Blizzard has finally announced Diablo 2 Resurrected, one of the worst-kept secrets in the video game industry. This rekindling of the 20-year-old action role-playing great has fans aflutter – here we have a remaster – not a remake – of the game that for many defined the genre. It is an understatement to say Diablo 2 is fondly remembered. It is beloved.
And so we come to Diablo 2 Resurrected, which adds a remaster layer on top of an original underbelly. And so it should feel, pound for pound, as it did all those years ago, with a few things brought up to speed here, a few quirks left in there. The reveal trailer is below:
Things are certainly heating up in the world of Diablo. Blizzard’s plan for Diablo 2 Resurrected is for it to lead series newcomers directly into mobile game Diablo Immortal, which is set right after the events of the second game. Viewed through the lens of Immortal, Diablo 2 Resurrected is a prequel of sorts. And then there’s Diablo 4, which is still a while away, waiting in the wings. That’s three new Diablo games all in development at Blizzard, while support for the nine-year-old Diablo 3 continues.
Ahead of BlizzCon 2021, we spoke to executive producer and head of the Diablo franchise at Blizzard Entertainment Rod Fergusson, and Diablo 2 Resurrected principal designer Rob Gallerani to find out more about the project and how the game will play when it’s released for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X / S and Nintendo Switch later in 2021. And from Fergusson specifically, we asked about the Diablo masterplan – or as he puts it: “the re-emergence of Diablo.”
Fergusson, who joined Blizzard in early 2020, is famous for his time working on the Gears of War franchise at Epic Games and, more recently, The Coalition, but he’s also known as the “closer” who helped get troubled Irrational shooter BioShock Infinite out the door. Now, Fergusson oversees Blizzard’s collective efforts around all things Diablo, as well as exploring opportunities to extend the Diablo universe. How about a Netflix show? Everyone’s doing it.
Gallerani works at Vicarious Visions, the studio behind the superb Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and, most recently, the well-received Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2. Vicarious Visions was reportedly made a part of Blizzard to work on Diablo 2 Resurrected after the powers that be gave the project to the team behind Diablo 4 instead of the team that was initially set to make it: Blizzard’s Team 1 – aka the team that made the poorly received Warcraft 3: Reforged and, before that, MOBA flop Heroes of the Storm and real-time strategy game StarCraft 2. Gallerani was the design lead on the Warmind expansion for Destiny 2 and led the puzzle team on its Black Armory expansion in 2018, before Bungie parted ways with publisher Activision and took Destiny with it.
You mentioned embracing the quirks of the original Diablo 2. Can you give me any examples of those?
Rob Gallerani: There are certain things players are like, oh, why is this a mechanic, right? And those are the ones that are very easy for us to say, well, we have to keep that because that’s core to D2. So things like a very small inventory, stamina management, potion management, tomes for your scrolls – those are things in other games just become button presses. But that’s something that’s core to the game, core to the loop.
When it comes to things that could even be perceived as bugs, these are things like, if you stand in this one spot during this one boss fight, the boss can’t get to you. It’s like, okay, well, yes, that’s a bug. I seriously doubt that was what the original creators intended. But it’s become such a well-known thing that people can do that we’re like, okay, we should keep it. Or even translations, when they were translated to French originally, they were not really a real translation. They just put the word le in front of it. It’s like, okay, well, it’s probably a poor translation, but at this point for 20 years that magic item in France is known as that thing. So we don’t change that.
That’s where we would have it. It’s really a special case for all of these things. It’s been around for so long that it’s become part of what the game is.
So basically what you’re saying is the cheeses that worked when I played Diablo 2 when I was younger will still work when I play it again this year?
Rob Gallerani: Yes! Even even down to balances, right? So obviously the game has been rebalanced over the years, so if you haven’t played it for 20 years it will be changed, but as of live Diablo 2 right now, that’s the balance we’re going with. So if you liked your hammer paladin, your hammer paladin still is pretty awesome.
You also talked about some quality of life improvements, such as a shared stash. Can you talk about any more?
Rob Gallerani: Shared stash is one of them. Hopefully you don’t need a mule character anymore! You can just be like cool, I got it on this character, I’ll put it in my shared stash, and then I log on with this character and now I have access to it. There are other things like item comparison. So just the ability to mouse over an item and hold the button down and then you can see, oh, this is what I have equipped, this is what this item is. That didn’t actually exist in the original game. Things like being able to link an item in chat. So your friend runs on over and you’re like, hey, I just got this bow, do you want it? You just link it in chat and they can see it. The ability to invite friends from a friends list into your game without having to tell them your game name and your game password. The ability to opt into auto-partying. So when you join the game, you will just automatically join the party that’s there. Those are the types of things where we felt that we’re not actually changing the core of the game, we’re just making it easier for people to experience it.
