Diablo II: Resurrected (Switch) Review
Diablo II was the first PC game I ever played, and since then, I’ve played through it dozens and dozens of times. It holds a special place in my heart, so when a remaster was announced, I had a healthy mix of excitement and scepticism. There’s a lot about Diablo II that has not aged well at all, especially since the release of Diablo III, and moving a very PC-centric game over to a console always brings challenges and concerns. Of course, there’s also a need to strike a balance between keeping the things fans love and updating things that are feeling a little dated. Diablo II Resurrected strikes that balance fairly well, but there’s a lot more I wish they’d have done, and a few missteps that I wish had been reconsidered.
For those not in the know, Diablo II is a dungeon-crawling looter RPG that originally released on PC all the way back in 2000. It’s a game that takes place over five acts (four if you choose not to include the expansion content when starting a new character… but why would you?), and tells the tale of the return of the Diablo, the demon king of the world of Sanctuary. You play as one of seven classes, and wander the lands in aid of its people, in order to stop the blights afflicting them and seal the evils of the world away.
The gameplay loop is fairly straightforward — each act has a hub town, and you’re given six quests in the act to complete. You’ll head out of the hub town, usually find a dungeon to clear out, fight a couple bosses, and return to the town to turn in the quest. Along the way, you’ll want to pick up as much loot as possible, in the form of weapons, armour, accessories, and potions. Lots and lots of potions. Complete all the quests, and you can move on to the next town, and start all over again. It’s a solid loop, and there’s an addictive quality to clearing waves and waves of enemies and sorting through the mountains of loot to find something fractionally (at best) better than one of the things you’ve got equipped already. There’s a story too, kinda, vaguely, with absolutely gorgeous cutscenes at the start of each act, and a bunch of interesting lore scattered throughout, but it takes a backseat , and is really just set-dressing for the gameplay loop. What’s not so fun in the game’s gameplay loop is dying in the middle of a dungeon, and having to mosey on back with barely any equipment. I understand why it’s there, but it just kind of sucks, and if the loss is big enough, it can easily be enough for somebody to give up on the game altogether.
But let’s talk about the new stuff! I’m going to start with the visuals, because that’s probably the biggest change from the OG game, and perhaps the most impressive part of it for me. At first glance, it might seem like they’re fairly basic and even a little dated, but goodness me, what a fantastic balance to strike when capturing the essence and feel of the original visuals. It looks identical to how the game looked in my idealist mind, to the point where I thought I’d accidentally launched the game with the original graphics on instead of the new ones. A quick press of the minus button, however, swaps back to the original, and it’s easy to see just how different the new graphics are in comparison. It also gives a little bit of a look at how this remaster is constructed, and that’s another interesting little tidbit.
See, Diablo II Resurrected is built directly on top of the original game. It’s not as if it’s an all-new game and the old graphics are placed in roughly the right place — it is 100% the original game, with a sharp new graphical layer on top. That means it plays and feels just like playing the original, down to every tiny aspect and quirk. It’s a clever way to do a remaster, if not particularly exciting, but I was impressed to see the animations at a higher frame rate, with graphics that felt old enough to be comfortable, but new enough to not feel out of place on a modern platform. It’s mostly pretty smooth too, in terms of performance on the Switch, though I will note that the second act — set in the desert and filled with sandstorms and very large groups of enemies — had some pretty serious frame rate drops basically all throughout the overworld while docked. The problem was lessened in handheld, but it was still there, and it was a bit frustrating to see from a 20-year-old game, even if it is a modern remaster.
In terms of quality of life additions and changes, Diablo II Resurrected goes fairly light. There’s nothing really major in the slightest, all just a bunch of minor stuff. For example, you’ll automatically pick up gold when you walk over it, rather than having to click each pile of coins as you did in the original. You’ll also get frequent reminders to put your upgrade points into specs and skills after you level up — which is great for me, as somebody who constantly forgets to put points into things when I’ve pinged. I mean, I still forget, and end up eventually remembering after about 5 level ups and spend heaps of time sinking dozens of points into things, but it’s the thought that counts. Other than that, an auto-sort option for your inventory, and a bigger loot chest, there’s really not much else on offer in terms of improvements or changes. It’s Diablo II, exactly as it was, just prettier — for better and for worse.
