The Lord of Hell returns in Diablo II: Resurrected through a join effort between Activision Blizzard and Vicarious Visions. Rumors of the remaster circulated for years, and in 2021 players will be able to return to the world of Sanctuary once again to relive one of the most formative games of its era. Blizzard allowed for players to participate in a technical alpha in April 2021, which provided a first look at how the game will effectively function as both a remaster and as a more polished version of what many consider an otherwise perfect game.
Diablo II: Resurrected a near perfect crystallization of nostalgia and a product of an industry banking on the sentimentality of an audience to pull them back into titles that otherwise feel dated by comparison. I mean in this and both the best and worst ways possible. I was initially skeptical watching the announcement trailer for this remaster. However, the moment I loaded the game up I was immediately overwhelmed by fondness for a game I had spent hours upon hours playing. It’s hard to write about this game without feeling an immediate bias, as a bulk of my childhood was spent connecting with friends through the archaic Battle.net servers of old.
The environments are still moody, with dilapidated buildings scattered throughout the first act of the game offset by graveyard and dark caves. Everything is washed in dark colors, muted and drained of any vibrancy for the most part, which lends itself well to the dark fantasy title. Players can easily toggle between this new upscaled version and a legacy mode, which is effectively the 2001 version of the game. This includes the original character animations, effects, and even hit chances. This can be done with a single press of a button. It seems to skirts the line between being an outright remaster and an updated port in this early build. Even the music changes between modes, which was pleasantly surprising.
Vicarious Visions implemented some arguably essential, quality of life features while retaining the essence of the original game, and these could be found in this alpha. Players can increase the font size for the various dialogue boxes when selecting Low Vision Mode, which I found to be essential since I wasn’t playing on a bulky CRT monitor anymore. However, you can adjust your resolution to recreate that feeling and make the UI then scale appropriately. Features like automatic gold pick-up, which you think would be standard in any click-and-loot title, are available to toggle on for convenience.
However, those unfamiliar with Diablo II or any early iteration of the franchise may be turned off to Diablo II: Resurrected. Capturing and retaining the essence of the original release could potentially alienate new players who are looking to dip their toes into the water. In this early build, characters move slowly around the map, even with a run option available through a stamina-based system. Manually clicking and picking up items may be bothersome to those who haven’t played this style of early era click-and-loot titles. This is something intrinsically tied to the experience and in this build it seemed controller optimization attempted to offer some resolution.
The Diablo II: Resurrected technical alpha offers incredible controller support. It carries over the scheme from Diablo III, which allows players to assign various skills to face buttons including attacks, potions, and even running. The remaster at this point felt like it was at its most modern when playing with a controller, which the PC version of the game does support. Those looking to experience this title for the first time might do best to play the game through one of the various console releases or even plugging in a controller if playing on the PC.
Like the original, to access skills using keyboard and mouse, players will need to make use of their function keys. Toggling between them is easy and quickly became second nature again as I eased back into Diablo II. My muscle memory swiftly returned and I was toggling between skills as I explored the two locales available in the technical alpha. That being said, players can fully customize their controls and keybinds for those that want to create a control scheme best suited for them.
In regards to the state of the technical alpha, the game runs phenomenally well. It never crashed for me, and the only bug I encountered was a major boss not dropping a single bit of loot. But other than that, I was extremely surprised at how polished it was. It effectively felt like a full release. With only three classes to select from in this technical alpha, I’m looking forward to future technical alphas or betas to see how the Assassin, Necromancer, Druid, and Paladin will function and whether or not some of these classes will be rebalanced. Either way, the technical alpha shows all of the strengths of Diablo II: Resurrected, which makes me hopeful for the full release.
Diablo II: Resurrected will be available to play on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC in 2021.