And then the really big one is controller. Our game is coming to consoles. With that is the controller, but we’re also allowing controller on PC. That not only helps people who are used to playing the game with a controller, but once you do controller, you open it up to even other inputs. I am very eager to see someone try to play this game with a dance pad!
You’ve got cross-progression, but given you’ve got controller support on PC, did you look at cross-play?
Rob Gallerani: Right now you can play against people, because there will be global leaderboards, but you can’t play immediately with them. So there won’t be cross-play.
Is there a reason why you can’t do that? Is it coming in the future?
Rod Fergusson: It’s something we looked at, for sure, as part of looking at cross-progression, but the cross-progression was the clearest indication of what we should be doing. And so cross-play is something we continue to look at. But it’s not something that’s going to be in there at launch.
Why did you go with 3D for the remaster? How did you get the game to feel the same in terms of movement and hitboxes?
Rob Gallerani: The first thing is, if we were to remaster every sprite in this game, I believe it would have been like, 140 gigs! But on top of that it was, how do we bring this into a 2021 environment to be on par with any action RPG of today? And just the fidelity we could do? The original game, there were a lot of things done in the 2D game to make it be a 3D game. Perspective mode, the way lighting casts shadows on things – there’s a lot of really ingenious work to basically fake that it was actually 3D. So we feel that if the creators had the ability to make the game 3D back then to the level that they wanted, they would have.
But when you talk about the feel, that’s paramount to us. And so that’s why under the hood, all of the logic and the simulation is still being run by sprites. It’s still a grid-based game. Hitboxes – so in a modern game, you would probably have your character represented by a capsule, and it would do a collision check because it’s 3D. We don’t do any of that. Our engine that runs on top is a visual engine. But all of the things of, did this attack hit? Are you standing in the right spot? Did this arrow make it to its target in time? That’s still all being run by the original game at the original framerate.
Now, our visuals run decoupled, so we can have 60 frames-per-second of animations, and we can add turnaround animations, everything like that. But once again, that logic and your breakpoints are still going to be driven by what the old game was.
I remember trading on Diablo 2, it was a bit Wild West. And there was loads of item duping. It would be great to get some insight into how you’re handling that for this game, and what lessons were learned in the 20 years that followed.
Rod Fergusson: One of the big things for us is going to be just the benefits of modern Battle.net. It provides a layer of security that we haven’t had before in D2. When you play an online game, you’re actually playing on a dedicated server on Battle.net, and you’ll be able to play in a more secure environment. And so it’s much more protected.
That’s not to say some of those things might be impossible, but we’re going to have a much more secure environment to be in, whether it be bots, or trading or duping, those sort of things. It’s being authenticated as your playing, essentially.
It sounds like the goal is to replicate the trading as it was in Diablo 2. So, it will be there. You’re not stripping it out?
Rod Fergusson: No. In fact it’s been made easier. You still have to go over and meet up and trade in-person, those sorts of things. But the ability to broadcast what you have or tell that person who’s in your game what you found as Rob talked about, all that stuff is there, but you still have to do the meetup. It’s not like I can mail it to them.
A lot of the stuff that we’re doing is what was there in the original. We’re really focused on having an authentic experience. You can still connect locally through TCP IP if you want to! That was there in D2. It’ll be there in D2R. We’ve really focused on making sure that if there’s something about the core experience you loved, we’re bringing that over. But we do get a lot of benefits from being on a more secure platform.
There’s up to eight-player co-op in the game. We have people on the team playing Diablo 3 couch co-op. Is this something you’re supporting for Diablo 2 Resurrected given it’ll be on console?
Rod Fergusson: We looked at it. I’m a big co-op player. I play Diablo 3 with my two sons all the time in couch co-op – it’s our Christmas tradition. And so that was something we really looked at wanting to do with D2. But as we started to get into it, the amount of code and UI we would have to touch to make that work felt like it was going to change a lot. And we were a little bit worried about the kinds of changes we would have to make to make that work seamlessly.
