Diablo 2: Resurrected is almost here, launching amidst an ongoing Activision Blizzard lawsuit alleging workplace harassment and malpractice. While we've had a couple of opportunities to dive into the game's first two acts with alpha and beta tests — including my own hands-on time with the Diablo 2 alpha — the vast majority of content is still awaiting us on Sept. 23. Leading up to the release date, Studio Design Director Rob Gallerani and Project Lead Michael Bukowski sat down for a group media interview to answer some of our burning questions about the legendary game their team has remade.
Diablo 2: Resurrected is still Diablo 2 at its core
Diablo 2 has been around for more than 20 years. For many people — myself included — it's the pinnacle of the hack-and-slash RPG genre. There will undoubtedly be a ton of longtime fans coming back to the world of Sanctuary, if only to take in the gorgeous new look. There will also be a lot of Diablo 3 players checking it out, as well as complete newcomers discovering the series for the first time. So how does the Vicarious Visions team (a subsidiary of Blizzard Entertainment) balance the needs of veterans and greenhorns?
Gallerani stresses that Diablo 2: Resurrected is not an iteration on the franchise. It's the game we all remember, brought into the current era where we're no longer worried about someone else using the phone line while we play with friends. Keeping the core game the same and also making the game attractive to modern players was a balancing act. Gallerani turns to the Act 2 boss Duriel as an example:
The game is hard. The game is not, 'Oh, we're going to give you this nice little tutorial about how to figure everything out.' Sorry, it's boss of Act 2; you're going to die a whole lot and you'll eventually figure it out. That's just how the game is.
Diablo 2: Resurrected is just as cruel and punishing as ever. But that doesn't mean it can't be far more intuitive. The original game had a text-based friends list with a long list of commands, which is clunky by today's streamlined standards. But that's something that could be changed without affecting the core gameplay. You can now play and chat with your friends without nearly as much effort.
Auto gold pickup? I don't think anyone is complaining about that change, but the option to toggle it on and off is available. Gallerani goes on to mention that even verbage used in the game has been tweaked to make it more clear as to what you're playing. Instead of singleplayer and other multiplayer modes, it's now online and offline play. This will hopefully get more people partied together.
And some things were just too iconic to change. No one uses the term "ladder" anymore to talk about seasonal play, but it's one thing that the team just couldn't mess around with. On that note, the first ladder season won't be live at launch. The team is going to take time to ensure the game is running smoothly before turning on the competitive play.
When asked about modernizing the visuals of the game and some of the issues it created elsewhere in the game, Bukowski said the art team had a rule that kept 70% of the original feel with 30% leeway to make changes. There was a struggle to balance the darkness of the game with modern realism and global illumination. Bukowski explains:
There was one point in time where we went even further from a lighting standpoint. The graphics team really wanted to look at how to do some really sophisticated global illumination, for example. And it was clear that if we enabled that, light was going to bounce in too many places, and we were going to end up with a game where the visibility was going to be different from the original. And that's something we absolutely could not have.
Gallerani then chimed in to explain that the team never wanted the player to have more or less information when toggling the graphics. The act of bringing such a dark and gritty game into a modern frame was a huge challenge for the team. Balancing realism — like dropping a wooden club into a dark and muddy forest — with player accessibility — like shining a bit of light on that club to highlight that there's actually something there — took a long time to get right. Be sure to check out our list of the best laptops for playing Diablo 2: Resurrected if you're looking to get the best experience possible.
Some of Diablo 2's classic bugs aren't really what we think they are
Diablo 2 and its Lord of Destruction expansion are far from perfect games. The number of bugs and exploits that exist to this day is almost comical. But over two decades, many of those bugs have become a part of regular play. For example, unsocketed ethereal armor could be "ebugged" with a Horadric Cube recipe, ending up with sockets and a huge bonus to defense. Done just right, this would be a perfect runeword base for a mercenary.
Another bug involving act boss drop rates would let you get a better shot at primo gear each time you killed the boss, no matter if you'd already finished the quest. The ethereal armor bug has been fixed in Diablo 2: Resurrected, while others — like the quest drop rate bug — seem to still be in the game (at least in the most recent beta build we played). So how did the team decide which bugs to fix and which to leave alone?
Much like the core gameplay, bug fixes couldn't change the feel or the balance of the original game. This was handled on more of a special-case basis, and the team did a lot of research on player opinions surrounding these bugs. It really came down to whether or not the bugs could be a route toward further exploits and item duping, though preserving the original experience was always in mind. And a lot of bugs that players have been dealing with for years aren't exactly what everyone suspected. Gallerani gave a behind-the-scenes example of the classic "next hit always misses" bug using the Sorceress Nova attack.
Diablo works in a way where your client (or your PC) does something, and the server does something. And they're not always thinking the same thing. [...] In the original game, you say, 'I want to do this move.' The character starts doing the move. Let's say at frame eight, you get hit and get interrupted out of it. You got hit, your game knows you got hit, the server knows you got hit. And you immediately do it [attack] again. When you immediately do it [attack] again, your client says, 'Cool, start it over again.' And you start playing the animation over again. The server is still saying, 'No, you got hit and you don't get to do anything until you're done playing the take-hit animation.'
And this is where you would see attacks fizzle out and not do any damage. The original game's desync between what players saw and what the server saw was the culprit. There wasn't actually anything in the game that could be fixed, other than ensuring the server saw what the client saw and displaying it properly on screen. Gallerani explains that a lot of the perceived changes to the game were simply a matter of accurately showing what was going on behind the scenes.
New Diablo 2: Resurrected content isn't being ruled out
Diablo 2 has been explored to its utmost depths by millions of people over the years. And while the remastered game will undoubtedly give us a whole lot of new stuff to talk about, the question about whether or not Diablo 2: Resurrected will see any extra content after launch is a big one. This is especially true due to the removal of TCP/IP support in the new game, which deals a serious blow to the best Diablo 2 mods and the talented modders that have kept the aging game feeling fresh even to this day.
The good news is that extra content for Diablo 2: Resurrected is not being ruled out, though the team is focusing primarily on building a strong foundation first. Gallerani had this to say:
We wanted to build a really strong foundation before we started talking about the third and fourth floors on this building. If we misstepped on what the core game was, anything else we were doing would have been kind of meaningless. [...] We definitely have lots of ideas, but right now we're waiting to make sure that we get the core game right. [...] We'll have to see once the game goes live what we do about new runewords, new items, rebalancing, things like that.
And when it comes to the bots and dupes that often flooded ladder seasons in original Diablo 2, some things have changed. The team dedicated to migrating Diablo 2 to the modern Battle.net platform and its security measures prioritized keeping the game as close as possible to the original, while also implementing extra analytics to monitor the Diablo 2: Resurrected economy in real time.
Gallerani expects that some small tweaks here and there will keep the in-game online economy much more measured and will prevent people from massively duping certain items. He uses the Stone of Jordan as an example, explaining that it was duped so heavily in the past because it was used as a currency between players. He's careful not to say the system is perfect, and instead is remaining positive that these new systems will help defend against the issues much better than before.
Diablo 2: Resurrected launches next week
It's evident that the Vicarious Visions team is incredibly passionate about getting Diablo 2: Resurrected right for its launch on Sept. 23, and I can't wait to jump back into Sanctuary. Whether it's on PC, Xbox, PlayStation, or Switch, you can get in on the gruesome action with supported cross-progression play.
If you're looking for a bit of help to jumpstart your Diablo knowledge, be sure to have a look at our beginner's guide to Diablo 2: Resurrected classes. For a deeper understanding, have a look at our Diablo 2: Resurrected Sorceress build guide.
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