“Thank goodness you’ve returned! Much has changed since you lived here, my friend.” 

The famous words were uttered by Ogden the Tavern Owner as I re-entered Tristram for the first time since childhood, and the nostalgia flooded back. The oh-so-familiar opening chords of the small, medieval village, offering the perfect ambience of both safety and unease thanks to Matt Uelman’s infamous 12-stringed guitar theme.

“What kin I do fer ya?” asked Griswold
“Hello, my friend. Stay awhile, and listen.” beckoned Cain.
“Can’t a fellow drink in peace!?” shouted Farnham.

I was back.

But, the more I traversed the town, the more I began to notice things that didn’t belong. Things I didn’t quite remember. “Much has changed since you lived here”…and indeed it had.

While Tristram perfectly echoed the memories from my past, with its perpetual twilight and withered foliage, and the classic greetings from the townsfolk had me voicing along from the first interactions – something was different. Better. It was the Belzebub patch that was recommended by the QSC. Beyond the graphical fidelity (beautifully enhancing the classic third-person, 3D isometric views), the quality-of-life improvements that the mod offers make this an entirely different experience. A stash to store my wares. A new waypoint mechanic. A loot locator. And a bunch of new faces that I’d yet to meet. This was gonna be a good time.

Armed with a hatchet, my Barbarian approached The Cathedral; an ancient Horadrim edifice and the start of what would become an epic journey through the depths of Hell. A wounded townsman stopped me at its entrance; and in his dying breaths, told me the horrifying (but memorable) tale of The Butcher. I instantly recalled the troubles I had with him in my youth. Dying over and over. Eventually resorting to hiding behind gated walls with a bow and a terrible Chance-to-Hit rating; arrows flying for what seemed like hours to take him down. This time, I would not be “Fresh Meat!” Down the stairs I went.

These first 4 levels were the perfect reminder of why I loved this game back in the 90’s. I recently read an interview with David Brevik (Issue #5 of the Classic Gaming magazine from GamesRadar), and in it, he mentioned ‘the mom test’. Was the mechanic simple enough that our mom’s could play it? If not, it was out, or introduced gently over the course of multiple levels. This simplicity, coupled with the game’s addictive formula and randomization elements, made it somewhat of a timeless experience, even now, in 2019. It’s easy to see why it was the best-selling PC game upon its release. I was enthralled.

Traversing the stone archways and brick-walled rooms in search of rare items hidden in sarcophagi. It was a subtle, but telling, mix of gothic architecture with a hellish flair – and a foreshadowing of what to expect as we descend into Hell. Battling Fallen Ones and the lizard-like Scavengers. Skeletons and the winged Blinks. Rotting Carcasses and the disappearing Hiddens. Each of the titular Lord of Terror’s minions expressed even better than I remembered thanks to the mod’s up-res features. Couldn’t help but think of a story I read in David L. Craddock’s “[i]Stay Awhile and Listen[/i]” which explained that early concepts actually used stop-motion, a la Primal Rage, to depict the creatures. This proved to be too costly and time-consuming, and in hindsight, I think they made the right call. The 3D models fit in well with the game’s focus on adventure and atmosphere.

Level 1 offered a good introduction. I’d be lying if I said that the close-quarters style of combat my character was so proficient in, didn’t result in more than a few trips back to Pepin for some healing. But again, the waypoints on every 2 floors, and the ‘in-town fast-walk’ courtesy of the Belzebub patch, made this easy and convenient!

Level 2 was also a successful outing. I had managed to hack my way through Doom Burn the Jagged and Hack the Grim. Their bark was worse than their bite. I was even able to filter Tristram’s water supply of the cursed poison after taking down Rammaq the Poisoner and his Flesh Clan lackies. Though after some clear over-prepping, I was disappointed to open the door to the Butcher’s chambers ready for battle…only to find the room vacant. Bodies and blood of Farnham’s friends and Lazarus’ followers littered the chamber, but no sign of the sadistic Butcher. After a bit of searching, I accepted my loss, and continued down to level 3.

Level 3 is where, admittedly, I experienced my first death. It wasn’t El Chupacabra, the yellow-fleshed Scavenger. And it wasn’t the lumbering Snotsludge who ambushed me in the library. And it certainly wasn’t Jeb’z Dzidy, who I’m sure was the resident rap-master of the Cathedral. It was actually the Skeleton King. Armed with a full belt of potions, I entered King Leoric’s Tomb ready for battle (and hoping for better luck than the Butcher). Hacking through his army of skeletons was fruitless, as he would revive them as quickly as I could hack them down. And without a bottleneck to funnel them through, I was constantly surrounded from all sides. Eventually, I was able to mow most down, but Leoric’s two-handed mithril sword knocked me back time and time again, as he recovered after each hit. Damn you, Griswold! I fought as hard as I could, but eventually, my Barbarian was overrun by the undead army. Returning to Tristram, I restocked, re-equipped, and returned to The Cathedral. This time though, It was off to Level 4.

Level 4 saw me return Ogden’s Tavern Sign from a band of gluttonous Overlords and the leader of the Dark Ones himself, Snotspill. It was pretty epic battle, and I was pretty bloodied by the end of it. But I persevered, putting an end to the terrors of Madeye the Dead, Pulsecrawler and Gloom Heart, and showing mercy to Gharbad the Weak; only to be betrayed amidst is blind greed.

With the Catacombs just a staircase below, I returned to Tristram to rest up. And here we are; recording my tales of adventure on the Cartridge Club forums. I’ll eventually be sweeping back to finally lay the mad-king, Leoric, to rest, and defeat the blood-crazed Butcher, not only for myself, but for Farnham as well. But first….some rest.