker up and take it with you, we had to make sure that controls were tight, and they are.”

Diablo II: Resurrected’s other huge evolution is to its visuals. A vast amount of work was undertaken to ensure the remaster didn’t just live up to players’ nostalgia goggles, but to transform characters and art from a 2D perspective into 3D. As you play, switching between the old and new style can be achieved by the press of just a few buttons, and the difference between the two is astounding. It also acts as a stark reminder of how far the Diablo series has come in two decades. 

In the eyes of Chris Lena, this element of Resurrected was one of the project’s biggest challenges. The team’s internal mandate was to not just introduce modern rendering to older 2D models, but to do so while continuing to hold onto the same tone and feel that turned Diablo II into what it is today. The actual process of achieving that mandate, meanwhile, was through meticulous attention to detail. 

“One of the major goals from the art team was to not change that mood and tone, King further explains. “It’s so specific to Diablo II and it’s very special, so we wanted to make sure that we recapture that in these new visuals. 

Watch the Live Action Trailer for Diablo II: Resurrected featuring Simu Liu

A lot of effort went into the concept phase right off the bat – starting on paper from the ground up. From concepts that we might have been missing, to sort of filling in those blanks and making sure that we were right on paper before we went into 3D.

And then from there once we got into 3D, it was a matter of making sure these guys feel correct in this environment, along with all this new lighting and rendering tech. So it was a process that we’ve been very proud of.”

But while the development team stresses that Diablo II: Resurrected should be viewed as more of a remaster than a remake, one element that was completely rebuilt was cinematics. It’s unlikely any fans will miss the movie files of yesteryear, but the reason for the change was a relatively simple one: the old cinematics just didn’t mesh well with all the improvements the art team had actioned. 

“It just didn’t look right to have this game, that looks so good, but cinematics still looked dated,” Lena explains. “They aged very well but still, it’s been 20 years. So we really wanted to make sure they matched the actual in-game visuals as well. So that’s when we tackled the idea of doing this shot by shot cinematic remake.”

This level of love and dedication to the source material is just one of many reasons why Diablo II: Resurrected works as well as it does. For fans, it’ll feel like coming home, and for newcomers, it’ll be an adventure like no other. At the end of the day, it’s a tried and tested formula that kept has kept gamers playing for more than 20 years, and at this rate they’ll likely be playing for 20 more. 

Diablo II: Resurrected is out now