Diablo II is the sort of game that made the cliché “instant classic” mean something again. When it launched in 2000, the game’s skullface aesthetic, elaborate gameplay systems, and infinite build customization options immediately monumentalized it as one of the best PC games of all time. Sure, it had bugs. And it had players who loudly (so loudly) complained about them. But that’s not what has stuck with people about Diablo II. It’s when they found a demon crossbow in the Halls of the Dead with a 1-in-60,000 drop rate. Or when they stumbled upon the perfect Necromancer build to explode a pile of dead zombies to kill even bigger zombies standing in the zone.
Twenty years later, the developers remaking the legendary game had some tough questions to wrestle with—namely, what about the famously challenging RPG sucked in a good way, and what about it sucked in a bad way. Their answer, Diablo II: Resurrected, was released on September 23 for PC, Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox.
There’s a tendency among game studios today “to sand off a lot of the hard edges,” says Rob Gallerani, Diablo II: Resurrected’s principal designer. “If we were making a modern game, we’d see a heat map of everyone who died in this one spot.” Playtesters, focus testers, and potentially even neurologists consulting for the game studio might provide feedback like Wow, that deathtrap is a bitch. “That would be seen as something to fix,” says Gallerani. But for Vicarious Visions, a 30-year-old game studio acquired by Activision Blizzard in 2005, revamping Diablo II meant looking at the game through the eyes of a circa-1990s game developer. Diablo II wasn’t legendary just because it was hard; it was legendary because players enjoyed making it hard for themselves. They couldn’t optimize the fun out of it.
“Those spiky bits are the things people remember,” Gallerani says. “Those are the parts where people are like, ‘Oh my God, did you hit this one thing?’ And then people bond and they figure out how to do it.”
That’s not to say that the developers kept all the spiky bits. Remastering a genre-altering game isn’t as simple as recreating what it was. Diablo II: Resurrected would approximate, even enhance, the game fans remembered, not necessarily the one they played. Nobody will criticize the addition of features like visual accessibility options, easier online partymaking, and automatic gold pickup. And anybody who, for whatever reason, chafes against Vicarious Visions’ gorgeous, upgraded 3D models can toggle the game back into its circa-2000s look.