Reflecting on Diablo II at Twenty

Despite my writing what might be accurately called a video game oriented blog, I can be remarkably narrow in focus when it comes to the breadth of video games out there… except maybe when I am complaining about how much crap there is on Steam.

But there are some games that I am just into, that mean something to me, and that I will carry a torch for long past when said games have faded from the mainstream.  Diablo II is definitely on that list, and the 20 year anniversary is this past Monday, which means it is time to reflect.

Blizzard has their own set of celebrations to commemorate the anniversary, but we’re still missing the Diablo II remaster.  It could still be coming.  Some news has leaked, but the problems facing such a remaster loom still as well.

The last time I checked Diablo II still ran on current machines.  That was a while ago, but there is still a good chance I could install it and play.  The problem is that 20 years back monitor sizes were much smaller.  The game shipped with 640×480 as its maximum resolution, though that was bumped up to e 800 x 600 with the Lord of Destruction expansion.

My current main monitor runs as 1,920 x 1200, which means I could fit four screens of Diablo II on it, with some space left over.  And if I go full screen , the graphics get almost Minecraft blocky and the image is distorted as we’ve gone from 4:3 as the standard screen ratio to 16:9 or 16:10.

So Diablo II today does not deliver the best experience.

And why am I so interested in Diablo II?  As noted above, it is one of those games that I was just really into back in the day.

The original Diablo set the stage.  That was amazing in its time, and I enjoyed player the GoG.com remaster when that came out last year.

So when Blizzard announced Diablo II back in the late 90s, I was all over that.  It was one of the few games I paid attention to before it shipped.  I remember staring at their web site.  I recall the original specs, which included the requirement to have a 3dfx Interactive video card if you wanted the full graphical effects.

That was later dropped as a requirement, but it caused some serious discussions with my friends.  Were we going to have to get a Voodoo 2 card just for this game? (One friend got himself setup with dual Voodoo 2 cards… early SLI… which worked out well when EverQuest hit, though hardware was changing so much back then that I am sure we were all running GeForce TNT cards not long after that. It was a crazy market for video cards back then with several competing brands rather than the two we have now.)

The wait was long… at least it felt long at the time… and there were delays… but when it did ship, it lived up to our expectations.  Rare for me is a sequel that outshines an original I really enjoyed.  My attempt at an objective measure on that front is, once the sequel shipped, did I ever feel like going back and playing the original?

For example, when Civilization II shipped, I never played Civilization again.

And when it came to Diablo II, I never had the urge to go back to the original until GoG.com released their version last year in conjunction with Blizzard.  And by that point Diablo II wasn’t all that interesting, it being in such need of a rework itself.

But back in 2000 we played a lot of it.  People dropped out of EverQuest and TorilMUD to devote time to the game.  I ended up owning two copies because we would play it at the office after hours together and you only have to forget your disk and miss a game night once to feel the need to have a second copy.  It was, for its time, so engaging.  I still marvel at the use of lighting, something that the games successors have really never matched.

In the end, I have enjoyed Diablo III, it official successor, and have played pretty much every other claimants to its ARPG mantle, from Titan Quest to the recent Minecraft Dungeons, but I have never enjoyed or been as into any of them as much as I did Diablo II at its peak.

There are a lot of nit-picky reasons why that might be the case, related to game play, graphics, story, and that always online thing.

But I wonder if Diablo II just happened along at the right moment for me.

I still want a remaster though.  I’ll buy it.  I might not end up liking it as much as I did back in the day, but there is enough memories there to make it a must have.

8 thoughts on “Reflecting on Diablo II at Twenty

  1. bhagpuss

    Still never even seen it played, let alone played it. I remember Mrs Bhagpuss coming home from work sometime around 2001-2, having had a go on Diablo II at the office of some new person she was possibly going to be working with. I’d heard of it but only from people in EQ. much like WoW a few years later, “people in EQ” seemed to think Diablo was a very weak-sauce alternative to playing the One True Game. I have strong suspicions that some of those people are playing EQ right now and saying the exact same things about Fortnite or whatever the latest global must-play happens to be.

    Mrs Bhagpuss largely confirmed the EQ players opinion based on her few minutes with the game and I pretty much forgot Diablo II existed until I ended up reading about it on blogs. I’ve read so many posts on so many blogs about so many games now I sometimes find it hard to remember what I’ve actually played and what I haven’t.

    These days I seem to be widening my net to pull in quite a lot of different genres and clearly ARPGs are adjacent to several things I already like, so who knows? Maybe if they do come up with a remaster I’ll give it a try and see for myself.

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  2. diessa

    The D2 community persists; it’s been great to see! The game is actually having a resurgence of activity through the speedrun community, with a few Twitch streamers regularly going over 1,000 people watching their typical streams. The game has benefited from the engine being partly unlocked (via MedianXL) and various out-of-game tools that pull data from it, such as https://diablo.run/. I believe resolution settings have been one of the things included in that recent mod work.

    Over the years, I’ve come to love Grim Dawn. It’s been refreshing to see a developer improve their product continuously with an eye to its legacy. In the past few months, they’ve released rebalance and new content that affects the initial parts of the game, far from the expansion areas, because they wanted to maintain the modern level of quality throughout the product as a whole. I love that game, and I appreciate the developer just as much.

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  3. Jeromai

    Given that video, you should take a re-look at what Path of Exile has been doing with their lighting these days. I’m pretty sure the first hub Lioneye’s Watch has been spruced up with glowier colored lights.

    And the Delve mechanic from the NPC Niko in Act 4 is all about lighting up and exploring an infinite dungeon surrounded by darkness, save for a central point of light creating a single trail to follow.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Jeromai – Early Path of Exile was probably the closest to the Diablo II lighting that I have seen in an ARPG. Both Torchlight II and Diablo III went in on the whole “indirect lighting from an unknown light source” option, so there is almost no dark in either game.

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  5. Mailvaltar

    I feel the same as you do, Diablo II was and remains something special.

    By now I don’t have much hope left that they’ll do a proper remaster AND not screw it up like they did Warcraft 3 rewhatever though.

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  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    I was digging around for my original CDs… I know I gave one pair to my brother who played the game to death when he was stationed in Kuwait for the Iraq war… then remembered that Blizz will let you register and download the game. So I have that again. Now to see if there is a screen resolution mod.

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  7. Mailvaltar

    I would have to search for them, but I have three copies of each the main game and LoD. The third is a bit redundant, but that came with a magazine at some much later point.

    Should you find a resolution mod I’ll reinstall the game again too for sure! :-)

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