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Diablo II: Resurrected Hands-on: The game has aged really well

By Kenneth Ang - 15 Apr 2021

Old but still gold

Image: Blizzard Entertainment, Vicarious Visions
When it comes to dedication, there are few video game communities that come remotely close to that of Diablo's - the fanbase spent a decade and a half looking forward to Diablo III, and fortunately, the arduous wait turned out to be worth it in the end. While there's no doubt that D3 was and still is an excellent dungeon crawler in its own right, what's even more impressive is that players continued to enjoy good old D2 for as long as they did. 
So, when Blizzard Entertainment announced a tag-team with Vicarious Visions to remaster the game, it must have come as a very welcome surprise to the fanbase, and we'd say it's one of the big highlights on 2021's gaming calendar. Moving right along, we took Diablo II: Resurrected for a spin over the weekend during its first Technical Alpha. and are happy to report that the D2 formula is just as easy to love as it was during its heyday.

A modern coat of paint

Screenshot: HWZ

Since this is the game's first test run, the developers have only opened up three classes for players to use: Amazon, Barbarian and Sorceress. Although I usually roll with Assassin-esque classes like D3's Demon Hunter, it wasn't up for grabs here, so I ended up picking the next-coolest ranged option on the menu, the Sorceress.
The game starts you off in a small Rogue Encampment in the middle of nowhere, following which you'll travel across several locales in Sanctuary all the way up till Act 2 of the narrative. The graphics have been beefed up immensely from the original, though it's done in a way that retains the game's authenticity - you can tell it's still Diablo 2 at its core.
Screenshot: HWZ
The environments are now more detailed, character sprites move more fluidly and even the attack animations have been smoothed out - you can actually see discrete fireballs and lightning bolts sailing across the screen. Of course, there's always the option of playing with the legacy graphics, which is definitely cool if you want to amp up the nostalgia to eleven. The interesting thing is, despite having no experience playing the original D2, it all feels really (and oddly) familiar to me - it's like I'm visiting an old friend I haven't seen in years, and the franchise's medieval fantasy flavour shines through clearly. 

Bring your A-game

Screenshot: HWZ

Moving on to gameplay, D2R doesn't waste time with a full-blown tutorial - you're expected to learn the ropes as you go just like in the original, and if you die in the process, then so be it. Frankly, there isn't much need for one - I think it's pretty clear-cut, although some mechanical aspects are worlds apart from D3. For example, when you die, you'll drop all of your items at that spot and will have to personally recollect them. However, I think it's great that these mechanics won't take you an hour or so to figure out, which makes it much easier for curious newbies to get into the groove. 
Speaking of dying, D2 was also a lot more difficult than I initially gave it credit for, and I had to be on my guard even in the earlier dungeon levels. Unlike casual runs in D3 where you're basically a one-man army that can mow down entire swarms of demons on your own, your attacks don't do that much damage here, and you're stuck with the same normal melee attack across all characters, even as a squishy Sorceress.
Screenshot: HWZ
Indeed, there were cases where I'd run out of mana and have to walk up and hit enemies with my staff, which is a little eyebrow-raising when you're supposed to be firing off spells from a distance. Still, I will admit it's more exciting that way, and it's been a while since I've actually had my heart racing playing a dungeon crawler. In fact, it really made me think about the mad skills you'll need to conquer D2 on higher difficulties. So, to cut a long story short, D2R is no cakewalk, so don't expect it to hold your hand.

It's old but definitely still gold

Screenshot: HWZ

Despite the slight "culture shock" of sorts when compared against D3, my first dab into D2R was immensely fun, and that's impressive for a game that's almost as old as I am. This might only be the Technical Alpha, but both Blizzard and Vicarious Visions are already setting a really high bar for the final product. Well, they would certainly have to - after playing it for a weekend, it's easy to see where and how people fall in love with the game, both aesthetically and in terms of the gameplay. It's remarkably simple, yet addictive and exciting, just like any top-shelf RPG.
Furthermore, when you factor in that gamers continued to love this for fifteen years before D3 showed up, I'd say it's a truly amazing piece of work. Admittedly, it might not be as flashy or as mechanically advanced as its chronological successor, but it's certainly not lacking in nostalgia nor that "authentic" dungeon crawler vibe that we've come to associate with Diablo. Simply put, if this is the standard that they're going to set for the first test run, I'm really looking forward to getting knocked out of the park later this year when the full game arrives.
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