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The Truth About The Cow Level Legend In Diablo

Somewhere out in the world is a lapsed gamer whose knowledge of video games starts and ends with StarCraft, who still believes that "there is no Cow Level." Those very words function as a cheat code that allows players to instantly skip any mission in StarCraft's campaign. At the time of StarCraft's release, that statement was true — "Cow Level" simply referred to an area (just full of cows) that fans theorized was accessible in the original Diablo by clicking on an in-game cow a number of times. The Cow Level, however, was as real as Sheng Long in Street Fighter 2.

In Diablo 2, the Cow Level did, in fact, become a reality. The method for opening a portal to the Cow Level is somewhat obtuse, but unsurprisingly, that didn't prevent players from figuring it out for long.

That said, the Cow Level extends beyond these three classic Blizzard titles, as well as beyond the confines of Blizzard's catalogue and into other franchises entirely, remaining one of the most far-reaching inside jokes in gaming.

From fan fiction to fact

While the idea of a Cow Level was first a rumor (or a joke) and not rooted in anything actually present in Diablo, that rumor caught the attention of some Blizzard employees, who found it amusing.

An early acknowledgement of the Cow Level legend came in Diablo's Sierra-developed expansion, subtitled Hellfire. A quest called "Jersey's Jersey," only accessible by adding a file to the game's directory outside of the game proper, included a character in a cow suit. Then came the StarCraft cheat code, which was the first time Blizzard openly referenced the Cow Level urban legend. 

The first look at the actual Cow Level included in Diablo 2 was posted, suitably, on April Fool's Day in 1999, leading fans to question whether or not it would be a real feature of the game. Instructions detailing how to access the Cow Level were first shared on July 4, 2000, just four days after Diablo 2's June 30 release date.

Let there be cows

Once Blizzard made references to the Cow Level legend into a recurring inside joke, most Blizzard games thereafter started to include varying degrees of Cow Level content. Diablo 3 first featured a Cow King-centric quest that led players to a new unicorn-themed level called Whimsyshire, which was designed to troll fans. Then, subsequent patches added a proper Cow Level, confusingly/appropriately called "Not the Cow Level."

Hearthstone eventually added its own sort of Cow Level, in which players competed against a Cow King Hero. Starcraft 2, meanwhile, includes a secret Cow Level chat room that adds a "moo" to the end of messages. Warcraft 3, World of Warcraft and Hellgate: London (made by ex-Blizzard developers) all included references to Wirt's Leg, one of the ingredients needed to open the portal to Diablo 2's Cow Level. World of Warcraft eventually implemented its own version of a Cow Level, as well.

Outside of Blizzard franchises, games ranging from Goat Simulator and Minecraft Dungeons to Marvel Heroes all include Cow Level references, as well. Both Diablo: Immortal and Diablo 4 are currently in development. Given that it's series tradition, both are more likely than not to include a healthy dose of cow content upon release.