Diablo II's Recipe for Success and What to Expect from Diablo II: Resurrected
More than 20 years ago, a game studio called Blizzard North decided to produce a sequel to one of their staple titles called Diablo. What they didn't know back then was that with the creation of Diablo II, the team around David Brevik, Erich Schaeffer and his brother Max Schaeffer would redefine PC gaming as a whole and kickstart the incredible trend of action-based role-playing games in the early 2000s becoming mainstream that continues up to this day.
Two decades later, Blizzard Entertainment decided to revive one of their most influential games. What evolved into a community dream after the critically reviewed release of Diablo III has finally come true with the announcement of Diablo II: Resurrected during 2021's BlizzConline.
But what exactly did this critically acclaimed game provide that so many gamers love and cherish up to this day? How did Diablo II become the ARPG classic that Blizzard decides to bring back from literal Hell this year?
We take a closer look at the spicy ingredients of Diablo II's timeless game formula and how Diablo II: Resurrected could enhance this unforgettable gaming experience.
In essence, the Diablo franchise brought the action-based role-playing game as a genre to life. The definition of how a new game genre comes together still holds up today, and now more than ever does it become clear how Diablo started an incredible trend in 1997: it combined the best features of other, older genres.
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, linear RPGs, as well as point-and-click adventures were still widely successful. Flagship titles like
The Legend of Zelda
pioneered how combat and story-telling in gaming were perceived.
However, it was Blizzard North’s
that was able to showcase an intriguing combination of real-time action-based combat and immersive story-telling. Over the year of 1997, the game became a huge hit in PC gaming, and development of Diablo II started immediately.
Three years later, Diablo II was released - and to say that the release went well would be an enormous understatement. With two million copies sold after only six weeks, it became the fastest-selling PC game of all time at the time.
One of the main reasons for Diablo II’s incredible success was the continuation of Diablo’s way to handle combat gameplay: The fast-paced, resource- and cooldown-based style of utilizing your character’s abilities while flawlessly moving on a pseudo-2D grid layout was brought to perfection after Diablo had already laid out the groundwork.
What really turns Diablo II’s combat system into a timeless jewel though is the look and feel of fighting the minions of Hell. No matter the class, no matter the build - your attacks in the form of abilities or auto-hits felt impactful and consequential. All that was transported through seamless character animations and brilliant ambiance sound - two basic game features that were not the norm in isometric games of the late 90s, much less in such high quality.
Diablo II’s basic gameplay loops such as its combat are very repetitive in theory, but it still felt incredibly satisfying to slay a monster for the hundredth, thousandth, and millionth time - because it followed the basic and deterministic rules that a player could impact through skill, timing, and gear.
For Diablo II: Resurrected, it has to be of utmost importance to recreate that particular look and feel of combat gameplay. Remember, Diablo II natively runs at 25 frames per second, and every single frame represents a fraction of a sprite animation; this technical fact is one of the main reasons why fighting in Diablo II feels so impactful.
We know that Resurrected will be upscaled to 60 FPS, so more than double the native frame rate. In theory, such a change could result in a much slower look and feel compared to the original game.
But die-hard fans should know what potential the frame rate adjustment holds in terms of combat gameplay. A majority of the game’s classes rely on increased attack or cast speed to deal more damage over time - in fact, it is one of the most meaningful and obvious ways to increase your overall character strength.
Diablo experts also know that faster combat animations were somewhat choppy in Diablo II because frames needed to be skipped in order to complete those animations in time. With 60 frames per second, fast animations in Resurrected will look and feel much smoother, potentially enhancing the already agile Diablo II isometric combat gameplay experience.
Another game feature that added to the sheer infinite amount of replayability of Diablo II was its class system.
From today’s point of view, offering distinct class choices shouldn’t be something special. But being able to pick between seven different character archetypes? That was more than unheard of in the very early 2000s.
The key to success in the case of class choice was Diablo II’s asymmetrical class design. The game provides each of the seven classes with a very special set of abilities. To have access to a wide range of gameplay archetypes not only across but also within those classes enables players to experience the game in different ways.
