There are persistent rumors that both Diablo II and Diablo IV could drop before the end of the year, alongside the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Shadowlands. Blizzard has reportedly come under pressure to show more return on investment on an ongoing basis over the past few years, and this push towards multiple simultaneous launches at the back half of the year could be the company’s way of moving in that direction.
The rumor comes from French site ActuGaming, which has previously broken accurate rumors about upcoming Blizzard projects. Supposedly Vicarious Visions is supporting Blizzard on the remakes, which would make some sense; that company has been involved in a number of remastering efforts over the past few years. A launch date before the end of the year would put Diablo II: Resurrected in danger of colliding with Diablo IV, which might not be something Blizzard wants to tee up.
Will This Be Starcraft: Remastered or Warcraft: Reforged?
The problem with hearing that Blizzard is returning to Diablo II is that, as great a game as Diablo II was — and I loved it enough to launch my own modding efforts around it 20 years ago — it, like Warcraft III, could use more than just a coat of paint. There were some significant design limitations in the original Diablo II that limited the ability of early-game skills to scale, thereby locking endgame play into a smaller set of talents and capabilities than looked as if would be the case, starting out.
ActuGaming points out that Blizzard is aware of the communications disaster around WC3 Reforged and considers to have been a mistake of communication. The problem with WC3 Reforged, apparently, was that Blizzard miscommunicated that it would be a remake while it was actually just a remaster.
What people hated about WC3?
That’s true… to a point. But only to a point. What people hated about WC3 Reforged was partly the fact that the new game forced all previous owners into a new front-end, stripped out previous support for game modes, and generally harmed the experience of people who had deliberately chosen not to buy Warcraft III: Reforged. It’s true that Blizzard set expectations higher for a better version of the game, but there was nothing wrong in doing so. Both Warcraft III and Diablo II could use more than just a fresh coat of graphical paint.
I’m not suggesting that these titles should be fundamentally overhauled, by any means, but Diablo II would scarcely suffer from a slightly more fleshed-out plot, a bit of new lore, or some fleshed-out side quests. Partly that’s because Diablo II has always felt thinner compared with other Blizzard worlds, as far as on-the-ground interactions with the major players.
Deckard Cain and Tyrael were really the only fleshed-out NPCs in the entire game — everyone else was a character you exchanged a few optional bits of dialog with, in-between missions. Starcraft, which dates to approximately the same era, put a much larger emphasis on NPC and plot development. While Diablo II had a multiplayer component and was heavily played online, it never evolved into the competitive esport that Starcraft did, and it did not be locked to a slavish interpretation of every single original rule with no room for experimentation.
What might be the Problem?
I agree with Blizzard that it miscommunicated badly around Warcraft III: Reforged, but I don’t think the problem was that the company mis-set expectations. I think the problem is that the company committed to one vision of the product and delivered a vastly inferior one, which came with penalties that hit people who weren’t even interested in the game while offering no one what had actually been promised. If Blizzard had delivered the game it had promised, rather than the half-baked version it launched, some people might have still been unhappy with the changes, but the majority would have recognized the strength and improvements to the product.
Warcraft III: Reforged feels like it was built by people who were slavishly devoted to duplicating the wrong aspects of the game, which is how we got lavish recreations of badly built cinematics that should have either been left in their original forms or redesigned as fundamentally different encounters. It’s bad enough that I’d argue the fan-made remaster of the original Arthas v. Illidan fight is better than the one we actually got from Blizzard.
If Blizzard wants Diablo II to be well-received, it needs to demonstrate it understands what people liked about the series and want to return to in the first place. After Reforged, that’s not as certain as it used to be.