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The key difference between a remaster and a remake
The Dark Wanderer visits Marius in the opening cutscene of Diablo 2. The doors to the prison swing open on their own, as if magic has forced the hinges to move. It’s a memorable moment, one that establishes this presence of magic and power for the Dark Wanderer.
But this wasn’t always the case. Pre-release marketing materials for Diablo 2 featured a warden character opening the door for the Dark Wanderer. It was the original intent that the warden exist to open the door, but that character never made it into the game. It changed the context of the scene. In the shipped version, the Dark Wanderer doesn’t seem invited; they open their own path.
In Diablo 2 Resurrected, the recently announced remaster of Diablo 2, Blizzard Entertainment could’ve revisited that cinematic and brought the warden back in. But no matter the original intention or what makes more sense in the scene, that goes against Blizzard’s philosophy for Resurrected.
Prior to BlizzConline, we spoke to Rod Fergusson, executive producer of the Diablo franchise at Blizzard, and Rob Gallerani, principal designer at Blizzard’s support studio, Vicarious Visions. And after working on the industry’s “worst-kept secret,” the pair were clear on Diablo 2 Resurrected: This is the Diablo 2 you know, warts and all.
“This isn’t a remake,” said Fergusson. “We’re not reverse-engineering it; we’re not rebuilding it and trying to make it look and sound like [Diablo 2]. This is [Diablo 2]. […] It’s right there, underneath the surface. The entire simulation, the engine for this game, that lifeblood of this game, is [Diablo 2] right underneath. So there’s a toggle switch, a legacy toggle, that when you press the button, you’ll see behind the curtains, and there is Diablo 2 in 2D sprites running right there, and you can play the way that you played 20 years ago.”
In our 30-minute chat, the pair couldn’t have made the philosophy for Diablo 2 Resurrected more clear. It is — because it needed to be — the game players remembered. Blizzard felt that most deviations, even important quality-of-life features, would be a step too far.
“Most players play with the map up while they play the game,” said Gallerani. “And a request we got in the play test — very much from people who have never played [Diablo 2] but are used to playing more modern games — will be like, I just got a quest. Where’s the dot on the map telling me where to go?
“We looked into doing something like that,” Gallerani continued, “and you’re like, Well, it doesn’t doesn’t break anything, right? It’s not making my character overpowered or anything like that. And it totally changed the vibe of the game.”
While a revamped minimap or icons showing you where to go may have made for a more modern Diablo experience, it didn’t feel true to what Diablo 2 was 20 years ago. And Blizzard’s philosophy was that if a feature doesn’t feel authentic, it gets canned.
Blizzard wants to preserve Diablo 2 for Resurrected as much as it can, because even if the game is unchanged, the world it will be released into is completely different. As with World of Warcraft Classic, the wide variety of information available on the internet nowadays, and the advent of services like Discord, makes socializing while playing a very different experience. You don’t need the manual when an answer to “how do I complete this quest” is a Discord message or a Google search away. Blizzard is counting on that — the community — to help ease new players into the experience.
Diablo 2 Resurrected isn’t completely unchanged from Diablo 2, though; it’s just that the scope of the changes is rigid and limited. Blizzard made clear improvements to the visuals, taking the game from 2D sprites to 3D models. But those models are all either based on the original game’s art or molded by using the original architecture. It looks and moves like Diablo 2, but in a way that makes it much easier to look at for prolonged periods of time.
There are also some unobtrusive convenience additions. One example Blizzard gave is the Shared Stash, which allows players to move items between their characters by placing the desired item in a chest. This is a major shift from the original game, where players needed to create a mule character whose sole purpose was to move items from one character to the other. “We felt like this wasn’t changing how you played,” said Fergusson. “This is just making it better.”
The Shared Stash is one of the easiest-to-swallow pills for players — it just saves time, so there are no downsides. But a feature like auto gold pickup was a little too much for some.
“We have other [features] like the auto gold pickup, which you would expect in a modern-day game — that you have the ability just to walk over and hoover up the gold — but maybe a purist doesn’t want that quality of life,” said Fergusson. “And so we’ve actually made some [improvements] that are toggleable, and you can opt in or not.”
The actual changes in Diablo 2 Resurrected are on that level of minutiae. If it even comes close to feeling like too much of a difference from the original game, Blizzard threw in a toggle to allow players to tailor their experience.
Many of the game’s major changes fit into the quality-of-life pool or the communication pool. In Diablo 2, it was easy to lose track of skill points, or assign something in a way that ruins your character. That rigidity is still there, but the game will now remind you if you haven’t spent your points, and tell you how to assign your abilities. It’ll give you a warning that buying that skill is a permanent choice, but once you move past the warning, that’s it — introducing the ability to reverse that decision would be too big of a change.
These changes all work to make Diablo 2 Resurrected a more friendly experience, but not one that’s so friendly it ever stops feeling like the dark, brutal, and occasionally frustrating Diablo 2 that catapulted the franchise into gaming history. And if players have concerns that Diablo 2 Resurrected will change too much, Fergusson assured us that unlike Warcraft 3: Reforged, Diablo 2 and Diablo 2 Resurrected are two separate games; one will not override or impact the other.
Diablo 2 Resurrected is scheduled to be released on consoles and Windows PC later this year, with a single-player beta available in a few months.