diablo II resurrected review

Diablo II Resurrected Review – They Don’t Make ’em Like This Anymore (PS5)

Editor’s Note: To support the developers and employees at Activision Blizzard pushing for change, we are covering the games that they are working hard on making. However, we need to acknowledge that employees seek a shift in the company’s culture, even as they are still passionately developing games. We will continue to report on the issues at Activision Blizzard as the employees seek to reform the culture and make it a safer, equal, and more inclusive workplace, even as we highlight the games those same workers are creating.

Diablo II: Resurrection is a literal resurrection of Diablo II in every way. If you loved the original 20 years ago, it’s fully intact here, for better or worse; that mileage is going to vary for a lot of people. On the one hand, there’s the feeling that iterating too much would fundamentally make Diablo II not Diablo II anymore—after all, that’s what Diablo III and the upcoming Diablo IV are for. But there’s certainly the argument to be made that dated design is dated design, no matter how pretty or nostalgic it’s made out to be. Where you fall on that spectrum will be the foundation for whether or not you’ll enjoy the return to one of gaming’s classics.

For me, I think the blend of new visuals built on top of the old game’s systems works really well, and is particularly impressive in how it’s been translated to a controller for consoles. Growing up in a rather religious household, I wasn’t exposed to many M-rated games as a kid, so my experiences with gaming classics were the likes of renting Metal Gear Solid while my parents were out of town or taking turns on Jake Adams’ computer to play Diablo II (he was a grade older than me and SOOOOO cool to my nerdy little middle-school self). I remember Diablo II’s visuals vividly, or at least I thought I did. Funny how the nostalgic brain will fill in those gaps. To that end, the visual update alone makes Diablo II: Resurrection a masterpiece.

diablo II resurrected review

Diablo II: Resurrection recasts the visuals in such a way that it’s what your brain was seeing back in 2000, when you were hunched over a keyboard and mouse playing the original in a darkened basement. And yet the ability to toggle the graphics at an instant (L2+touchpad on PS5. I had to look it up, the game doesn’t tell you how to do it) shows that the original game wasn’t embellished with near as many details as our brains like to remember. Pixelated dungeons with nary a notable detail become corpse-strewn blood-stained stone. Fields of muddy greens and browns become even better looking fields of muddy greens and browns. Visuals are rendered with intent, never changing or updating the feeling of the original, but embellishing where it makes sense, and where new visual technologies allow them to. And it’s genuinely stunning what they accomplished, creating a game with a look and tone exactly what I’d expect of Diablo II.

The visual polish, so very carefully crafted to stay true to the original game’s vision, doesn’t do anything to decrease (or increase, for that matter) visibility of environments, items, enemies, and characters on the screen. Enemies still have their distinct outlines. Darkened corners of dungeons are still wrapped in a lightless blanket. I hammered the visual toggle constantly, mostly out of curiosity and delight. It’s a small tool that aids in really appreciating the work they put into the updated visual design, seeing just how closely they got it to the original. The ability to do it on the fly is a testament to how well everything matches up. I’d even toss it in as part of a mid-battle combo just for the hell of it.

Diablo II Resurrected Review – East, Always into the East

Cutscenes have also been completely redone, looking absolutely incredible. This isn’t just a resolution bump on some 20-year-old CG animations (which were arguably groundbreaking at the time). They are completely new, synced precisely to the original audio. While they mostly remain faithful to those classic cutscenes, some elements of them have been altered thanks to newer technologies allowing for better postured, physics, and animations. Much like the updated gameplay visuals, however, they perfectly capture the intent of the originals, never being altered to such an extent that this stops feeling like Diablo II. That’s the core of this entire experience. Does it look and feel like Diablo II at every turn? No modernization should fundamentally change or iterate on the experience, but rather enhance from what was possible in 2000.

