Diablo 2: Resurrected design lead Rob Gallerani on restoring Blizzard's 'crown jewel'

From its immense commercial success to its enduring influence on the action role playing genre, it's hard to overstate the impact Diablo 2 had on gamers and the game industry as a whole. 

So developer Blizzard's decision to rebuild one of its most renowned titles into a 'resurrected' edition was not without risk - particularly in light of the furious fan response to previous remake Warcraft 3:Reforged

It's a responsibility Diablo 2: Resurrected design lead Rob Gallerani does not take lightly.

"If you look at the crown jewels of Blizzard, this is probably one of the biggest ones. And we couldn't get that wrong," he told Newshub's Free to play Podcast.

"We're taking people's childhood and we're almost preservationists bringing it forward for a new generation... we're not trying to recreate the game that was, we're trying to recreate the game that people remember it was. And my God, nostalgia goggles are sick."

The most striking change is the visual upscale, which walks the line between remake and remaster by updating the graphics into 3D with sleek 4K and 60fps while maintaining the original's grim, gothic aesthetic.  

And players will have plenty of opportunity to compare the two versions, able to toggle between them at the press of a button. But adding modern levels of visual fidelity means inventing detail that never existed originally, particularly on weapons and armor, creating a balancing act between modernisation and keeping the essence of the game intact.  

Gallerani explains the team employed a rule of 70/30, where 70 percent of what was on screen had to be there originally but they could take creative license with the rest. 

"We had to do a squint test. If you looked at the HD and you looked at SD, they should share the same profile. So how much of it was a certain color, its silhouette, how it moved? It still had to communicate the same thing." 

Diablo 2: Resurrected design lead Rob Gallerani on restoring Blizzard's 'crown jewel'
Photo credit: Activision Blizzard

Gallerani admits sometimes too much detail was added and he had to scale back changes, particularly in fleshing out Diablo 2's dungeons, as too much new visual information made the screen busy and interrupted gameplay. 

"We want it to be more immersive and more moody but we never wanted a player to get more information by toggling to SD. We never want to make it harder to play because it looks better now."

While Diablo 3 released more than a decade after its predecessor, Diablo 2 launched just four four years after Diablo 1, meaning mechanically Diablo 2 shares most of its DNA with the original 1997 game. 

Gallerani says as little under the hood was changed as possible, including leaving rougher edges that would likely be sanded off were the game made today.  

"It's very crunchy. You can tell that it has its roots in tabletop games where there are abilities that are not created from a place of asking what would be the most balanced from a gameplay perspective but from a place of: 'Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we did this?'"

Abilities like the Necromancer's iconic summon Iron Golem spell, which turns a player's item into a minion with differing stats based on the quality of the item sacrificed to the spell. 

"In no modern game would you do that!'' laughs Gallerani.

"If you have a very squishy sorceress and put all your points in strength and run around in full plate armor, there's viable ways to play like that...There are fewer right answers in D2 and I think that's something a lot of games today have lost touch with."  

Gallarani also points to Diablo 2's occasionally unforgiving difficulty, particularly when facing certain bosses with certain classes, as something that might be focus-tested out of existence in 2021. 

Diablo 2: Resurrected design lead Rob Gallerani on restoring Blizzard's 'crown jewel'
Photo credit: Activision Blizzard

"I think that one of the great things about D2 was that it let the player fail. Yes, it also lets the player succeed but it puts a lot more of that on the player," he said.

"People ask, 'Why is Duriel so hard?' and we say, 'Well, we're not rebalancing the game.' Then they try again and again and two days later they say 'I finally beat Duriel with the necromancer but I had to do all these things!' and they're so excited... that's why we don't need to fix that."

But while Gallerani is committed to keeping the feel of Diablo 2 intact, including its difficulty, he  wants as many people to play as possible which means removing barriers to access. 

"We're not changing this original game but the world has changed around it. We're dealing with a much broader group of people who consider themselves gamers, and we always want to grow that pool of people." 

Diablo 2: Resurrected adds a host of quality of life and accessibility options, such as auto gold pick up, UI scaling, adjustable font sizes, button mapping, controller support and a host of other changes. Gallerani says the guiding principle was always to make the game easier to play but not easier overall. 

"If you're dying because you're not casting the right spells, you're not equipping the right equipment then we're not going to make it any easier for you. But if you're dying because your eyesight isn't good enough to read text, OK, well, then we're failing, not you." 

While we're still a few weeks from launch, public feedback has already flowed from a series of beta tests and Gallerani says much to his surprise, most of it has been constructive.

"Constructive feedback is actually really rare to get. A lot of the time it's just 'this isn't fun' or 'it looks dumb’ and we can't just [make a fix] in the game that says it won't look dumb," he said.

"We've even seen a cool community startup where a lot of new people are jumping in and asking questions and you get all these old timers talking about the glory days. It was cool to see the old guard welcoming in the new players.”

Gallerani openly admits that with such a loyal fanbase and community operating over 20 years, there are fans who know the game better than he ever will.

"I have humility, I am not an expert like some. The people who know this game inside out, who have been playing it for decades, who have never stopped playing it. They're the true experts."

Diablo II: Resurrected is out September 23 for PC, Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch.