What a year it’s been and welcome to our Diablo year in review. 2021 has been an exciting year for the franchise. In these troubled times as the pandemic rages on, Diablo 2 Resurrected has made this year a lot more bearable. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at events surrounding Diablo and Blizzard this year.
2021 kicked off with the news that Vicarious Visions was being brought into the Blizzard fold. There was a reason to be excited as there had been chatter about Vicarious Visions working on a Diablo 2 remaster in the previous few months. There was finally hope.
February was a big month for Blizzard and followers of Diablo. The postponed BlizzCon took place and our wish for a remastered Diablo 2 came true. Diablo 2 Resurrected was announced, and even better, it was going to come out this year. We got a really good taste of what was to come with footage, shots, and discussion with the devs. This was the best BlizzCon for some time if you were a Diablo follower, and even though it was virtual, it worked incredibly well. Sure there was no costume contest but to be honest, the old format was becoming a little tiresome.
While Diablo 4 may still be some way off, BlizzCon did provide us with a new class and more information on the open world and PvP.
Let’s be honest though, the buzz was really focused on Diablo 2 Resurrected. A 20-year-old game with a fanbase itching to play an updated version. We always knew Blizzard would be on to a winner if it was remastered and thankfully, as we know now, the dev team did a solid job of it.
More information on Diablo 4 would be trickling out as the year progressed but it seems that with Rod Fergusson now at the helm of the Diablo franchise, the future is looking bright.
March was a quiet month following the excitement of February’s announcements but we were starting to get a better understanding of the community’s expectations when it came to Diablo 2 Resurrected. How far should the dev team push it with new content or features? This was a question we asked the community following the announcement. We asked the community whether Blizzard should develop the game beyond the 1.14 patch and the results showed that Diablo 2 players wanted to see more added.
Should Blizzard develop Diablo 2 Resurrected beyond v1.14?
- Yes, more QOL improvements and balance tweaks (66%)
- Yes, but only minor tweaks and fixes (20%)
- No, let mods make any further changes (14%)
Vote Started on: March 17, 2021 @ 1:30 pm
April was a huge month for Diablo 2 players, especially those lucky enough to be selected for the Alpha test. Yes, a select pool of players were thrust into the first two acts of the remaster.
Elly and I both jumped into the Alpha test and were super impressed with what the team had done with the game’s visuals, even if it was only the first two acts of the game we could feast our eyes on. It was time to see how far the dev team was pushing changes for the game.
The focus of the test was to help the devs find glaringly obvious issues and test some of the new quality of life features. There was no multiplayer but the test gave us a real taste of what was to come later in the year. Overall, despite the odd crash here and there, the Alpha test went pretty well. The team had done enough to improve the D2 experience without wrecking it. They were definitely being cautious at this stage.
Even though this was an old game being given the remaster treatment, subtle changes to the environments gave the game a fresh feel. Thanks to the ability to switch the old and new graphics, the improvements were a lot easier to spot. During the Alpha test, we also managed to put together a list of all the new set visuals. It was a bit of an undertaking but well worth it. It really showed how much the game was being improved and how the new dev team were sticking to the original game vision as much as possible.
The Alpha test left us hankering for more.
Even though the Alpha concluded in April, we dug into alpha test game files and launched our series of model videos. These were tricky to put together and took quite a lot of time. It was well worth it though, they gave the community a real glimpse of what was to come. Monsters, characters, NPCS, we did as many as we could without too many spoilers.
It was in May that we started to see more articles appear concerning staff at Blizzard. Departures, pay, and discussion about Blizzard’s current status and release schedules were addressed in an article on IGN called Company at a Crossroads. This was just the tip of the iceberg, things were about to start unraveling very quickly.
BlizzCon was once again canceled thanks to COVID and there was an announcement to say it would be virtual again in 2022. At this point, that seemed a sensible plan but even that was to change in the months ahead.
Halfway through the year and the community was starting to wonder when the Diablo 2 Resurrected beta would kick-off. Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait long as it was announced on 13 June for September.
Rod Fergusson was also doing the rounds in June to talk more about D2R and a little about Diablo 4. The primary focus at this stage was D2R though, they needed to get new players enthusiastic for its release.
While Diablo 4 may have taken a bit of a back seat for most of the year, we did get another development Blog in June which took a look at the game art. There were some seriously impressive-looking shots of the character art as well as animations. Diablo 4 looked to be heading in the right direction when it came to the art style. Not a rainbow in sight.
In July we were getting closer to that Diablo 2 Resurrected beta and Blizzard took the opportunity to share details of changes we would see. The included visual effects, animations, icons, interface and even audio changes.
It was apparent that the D2R team were really listening to the community’s feedback and most of the main concerns from the Alpha were being addressed. This was a really good indication that the team would be doing their best to keep the game as authentic as possible and take community feedback seriously. This was a real change from the days of Diablo 3 when a lot of early criticism was brushed aside by Blizzard.
The post covering the changes was followed up soon after by a post on accessibility in D2R. There was no shortage of transparency when it came to the game’s improvements well in advance of release.
