A hearty rest did me well since my last adventures. My treks through the first 4 levels of the Cathedral had since earned me enough gold to identify the rest of the items stored in my stash, and oh boy were there some goodies in there! Gone were the rags and skull-caps, and in their place, studded leather armor and a magic helm with an Armor Class of 6. I also put some banked stat points into my Vitality and Dexterity – to bump up my health and my (appalling) Chance to Hit %. I felt rejuvenated! With a fresh wardrobe and a belt full of potions, I set out into the Catacombs for some more hack n’ slashin’, dungeon-crawlin’ fun.

Unlike the decrepit walls of the Cathedral, the Catacombs offered a more…ancient ambiance. I don’t spend a lot of time watching Italian zombie flicks, (as art director, Erich Schaefer, based the game’s style on), but I can definitely see the inspirational tones. The weaker enemies of the past were now replaced with more vicious versions of Diablo’s minions. And the smell of death surrounded me.

Level 5 was a noticeable step up in difficulty from its predecessor. Had I not properly equipped, I would’ve been torn to pieces; particularly when I was sandwiched between Web the Grimm and Spell the Jagged. But my preparations saved me despite a few arrows to the knee (damn Burning Dead and Stone Clan archers!). Funny to think that the whole idea of these ‘unique’ monsters, like so many other aspects of this game, was borne from memory limitations. The developers wanted a huge roster of hellions, but technical constraints made that impossible. This led to the idea of color-swapping, and eventually, buffed-up baddies that dropped some hefty loot. While memory would still only allow a handful of enemies to be used in each generated dungeon, each playthrough would bring on an entirely different set of foes.

My frantic trips back to town also yielded a quest from Griswold; tasking me with finding a ‘piece of the Heavens’ which had fallen off a passing caravan bound for the enclave in the Eastern Kingdoms beyond Khanduras. It wasn’t long before I found the heavenly stone atop a pedestal, guarded closely by the dastardly Shadowcrow. A few swings of my axe made quick work of it, and I was able to exchange the prize for the Empyrean Band, a pretty badass ring which granted me a nice attribute boost, trap-damage reduction, additional Light Radius, AND a faster hit-recovery bonus – perfect for my upcoming planned return to Leoric. Equipped! It was here I was also able to trek beyond the gateway of blood and past the wall of fire to complete the Valor quest.

But first…the Butcher! Not realizing it earlier, a passing conversation with Wirt, the peg-legged boy, yielded a clue. “Here over. Psst! Chamber Butcher the from spell portal town the cast. Saying am I what see?” That was what I needed! Picking up a Scroll of Town Portal, I used the Waypoint to fast-travel to Level 2 of the Cathedral, and refought my way through to the empty chamber. Only this time, I cast the spell. It wasn’t blue. Instead, a red portal opened up in front of me, leading me to a glowing dungeon, littered with flaming crosses. The enemies here weren’t particularly difficult having just returned from Level 5, but I was nervously awaiting the inevitable battle with the aproned Overlord. It wasn’t long before the lever was pulled and I entered the chamber – only to take down the Butcher in under a minute. A Level 15 Barbarian does the trick I suppose. Slightly anti-climactic, but a proud moment none-the-less. I collected The Butcher’s Cleaver, as well as an Armor of Zest and (useless) Gray Cap of Paralysis.

Next up was King Leoric himself. Recollection from my early days playing this game reminded me that Holy Bolt was the way to go, but as the Barbarian, my Magic rank of 0 took that option off the table. A Sorcerer may have been a better choice. Additionally, my health had been taking a pounding thanks to the overabundance of trapped chests. In early development, the team built an ‘Archer’ class, but lacking enough differentiation from the Warrior, they added the ability to identify traps, and thus was born, the Rogue class. She would’ve been good as well right about now. Instead, I’d have to resort to brute force. I re-entered the tomb, and once again battled my way through the hordes of Skeleton archers. A few surprise guest appearances by Epistoteles the Blessed and Duke Noktis marked the route, but they were easy enough to take down. A couple levers later though – and it was gametime. Equipped with my newly acquired Butcher’s Cleaver, I made short work out of the Skeleton King. Almost embarrassingly so. And was quite happy with the rewards. A Brimstone Aegis buckler, a life-stealing Undead Crown, and a Chaos Hide quilted armor. Not bad!

The last adventure of the night was one I wasn’t familiar with. While wrapping up for the evening, I ventured to Pepin the Healer for some much needed refreshment. A yellow exclamation floated above his head; another welcomed Belzebub addition, indicating a quest. He explained that a patient of his suffered otherworldly wounds at the hands of hellions roaming his cellar. Directing me to the south of town, I equipped my recent winnings, and descended down into The Infested Cellar. Subterranean caverns meandered under Tristram. Four-armed serpents slithered throughout, coming at me from all sides with each approaching step. They were no match for my new arsenal though; and I hacked through them like overgrown earthworms. This culminated in a one-on-one showdown with the Wyrm warlord himself, Warmaggot the Mad. Clearly more powerful than his underlings, a few Healing Potions were consumed, but the battle was soon over; a viper corps slumped on the ground. Crawling out of the dungeon, I returned to Pipin to collect my rewards.

Over the course of the evening, my gold doubled…then tripled…and before long, I was steady around the 50K mark. As a rule…and possibly an illness…I never sell items that are magical or unique (Blue or Gold). Instead, they’re neatly categorized in their designated slots in my stash. Tab 1 and 2 for Daggers, 3 and 4 for Swords, 11 for Rings and 12 for Amulets…you get the jist. Instead, my money is made heavily through the selling of (useless to me) spell books. An early RPG element in the game’s development was that the characters would gain new spells after certain experience-level milestones or visiting a Mage’s Guild, but these concepts were eventually dropped in lieu of the ancient tombs that, when read, would allow you to learn, or strengthen, your spells. I’m glad this was the case – because now…I’m rich!

This game masters positive conditioning, and putting it down without finishing that one last thing, is almost as hard as the game itself. But alas, I must sleep. Next session, I’ll continue to plunder the depths of the Catacombs.