On the gameplay side, they mostly left well enough alone. And yes, that does mean that it’s not exactly updated with the myriad quality of life features that action-RPGs have gained in the last two decades, but it also means this is still Diablo II through and through. And they don’t make ’em like they used to. There are a couple of rather light touches that Blizzard and Vicarious Visions applied that both change a lot while never wholly changing the feel of the game too much. Auto gold pickup now means you don’t have to click on every pile of gold (though you do still need to run over it). Messaging has been changed around online and offline characters. There are a few other minor changes, like being able to reopen the portal to the secret cow level if you kill the cow king.

Diablo II resurrected review
The above interface is for the PC version. The interface looks a bit different for console players, who have a number of hotkeys to use abilities easily with a controller.

But this is largely the exact same game, a 2000s era action-RPG time capsule. In an interview with the development team, they explained to us that for any proposed changes, they would iterate to see how much it would change the balance and feel of the overall game. Remove the stamina meter? Suddenly you are playing with item economy like the stamina potion, as well as altering how armor rating is calculated. Stackable potions in your inventory? Suddenly that changes the flow of grabbing loot and the need to use Town Portals to get rid of items. The question becomes how far do you go before iterating fundamentally changes the game, until Diablo II is no longer Diablo II?

Diablo II Resurrected Review – Nostalgic Restraint

Despite some of its 20-year-old game design burrs, I was happy that Blizzard and Vicarious Visions opted for restraint. I didn’t want just any other Diablo game. I wanted Diablo II, and Diablo II is exactly what I got. This is the game that 13-year-old me remembers playing in Jake Adams’ basement, a marvel of PC gaming that was taboo in my house. And translating a PC-only game to console was done with an admirable effort that should be commended. Even elements like the grid-based inventory system have enough controller shortcuts to them that it retains all of its mouse and keyboard PC goodness while being entirely playable on a controller. There are modern games that honestly feel more cumbersome to play on controller than Diablo II: Resurrection does, so add another point in the meticulous success column for Vicarious Visions and Blizzard.

Normally one to play the classic sword-bearing, “leeroy jenkins” hero type—boring, I know—I chose instead to have my main character in Diablo II: Resurrected be a Necromancer, a class I don’t believe I ever played as a kid. It’s taken some getting used to not just charging in and whacking enemies with whatever weapon I have equipped, but the ability to have an entire army of the dead at my command is an amazing power. Couple that with additional skills and weapons, and it’s kind of funny to think that a 20-year old game is helping me appreciate playing a class outside of my usual gaming go-to. Of course I’ll continue toying around with all of the classes, and I’ll probably run a tanky sword-bearing Paladin at some point.

Diablo II resurrected review

With 20 years of action-RPGs—many of which used Diablo II as inspiration—it’s a fascinating experience to return to how they all started. There may be some hurdles for new players and those who have become used to modern day conveniences, but it doesn’t take long to settle into a good rhythm. Diablo II knows exactly what it is, and it’s focused. If you lean into the relatively straightforward experience that way the game wants you to—the way you would have in 2000—you’re guaranteed to get a level of enjoyment out of it, even if you have to acquiesce to certain quality of life changes not being present. After all, many of those things are simply what makes Diablo II feel unequivocally like Diablo II.

Aside from a few very minor visual issues with the renderer, I have run into a number of server and connection hiccups that will teleport my character around as the server catches up and tells my client where it thinks my character should be. Diablo II: Resurrected still has separate online and offline characters, so if I ever want to play my character with other people, I have to play always online, even if I’m just running solo. But even past the launch date problems that have been mostly resolved, there have been some warping issues whenever my client and the server get out of sync.

Diablo II: Resurrected is Diablo II in everything that matters. Its strict adherence to the tone, themes, and even gameplay of the original makes this an incredible time capsule, revisiting a classic restored, yet not iterated on. It’s the best of both worlds; a game that looks and plays wonderfully in 2021, but embodies the dark experience that was first brought to the world more than 20 years ago. They just don’t make games like this anymore.

Diablo II Resurrected review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS5. For more information, please read our Review Policy.

  • Stunning visual update that retains the Diablo II feel and tone
  • Strict adherence to the original; not iterating
  • Excellent adaptation of a PC game to controller
  • Adhering to dated game design may drive some away
  • Occasional small "teleports" when the server desyncs from the client for an online character