It has been over two decades since Diablo II first launched on the PC in the year 2000. Now, Vicarious Visions is bringing the beloved classic back from the dead with Diablo II: Resurrected, a full remastering of the timeless ARPG and its epic expansion, Lord of Destruction. To celebrate the game’s launch on September 24th, we sat down with principal designer, Robert Gallerani and project lead, Michael Bukowski to discuss the development process, community feedback and what an honour it has been for their team to work on such a revered title in video game history.
For a lot of Diablo fans, this may be their first experience with Diablo II. What advice do you have for seasoned Diablo III players who will be playing Diablo II for the first time?
Robert Gallerani: So this is actually a really big question we asked ourselves because you’re right. We have two groups of people, well actually, three. We have people who, as you said, may not have even been alive when this game first came out and they know Diablo III, they might have heard people talk about Diablo II. We’ve then got people who grew up with Diablo II and absolutely love it but then haven’t played for a while. Then you actually have a group of people who never stopped playing like they are literally still playing Diablo II to this day and hopefully when this game comes out, they will be playing one in the morning and the other one a couple of hours later. So, I think advice for new players is to come into this like this; this is a milestone in history. Understand that there’s already a really great community out there that you can absolutely take part in.
We really loved seeing even in the Alpha and the Beta, the old guard welcoming in new people. You see new streamers who are like, ‘wait, how do I even do this thing?’ and they’re like, ‘yeah, you’ve got to equip arrows if you want to use your bow, and you already used your town portal, so you don’t get that ability anymore’, like, just kind of learning how the old game worked. That’s actually a good thing because we already have Diablo III, right? and we’ll have Diablo IV and we have Diablo Immortal so this is kind of like a ‘back in my day‘ game. We did try to add a lot more onboarding, so we didn’t change the core game but you know, things like retitling how you get into the game, allowing you to invite people straight into a game rather than having to use a lobby, more helpful help screens, things like that.
Continuing on from that point, what other sorts of accessibility features have been added to the game since its original release?
Michael Bukowski: I mean, I think the most exciting thing is the controller because it sounds kind of crazy. It’s a PC game that was exclusively designed for mouse and keyboard. We knew we wanted to bring the game to consoles, we knew that we wanted to be able to have something that is accessible to a much larger audience and that meant controller. I think that was one of the most interesting and kind of surprising adds to the game was actually being able to play with the controller and thinking about how to bring a nostalgic feel to something that never, ever existed. That’s something that I’m really proud of and I know Rob is too because there was a lot of time and energy spent on making the controller feel really well.
RG: Yeah. I think that just to kind of rattle off some, I think “shared stash” is going to go really, really far. Just the ability to take something from one character and give it to another. In modern action RPGs, there’s a concept of a soul-bound item where it’s like, “oh, I got this item, and only this character can use it” and that’s why you can have things like personal loot and lots of other things like their systems are built that way. In Diablo II an item is an item; you could literally use an item for 15 years on one character and pass it down to another character, and they’re like, yeah, sure, go ahead, you can do that so long as it’s a hardcore that can give to a hardcore and things like that. So that, I think, will be a huge burden off of people who used to throw stuff on the ground and log out and log back in and hope the stuff is still on the ground. Auto gold pick up is a pretty big one, you just have to click it on. You had to click on all the gold before and you don’t have to do that anymore. The fact that you can toggle item names. I know that sounds really simple but it’s literally the thing that your pinky [finger] would do for the entire game. You’d hold on to the key to see item names. So that you can now toggle off and just a lot of little things that we expect from a modern game like colour-blind filters, larger font sizes, more languages. Those are just things that the original game never had. I think that a lot of people when they play them, they’re not even going to know the original game didn’t have them, like, item comparison. It’s like, “oh, yeah, just hold the button and I can compare this with the thing I have.” It’s like, no, you used to have to use something called paper and pen, right?
It’s definitely going to be a different experience for a lot of seasoned Diablo II players. I’ve got a friend in my World of Warcraft guild who has been playing Diablo since day one and has never stopped. He was asking me about Diablo II and I was telling him that his mind was going to be completely blown. He was like, “Oh, do I need it? You know, I’ve played Diablo II already,” and I was like, not like this, though.
RG: Yeah, especially for people who are, like, super intimate with the original game, you can zoom in at any moment, you can toggle at any moment so it’s kind of like rediscovering it again. You’re like, “Oh, yeah. I’ve walked past this dungeon 9 million times”, but now you’re like, “Wait a minute. Is that really what it was?” I think that’s where you get a lot of really fun excitement from people who feel like they’re like, well, I’ve already played the game, right?
