Diablo II: Resurrected Review (Switch)
In the early 2000s, I was just a kid in high school. And like any innocent kid would, I spent my time making an effort in school, hanging out with friends, and spending the rest of my free time slaying as many demons as possible in Sanctuary, the world of Diablo II. Fast forward 20 years and the long-awaited remaster, Diablo II: Resurrected, was naturally one of my most anticipated releases of 2021.
While I’ve had an absolute blast diving back into Sanctuary (130 hours and counting), this type of game – despite the lovely, fresh coat of paint and touch of quality-of-life features – requires a very specific type of person to fully appreciate it. Simply put, Diablo II: Resurrected is still very much a 20-year old game in a genre that has seen massive iterations in the years since the game’s original debut. On top of that, there are performance issues on Switch and general multiplayer concerns to also consider before one should commit to vanquishing the demons of hell once more. Regardless, the fact remains that Diablo II: Resurrected is still a whole lot of fun.
It’s difficult to explain the little bit of narrative present in Diablo II: Resurrected without giving everything away, so this will be brief and spoiler free. The game picks up some time after the events of the first Diablo, where the powerful demon of the same name was defeated, but not destroyed. Now, the player character pursues the mysterious “Dark Wanderer” whose ultimate path, purpose, and identity remains a mystery. What IS known, however, is that they attract all manner of ungodly beings and leave death and decay in their wake. Over the course of five acts, the player character learns the truth behind the Dark Wanderer and what ultimately must be done to save Sanctuary.
The original Diablo II was a trailblazer in terms of narrative expectations for the genre, but it’s not nearly as impressive or interesting 20 years later. That said, these kinds of games generally aren’t played for their storytelling anyway. Regardless, the original voiced dialogue makes a return here in addition to some impressively modernized cutscenes that help add a bit of depth to the lore of Sanctuary. Let’s get to killing some demons, shall we?
Diablo II: Resurrected is all about the endless cycle of killing things and taking their loot. The player’s primary objective is to eventually clear all five acts in each of the three difficulties: normal, nightmare, and hell. While there are a handful of high-end objectives that can be done once one has “rolled the credits,” Diablo II: Resurrected is the type of gift that keeps on giving well after the story has reached its end.
Choosing a Character and Style of Play
Before venturing out, a class must be chosen from seven options: Amazon, Assassin, Barbarian, Druid, Necromancer, Sorceress, and Paladin. When a character levels up, they are awarded five attribute points and one skill point which can be distributed into four stats (strength, dexterity, vitality, and energy) and three skill trees (unique per class) respectively. Being a remaster and not a remake, though, Diablo II: Resurrected adheres to much of its old school mindset which includes the inability to redistribute skill and attribute points at will.
While a player can technically “respec” an infinite number of times, only three are given naturally through story progression (one per difficulty) while any more require completion of the final difficulty and a lot of grinding. This may not appeal to some, but it undeniably makes level-to-level decision making all the more meaningful. On the other hand, those that aren’t intimately familiar with the game’s nuances and burn through their free respecs quickly could easily put their characters in unpleasant positions and even bring a halt to progression – at least without lucky drops or help from friends.
Those coming from newer loot-based action RPGs may find Diablo II: Resurrected a bit difficult and, to an extent, even tedious. Obvious lack of handholding aside, the game doesn’t ensure that every possible spec is easily viable out of the chute, and there is an obvious bias towards caster/ranged classes in general. Melee characters are extremely gear dependent and demand lots of grinding and/or trading in order to progress smoothly, particularly through the game’s final difficulty. Patience is a virtue.
Diablo II: Resurrected has several different options for play. Any given character can be either a normal (can die infinitely) or hardcore (can only die once) character, ladder (fresh starts and ranking/leaderboards) or non-ladder, and either an offline or online character. Offline play has the obvious advantage of mostly not requiring an Internet connection save for occasional authentication with the server. This style of play is easily best suited for the Switch with its on-the-go capabilities – as long as the player is okay with flying completely solo (no local co-op as of now).
Solo play is a completely valid approach to Diablo II: Resurrected – it’s what I did for my first character for almost 100 hours – but some would argue the core Diablo II experience lies in cooperative or competitive (ladder and PvP) multiplayer and trading. There is no local multiplayer or LAN-based cooperative play at the time of this writing, so anyone looking to play with others will have to opt for an online character.
Online characters have several notable advantages compared to offline characters. Players can team up with others to take on the denizens of hell, trade items to make the gearing process much easier, and can take advantage of cross progression to other consoles granted one has multiple copies of the game. Additionally, online game maps are randomized each time they’re created compared to the static maps (until a change of difficulty) found in offline mode.
The biggest drawback to online play, naturally, is being vulnerable to general server stability, which has been an extremely touchy subject since the game’s launch. Some server issues during the infancy of any game’s launch is to be expected…but Diablo II: Resurrected has had its share of problems, and then some. Server congestion (ie. queues), character rollbacks, and other problems have been commonplace even weeks after launch, and may continue to hinder one’s enjoyment from time to time. But the same could really be said for any online game.