July was also a sad month for long-time wallpaper master and site contributor HolyKnight who’s mother passed away. HK created a tribute wallpaper to his mother and shared his thoughts on her passing. She was without a doubt a huge influence in his life.
In turbulent Blizzard news, staff decided to walk out as lawsuits against the company were gathering pace. Staff were demanding changes at the company and some of the accounts from staff were quite difficult to read. The inclusive culture at Blizzard was not what it seemed to people on the outside looking in. Staff walked out between 9 AM to 6PM PST at the Blizzard Irvine Campus in protest.
A change was needed, it was obvious, and there were certain elements within the company that needed to go. How they would handle the situation was about to unfold in the coming weeks and months.
As we moved closer to the game’s launch it’s worth giving a shout-out to the forum moderators/guide author team who took on the daunting task of putting together new guides for D2R. There are over 160 guides in the section and the new guides were a great addition, especially for new players coming to the game for the first time.
August brought news that the Diablo 2 Resurrected beta would run over two weekends and the beta dates were finally announced a couple of days later. August was going to be a busy month for the community. They could finally look forward to getting involved with the testing.
Blizzard did confirm that D2R ladders would not launch with the game. We now know that there was obviously more work than we might have thought to get the game ladder ready. The news was disappointing but not surprising.
The first remastered versions of the cinematics were also released by Blizzard slightly ahead of the beta launch. The new cinematics were excellent, staying true to the originals but with the enhanced visuals we were all looking forward to. We put together a couple of comparison videos to highlight just how much they had changed.
Fallout from the Blizzard lawsuits was starting to hit the Diablo 4 team. Diablo 4 game director Luis Barriga and lead designer Jesse McCree were asked to leave the company and Blizzard and issued the following statement.
We have a deep, talented roster of developers already in place and new leaders have been assigned where appropriate. We are confident in our ability to continue progress, deliver amazing experiences to our players, and move forward to ensure a safe, productive work environment for all.
On the back of this Blizzard President J Allen Brack stepped down from his position and was replaced by Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra. Slowly but surely things were starting to fall apart at the top of the management chain.
The D2R beta finally launched later in the month and it went smoothly for a while before connection issues started to surface. We expected this and I think everyone else did too.
We jumped straight into the closed beta and there were still issues that needed fixing. Rubberbanding was prevalent and there was a definite hit on performance. With the open beta a matter of days away, Blizzard needed to get fixes in quickly because the servers were going to get whacked.
Just in time for the open beta, we launched the runeword calculator on the site. Nekro has done a great job at creating the tool which has proved really popular since the game launched. We’ve been iterating on it since the launch and so far feedback has been great. This was the start of us expanding a little more on the tools we provide to the community.
Launch month finally arrived and Blizzard started their marketing push with live-action trailers. The excitement was building.
The PC pre-load finally dropped on 21 September and we were starting to wonder if there was even going to be a PC pre-load as it came quite a few days after the console. That would have been on purpose of course. Got to keep the sticky fingers of dataminers out of those game files as long as possible.
23 September was the big day and weren’t sure what to expect from this latest Blizzard launch. Let’s be honest, Diablo 3’s launch was not the smoothest and we were hoping that this time Blizzard would be ready for an influx of players.
It took one hour before problems started to appear. The sheer volume of players trying to connect was tripping the servers. If you did make it on the lag could also be game-breaking. It took around six or so hours before we started to see things stabilise. Compared to the Diablo 3 launch, D2R’s was a triumph all things considered.
Within a day Blizzard had posted an update on the connection issues and explained what they were looking at to get things stable. AVX compatibility was addressed along with offline characters disappearing. Communication was going to be key to keep the D2R masses at bay and Blizzard were doing their best to be as communicative as possible.
With the game launched, our attention was firmly focusing on how we could provide more features for the community. We wanted to see how trading was going to pan out before jumping right in. We had run numerous successful Diablo 2 trading platforms throughout Diablo 2’s lifespan and we settled on what is now the Trading Market Place. While we had run an Ebay style system in the past for Diablo 2, we found it quite impersonal and not exactly community-focused. We think what we have in place this time has created a more friendly and solid trading environment which was our main goal. All credit to Nokk for helping us with this too. It’s been a real team effort.
We also asked the community what their experience of D2R had been like following the launch.
What has your Diablo 2 Resurrected experience been like?
- Enjoying the game but the server problems have stopped me playing as much as I would like (51%)
- It's been brilliant. Everything I wanted and expected (34%)
- I have given up trying to play until things are fixed (8%)
- Not played it. (4%)
- Done with the game (3%)
Vote Started on: October 25, 2021 @ 5:42 pm
The next Diablo 4 development update was released at the start of October and the focus was on sound design. The update also brought some new videos showing how the sound design worked with the animation. These blogs have been a great insight into the development process allowing us to see the amount of work and skill required to bring it all together.
