On Diablo 2: Resurrected

Posted by Jack on 2021-09-22 at 12:32
Tagged: gaming

Tomorrow marks the release of Diablo 2: Resurrected, the Blizzard remaster of Diablo 2. Despite my better judgment, I'm hyped.

Like a lot of gamers my age (35), I cut my teeth on Diablo 2 back in high school and it still holds a special place in my heart. I spent many a night spamming [Trade] on closed Battle.net trying to turn a nickel into a dime, or doing endless Mephisto runs.

I've talked about Diablo 3 more than a few times in the past, mostly covering Blizzard's struggles to get Diablo 3 into a good state, but also some criticism of the community that seems progression obsessed but can't decide whether there's too much end game or not enough.

To summarize - in the torturous process of getting Diablo 3's meta right, Blizzard threw out a lot of what made Diablo 2 great. No trading of any sort, no PvP, the general funneling of players into certain cookie cutter builds based around set items (or, recently, explicitly avoiding sets). The progression of Diablo 3 is largely built around power creep. Free items, tweaking this or that set to be 10,000x as powerful, handing out new slots and free powers. The result is a lot of fun, I've put thousands of hours into Diablo 3, but there's still a feeling that it never lived up to its predecessor.

I'm curious how much a glossy new graphical paint job and a handful of QoL fixes will bring Diablo 2 back into the realities of modern gaming and how much this remaster is Blizzard's elaborate bluff call (or cynical cash in) on all of the people that complained about Diablo 3.

Be Careful What You Wish For

I would not be surprised if D2 veterans (including myself and my wife) get a few runs deep into D2R and then realize how many places D3 is just a completely superior game.

For example, could anyone really prefer grinding the same zones with the same sets of enemies over and over and over compared to the randomness of D3's rifts?

It's hard for me to imagine, after the nostalgia of seeing the old environments rendered beautifully wears off, that anyone could prefer doing 1000 Baal runs over an equivalent amount of playtime in D3 rifts / greater rifts with random levels, enemies, and end-bosses (rift guardians).

What about going from having 16 freely toggle-able difficulties (or potentially infinite levels of difficulty in greater rifts) down to 3? As someone that graduated to playing hardcore in Diablo 3, I can tell you I'm going to miss being able to finely calibrate the difficulty without having to grind "Nightmare" until I feel safe for "Hell"...

Then there's itemization. It's argued D2 has better itemization and it doesn't force you into cookie cutter builds and that's objectively true, but it's also a product of having a max difficulty. If Diablo 3's difficulty wasn't literally infinite and Torment 16 (or Inferno) difficulty was the maximum a ton more builds would be "endgame" viable there too.

On top of that, the drop tables in D2 are just brutal. It's true you won't need 6 set items just to start having fun, but it will take hours and hours to find specific items. In 2001 this grind was acceptable, but back then the gaming market wasn't as saturated, there weren't digital marketplaces filled with AAA games you could instantly download. The expectation of a single game drawing out the experience indefinitely has faded in favor of shorter, more meaningful games. Not to mention the personal facts that you probably have far less time to game now than you did then, provided you were even alive during the first run of D2.

The bottom line is that D2 is slow. It's combat is slower paced. The grind is longer and more repetitive. There will be sessions where you play for an hour and have nothing to show for it except a bit more gold and experience.

D3, for all of its flaws, evolved in the modern landscape. It's fast, it's bright, it's arcade-y. Rifts are designed to be at most 15-minutes long and, on higher difficulties, are virtually guaranteed to give you at least a couple of chances at the drops you want. Given an hour play session, D3 gives you more guaranteed progression no matter how you slice it.

On The Other Hand...

Perhaps D2 is the perfect antidote for the arcade nature of D3.

For example, the variety issue. It's true D3 has a lot of environments and rifts will stick them together in new random ways with random enemies found from all over... but it could be argued that by the time you're max level (which is only a matter of hours, not days) there are only two types of enemies in the game. Trash, which is ignored or vaporized instantly, and Elites which actually may be a challenge. When farming, even that distinction is moot as you speed from one pack to the next.

Or the difficulty. Sure you don't have an infinite progression, but you still have three difficulties and set monster levels. And maybe having a max difficulty is a good thing precisely because it means builds that would be considered "suboptimal" in D3 because they can't push Torment 200, are just fine because they wreck Hell Act V.

Maybe the item grind will be offset by the ability to trade (which will be much easier in the era of the fan site like diablo2.io). Or perhaps, because of the difficulty cap, will just be something fun to do instead of an obstacle to finally getting to the vaunted end game. Maybe having those hours where nothing drops will just make the lucky hours feel that much better as opposed to sifting through and destroying every useless "legendary" D3 scatters at your feet.

Time Will Tell

I'm excited to see how this turns out. Is this the D2 renaissance, or is it one last goodbye? Will it be the ultimate validation of D2's classic status, or will it be a reminder of how far we've come?

Personally, I'm hoping that D2R will be a ton of fun and a bridge to an eventual Diablo 4 but I can't say I wouldn't enjoy watching the D2 curmudgeons that pipe up in every D3 discussion eat crow either...