Checking the Score: Diablo II

While many point to how lifelike the next blockbuster action title is or how gorgeous an artistic indie darling is when it comes to evaluating a game, these visuals would lose their impact without a stirring soundtrack to score them. From the chip-tunes of Super Mario Bros to the Gregorian chants of Halo, video game music brings players closer to immersion and fantasy. Much like how a movie’s soundtrack sets the tone for dramatic scenes, game music also helps players connect emotionally with the story.

Checking the Score is a monthly feature devoted to these crucial compositions which are literally the soundtrack to our gaming lives. Delving into what makes them impactful, the process of composing them and the intricacies of each score, our aim is to put a spotlight on the aural backbone of gaming.

When it first launched, Diablo II lured gamers far and wide with its addictively-clicky action RPG gameplay and dark world. All these years later the game remains uniquely compelling. That’s part of the reason why Diablo II: Resurrected is so hotly anticipated. Aside from the high-quality gameplay and visuals, the soundtrack also helped solidify the atmosphere of what a Diablo game should be.

Composer Matt Uelmen created an iconic soundtrack that stands the test of time. It was incredible as an accompaniment to a video game from 2000 and remains timeless over twenty years later. If you’ve heard Uelmen’s name before it may be from all the Blizzard games he worked on back in the day. He was the sound designer on StarCraft and also composed for World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. More recently you might have heard his work in the Torchlight series.

It’s hard to find a track in Diablo II which isn’t iconic. “Rogue Encampment” is one because this is where players first start out in the game. Whether you’ve played only ten minutes or ten hours of the game, you would have heard it played. The track is sufficiently calm in keeping with the theme of the safe village. Players get the lay of the town, chat with the townsfolk, buy or sell some gear and get to listen to this gorgeous track throughout. It’s just a taste of what is yet to come — a welcoming introduction before traveling to Hell.

Next up is the “Cave” theme, which somehow sounds perfectly fitting for exploring a dark, dingy, twisting cave. The track is foreboding and creepy and yet you can’t stop listening to it. About a minute into the track it kicks off into high gear and progresses from there. The vocalizations echo as if they’re singing somewhere deep within a cave themselves. Throughout all this darkness, later in the song it breaks for a moment of reprieve — as if the soundtrack is cheering for players to succeed in their quest. But then the drums and more foreboding atmosphere return once again.

Ah, yes “Tristram”. This is the definitive Diablo track that many have heard even if they’ve never tried the game for themselves. The guitar theme feels so at home with the series as a whole, as the original Diablo soundtrack was also heavy on guitar. While the track is so simple, it also brings a lot of emotion with it. The way the song subtly evolves and introduces instruments effortlessly must be heard to be believed. This is undeniably one of the best tracks in video game history. Any Diablo fan will know it by heart.

As you get later into Diablo II, the music amps up in ways that veer far from the series origins. “Jungle” is one such track that ditches acoustic guitar in favor of a more eclectic mix of instruments. It’s a fast-paced track that keeps players amped up for the increasingly-difficult hordes and bosses. As players explore through the game, the soundtrack continues to evolve and remains an incredible treat throughout.

The Diablo II soundtrack stands out as a masterwork whether you’ve played the game or not. Alongside the game it is pivotal to enhancing the already-excellent gameplay experience. Listened to alone, it’s still an engaging journey from start to end. Diablo II: Resurrected isn’t going to provide a new soundtrack because that would be utterly sacrilegious. Diablo II’s score by Matt Uelmen will remain one of the best in the business for many years to come.