Diablo 2: Resurrected review: a faithful, flawed remaster

With Diablo 2: Resurrected, developer Vicarious Visions had the unenviable task of releasing a game published by Activision Blizzard.

Beginning in July, a storm of controversy has raged around the publisher, which has faced several lawsuits alleging toxic workplace environments, a “pervasive frat boy culture,” and discrimination against women, one of which was instituted by a federal agency and ended with a recent settlement. Vicarious Visions released its creation into an environment engulfed in cynicism and anger at its affiliate publisher, and the creator of the original game. Longtime players have stopped participating in the Activision Blizzard ecosystem; high ranking employees have left. Even during the best of times, working for a company like Activision Blizzard – or any major corporation – at the lower levels can be difficult. Adding further toxic layers can make it, to use a term suited to Diablo 2, hellish.

I want to review this game. But I also want to be cognizant of the alleged awfulness done by men in power to Activision Blizzard workers who merely wanted to do their job. Tasked with remastering a classic, originally created by this same beleaguered corporation, Vicarious Visions does not deserve this taint. The question is whether Vicarious Visions succeeded in its task.

In summary, it did.

Co-op characters face off against a Diablo 2 boss

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

For the uninitiated, Diablo 2 is an isometric action-adventure with RPG elements, set in a dark fantasy universe with angels, demons and all sorts of nefarious entities. Upon its release in 2000, it was the video game equivalent of a self-aware black metal album, with a performative seriousness that’s not meant to be taken earnestly. It remains campy as hell, and it’s a joy for being so.

Diablo 2: Resurrected is a remaster of the dungeon-crawling classic. There are no big updates to controls, camera angles, or map design. It is, in essence, Diablo 2, complete with all the joys and annoyances players might remember.

Players choose from a pool of seven character classes, with which they smash, shoot and magically blast their way through randomized environments ranging from rural encampments to creepy tombs. For the purposes of this review, I went through them all. However, there were standouts. My martial artist Assassin would be right at home in a Yakuza game, chaining jabs that build into a devastating final blow. In contrast, my Necromancer stands back to let his army of foul beasts, ghouls, and skeletons simply wash over the land, leaving nothing but destruction in its wake.

The controls are wonderfully responsive, and each class has its own mechanical feel. Playing on PS5, I feel every jab and magic bolt 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 obtained a new skill, I thought it would be automatically mapped and bound to an available button – instead, I had to figure out binding and manually do it myself. I also had no idea that when levelling up, I could choose to obtain new skills and abilities, in addition to upgrading Attributes. It is not hard to figure out, but a bit more guidance would have been welcome – especially for new players who never played the original.

Diablo 2: Resurrected’s character select screen

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Once I actually figured out the button-mapping mechanics, the characters opened up. Resurrected allows me to map a secondary set of actions to the controller’s left trigger. For example, I press X to do a basic attack, but by holding L2 and X, I can execute a character’s more powerful magic attack. I tend to use these secondary buttons for magic or special abilities (which drain the characters’ mana pool), while keeping my vanilla buttons for immediate, non-draining attacks. By mixing and matching combat and magic, my characters turned into absolute machines. Given the responsive controls, it became a joy to play as any of the classes.

Diablo is a famously addictive franchise, despite it consisting almost entirely of combat from the same fixed angle. But monotony is broken by the variety of enemies, evolving environments, dungeon randomization, and loot. I was constantly thrilled when I found a powerful wand or unique sword.

However, levelling up my character was the main drive. No doubt many MMORPG fans can speak to this thrill: I just wanted to level up one more time, gain one more skill. Before I knew it, hours had flown by, despite setting myself a limit. With a level cap of 99, there are plenty of hours to spend; even the core, original game could clock in at just under 200 hours for completionists.

The plot remains the same as it ever was, with shot-for-shot cutscenes told through gorgeous, updated cinematics. Well written, performed, and directed, they remain campy scenes we can all love and treasure.

Diablo 2” Resurrected’s hero speaking to an NPC

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Since this is an early 2000s game, NPCs drown me in words, rather than engaging in interesting or animated discussions. They’re extremely well-acted, but they become cloying nonetheless. I almost never skip dialogue in games, but in Resurrected I often did, because the subtitles served the same purpose. Indeed, the first two Diablo games don’t have characters so much as glorified audio logs on two legs. (It is only in the third game that we find real NPCs, who grow, learn, come into conflict, and have their own agendas.)

But perhaps Diablo 2: Resurrected’s worst issue is its inventory “management,” another hangover from the original’s old-school design. If you love nitpicky administration and Excel balances, you will adore this. Otherwise, expect hellish clerk work. The inventory space is extremely and unnecessarily restrictive. You are given a large stash to dump items, but there is no way to send any item directly to stash, as games like Demon Souls’ remake allow. Here, you must play pack mule. While slaughtering countless enemies, I had to pause, return to camp, and dump or sell items to make space for more loot that I would have to dump or sell. The cycle is tedious and annoying. It breaks the flow of combat and exploration. I only hope a solution is implemented.

It is hard to talk about Diablo 2: Resurrected without dwelling too much on what made Diablo 2 great to begin with. It is also hard not to linger on what makes the original frustrating by today’s standards. The updates are a joy to behold: loading times are instant, controls are tightly designed, and it remains a very easy game to pick up and play. The graphics, animations, increased framerate option, and sound design are a delight for the senses. But its teething problems — poor tutorials, boring dialogue, and infuriating inventory management — remain. The test is not actually whether you like Resurrected but whether you like Diablo 2. And given that it’s been 20 years, you probably know the answer to that.

A necromancer summons skeleton warriors

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

However, there are a couple new issues to consider: Resurrected allows for online and offline characters, but the two columns will never overlap – so if you have levelled up your offline Amazon to higher levels, she’ll never be able to play with friends. This barrier is unfortunate, since I do recommend playing it offline first, as the game is more responsive. In fact, I would recommend you use offline play as your own introduction, to familiarize yourself with the gameplay before leaping online where you’ll face lag, slightly delayed inputs and co-op partners’ annoyances. But otherwise, co-op was very easy to set up and play with friends. Resurrected benefits from co-op, particularly when characters complement each other (Paladin and Sorceress 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 her at Level 1. There are smaller issues with playing online, most notably the lag and occasional stutter (even in a private, solo game). However, it was mostly a smooth experience whether online or offline.

Diablo 2: Resurrected is a game of contrasts: It’s a solidly designed dungeon crawler with the trappings of an early 2000s game; it has incredible, intense performances from its actors but the entire plot is laughably silly; it’s made by a talented team of developers but trailing undeserved smoke from its troubled publisher.

The original Diablo 2 was the pinnacle of dungeon crawlers in 2000, but in its present form, it is more of a fossil. Vicarious Visions has done an incredible job of encasing it in amber. I loved my time with it, despite the flaws that are still visible through the shell. For better or worse, history remains.

Diablo 2: Resurrected was released on Sept. 23, 2021 on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed on PS5 using a pre-release download code provided by Blizzard Entertainment. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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