We’re really excited though to be able to bring eight-player co-op into the present. As we went through this gen-eight world where everybody was taking co-op out again, we lost that feeling of co-op games because people didn’t want to have multiple perspectives in the same world. A lot of times when you talk about bringing a 20-year-old game forward, you’re talking about adding modern things to it. I really love the idea that we’re taking this thing that existed 20 years ago and bringing it to modern times and saying wow, I can play this game in eight-player co-op in 2021. That’s going to be exciting.
Rod, you’re now the Diablo overseer. What was it about the gig that attracted you?
Rod Fergusson: It is about Blizzard and Diablo. If you go back and you watch a bunch of my press over the years, there’s always a reference to Diablo somewhere, like it’s my other obsession, or I’m flying home and I packed my Diablo 3. But interestingly, Diablo 2 in particular has got a very strong meaning for me personally. My brother and I are about nine, 10 years apart. And we used to do this thing called computer camp where I would go and visit him in Winnipeg, Canada and for four days we’d play computer games all the time. And the one time 20 years ago, I was flying there and when I landed Lord of Destruction had just come out. And we actually had to pull over into a GameStop – it wasn’t GameStop then, I think it was called EB Games at the time – and pick up a copy of Lord of Destruction and go to his apartment.
We played for three days straight without very much sleep and finished the game and the expansion in that one weekend. It was a really big memory for me and my brother, because again, we were 10 years apart. I didn’t see a lot of him growing up – he was in university and so on. And so video games are how we stay together. I even talked to him about this and he sent me this interesting text about his memory of that and how one of his favourite brother memories was us doing that weekend.
I started my career in games in 1999, 2000, and that’s about when this came out. It was really influential and important to me. And so as much as I’ve had 15 years with Gears of War and been a part of its creation, being the head of my favourite franchise and being able to have an impact on a game that has had such a big impact on me was an opportunity I couldn’t let go.
So what’s the masterplan for Diablo then? Are you doing a movie? Are you doing the Netflix thing like everyone’s doing at the moment?
Rod Fergusson: [Laughs] Well, first things first, I want to get these three games out! I feel like it’s starting to become a thing for me. We did the three Gears, and the project with Gears 5 and Tactics and Pop, and now we’ve got D2R, Immortal and D4. I feel like I can only ship three games at a time now! That’s all I’m focused on. That’s my new bar. I only ship three at a time.
You’ve mentioned Diablo 2 Resurrected as a game people will play and then naturally lead into Immortal. You’re of course aware of the initial reception to Immortal. We’ve since played it and reckon it seems great, which maybe came as a surprise. Do you feel like you have a job on educating core Diablo fans going from Diablo 2 Resurrected to continuing the story with Immortal after the way it was unveiled?
Rod Fergusson: We had an amazing tech alpha over the Christmas break where a lot of people got to play, like you’re talking about, Immortal hands-on and got to see the game that’s actually there. Like you said, it’s been really well-received and we’re really excited about that. And we have lots more to talk about. I mean, some people sort of default to, oh, it’s kind of like Diablo 3 on your phone. Once you start to see what the new aspects are that we’re going to be talking about as part of the second alpha, it’s so much more than that. And I can’t wait for people to get to see it.
I think the game speaks for itself. What I love is that continuity. The story around Immortal is the Worldstone that got shattered by Tyrael, shards are still in Sanctuary. Part of your quest is to collect them before the big bad Skarn in Immortal gets them. So there is that connective tissue there, which I think is great. To play it’s very much similar to D3, and so I think it’s also a great connective tissue to D3, if that’s something you want to continue the story. I feel like the play in Immortal feels very comfortable going from that to 3. And then 4, now it’s years and years later and it has a different tone, but it’s a big return to Sanctuary as well now with Lilith and what we’re doing there.
When you have a Diablo game there are certain things you know are going to be there: there’s going to be epic loot and the classes and the dark tone. But each of the games plays slightly differently and has a certain different feel to them. And so you can find what kind of Diablo player you are. I’ve had people talk about, I played a thousand hours on Diablo 3 but I really miss D2. And you’re like wow, okay, a thousand hours is a long time! There are people who want that sort of play.
For me it’s like the Diablo life. I want to be able to play where I am and when I want to. If I can play D2R on my PC, and I can play Immortal on my mobile, and I can go and then play D4 in front of a 75-inch TV, those are the experiences I want to have. It fits really well to have this sort of bringing Diablo back in a really big way. It’s been nine years since Diablo 3 first came out. This is the re-emergence of Diablo.