A history of the Secret Cow Level and the many games it’s appeared in since Diablo 2
There is no Cow Level. Cow Level is a lie.
With that out of the way, where did the idea of the Cow Level originate? Back in the original Diablo, there was an area of Tristram with a herd of cattle standing around. Players started rumors of a secret Cow Level and of different ways to reach it. The most common method was to find the right cow and pet it over and over until it opened a portal. This was mostly to troll other players. Reportedly, this was funny to employees at Blizzard, and they began joking about it as well.
The first reference to this came in the Diablo: Hellfire expansion. While not actually a secret Cow Level, it involved a person wearing a cow suit. The Jersey’s Jersey quest can be found only after unlocking the command.txt file. A silly quest, a reference to a cow, but no actual Cow Level.
The first Secret Cow Level appeared in Diablo 2
On April 1, 1999, a Diablo 2 Screenshot of the Week showed cows fighting. Was this proof of a real cow level? Or just an April Fool’s Day joke? With Blizzard, it’s hard to tell. But then, the game released on June 30, 2000, and a post detailing how to reach the secret Cow Level was online as early as July 4. Players did not waste time learning how to find it.
To reach the secret level, players needed to finish the game on any difficulty. Next, they had to go back to the Rogue Encampment in Tristram. Using a Horadric Cube, they then had to put in Wirt’s Leg and Tome of Town Portal. Then click Transmute. That’s when the Secret Cow Level portal first opened up.
Once inside, players are attacked by herds of Hell Bovines, bipedal cattle with polearms. They are slow and do not have a lot of resistances — however, there are a lot of them. Builds with good AOE are needed to take them down, and it’s important not to wander the area too quickly or pull too many. Once inside this area, players will also receive a quest that requires killing the boss of the area, the Cow King.
This area was great for loot, and for a while, great for experience. But most importantly, it gave players what they had been hoping for since Diablo.
Diablo 3 gave us Whimsyshire — and eventually its own Cow Level
Diablo 3 was important to the series for a number of reasons. Yes, many of those revolve around the classes and the story — but one revolves around the Secret Cow Level.
The Cow King made his return. Players were required to put together a number of items to eventually create the Staff of Herding. Then take this towards Caine’s house along Old Tristram Road. Find a Skeletal Corpse of a cow. Up pops the Ghost of the Cow King. He sends the player to the nearby rift, and into Whimsyshire rather than into a Cow Level. Explaining that there is no Cow Level. That’s… good, not great.
Then, for D3‘s third anniversary, there was an event. For one week in May of 2015, there was a chance for Herald to the Queen to spawn. It was an Infernal Bovine that took the place of a goblin in almost any zone. Killing it would open a portal to a secret area, called Not the Cow Level. Just like the Secret Cow Level, it was filled with bipedal Infernal Bovine, equipped with spears. The portal could be open once per game, and the portal remained open, even once completely cleared.
Originally, this was only available for one week during the anniversary event. In patch 2.3.0, a transmute option was added to Kanai’s Cube, using a Bovine Bardiche in it to reveal a hidden transmute option. There’s a reason for the name of the cube. Artist and environmental designer at Blizzard, Kevin Kanai Griffith, passed away in 2014, after battling cancer. The boss at the end of this event, Chief Elder Kanai, was modeled after his Barbarian character. The continued existence of this level was a great way to memorialize him.
Later, in patch 2.6.5, there became a small chance that a Treasure Goblin portal will lead to Not the Cow Level instead of The Vault.
Wirt and his connection to the Cow Level
Wirt the Peg-Legged Boy is strongly connected to the Cow Level. He is also a running joke because of his leg — pun intended.
When Wirt was a child in Tristram, Fallen Ones raided the town and kidnapped a number of children, including Wirt. In the depths of Tristram Cathedral, the children were tortured by demons. When Wirt was rescued and returned, his left leg was gone. Wirt was determined to make some gold so he could one day leave Tristram. To do this, he sold stolen merchandise to adventurers — that is, player characters.
