Activision Blizzard is currently facing serious ongoing allegations of harassment and mistreatment of marginalized workers. To learn more, please visit our timeline as well as our in-depth report on the subject.
Diablo II’s last meaningful balance-focused patch arrived on March 23, 2010. That was to be the evermore version of the classic action-RPG. And yet, more than 21 years after Diablo II first launched, that’s not the end of the story. That version of the game – 1.13c to be precise – was the foundation upon which Diablo II: Resurrected was built. That game took the underlying game logic of the original and laid a 3D engine laid over the top, and the goal was to keep the gameplay (almost) exactly as it once was.
Now, however, Blizzard has announced a new patch coming to Diablo II: Resurrected that will once again take the experience somewhere new. Patch 2.4 – which will be coming to a PTR (Public Test Realm) on PC early next year – is set to make significant changes, close to 12 years since the last such update.
The changes will be geared around opening up new opportunities. The team isn’t interested in messing with things that work, and will instead focus on giving players more options. All seven playable classes are being reworked to some extent, in fact, capitalising on the game’s impressively open class design to elevate class fantasies that aren’t currently viable in high-level play. A few examples of builds the team have focused on, for instance, are melee-powered Amazons, martial arts-focused Assassins, and axe throwing Barbarians.
The re-introduction of Ladder Play (seasonal play), meanwhile, will introduce new Rune Word items, which are high level armour pieces and weapons crafted using hard to find socketable items. Set items are being buffed too, and Mercenaries (AI support characters) are being reworked.
These changes are a big deal considering how sacrosanct the original game was during Resurrected’s development, but it makes sense. The light touch tweaks that were made for Resurrected, such as (optional) auto-gold pick-up and adding a skill bar for PC players, were well-received, and the team have had many months of community feedback too.
“The first stage was, let's launch the game, have it be successful, and make sure that all the bugs and all the kinks and all the server stuff… was taken care of and smoothed out before moving on to stage two,” says Matthew Cederquist, Senior Game Producer. “I think we took the right approach, making sure everything was good before making changes. There was such an abundance of feedback that came through too, it was almost overwhelming. Players still love this game, 20 years later, and want to see updates. We took that and ran with it.”
Let’s dig into the changes in more detail.
Class Balance Changes
As mentioned, the changes to the seven playable classes (Amazon, Assassin, Barbarian, Druid, Necromancer, Paladin and Sorceress) won’t alter what they can already do, but instead will foster new viable builds.
“Conservative is a good way to put it,” says Robert Gallerani, Studio Design Director. “We're taking baby steps… which is why you'll notice that nothing's being nerfed.”
So what constitutes a viable build? Well that would be high-level play in Diablo II’s Nightmare and Hell difficulties. “We're not looking to make a brand new game, Diablo II is still going to be Diablo II,” Matthew Cederquist adds. “The main goal is to take the less viable classes and builds, stuff that has thematic value, and raise them up. 20 years ago, if you played a Blizzard Sorceress and you jumped back in [today] you’d still be able to play the same Blizzard Sorc. But, what if you always loved the idea of a Throwing Barbarian? It wasn't viable before. That's what we’re looking to do.”
It’s a commendable approach, and one that will no doubt pave the way for new builds complemented by both existing items and new Rune Words. Also, while viability is determined by high-level play it’s worth noting that all changes will benefit lower difficulty too.
The Amazon changes are being described as melee focused, with skills like Impale and Fend highlighted as two that are being buffed to increase damage potential. There’ll be changes to synergy requirements too, meaning you might not need to put a decent number of skill points into a synergy skill purely for the buff it can give.
High level play Assassins in Diablo II are usually all about placing sentries and traps and keeping your distance from mobs. With Patch 2.4, the martial arts skill tree is getting a rework specifically to offer up more choice. Not only that but lesser used traps are set to get a damage scaling buff – which means more options than simply going for Lightning Sentries every time.
For the Barbarian, in addition to the aforementioned Throwing Barbarian (Double Throw and Throwing Mastery) build, Leap Attack and Grim Ward are being looked into. For the Necromancer, Skeletal Mages and lesser used golems are getting a rework alongside bone skills for damage reduction.
Druid, meanwhile, is getting what sounds like a substantial rework of fire skills (right down to timings) and other elemental skills. In addition to this, the pet side of the Druid, the summons, are being buffed with a mind towards high-level Hell runs. This means that the Druid’s pets should be getting increased health, higher damage output, and some new synergies.
The Paladin’s cool sounding but not that cool Fist of the Heavens is getting a buff of some sort alongside Offensive Auras. For the Sorceress, skills like the Hydra will be improved whilst the team is looking to make the Inferno skill “less clunky” to use.
