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‘Diablo II: Resurrected’ reopens the gates of hell

By Kara Santos Published Sep 23, 2021 3:59 pm

The gates of the Burning Hells have finally opened to everyone. 

Diablo II: Resurrected is set to be released globally this Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021.

The faithful remastering of Diablo II and its Lord of Destruction expansion will launch on Windows PC, and for the first time ever on consoles, including the Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch system.

Veteran players, as well as new gamers who missed out when the original game was first released more than twenty years ago, can now experience Diablo II’s timeless gameplay with modern visuals and audio that take advantage of today’s gaming hardware.

To add to the hype, Activision Blizzard recently released a live-action launch trailer for the game, featuring Shang-Chi star himself Simu Liu.

From PC to consoles

Diablo II has long been considered one of the best games ever made, and there are a lot of expectations on how the remastered version will live up to the original hack and slash game.

PhilSTAR L!fe had the opportunity to test out the Technical Alpha and Beta early access gameplay of D2R earlier this year and gain firsthand insights from Blizzard Entertainment’s game development team ahead of the game’s official release.

According to studio design director Rob Gallerani, one of the main reasons for bringing Diablo 2 to consoles was to make it more accessible to a wider audience.

“We’re very aware that even if we want to preserve this classic game, the world has changed all around it. The world has kinda moved along for 20 years. There’s a lot of people who prefer to play on a giant flatscreen TV on a console. Some players prefer to play on the go. Fans just pick up their Switch and will get on a bus. Players play in more places than they played before, and they expect a level of flexibility,” Gallerani told media outfits in an online interview.

“We wanted to bring the game to as many people as we could. We know we have our die-hard fans, but we also have a whole bunch of players who have never played it before. To be able to let them experience it, that means coming to where they play games,” he added.

D2R allows players to control the game however they want. PC players can still play with a mouse and keyboard or a controller on PC, while those with next-gen consoles can experience the game differently, or even on the go. 

According to project lead Michael Bukowski, the team really focused on tailoring the experience for different platforms.

“When it comes to the Switch, we wanted to make sure that you have a great on-the-go Diablo experience. We wanted Diablo to feel really awesome on the smaller screen. For the Switch specifically, we wanted things to be readable on smaller screens and for the game to play well in the handheld mode,” said Bukowski.

Gamers will be able to play the game anywhere, as a constant internet connection is not required to play Diablo II: Resurrected in single-player mode.

Additionally, cross-progression and cross-generational play will give gamers more options for how and when they play. 

Crafting the controller experience

According to the Blizzard team, the biggest and most exciting challenge was crafting the controller experience for what has traditionally been a point and click PC game.

“There are just fundamentally different ways you interact with the game with a controller. You have significantly less buttons on a controller compared to a keyboard, which has a cursor.  And there’s a lot of expectations on how a game should work with a controller,” said Gallerani.

The role of the player has changed. When you use a keyboard and mouse, you’re kind of like a puppeteer, an eye in the sky telling this other character where you want them to go. With a controller, you are that character,” he added.

The console experience really opens up a different way of how a character pathmarks, interacts with obstacles, targets enemies, collides with objects on a map or picks up items on the ground in the old-school game.

Quality of life enhancements

To make the gaming experience more fun for new and returning players, Diablo II: Resurrected includes an array of accessibility-focused improvements so that everyone can feel welcome in Sanctuary, specifically:

  • Auto-gold pickup and an "Auto-fill Belt from inventory" hotkey
  • Emote wheel for faster communication
  • Togglable subtitles, including NPC greeting subtitles
  • Larger font sizes, colorblind modes, and readability options
  • Customizable map opacity
  • Volume adjustment across a multitude of audio channels
  • Extensive key binding options, including new bindable skills like "Interact" and the ability to swap left and right-stick functionality for controllers
  • Cursor sensitivity settings for controllers
  • Auto-sort inventory with controllers
  • "Hold to attack" and item-name toggling to reduce the number of repetitive clicks or button presses

Better visuals and audio

On the technical side, Michael Bukowski shared what went on behind the scenes in remastering the 20-year old game, which originally used 2D sprite-based models.

“The game has been completely built in 3D using a very modern rendering pipeline. All of the graphics are what you would expect in a modern game in 2021. On top of that, all the audio has been remastered and the original sounds cleaned up. Just in general, the visual and the audio experience is a huge upgrade from what was there 20 years ago,” said Bukowski.

Gamers can now experience D2R in stunning 4K resolution with all 27 minutes of the original’s cinematics remade shot-for-shot from the ground up and audio remastered in Dolby Surround 7.1 sound. Upgraded visuals include new animations, dynamic lighting, new textures, and updated visual effects.

Check out this video comparison from GameSpot:

While D2R was built upon the code of the original, the design and audio team had to embark on an “archaelogical project” of sorts to uncover original art files and other materials.

Bukowski shared how some team members had to scour old warehouses, boxes and individual PCs of previous team members to find physical drawings from the original concepts and other files.

“It was kind of like piecing together as much as possible to help the design and audio team to recreate everything essentialy from scratch. But when you're playing D2R, you’re playing the original game logic underneath,” he added.

And while the graphics in D2R have been remastered, veteran gamers can also opt to relive the nostalgic “original” experience and toggle back-and-forth with the press of a button. On PC, players can zoom in and explore the game world in even more detail.

Cross-progression

Another exciting feature that was not possible back when the game first came out is the cross-progression and cross-generational play. This allows players to carry their progress, including characters and loot, across different platforms. If you move between console generations within the same platform, your progress carries with you as well.

“In D2R when you play a game online, there is no real pause. When you save and quit, you will restart the game back in town and the world will change around you,” explained Gallerani.

However, players will be able to pick up where they left off with the same character stats, inventory items, and waypoints unlocked even if they move from playing to Switch, to a PC, or to the PlayStation.

Why should you play D2R?

Veteran gamers who want to relive the nostalgia have a lot to look forward to now that D2R is out. Playing the game again is like picking up where you last left off decades ago, but with new and improved graphics and gameplay.

Meanwhile, new players who have never had a chance to play this classic, because it was released before their time or because they prefer playing on consoles, will find mastering the quirks of the game a welcome distraction during lockdown weekends.

Diablo II: Resurrected brings a diverse cast of characters into the modern gaming era, now in full 3D, with a wealth of gameplay and build options for players to explore.

The Amazon, Barbarian, Necromancer, Paladin, and Sorceress are joined by the Assassin and Druid from the Lord of Destruction expansion to face legendary evils.

Players can vanquish the mightiest foes Hell could muster in the form of  Andariel, Duriel, Mephisto, Diablo, and Baal and face even greater challenges in the Nightmare and Hell difficulty modes.

With seven character classes to pick from and great itemization, comes great replayability. Powerful gear upgrades include unique weapons and armor, set items, runes and rune words, charms, and more.

So, is the infamous secret cow level making a return in the remastered version? When asked about certain Hell Bovines, the game developers prefer to remain cryptic.

“I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any secret cow level. I believe there is no secret cow level, just like there wasn’t any in the original Diablo 2,” said Gallerani.

Diablo II: Resurrected is set to launch on Windows PC, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch system globally on Sept. 23, 2021.

(Images via Blizzard Entertainment)