Diablo 2: Resurrected — Hands-on with the tech alpha reveals a glimpse of an incredible remake

Diablo 2 Resurrected Tech Alpha Cairn Stones
Diablo 2 Resurrected Tech Alpha Cairn Stones (Image credit: Windows Central)

I went hands-on with Diablo 2: Resurrected during its first playtest last weekend. The closed tech alpha, limited to three classes and two acts, nevertheless delivered a deep look and feel of what we can expect when the game launches later this year. My first impressions — and I don't think I'm alone here — are very positive.

I reviewed Warcraft 3: Reforged last year, and it didn't give me high hopes for a (then unannounced) Diablo 2 remake. But even after three days of Resurrected, it's going to be tough to go back to the original Diablo 2 as we wait for a full release. Here are some notable takeaways from the tech alpha weekend.

Diablo 2: Resurrected graphics

What can be said other than Diablo 2: Resurrected is visually astounding? Part of Diablo 2's appeal for me is its dark and grimy backdrop. A world that's barely holding on against evil corruption where the sun doesn't shine for long and nearly everything is looking to kill you. The remake takes that dark aura and cranks it up. Resurrected is darker, bleaker, and yet somehow far more detailed and atmospheric.

Diablo 2: Resurrected has an incredible amount of new and remastered detail in every part of the game.

The game's set pieces, characters, and items have been overhauled completely. Diablo 2 is now a modern game and is possibly the best-looking ARPG coming to market. But the team didn't stop at just overhauling existing artwork. Backdrops have been reworked and expanded. Dungeons now feel more alive, with junk piled along walls and in corners. What used to be blank brick walls now have a purpose tied into the overall setting. I noticed these changes especially in the Act 1 Barracks and Black Tower — each new room was just as detailed as the next, even though there might be nothing of import inside. And don't get me started on the Arcane Sanctuary's polished floors.

The remastered game runs on top of the original game, and there's a function that allows players to seamlessly swap back and forth even during the heat of the battle. The change is truly jarring, and now that I've seen the new look I don't know how I can go back to the old look. It will certainly take some time as I settle back into the original Diablo 2's modding world.

Environment and backdrop graphics are jaw-dropping, but so are characters and monsters. The sorceress was most impressive thanks to the bevy of elemental skills, but hacking and slashing and firing arrows with the barbarian and amazon were likewise a treat. Charged bolts erupting from my sorceress seem to carry new energy, and the fire effects are truly sizzling. The only complaint here is that I hope some of the higher-level skills feel more punchy. A lot of people are going to be using blizzard and frozen orb, so I hope they're more devastating on screen.

There will still no doubt be detractors coming after David Bowiezon and some of the other character facial models, but really these aren't that big of a deal. You'll see them in the new character selection screen, but otherwise, they won't really matter that much.

Enemy models look fantastic, to the point where I'd stand in place with the camera zoomed in watching them attack me. We've yet to see all monsters, but those from Act 1 and 2 are a good sign of things to come. The only thing that stood out to me on this front was some of the status effects. Freezing enemies turned them sort of a bright blue color that stood out against the dark backdrop. And poison seemed just a bit too neon. Hopefully, these will be tweaked before release.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Diablo 2 is all about loot. The items you can find in the game at this point are iconic, so it's good to see that a lot of care has gone into their new artwork. There is far more detail (which can be viewed clearly on your actual character), and for the most part, the look has stayed the same. There are certainly some changes (the cap/war hat/shako looks significantly different, for example) but they're still recognizable. Even the charms look far more realistic.

Things that need work on this front are gems and jewelry. Chipped gems look downright awful, and some of the rings and amulets just don't hold up to the original artwork. Overall, though, I can't stress enough how great this game looks. I've really had to dig deep for complaints, and even though is a tech alpha it feels very close to a finished product.

Diablo 2: Resurrected user interface

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The game's UI has undergone an overhaul to expand and reorganize some aspects. The number one improvement is no doubt the larger (10 blocks by 10 blocks) personal stash and new shared stash. While online players could "mule" items by creating a private lobby and leaving gear on the ground to pick up by a different character, the process wasn't always flawless. Many high-level items were lost. As for offline players, there was really no way to move gear between characters. This has been solved with the shared page.

Coming off of significant time with one of the best Diablo 2 mods, Path of Diablo, I can see how a stackable section within the stash might make a lot of sense. Being able to group all your potions, runes, and gems together saves a whole lot of space and will reduce the need for mules. It won't really change the game in any significant way and will make playing for hundreds of hours a whole lot easier.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

As for the UI look in general, it's super clean. Writing is much more legible, though I feel some of the text could stand out a bit more. There's an expanded stat screen that keeps a tally of your character's abilities, meaning you no longer have to keep a running tally in your head of things like magic find, gold find, faster hit recovery, and faster cast rate.

And you can now Ctrl + click items back and forth between inventory pages, making gear management a lot more intuitive. The UI is shaping up very nicely, and with just a few more tweaks it will no doubt appeal to just about everyone.

Diabo 2: Resurrected gameplay

Diablo 2: Resurrected is sort of like a puppet being controlled by the original game, so there aren't any major changes to gameplay. And that's a good thing; gameplay is the reason why so many people still play Diablo 2. Still, there are some tweaks to note.

Gold pickup is now automatic, but you still need to get close to it in order to trigger the function. It doesn't feel like it's just handing you gold each time you kill a mob. For gamblers out there, you can now refresh the gambling page with a dedicated button instead of leaving the window and returning again each time. This is a big one for late-game players.

And one change I don't particularly like is how rejuvenation potions seem to take longer to kick in. These were a literal lifeline for many endgame players, and the lag between hitting the potion button and having it kick in is noticeable.

As for the technical side of things, the game runs smoothly on high-end systems as expected. However, some other players using slower systems noted that load times for waypoints and act switches are a lot longer than in the original game. Check out the best laptops for Diablo 2: Resurrected if you're in need of an upgrade.

Looking ahead at Diablo 2: Resurrected

I am thrilled about what Vicarious Visions has managed to pull off with Diablo 2: Resurrected. Even though this was just a limited tech alpha playtest, I don't want to go back to the original graphics. There's still a lot to be revealed — including how online play is handled — but Resurrected is what I imagined a remake would look like. I'm certain it will pull in many people when it's fully released.

It's been a long time since I played vanilla Diablo 2. The remake is going to offer many hours of play, but I don't doubt I will again go looking for a modded version. In a personal sense, PlugY and Path of Diablo have played a big role in keeping me around the game for so many years, and I hope mod support continues for the remake.

If you'd like to read more about the game and how it's being developed, be sure to check out our Diablo 2: Resurrected developer interview.

Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond. If it runs Windows or in some way complements the hardware, there’s a good chance he knows about it, has written about it, or is already busy testing it.