Diablo 2 Resurrected’s problems were still ongoing with emergency maintenance taking place at the start of the month and all servers being pulled offline for a few hours. Single-player was the only really safe way to play the game. Communication as to what was going on had also dropped off over that weekend and players were in the dark as to what was going on behind the scenes. It wasn’t until the Monday Blizzard posted an update.
This week of 10 October was not a great week for D2R. Following Monday’s update, the server was again down on Tuesday. Thankfully things were starting to happen and the character deletion problem was finally being tackled with an update.
By the end of the week, Blizzard posted a lengthy update explaining what was causing all these problems. The upshot of all this was the introduction of login queues, something we hoped we wouldn’t see happen for D2R.
Player behaviour such as Baal and Pindlskin runs were severely underestimated by the team because there simply weren’t enough players in the beta launching and relaunching games quickly. That all changed when the game went live putting stress on the servers and the game’s databases.
We continued to add new tools for the community in October with the launch of the PureDiablo Diablo 2 in-game app. This allows players access to all the PureDiablo reference content and tools from within the game. Both Nekro and I worked hard on making this happen as we’d seem it requested a lot over the years. Now with the press of a hotkey, you could get quick access to everything you would need without having to tab out. This project was a real challenge so many thanks to Nekro for working on this with me over a couple of months.
There was still a lot going on behind the scenes at Blizzard with unhappy staff and the way Activision Blizzard was being run. This may have had an impact on Blizzard’s plans for a virtual BlizzCon in 2022 as they announced that the whole event needed to be “reimagined”.
Having attended numerous BlizzCon’s over the years, it is probably a sensible decision. BlizzCon had become a little formulaic and the virtual event held earlier in the year was brilliantly put together so do we really need a huge convention? We’ll have to see what happens in the future.
At the end of the month, a statement was released by Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick announcing that he was taking a pay cut until the company culture had been put back on track. There was a response to the list of demands by employees made earlier in the year. Perhaps things were starting to sink in as Activision Blizzard’s share price started to tumble and has still not recovered as I write.
The Diablo 2 team revealed that there would be PTR servers coming ahead of major changes. A welcome announcement and an indication that there could be changes coming in the months ahead.
There was a big management shake-up at Blizzard at the start of November. Jen Oneal who had come over from Vicarious Visions and taken on the role of EVP of Development at Blizzard decided to step down. It subsequently transpired she departed because she felt “tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against”. Mike Ybarra is now at the helm but again, the culture at Blizzard was firmly in the spotlight.
Diablo 4 was back in the news and frustratingly for Diablo fans, it was because Blizzard announced a delay to Diablo 4’s release. Overwatch 2 was also delayed.
As the year was starting to wind down, Blizzard did reveal new features for Diablo 2 Resurrected which included quick cast and PlayersX was now coming to console. The PTR was also mentioned again indicating that the larger update was afoot.
Diablo 2 Resurrected Patch 2.3 was to be the final update for the year at the start of December. This patch fixed issues such as DLSS, social fixes, bug fixes, and added the quick cast option among many other updates. This was a solid update addressing numerous problems ahead of more comprehensive changes which we were soon to find out more about.
Towards the end the year we continued to add more community features and this time it was the Item Price Check tool. We had been working on this for a number of weeks and development involved input from a number of community members including Nokk, Nekro, Silospen and myself. This is still very much a work in progress as we continue to tweak the way it functions. So far feedback has been positive and we’re now striving to get all the prices monitored as . Today we added a load of new filters making it easier to find specific items such as rune base items. There will no doubt be more updates as we head towards the ladder launch.
The news we had finally been waiting for arrived on 15 December. D2R Ladders were on their way along with a few other surprises including new runewords, class balance changes, and Mercs that might actually prove useful. If by some chance you missed all this, check our recap. It was all good news and sets up 2022 perfectly for Diablo 2 players.
2022 here we come!
As we reach the end of the year, we’ve had a lot to celebrate in 2021. D2R was released and lived up to the hype, and the snippets we’ve seen of Diablo 4 this year are promising. Maybe not perfect yet, but promising,
It’s been a blast creating content on PureDiablo and creating a new place for the community to congregate. I can safely say that we have some of the most dedicated Diablo players frequenting the site and forums which makes for an amazing community. After two years away from Diablo, Elly and I are both so glad we returned to the scene with PureDiablo. It was like bringing the family back together.
Also, a big shout-out to the forum moderating team. Some of the team has been looking after the community in the forums for years and it’s their diligence that helps keep this community together.
We also want to extend a special thanks to all our PurePremium supporters this year. Without their help, we’d find it a lot harder to produce everything we do on PureDiablo including tools and content. We hope that more readers will join their ranks in 2022 and help us push even harder for the community.
2022 is going to be an exciting time for us. We have a lot planned but we’re going to need more help to keep pace as we get closer to a Diablo 4 release. With that in mind, we are looking for more community members to join the team to produce new and fresh opinions pieces, help us keep on top of the news, and help around the site where needed. If you want to get involved then send over an application.
Thanks again everyone and we’ll see you in 2022!
Rush & Elly