Where do I even start with Diablo II: Resurrected? Unfortunately for its creators at Blizzard and developers at Vicarious Visions, the answer isn’t “the game.”
We have to hash some other stuff out first, and I appreciate your patience with this, because no review of Diablo II: Resurrected is complete without an explainer like this at the outset. (Should you not need the refresher on Activision Blizzard’s recent woes, skip to the section titled “Delivering good work in a bad era” and start there.)
In the years after Diablo‘s early ’00s heyday, its creators at Blizzard racked up some infamy. In late 2019, the decades-old game developer capitulated to the Chinese government over pro-Hong Kong statements made by esports players (though thankfully, the decision was reversed soon after). Months later, Blizzard shipped WarCraft III: Reforged, which did not meet the publisher’s usual standards (especially because WC3R wiped out the previous functioning game in favor of a broken, feature-incomplete client). Worse, since WC3R‘s launch, months of agonizing silence about any updates and promised features have spoken volumes about Blizzard’s apparent lack of plans for the game.
So long-time Blizzard fans like myself are understandably skeptical that Diablo II: Resurrected might see the company return to form. Still, as a mega-fan of the original Diablo II, I remained hopeful—until about two months ago, when the above list of missteps was eclipsed by even grimmer developments.
Lawsuits, departures, and edits
A sweeping lawsuit filed by a California state agency exploded in late July, naming names and describing a toxic “frat boy” culture throughout Blizzard. The suit claimed that women at the company faced abuse, harassment, and an across-the-board pay disparity. The lawsuit also described over a dozen specific allegations of unequal pay and blocked promotions across the wider Activision Blizzard corporate family.
Other public stories and allegations soon followed, including from women who outed themselves as witnesses and accusers in the state investigation. One part of the investigation led to the notorious “Cosby Suite,” operated by disgraced ex-World of WarCraft team lead Alex Afrasiabi. The list of allegations about Afrasiabi’s behavior and the behavior of other influential male Blizzard employees got longer.
Many of those involved have since left Blizzard, along with former President J. Allen Brack, who also stands accused in the California investigation of turning a blind eye to internal reports about these same issues. (The departures aren’t just physical, either—Blizzard also plans to edit existing games to remove in-game references to the men in question.)
ActiBlizz shareholders subsequently filed their own lawsuit in August. On Monday of this week, the SEC announced its own investigation of both the company’s disclosures and the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, complete with subpoenas for many of the company’s leaders (including CEO Bobby Kotick). One day later, Activision Blizzard’s chief legal officer stepped down from her role at the company.
… So where does Vicarious Visions fit in?
So far, the past two months of legal maneuvering haven’t filtered down to the satellite studios that Activision contracted with—which brings us to Vicarious Visions. This long-time Activision support studio was absorbed by Blizzard in 2020 to help fix the very, very bad reputation that the Blizzard Classic division earned in the wake of WC3R. Vicarious Visions was also tasked with a potential slam-dunk follow-up: a faithful remake of 2000’s Diablo II.
The pitch: take the original 2D game, leave its code base (mostly) intact, and slap high-def, 3D polish on top while leaving the original graphics and code running at all times. The original graphics would be accessible with a gimmicky button tap whenever players want. StarCraft Remastered did nearly the exact same thing in 2017—quite well, in fact!—while WC3R botched this in part because of how it tried applying the same formula in 3D.
Remastering Diablo II is a tall order. The original sequel was made by one of Blizzard’s earliest teams, and most of its creators have long since left Blizzard. They’ve gone on to make their fair share of Diablo-like “action RPG” classics and experiments without contributing to the culture and allegations we’ve heard about in recent months. (In late August, series creator David Brevik formally announced his intent to neither support nor talk about D2R.) That leads to a question I don’t always ask in game reviews: can series fans safely feel excited about a remastered Diablo II in spite of the company that Activision Blizzard has become?