You mentioned controller support before. This is the first time Diablo II has ever been available on console. Which console provides the best Diablo II experience?
RG: Well, it really depends on the player, right? So if you’re someone who likes to play on the go it’s the Switch, because that’s portable. If you want a giant flat-screen TV and to sit down in the back of your couch, you definitely would want your current-gen high-end Sony or Microsoft. The cool thing is that they even have cross-generation play in between them so when it comes to the console preference, it’s really like, what is your favourite and that kind of is the one that’s right for you. We tried not to be the limiter of how you could play the game, which is why we really are happy with cross-progression.
Do you know when cross-platform progression will go live?
MB: Cross progression will be there on day one, so you’ll be able to if you have a copy of the game on PC and console or Switch or something, you’ll be able to start your characters, play online in one place and then switch over and play them in another.
How did Blizzard decide to remaster Diablo II instead of the original Diablo?
RG: So really, with that, I’m going to actually reference what we did with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 and it really boils down to; when you think of the old Diablo, what do most people think of? Don’t get me wrong, Diablo One is absolutely the start of the amazing but I think Diablo II: Lord of Destruction is really kind of the one that I think people fondly remember the most. It was kind of like we did with Tony 1 + 2 where it’s like, people really remember this kind of in-between of Tony 3 and Tony 2 because we took moves from there. So, as much as we’re saying, we’re remastering and replicating the game one to one, because we’re adding so much more fidelity, we have to fill in an awful lot of gaps. What we’re really trying to do is recreate what people remember the game was, which is a much harder thing to do than recreate just what it really was. So just from the fans, from the community where we saw the most activity, people still play Diablo, don’t get me wrong, but the most active, die-hard groups play Diablo II: Lord of Destruction.
Is there any plans to remaster Diablo in the future?
RG: There’s always room for that. Let’s make sure we got this one right first, and then we’ll talk about that.
Are we going to see any new campaign content for Diablo II: Resurrected or are you going to stay true to the original title and its DLC?
MB: I mean, right now, our focus is getting to launch. Our focus has been just making sure that we get this right. Then once the game releases, we’re going to be looking to see how people react, and we’ll have to make plans from there.
Will Diablo II: Resurrected have a seasonal rotation like Diablo III?
RG: So yeah, so in D2 they call it “Ladder” but it’s the same thing and what we’re doing is we’re not actually releasing Ladder on day one. The reason for it is that we really want to make sure that – I know that for every new game that comes out day one is flawless and we’re totally going to have that but we want to make sure that when Ladder comes out that everyone gets the most fair start. Ladder is really a race to level 99 and if your first couple of days are not perfect, we want to make sure that everybody has the most fair experience with that. So our Ladder season is not really Ladder 1 because Ladder has been going on for 20 years now but Ladder on Resurrected will start shortly after launch and then it will repeat just like regular seasonal content that you see in Diablo III. Currently, in the live Diablo II, the original Diablo II, the Ladder season lasts six months and we are revisiting how long that goes. If you look at D3, their Ladder season is 3 months but the amount of time that it takes to get to level 99 in Diablo II is a much longer grind so we probably wouldn’t adopt that but do we go shorter than six months? That’s something we’re still playing around with.
What are your favourite character classes and why?
MB: I like to play with the Sorceress mainly. Especially with the new game and the lighting and everything, it’s so satisfying to watch Chain Lightning. Chain Lightning everything.
RG: Everyone loves Sorceress. Fun fact, statistics show that most everyone loves the Sorceress and in fact, when we finally got VFX in the game we were doing a review and we started playing the Sorceress with fire wall and lightning and it was like twenty minutes later and we were like “Oh crap, we were having a meeting!” but actually I think that with controller player, I’ve switched to liking Amazon the best because it’s very, very easy with just the click of a thumbstick to toggle between the weapons. Because I can go between Bowazon versus my javelins and the ability tray we actually allow to flip so you can have a setting where if you change weapons, it changes your whole ability loadout. So doing that, it’s just like “okay, I can run in, stab, stab, stab and run out, shoot, shoot, shoot,” and I just feel so much more mobile than I did before.
So you’ve switched over to the controller? That’s really interesting.
RG: I can’t admit that I’ll get in trouble! No, I think it’s the biggest compliment. We would take the game and we would give it to like diehard PC Diablo II fans and they swore by keyboard and mouse and when we would let them play with the controller you could tell they were trying to find a reason to hate it and they’re like, I actually kind of like it. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain things that handle a little bit differently with a controller versus with a mouse. There’s just a level of granularity that you can’t get because you don’t have a cursor, right? but there are also other things that you kind of make up for, like just overall mobility, the ability to trigger more things at once, you don’t have to remap – so it’s trade-offs but it’s a different experience, I like it.
