When Diablo 2 plowed its way into my heart, I was fourteen. It was a great experience for a teen metalhead like me. I loved marching through dark dungeons and chopping up demons before watching them explode in a torrent of gibs and loot. It was impossible to beat, I thought. It was unbeatable, I thought. Diablo 3 arrived a decade later and couldn’t match its predecessor. It was too bright. It was too easy. It was the second-best Diablo, even during my deepest D3 obsession. Diablo 2: The Resurrected is now available. Although it has been polished up and some optional quality-of-life improvements have been added, this is the same game I have had on a pedestal for so many years. Marius’s opening cutscene began and my hairs stood up. It felt almost like my skin was about to fall off. That first “Greetings, stranger” from the Rogue Encampment? I clapped like an drunk sea lion. It all started to go downhill from there. Diablo 2 is not something I enjoy.
Although I don’t think I can imagine all that I loved about the classic ARPG as a teenager, and I wasn’t terrible at RPGs, things have changed a lot over the past 20 years. My expectations have also changed. Some remasters offer the opportunity to replay something that was either an evolutionary dead end or the ultimate pinnacle of the genre, making it appealing. Diablo 2 is not unique. It turns out that all of these additions and all of this growth, which we have seen in Path of Exile, Torchlight and Grim Dawn, make the 2000 classic feel a little bit antique.
Even something so simple as moving my old creepy necromancer is difficult. It has a stamina bar that drains whenever you run, and grid-based movement which makes turning around look and feel awkward. These things didn’t stick in my mind, and they weren’t an issue back then. However, it is jarring to switch from an ARPG like Diablo 3 and this. I’m annoyed just writing about the stamina bars. It’s awful! It’s not Dark Souls. This is where combat is inextricably connected. It determines the flow of fights and gives you those thrilling moments when you risk everything for one last attack, knowing that it could be your last. It’s just that you hate running. It’s a pain. Little frustrations accumulate. You have to be careful with your pathfinding. There are the little things like getting stuck on debris in middle of fights, and the fact that objects can obscure your view of your enemies and your character. Although this was evident during the technical alpha I hoped that launch would smoothen some of the jagged edges. They haven’t.
How about actually building your character! I was adamant that I prefer Diablo 2’s ability tree system. They offer more options and, most importantly, more choices. This is not the case. There are many options, but most of the time you’re only putting points in things that increase the power of an ability. Or worse, putting points in something you don’t care about so you can reach higher up the tree. For example, necromancers might put points into summoning skeletons. With each point, their power and number increases. After a while, however, you will stop getting more skeletons. Instead, your strength will increase. This can be done with skeleton mastery (a passive ability). It’s easy to see where the system could be simplified. That’s what Diablo 3 did. It should be noted that Diablo 2’s character progression I do not think is bad. Not at all. You can quickly level up and you have many options to customize the class you choose. While they might not all work in PvP or the endgame, that is no problem now that you can easily roll your character. I borrowed this flexibility from Diablo 3. It also makes me long for the other ways Diablo 3 allows you to experiment with build designs. Although there are less abilities available, they can all be enhanced with runes to dramatically change their capabilities. You can unlock new abilities or runes that will fundamentally alter the way your character plays. It’s more fun to play with and the differences between builds are more dramatic and meaningful. We now get to the actual use of your abilities. This was before Blizzard refined its UI. You can only have one active ability at a given time, as abilities are mapped using the mouse buttons. This is incredibly rigid, as Diablo 2 seems not to realize. You can therefore map all your abilities to F1 to F8. However, the hotkeys don’t fire off an ability. Instead it changes the ability that is mapped to the mouse buttons. It seems like an oversight to not be able to enable a modern “press key, casting ability” input scheme. Micromanagement can be a real pain, even with a few unlockable abilities. This is especially true when you consider that a temporary interruption to your concentration could spell death.
Potion management is one of the most difficult things you can do. The way potions work is quite simple. You just need to put them in your potion hotbar and then you can use them once. Bog standard. They don’t stack. There is no way to stack them! Your inventory will soon be overflowing with potions.
Diablo 3 does not have a better solution in this area. The sequel focuses mainly on health orbs. Maintaining your health is not something you need to think about. Path of Exile’s system, which has a few flasks with different attributes and a number of charge, is superior. These flasks have so much more utility and don’t disappear once you’ve quaffed down them. Although your inventory may seem small, the stash is huge. This is Diablo 3’s item, which makes me wonder if it is the Diablo 3.
Although I have yet to see how Diablo 2: The Resurrected ends its story, I know I won’t be around that long. It’s a good place to start, but it has to be consistent with the original. They’re both grindy, but ARPGs. What do you expect? Diablo 3’s Adventure Mode and seasons, as well as rifts are superior to Diablo 2, which has boss farming and a grindy march to level 99. Importantly, Diablo 3’s endinggame has a proper structure and plenty discrete challenges. Although the ladders provided structure to Diablo 2, they won’t be in Resurrected until after launch. These things are still amazing: the atmosphere, aesthetic and music. Even in Legacy mode, where the game is restored to its original form it still has that edge. It has style that will last a lifetime. It has the best narrative of any ARPG. It’s almost like you’re a side-character following the chaos left by the Dark Wanderer (Diablo’s original hero). All the consequences of a heroic act–your heroic action, if this is your first game. It’s gripping and hasn’t stopped. Some things are timeless. It’s much more difficult to enjoy it now. Diablo 3 may be a forgettable yarn but I find it much more enjoyable to play through in 2021. Diablo 2 will be loved by many former players. The classic version is still popular today. And I get it. Modern isometric ARPGs don’t tend to have an antagonistic relationship with players. While there are many challenges, Diablo 2 is determined to kill you. This is why I was so excited about the remaster. I want an isometric ARG that can take the shit out me. It wasn’t the tricky encounters that killed me, it was the creaky design of my ARPG and its flaws that have become so sacred.
It is clear that many of Diablo 3’s more streamlined additions, some of which I didn’t like in 2012, were direct responses to areas where the predecessor felt stiff and obtuse. It turns out that a lot of what I used to call ‘hardcore’ is actually just old and was there because we didn’t know better. We now know that videogame characters can run for hours without stopping to breathe. While this doesn’t diminish the importance of Diablo 2 in the history ARPGs, it does remind us that every game has its time. You’ve been treated with the disrespect you deserve for years. Although you’re not my favorite ARPG, I would still choose you over your predecessor. Or, I could go back to Path of Exile. Yes, I believe I will.