Through a combination of heavy RPG-style class identity and unique player choices based on your selected class toolkit, Diablo II set a high bar in terms of a truly diverse and replayable gameplay experience back in the day - not least thanks to in-game content such as class-exclusive items and charms.
With Resurrected, the game's class design won’t change - but the way we look at them definitely will in the truest sense of the word. Could certain class gameplay become even more fun with the upcoming graphics facelift? Which classes could benefit from improved animations and frame rate, and will that influence player choice compared to twenty years ago?
Looting, Items, and Trading
Graphics, look and feel, class diversity - all that is nice and great, but we all know what Diablo games are really about: LOOT. Many games of today are full of diverse loot and countless different opportunities to obtain loot.
But 20 years ago, Diablo II’s “loot formula” was ground-breaking. Every monster corpse, every locked chest, every seemingly empty barrel could contain that one priceless legendary item. Randomly generated loot of all sorts dropped from basically all available sources. Of course, bosses and rare monsters had increased chances to drop certain loot, but the feeling that every missed monster was a missed opportunity for loot has been a constant companion for ARPG players ever since.
In addition to that, loot rarity was still a somewhat unfamiliar concept when Diablo II was released. It is common knowledge that both Diablo and World of Warcraft introduced “color-coded loot” as we know it today, conditioning a whole generation of gamers to release heavily increased amounts of dopamine whenever they see an orange-colored item in basically every loot-based game developed in the current century.
But it was once again a combination of randomized loot generation and its deterministic use for character optimization that turned Diablo II’s item system into the most exciting “carrot on a stick” in gaming back in the day.
It is safe to say that Diablo II’s items at their core carried one mantra: “You get what you see”. All stats and bonuses were easy to understand, and players could identify a better item without something like a comparison tooltip which many modern-day ARPGs offer.
This made the game highly enjoyable for the average, more casual player, especially compared to more complex RPGs at the time - but Diablo II also offered a surprising amount of min-maxing, something that was extremely out of the ordinary to do when the game released. Extensive information about extended in-game meta-data like attack or cast speed breakpoints was scarce and often just decent estimates. That left all kinds of Diablo II players with a certain amount of mystery as well as self-determination regarding character customization.
Deciding what items were good for your build on your own also established a trading infrastructure like never seen before in an online game. Gems and runes built the foundation of a player-driven economy, and the newly introduced Battle.net community platform allowed players to optimize their beloved characters into infinity. In addition to that, loot in Diablo II was much less “build-enabling” compared to its successor Diablo III. Sets and legendary items had their place in the item meta-game, but rare items had their right to exist as well - a fact that enlarged the table of tradable loot and made it much more diverse.
Now back to the present: As Classic WoW has undoubtedly shown, 20-year-old games have been figured out over time. The publicly available information about Diablo II will lead players into a more optimized playstyle around targeted loot - and Resurrected won’t be able to change that.
The remake’s main goal, in this case, should be to keep things as they were. A shared account stash? Item comparison tooltips? All these quality-of-life changes coming to the game with the release of Resurrected are very much welcome but won’t make a difference in the bigger picture of loot, gear, and trading.
The one thing regarding loot I would love to see developed in Resurrected is the introduction of a solo self-found option. Games like Path of Exile show that trading can be a hassle and very time-consuming, so an additional ladder system with characters that compete only with self-found gear could attract an additional target group of ARPG players.
Setting, Story and Lore
For today’s standards, Diablo II’s storyline seems shallow. And what compelling story could an ARPG with randomly generated levels possibly have?
To be fair, the story told back in the day was simple. A world called Sanctuary, a plane between Heaven and Hell, sets the stage to tell the tale of Marius, an old vagabond that happened to accompany a character called the Dark Wanderer.
What follows is a mix of cinematics in-between five vastly different acts featuring dark woods, dry deserts, humid swamps, hell planes, and snowy mountain plateaus combined with a simple quest system that drives the story forward. What really puts the one-dimensional story-telling into overdrive though is the perspective through an almost disturbing game world full of demonic horror and death afflicted by the Prime Evils.
