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Diablo 2: Resurrected Technical Alpha Impressions

A fresh infusion of blood in an aging legend.

by Brandon Adams

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Don’t let Diablo 2: Resurrected fool you, the original game is nearly old enough to buy a beer, at least in the United States. It’s been almost 21 years since Blizzard North released what is arguably the most influential ARPG ever made, and thanks to the sorcerers over at Vicarious Visions (now a part of the Blizzard team) it’s about to return with a fresh infusion of demonic blood.

I was able to sit down and play the Diablo 2: Resurrected Technical Alpha yesterday, alongside other members of the press and various streamers. Despite an early hiccup that delayed when we could actually download the alpha, it’s been pretty smooth sailing on my end. My general takeaway after spending over 10 hours with Diablo 2: Resurrected? Yep, it’s Diablo 2, but prettier.

A Measured Remaster

That’s still a pretty reductive summary of what is overall a pretty damn remarkable remaster. But, it’s still worth noting how impressive the visual and audio overhauls are. Diablo 2: Resurrected isn’t Diablo 2 by way of Diablo 3: this is still a dark, bleak, and bloody game.

The new assets are so faithful to the originals that you’ll swear they’re how you remember the game (assuming you haven’t played in a while). Thankfully, Vicarious Visions has implemented a quick toggle that swaps back to the original Diablo 2 whenever you want to remind your memory just how wrong it is.

Aside from the modern graphics and audio, Diablo 2: Resurrected features a few quality-of-life adjustments that are immediately noticeable to returning veterans looking to brave the forces of Hell once more. The most obvious is the automatic looting of gold piles, though this can be disabled in the settings if you’re that much of a purist.

Other appreciated adjustments are the shared character stash, negating (somewhat) the need for mule characters. I’m sure people will still use mules, since the shared stash is no larger than the regular stash, but it’s a nice addition nonetheless. Also, you can compare items against your equipment now. You won’t be given any green arrows or recommendations – it’s a flat one-to-one comparison – but it does make filtering through your drops quicker.

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All the quality-of-life adjustments I noticed have been similarly subtle. Good to have, yes, but none affect the core DNA that made Diablo 2 a devilishly good time in the first place. Portals to town remain consumables, skill points cannot be refunded outside very explicit circumstances, and you still have to scroll or tap an assigned function key before firing off a skill. It’s pretty clear who the target audience for Diablo 2: Resurrected is, and it’s the old guard.

Well, at least on PC. You see, Diablo 2: Resurrected has full controller support since it’s also coming to consoles when it launches. While Blizzard made a point to emphasis this support is still largely under construction here in the Alpha, I spent half my playtime in the Technical Alpha yesterday with a gamepad in hand, and I may stick with it. Heresy, you scream! Oh, I know, but hear me out.

You see, Diablo 2 used . . . uses a grid-based map layout, and your movement is along these grids, meaning positioning can feel a bit wonky nowadays. Additionally, there are only two buttons for attacks in Diablo 2, the left and right mouse-buttons. To use skills you have to either scroll your mousewheel to the desired skill, or assign it to a function key, then press the right mouse-button. On the one hand, experienced players can expertly utilize 24 some-odd skills at a time. On the other, it’s a pretty cumbersome system here in 2021.

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On a controller both of those legacy “issues” don’t exist. Movement is more fluid and its easier to reposition in the middle of a fight, which is helpful when you have what feels like an entire legion of Fallen assaulting you. As for skills, you can map up to ten per weapon: one per face button and the right bumper, and another for each while holding down the left trigger. This immediately feels more intuitive and responsive than Diablo 2’s legacy method, and I foresee the hardcore purists hating the absolute shit out of it.

But, hey, that legacy method is entirely intact if that’s how they want to roll. Nothing from Diablo 2 has been removed or revamped in Resurrected. If anything, this Remaster sometimes feels like it’s playing it a little too safe. While I’m more than happy with what is here, I know plenty of Diablo 2 diehards desperate for a charm inventory. I also know plenty that scoff at such an idea.

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That’s just part of what makes good remasters good: they don’t try to please both camps. Purists will bristle at even the slightest alterations, and returning fans open to change will want to see demonstrable adjustments. Thus far, Diablo 2: Resurrected is looking to be one of those good remasters, and Vicarious Visions know exactly which of those two hellfiends they plan to please. I believe newcomers will still find plenty to love about Diablo 2: Resurrected, but this one is clearly for the devout. It’s a good thing then that I’m among their order.

Diablo 2: Resurrected launches later this year on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and the Nintendo Switch.

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