I’m lost most of the time when I’m playing Diablo 2: Resurrected, but then again, I’m lost most of the time when I drive to the grocery store. I just never thought a remastered version of a classic game would finally be the thing that helped me come to peace with my own brain.
I can’t create mental maps, no matter how hard I try. When I was a child, I would get lost in my school at least once a day. I didn’t begin driving until I could afford an early GPS. I know how to get to the bathroom in my house, but I can’t visualize the walk. In my head, it’s a series of turns. If I’m in a one-on-one situation and the other person asks me for directions, I have to hide my panic attack.
I live a relatively normal life, but that’s due to having too many small coping mechanisms to count. I honestly thought this was something uniquely broken about my brain for years, until I read the book Unthinkable, which describes others with this condition. It’s rare, and my case is apparently only moderate, but it impacts all aspects of my life.
My skill at competitive shooters will always be stuck at a certain point, because while I can think through the tactical options of each gunfight using the cover and the parts of the map I can see, if there’s a door to go through, I will never know what’s on the other side, no matter how many times I’ve gone through it.
But my condition also makes it easier to tell whether a game’s map or waypoint system is effective. After all, I’m completely reliant on it to get anywhere in the game. And Diablo 2: Resurrected has almost no such systems.
So the devil is ... to the right?
Modern games are overstuffed with maps, arrows, points of interest, fast-travel options, and other ways to make sure the player is never lost. I thought this was a positive move for gaming, and I still think it is, overall, but Diablo 2: Resurrected goes so hard in the other direction with such confidence and effectiveness that I may have to change my mind.
Diablo 2: Resurrected gives you some idea of where to go next, and some landmarks are shown on the map, but you’re mostly on your own. There is a minimap that is filled in as you explore, but there’s very little in the way of clear directions telling you where to go. You’re stuck exploring a vast and hostile landscape as you try to find your next objective, and the dungeons themselves are even procedurally generated.
In a way, Diablo 2 gives everyone a small taste of what it’s like to have my brain when it comes to directions. You can take a look around and make an educated guess about where to go, and you can fill in a map as you explore so you know where you’ve been, but figuring out where to go next? That’s up to you.
Blizzard even thought about changing this aspect of Diablo 2 for Resurrected so it felt more like a modern game, but the team recognized early on how dramatically that would change the experience.
“Most players play with the map up while they play the game,” Rob Gallerani, principal designer at Blizzard’s support studio, Vicarious Visions, told Polygon in a previous interview. “And a request we got in the play test — very much from people who have never played [Diablo 2] but are used to playing more modern games — will be like, I just got a quest. Where’s the dot on the map telling me where to go? We looked into doing something like that, and you’re like, Well, it doesn’t doesn’t break anything, right? It’s not making my character overpowered or anything like that. And it totally changed the vibe of the game.”
Keeping players lost was the right decision. In Diablo 2, it’s not only OK to be lost — it’s freeing. You have to strike out for adventure, not knowing exactly where to go, but having a vague idea of which direction to start walking in. It’s a novel experience for modern gamers, but it’s also how I make it to the gas station two blocks from my house.
I’m excited about Diablo 2: Resurrected’s lack of clear directions for two reasons, then. For me, personally, it presents a fictional world in which my strange condition doesn’t matter at all. It also gives me an effective metaphor to use when explaining how my brain works to other folks who play video games. It took me so long to realize how my brain is different, and I’ve only opened up to people about it in a serious way this year.
Finally understanding why Diablo 2 is so calming feels like a blessing. We’re not lost — we’re wandering!