I’ve never been able to get into Diablo 2, no matter how many times I’ve tried.
I was hoping Diablo 2: Resurrected would be the final push I needed to revisit the history of one of my favorite series. After hours of struggling through the same keyboard and mouse controls I’ve used before, I made a desperate swap to test the new controller functionality.
That’s when Diablo 2 finally clicked for me. As a player with thousands of hours in Diablo 3, using a controller is tricking my brain into believing that Diablo 2 is more modern than it actually is.
Retreading old ground
Diablo 2’s controls always held me back; the two button skill controls were always frustrating.
Instead of having multiple skills bound to keys like 1-4 like World of Warcraft or Diablo 3, or Q-R like League of Legends, Diablo 2: Resurrected only allows two skills to be used on the mouse while using a mouse and keyboard, just like the original. I can left click to move my character and perform a limited number of attacks or skills that I can place on that button. Or I can right click, which I can bind to any of the skills in the game.
If I want to use more than two skills without opening my menu, I need to bind those skills to a number key. Pressing that bound number key will then swap my right click skill out of the UI and replace it with the skill associated with the key I pressed. It’s a two-step solution for what I feel should be a one-step problem. I hate it, and having to memorize the keys for all those other skills is way too stressful.
But as I closed the game, disappointed that I hadn’t found a comfortable way to play, I spied a Twitch streamer using a controller.
I stared at the UI change, and then at my watch. I grabbed a nearby controller and logged back into Diablo 2: Resurrected, making what would turn out to be a poor decision for my sleep but a great decision for my sanity — trying to understand why this classic, important game never clicked for me has been genuinely stressful at times in my career.
A trick of the mind
The controller instantly felt familiar while controlling my Barbarian. It felt like Diablo 3.
I’ve spent thousands of hours across multiple seasons of Diablo 3, with about a quarter of that time on consoles with friends and family. I reviewed the Switch version of the game. I’m currently spending my time off playing Diablo 3’s 23rd season. I know what Diablo 3 feels like on a controller, it’s fresh in my mind, and it feels just like Diablo 2: Resurrected — and that’s a good thing.
The biggest boon for the controller is the skill-mapping feature. Unlike the keyboard and mouse interface for Diablo 2: Resurrected where I can only activate my skills with a left click or a right click, the controller’s interface offers six different locations where I can place my skills — each mapped to an individual button. And if I fill up all of those spots, I can hold the left trigger to pull up a secondary bar with different skills, almost like adjusting loadouts on the fly or making it more convenient to use my Town Portal Scroll.
The controller doesn’t fix all the issues that kept me away from Diablo 2; I still find managing my mana to cast basic abilities obnoxious, the inventory is too small, and I don’t like using all these potions. But the controller experience is so transformative that those issues become quirks, not frustrations. I’m still not quite sure I fully understand the Diablo 2 love outside of a historical context, but I’m eager to learn.
The more modern design of the controller interface lets me trick myself into believing that this is actually Diablo 2.5 — with all the fun improvements in the control interface I need to have a good time, but that purists might hate. And that feeling will likely propel me through an extremely important, historic video game that I never thought I’d finish.