What were some of the biggest challenges the team faced during the development process?
MB: There were a lot of challenges with regard to just figuring out how to make this old game still feel like the old game but also feel like a new game and resisting the temptation to change it too much. We had lots and lots of discussions about whether or not we should retain some elements and anywhere we added something, we usually add a way to turn it off. I think auto-gold was one of the very first things that we added in. When you go to play it, it just feels really good but to be honest, we weren’t even really sure in the beginning. It was like, okay, we should add this but is it going to feel right or not?
We have people on the team who come from that hardcore Diablo II space and we also have people on the team who are more modern who come from more of a Diablo III kind of world and then we have people on the team to whom ARPGs are somewhat new. So, getting all of the perspectives in the same meeting room and making sure that we were respecting all of the different audiences that we want to be able to enjoy the game.
RG: Yeah, I mean there are no hard and fast rules with how to modernise something because for some things it’s like no, this has to be exactly the same, it has to have the same bug, it works the exact same way and then with others it was like actually, no, it was about reading all of the forum posts and what the community feels and what we can do now with modern technology. It’s not like we’re instantly trying to create the game the day it had come out because twenty plus years of patches and tweaks and how the internet works have changed over the years. So what we’re targeting, most of it is the last patch that came out but a lot of people were like ‘oh, why has this changed?’ and we’re like, well actually that changed in 2018 but it wasn’t what people remembered. So yeah, literally every single one was a conversation about what we wanted to do and hopefully, we got as many of them right as possible.
What are some of the most interesting community feedback you received during the testing phases?
RG: The number of people that wanted us to add a clock was insane. We got a bunch of feedback from the tech alpha- and first off the feedback was super constructive, which I don’t know if you’ve been on the internet lately but usually when you’re like, “Hey, how is this thing?” You get feedback like, “it’s dumb” and you’re like, oh, well we’ll just enter in a task to make it not dumb no, these were things like “the lightning could be bluer or this fireball should be thicker,” and we’re like, oh, well, holy cow, yeah, we can totally do that but of all of the quality of life features that people requested a clock was almost at the top. We’re like, well, you got like half an hour? Okay, cool, there we go, we added a clock and I still to this day, I’m like, I dunno why everyone wants a clock! I’m like, don’t you have other clocks? but, okay. We did also see a significant number of people who kind of just asked for more content and as much as that excites us, that’s kind of not what we’re targeting on day one. You know, you see a lot of people being like, oh, where are the new Runewords? And where are the new items? And where’s your rebalancing? Hold on. I’m like, I’m really glad you’re confident that we’re going to ship this game perfectly and that it’ll be exactly what you remember but that [additional content] just wasn’t our goal, you know, not, not right out the gate.
Finally, this is a huge accomplishment for your team – What are you most proud of?
MB: I mean, for me – this is maybe a cheesy answer. I’m most proud of the team. I think for me, it has been an incredible experience to work with such talented people on this game and to have the opportunity to bring such a classic title back for so many new fans as well as the old fans that have been playing it for so many years. It has been a real honour and it has been a special project, at least for me. So I know it’s the cheesy answer but it’s the truth.
RG: Now I can’t give that answer! For us, I feel like we treated people’s nostalgia and childhood with the respect that it deserved. There is still a whole lot of pressure on us to do it right and I hope we made most of the right decisions. I hope where some people feel that we got it off, they understand where we’re coming from. It was a huge honour to get to work on something like that that is so important to so many people and so I think we did it justice. I think we treated it like a classic car; like yeah, we probably shouldn’t make it run on lead gas anymore but you couldn’t take a classic Mustang and just be like oh, it’s all plastic now. It’s like no, you have to have a certain respect for it and even now when it comes to that respect there’s humility. We aren’t even the experts, there are people who know every monster, every drop rate, everything out there and it’s like, I’m not going to claim to know it all – I could go and look it up and I could do that for the entire duration of this project and I still wouldn’t know as much as the community knows. So I think we struck the right balance where we were like look, we’ve been entrusted as the keepers of this and hopefully we did it good so that it’s ready for the next twenty years but that’s all we were. So yeah, I’m proud of that, I’m proud that we did that.
Diablo II: Resurrected launches at 1 am AEST, September 24th, 2021 on PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and Nintendo Switch with cross-progression between platforms available on day one. You can also purchase the Diablo Prime Evil Collection which comes with Diablo II: Resurrected, Diablo III + expansions and a bunch of additional cosmetic content exclusive to this bundle.