Fortunately, the constant gear treadmill of Diablo II: Resurrected and near limitless possibilities for customization is what keeps things interesting for hours on end. Gear comes in many different qualities, most of which remain surprisingly useful even into the later stages of the game. Gear is often found in an unidentified state, and must be identified by either an identify scroll/tome or by certain NPCs.
The joy here is that oftentimes the player will not know exactly what they’re getting, as not only can certain unidentified items end up being a number of completely different things, but also can roll its innate attributes within a variable range. It’s highly unlikely that any two items will be exactly the same, even when it comes to the more static items such as uniques and set pieces.
Furthermore, many items, via sockets, can be outfitted with gems, jewels, and runes with various properties to add even more customization. Charms of varying sizes can also be placed in your active inventory for additional bonuses, and you’ll constantly be playing a game of Tetris juggling loot between character inventory and their stash.
Diablo II: Resurrected has a deceptively deep and immensely useful crafting system that the average player may not think to give a chance. The problem arises in a lack of any sort of in-game compendium, which instead forces the player to seek external sources for info on the various recipes. If there was ever a reason to include such a reference in the actual game, the remastered version would have been it. Regardless, new players and veterans alike would be remiss not to seek out the extremely useful (and often overpowered) runewords in addition to general crafting recipes as early on in their adventures as possible.
No matter the approach, there’s always a chance to find something really exceptional in Diablo II: Resurrected…though it’s not uncommon to have “dry spells” in between useful finds, especially once you have reached the endgame. Thanks to the vast array of available equipment and the ever-looming chance of finding even the slightest upgrade or situational gear, however, players can quickly get lost in the highly-addictive “just one more run” mindset.
Visuals and Performance
One could easily find something to critique about the game’s 20-year old framework, but Diablo II: Resurrected is undoubtedly a visual beauty. The graphical overhaul is undoubtedly the game’s most appealing boon, cleverly running atop of the original visuals that can be toggled between at any time. Neat!
One of Diablo III’s biggest critiques was its departure from the dark, gothic atmosphere of its predecessors, and it’s easy to see why after spending only a few minutes in the horrific catacombs underneath the cathedral in act one, or delving into the encroaching madness of the palace cellar in act two. Diablo II: Resurrected can be quite disturbing at times visually…but that should be the case for any game involving a demonic invasion.
The art team took it one step further and built out a slew of unique assets for virtually every single item in the game – something which wasn’t present in the original. Couple the amazing face lift with Matt Uelman’s award-winning soundtrack and the spot-on sound effects and you have an aesthetic package worthy of praise. Diablo II: Resurrected, like the console version of Diablo III before it, feels right at home on a controller, too, though some additional flexibility to the targeting of certain spells would be great to see in a future patch.
As great as the game looks on Switch, it does have its share of performance issues. Load times can be uncomfortably long at times, and can lead to instances where enemies can attack the player before they’re even fully loaded on the screen (my biggest fear in my current hardcore run). While the framerate tends to hover close to 30FPS in most cases, there are certain areas that are notorious for dipping it much lower (Lower/Upper Kurast and the Kurast Bazaar come to mind immediately).
In terms of crashes, my 100-hour offline Paladin suffered roughly one every 20 or so hours. Since Diablo II: Resurrected relies on the player naturally saving and exiting a game for a “full save,” straight-up crashes can result in lost progress. Fortunately, these issues aren’t too widespread (at least in offline mode) and the majority of the game runs and performs at an acceptable rate.
In a time where remakes and remasters are not always well received – especially those of the Blizzard variety – Diablo II: Resurrected manages to mostly hit the mark. The new visual package is stunning despite the occasional performance hiccups. The core gameplay loop is as addicting as it was 20 years ago, and will easily appeal to anyone who enjoys grinding away for hours on end in hopes of finding bigger and better loot. The few quality-of-life adjustments here, like automatic gold pickup and the expanded/shared stash, help make things a bit more digestible in today’s environment without sacrificing the game’s identity in the process.
At the end of the day, though, Diablo II: Resurrected still feels like an older game, one that could easily be off-putting to those more accustomed to modern conveniences found in newer loot-focused action RPGs. Those interested in strictly online play also have reasons to be concerned even weeks after launch. While general performance and server issues are sure to be improved upon over time, that doesn’t mean things will be completely “smooth sailing” in the present either.
Diablo II: Resurrected allows for a lot of freedom in customization…but many of those choices can come with severe consequences. There are obvious advantages to virtually any ranged/caster build over anything melee, and make too many mistakes and/or burn through the allotted free respecs and one could very well dig themselves into a bad place. But that’s part of its beauty – there’s very little hand holding in Diablo II: Resurrected, and it’s up to the player to carve their own path, their own way, while also offering prayers up to the RNG gods every now and then!
Is Diablo II: Resurrected for everyone? Absolutely not. But those craving a truly dark, difficult (albeit slower-paced) loot-based action RPG will find lots to enjoy here. Now excuse me while I try not to die in hardcore.