In Diablo, Wirt is a merchant, to whom players need to pay 50 gold to see what he has to sell them. He is boy with a peg leg. In Diablo II, his leg, presumably the peg leg, is needed to open the portal. Once inside the portal, his dead body is on the ground. There are a lot of bodies around, but his was important enough to be labeled by name. All other bodies can be clicked, and all their gold comes out at once. Not Wirt. Individual piles rain down all around his corpse. All this gold is probably meant to show just how much he made in the original Diablo, by asking for gold just to see what he had to sell.
In Diablo III, Wirt’s Original Leg, presumably his left leg taken by the demons, drops from the corpse of Bishibosh. To summon the Ghost of the Cow King, to craft the Staff of Herding, one of the items required is Wirt’s Bell. Once again, he is heavily tied to the Cow King.
Not canon with Diablo, but Blizzard-related, Wirt and his legs keep making appearances:
- In Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, near the Butcher, there is an item called Wirt’s Other Leg.
- In World of Warcraft, some pirate chests can drop Wirt’s Third Leg.
- The game Hellgate: London, developed by a team led by former Blizzard employees, has an item called Wart’s Peg Leg.
Other appearances of the Secret Cow Level
The Cow Level in StarCraft and Warcraft
Before there was actually a Cow Level, in StarCraft, there was a cheat code, “there is no cow level”, which at the time was true. This code was an instant win in the game. In StarCraft II, it is possible to join the Cow Level chat room. Click on the Blizzard triangle in the circle under the StarCraft II Wings of Liberty title in the multiplayer menu really fast, about twenty times. A pop up for the chatroom will appear. This is like any other chatroom, except “…moo!” will appear after chat.
There is a leather chest armor item in the World of Warcraft called Cow King’s Hide, implying he was skinned after being killed. Battle for Azeroth added an achievement Lactose Intolerant that can be earned while fighting Za’qul in the Eternal Palace that will allow players to briefly transport to a Secret Cow Level.
The Cow Level in Hearthstone
In January of 2017, Hearthstone celebrated Diablo’s 20th anniversary with a Secret Level card back. During the event in the Tavern Brawl, players could activate secrets to be sucked through a portal into a battle against the Cow King and his army of Hell Bovines.
The Cow Level in Dungeons and Dragons
Wizards of the Coast released a Dungeons and Dragons: Diablo II Edition back in 2000. One supplement, To Hell and Back, contained the Secret Cow Level with stats for the enemy cows.
The appearance of the secret Cow Level did not stop with official Blizzard products, though.
The Cow Level in The Six Sacred Stones
In Matthew Reilly’s best selling novel, The Six Sacred Stones, a pair of twins frequently sport shirts that say “I have seen the Cow level!” and subsequently “There is no cow level!”
The Cow Level in Goat Simulator
A Not So Secret Cow Farm can be found in Goat Simulator, as accessed from a town called Twistram. Bipedal cows attack the goat by shooting lasers from their udders.
The Cow Level in Marvel Heroes
In Marvel Heroes 2015, there is a Classified Bovine Sector, accessible via a special portal. A cow boss there is named High Commander Brevik. There is also a winter cow level, named Bovenheim that is much bigger and has a new boss, All-Father Brevik.
The Cow Level in Minecraft Dungeons
Minecraft Dungeons has a secret cow level. After completing story mode, collect nine runes to unlock the secret area, and the Mooshroom enemies.
The Secret Cow Level is the worst kept secret
The whole thing started from players trolling other players. Blizzard joked about it internally. Then released a screenshot of it on April Fool’s Day. Within days of D2 launching, it was leaked how to get in. From there, it has become a staple of the game.
Fans are mixed on how important this is to the Diablo franchise. A gag in a game with dark, serious ambiance. This is more than a one-time joke, but is it enough that it must be included in everything Diablo? Which begs the question, will this show up again in D4? And how will it be received by fans?
Originally published 9/24/2020
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