Regarding the controls, I think the developers here have done a fairly decent job of transferring a very mouse and keyboard-heavy control scheme to a traditional gamepad. I played a druid, which has a good combination of both melee and ranged attacks and abilities, and I found that it did a pretty commendable job of directing my attacks to the enemies I wanted to fell. Having said that, inventory management is a pain at best, and clearing out your inventory when you’re back at town or filling a belt with potions is an utter nightmare in poor user experience. I feel like ranged-only classes might suffer a little bit more from missing a mouse, but I reckon you could probably get by just fine for the most part either way.
There are some accessibility options too, but I have issues here as well. Text and UI scaling is a nice option, but even at the highest setting it doesn’t really feel big enough for a lot of displays. There’s also a colourblind mode, which sounds great for me, as a very colourblind person… but alas, it’s a near-useless series of filters, a pitfall many developers have fallen into in the past. Look, colour filters can help some colourblind people, sometimes, but for the vast majority of people, they just don’t work anywhere near well enough to be considered a solution. Because they wholesale change the colours of the entire screen, rather than individually adjusting tones and colour combinations (or better yet, allowing the player to adjust them), often it’s an issue of trading one poorly viewable colour scheme to another. I struggled a lot with the health bars of bosses — red on black is always a very bad idea — but the colour filters didn’t make it any more visible, they just made it look a little different. Developers of any kind, if you’re reading this, please take note: if you’re going to implement colour accessibility options, it needs to be customisable, it needs to be robust, and it needs to be more than just a filter slapped over the top of the screen. There’s no excuse to do this poorly.
I’m also not really a fan of the way characters and multiplayer are handled in this remaster. There are two types of characters: Offline, and Online. Offline characters can only be played offline, as the name suggests, so it’s solo going from the very start to the very end — there’s no way to transfer a character to Online once you’ve started it. Online characters are, as the name suggests, always online. This gives you access to multiplayer, and cross-platform progression (but not play), but also requires you to be always online, even when you’re playing solo. That’s bad enough on Switch, since a handheld/console hybrid implies that you won’t always be within range of a WiFi router, but it’s made worse by the fact that the servers for D2R have been utterly atrocious since launch and even up to the publishing date of this review. Sometimes they don’t work at all, sometimes they work in short bursts, sometimes they let you play your characters but fail when inviting others. They’re slightly better now than they were at launch, but that’s a very low bar to cross, and it’s still not in an acceptable state in the slightest. And, of course, you can’t swap your Online characters to Offline either, so if the servers are playing up, and all you have is your fave Online character, well, it’s tough luck for you. Try again another time.
Diablo II Resurrected, for the most part, strikes a perfectly respectable balance between maintaining the look and feel of the original and updating it for a modern audience. It’s unambitious, but it doesn’t really need to be any more than that — Diablo II was a wonderful game, and all it really needed was a bit of sprucing up at the end of the day. That’s been done here, and done mostly well, and the transition to a gamepad is probably is good as it could’ve been. Still, it feels dated in some ways, and its online/offline character split was a dreadful choice, given how bad the servers have been for it. Still, it is Diablo II, for better and for worse, and if you’re like me and have a nostalgic attachment to it, it’s probably worth a play.
Activision Blizzard is currently the subject of multiple lawsuits and complaints about its workplace culture, particularly surrounding harassment, abuse, and working conditions, and how management at the company has responded (or hasn’t). It’s important to recognise the good work that the individual developers of this title have put into the game, but equally important that you be informed as to where your money is going when you purchase an Activision Blizzard game.
+ Updated visuals are very nice
+ Transition to gamepad is pretty good
+ It's still Diablo II
- Online servers are a mess
- Lacking in inventory management and accessibility options
- It's still Diablo II