We’re less than a month away from BlizzCon, Blizzard Entertainment’s yearly fan event that always hosts major announcements. The show happens on November 1 and November 2 this year, and I’ll be there covering the proceedings for my third year in a row.
This looks like it could be the most exciting BlizzCon I’ve been to yet. Aside from the stuff that has become givens — new Overwatch character, new Hearthstone set, etc. — we’re likely going to hear about World of Warcraft’s next expansion. But a lot of Blizzard fans will be most anxious to hear some news on Diablo.
But while they’re hoping for an announcement for Diablo IV, I want to hear about something else.
Not dead, just sleeping
Diablo has been relatively quiet since 2014, when Diablo III’s first and only expansion, Reaper of Souls, came out. Since then, Blizzard has given the action role-playing game some updates (the largest of which added a new class, the Necromancer) and brought it to the Nintendo Switch. But it’s been a long time since we’ve had a new Diablo experience.
That’s why a lot of Blizzard fans were hoping for a Diablo IV announcement at last year’s BlizzCon. Instead, Blizzard closed its opening ceremonies by revealing the mobile game Diablo: Immortal. This angered much of Diablo’s fanbase, which consists of a lot of PC gaming purists. The outcry overshadowed the rest of the show.
This year, expectations for Diablo IV are even higher, as many expect Blizzard to “make up for” last year’s diabolical debacle. And, hey, I’d be all for it.
But I’d just be more excited for a Diablo II remaster.
Diablo II came out for the PC back in 2000. I had dabbled with the original game, but I fell in love with the sequel. It is a much larger, impressive endeavor. The first Diablo took place in one town and dungeon. Diablo II puts you on an adventure that spanned a continent, fighting hundreds of demons along the way.
It blends deep, customizable role-playing game mechanics and loot with a creepy, Gothic world. And even though it’s much older than Diablo III, it pulled all of that off better than its successor. Diablo III’s characters and worlds just don’t have that same off-putting aesthetic. The limitations of the time actually helped Diablo II. It’s characters with their low framerates look like something out of an old Harryhausen movie, while Diablo III looks like … well, like a modern video game. It’s technically impressive, but it lacks grit. Diablo III’s progression is also less satisfying, abandoning Diablo II’s talent trees for a simplified version that just unlocks skills as you level up.
When Diablo III launched in 2012, many fans were disappointed by how different it was from Diablo II. This opened the door for other games, including Path of Exile, to become spiritual successors to the beloved Diablo II.
I imagine that Diablo IV will look more like Diablo III than Diablo II. And Blizzard will have to focus on ways to keep Diablo IV relevant and profitable long after its launch with the same games-as-service systems that it’s used for Overwatch and Hearthstone. That means I expect constant updates and a story that lacks a satisfying conclusion at launch.
That’s why I’d prefer to just play Diablo II again. Blizzard has been doing a great job remastering some of its older games, like StarCraft. It’s even doing a full remake of Warcraft III. In Diablo II’s case, I prefer the remaster route. I don’t need a complete overhaul. Like I said before, those grainy, choppy graphics are a part of the game’s charm. I just want things like updated video options and better online support.
Ideally, we’ll get both announcements at BlizzCon. I could see them opening with Diablo II Remastered and closing with Diablo IV (with Diablo: Immortal getting a small amount of stage time somewhere in the middle). And I’m probably being a bit too pessimistic about Diablo IV. But Diablo II is one of my favorite PC games ever, and I’m dying for an excuse to play it again.
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.