And maybe it was Diablo II’s gothic setting that just came along perfectly with the zeitgeist of the late 90s and early 2000s. The rise of several youth culture phenomenons combined with the dark premise of the brutal hack’n’slay franchise turned the game into a time-consuming forbidden fruit of excitement - what’s better than playing a revolutionary game as a teenager that also comes with a “Mature 17+” ESRB rating?
Nowadays, Diablo II’s setting pales in comparison to other games with over-the-top settings. However, players around the world still fondly remember the dark times in Sanctuary, which is one of the main reasons they demand Diablo IV to become just as evil, not least because Diablo III’s general setting tried to cater to a much wider audience.
The good news is that Diablo II: Resurrected will most definitely enhance the dark and disturbing atmosphere of Sanctuary. Improved graphics and sounds in combination with an overhauled engine on top will definitely open up new ways to experience Diablo II as a whole.
In addition to that, today’s fans of the franchise know a lot more about the lore of the Diablo universe. Stories told through publications like
Book of Cain
Book of Tyrael
added enormous depth to the world of Sanctuary, and to relive the story of Diablo II in Resurrected with lots of background knowledge in mind will definitely add a lot more flavor to the general gameplay experience.
Sound, Music and Cinematics
But Diablo II didn’t make it to the echelons of video gaming only through its visuals. Audio design in gaming is often overlooked, but iconic franchises almost always come with equally iconic audio. In the case of Diablo II, everything starts with its in-game sound effects.
Immersive ability sounds, randomized NPC voice lines, and, most importantly, item drop sound effects based on item categories turned hack’n’slaying in Diablo II into a palpable and also hearable descent into Hell.
This Hellride is accompanied by the most critically acclaimed video-game soundtracks of all time. Matt Uelmen, who already composed the soundtrack of the franchise’s first part, coined the distinct Diablo tune using several exotic percussion instruments such as the darbuka and the jembe as well as almost outlandish vocals sung in ancient Sanskrit.
What was even more ahead of its time than Diablo II’s soundtrack was its cinematics. Fans across the globe appreciate the incredibly high quality of Blizzard cinematics today, and that trend was kickstarted by the incredible cinematics shown in-between the acts of Diablo II, telling the story of Marius and the Prime Evils.
Even critics of the franchise have to admit that the overall quality and details of Diablo II’s cinematics were unprecedented at the time. 3D character models, immersive lighting, dedicated audio design, and impeccable voice acting turned traveling between the game’s regions into a movie experience.
Diablo II: Resurrected’s approach to its sounds and cinematics is my personal highlight. The news of full 7.1 support for the game will drastically increase immersion, and a shot-by-shot remake of all cinematics with a total runtime of 27 minutes puts the cherry on top of an already packed resurrection of Blizzard’s influential action-based role-playing game.
Why Play Diablo II: Resurrected?
If you’re on the hunt for a new and refreshing gameplay experience, then Resurrected certainly won’t be your cup of tea. Diablo II revolutionized a whole genre, but ARPG game design had the chance to improve over the last twenty years.
A graphics and sounds overhaul can sugarcoat some of the underlying design flaws of Diablo II, but they will still appear nonetheless. In addition to that, improved Battle.net integration will hopefully make it a lot harder to cheat in the game, but don’t expect state-of-the-art protection measures against those who try to illegally gain advantages.
Players that share a deep love for the Diablo franchise, however, should be in for a treat when playing Diablo II: Resurrected. Experiencing gameplay including graphics, audio, and cinematics on a new, much more modern level will satisfy the needs of nostalgics and die-hard fans alike.
Diablo II: Resurrected will be more than a trip down memory lane.
Of course, it is made to bring back the original fan base of the ARPG classic first and foremost. However, I feel like we will see a surge of ARPG players that didn’t have the chance to experience the rise of Diablo II back in the 2000s play Resurrected, and have a lot of fun defending Sanctuary and descending into Hell to deal with the Prime Evils and their minions.
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