As a seasoned veteran of the original Diablo II, I’m in the strange position of simultaneously wanting two contradictory things. I want a Diablo II remaster that is both 100% faithful to the original, and yet different and better in all the right ways. This is a familiar demand from gaming fans, and one I try to avoid—nostalgia for its own sake, after all, is gauche. But Diablo II was such a genuinely great game on its own feet, despite the presumed superiority of its successor, that it’s not a surprise that Blizzard would return to it. Over 20 years after its initial release, it still has a dedicated online fanbase.
This weekend is the Diablo II: Resurrected’s first public build, an alpha that covers the first two Acts of the game. I’ve been intrigued to see what form the updated release would take. My biggest hope for Diablo II: Resurrected was that it would take the original game and polish its visuals while giving it a few quality of life improvements adopted from Diablo III. So far, this seems to be the case, with subtler changes, like auto gold collection, making a welcome but unobtrusive debut. Firing up the alpha build, it’s clear that when Blizzard said they had all the game’s original assets, they meant it. Aside from some redesigned menus and upgraded visuals, everything is the same. The vocal performances, music, and sound effects are identical, if not crisper and more distinctive. I got chills hearing the sharp twang of the background strings of “Rogue Encampment” again.
In terms of what has changed, it’s a marvel how much a difference some updated textures and lighting can make. Even the more brutish and sparsely designed locations, like the open fields of Act I, are so much better off. Every rock texture, dimly lit torch and rugged blade of grass adds a new level of character to the environments. The refurbished elemental effects are perhaps the best visual improvement, especially when it comes to lightning attacks and fire. The scene in Tristram as I rescued Deckard Cain shone as it never has before.
The improved sharpness is especially noticeable when it comes to the text displays in the UI. It is a relief to be able to read all the text on the screen. I don’t think I realized how much my eyes strained while playing the original until seeing how clean the subtitle boxes look now. The menus are similarly distinct. While it’s a minor change in the overall scheme of things, the ornate details on the gilded borders are lovely. In terms of supporting Diablo II’s gothic aesthetic, the new graphics, especially the dynamism of the material lighting, suit it nicely. The glow coming off of any distinct texture on a 3D model is impressively varied.
Because this is only a technical alpha, online multiplayer and the latter three acts of the game are currently roped off, and most of the changes are ones you can see. Sadly, I’ve been unable to see what friends lists or matching might look like one day. That said, a new alert system makes it a little easier to tell when your character levels up or when your quest objectives change, making it simpler to keep track of your progress and what you should be doing.
If you’re playing the alpha this weekend, then chances are you’re already a Diablo II fan, which means like me, you’ll be judging the game partially on how well it manages to be the same thing. I’m pleased with how well I was, at least skill-wise, able to pick up right where I left off all those years ago. While I’m generally not a purist in terms of videogame visual quality, outdated graphics were perhaps the single biggest impediment to my ability to comfortably return to Diablo II. So between that, and the minor quality of life improvements, I’d say the remaster is shaping up well so far.
Holly Green is the editor-at-large of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.