Mercenaries Rework and Set Item Buffs
Another area the team is focusing on is Mercenaries and making all of these recruitable AI characters useful across all difficulties. This means buffing their skills and base stats, with new Rune Words also supporting the lesser used Mercenaries. Basically, anyone other than Act II’s Desert Mercenary.
It’s a significant move, especially for those that struggle to keep their Mercenaries alive as they progress onto Nightmare and Hell. The goal here is to try and service the player base that sits in the middle, between casual and high-end expert. This philosophy is also driving the changes that are being made to some of the sets found in Diablo II.
“Diablo II is easy to get into and hard to master,” Matthew Cederquist says. “And there is a middle point that's a little vague. That's where the set items come into play. We wanted to be able to identify which ones were solid and didn't need changing at all. We put a couple of the others in front of the community and they were like, ‘oh yeah, I instantly sell those’. When something like that happens, you probably want to design them a little differently.”
An example of a set that isn’t changing is Cow King’s Leathers; a useful collection of green goodness you could work into any number of builds. Gear that’s confirmed to be getting a rework is Death’s Garb, which currently falls into that “instantly sell” category.
According to the team though, it’s not just about buffing lesser-used items. “Just taking other games into consideration, stuff outside of action-RPGs, when you have one [piece] of a set, there's something in the back of your mind where you want to get the other one,” Robert Gallerani reflects. “You need the matching set. That fantasy of putting together a matching set, having these two or more things that belong together. This is a key reason we’re buffing sets. A set is a really cool thing, you got it, so it should be good for you.”
‘Tis the Season for Ladder Play
Ladder Play will also be coming with patch 2.4, but this is no great surprise, as it was announced as a post-launch feature when Resurrected was first revealed. It will take a form that’s very familiar to old school Diablo II players – a race to level 99. Each new Ladder Play period generally lasts for a few months, and players start from scratch at the beginning of each season. Ladder Play encompasses four modes covering vanilla Diablo II, the Lord of Destruction expansion, and Hardcore versions of both.
Ladder Play has historically seen the debut of Rune Words in Diablo II and that tradition will continue with Resurrected. Ladder Play will be the only place where the new Rune Words coming in Patch 2.4 will drop, at least initially. Focusing on Rune Words as opposed to new uniques is an ingenious way to introduce new and powerful items, as it relies on crafting, negating the need to alter things like drop rates covering countless variations or possible loot.
Although details on the exact Rune Words aren’t yet available, or the total number, we do know quite a bit. All of the new Rune Words will utilise existing runes that are already available in Diablo II – some of them are actually high-level items that were designed back in the day, but that never made their way into the final game. Most of them though will be brand new and set to synergise with the meatier changes being introduced in patch 2.4.
The new Rune Words will complement the set item buffs, some will suit Mercenaries, and others will help amplify reworked class fantasies. As is the way with Ladder Play, the new Rune Words will eventually make their way over to the core Diablo II: Resurrected experience, but only after the inaugural ladder season has come to a close. On this front Blizzard expects the first ladder season to last roughly four months. However, this could change as Patch 2.4 rolls out.
Introducing the PTR
For the development team, remaining true to the original Diablo II and its Lord of Destruction expansion was always the goal. So even though patch 2.4 sounds a little bit like a Trojan Horse-style 180 on that idea, it was only after the positive reception from fans that the team felt they could “start acting on a lot of those theories and ideas we had through development.”
“When we were very first thinking of remastering this game I went out to these storage lockers around the town,” Matthew Cederquist says. “And they had all of these handwritten books and notebooks, ancient things that you had to dust off. But within them were the original thoughts of the designers. So when you’re looking to change something that's so many years old, you don't want to simply add something because you think it might be cool. These changes hearken back to what the original team created. Getting to see what they were thinking, we put ourselves in that position and then built upon that.”
“There are times where we've hit a bridge too far,” Robert Gallerani adds. “For example, fire immunities. A lot of people talk about how at a certain point in the game, fire immunity [on monsters] can screw a particular build. So why don’t we go in and start changing how fire immunity works? Well, the systems of Diablo II are all intertwined, so changing this one thing over here could change 19 other things over there. So we have to do it in a staggered approach. That's not to say we're thinking about getting rid of immunities, we’re just taking it slow. Let's see how everyone reacts, and as we go along, what works and what doesn't.”
Patch 2.4 will roll out early next year on PC in PTR form. It promises to help keep Diablo II vital as we move through 2022. And best of all? This is only the beginning.