Diablo 2 was one of the first games I bought for myself.
Back then (2002?), I was such a newbie that I actually had to look up one of those "Top 10 RPGs" lists to find interesting games to try and play. Lo and behold, Diablo 2 appeared on it (even though its status as a true "RPG" is debatable), and to my delight, there was a free demo available. Boy, was I creeped out the first time I delved into the Den of Evil! The pitch black cave, the oppressive soundtrack, and the sounds of demons and undead groaning and scuttling in the dark, ready to tear my barbarian into pieces, really made me not want to go any further. But I did. And apparently had so much fun I bought the full game. (A textbook example of how games were marketed back then. No YouTube videos to show how a game looked and played.)
Evil Den is Evil
I remember being perplexed by the soundtrack at first. I was used to the orchestral scores usually associated with fantasy-themed games, so it felt odd to suddenly hear an electric guitar playing in the background. My confusion did not last for long, however, because I quickly realized how perfectly Uelmen's work complimented the gritty, unsettling world filled with corruption, sadistic demons and mindless undead. The soundtrack as a whole is filled with gems but I especially love the Wilderness track (below). It has drive, and it is the perfect accompaniment to hacking down zombies in the... well, wilderness. Some of my other favorites are the tracks that play in Tristram and in the Harem, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the game.
Wilderness by Matt Uelmen, from the soundtrack of Diablo 2
Of course, Diablo 3 has a reputation of not living up to its predecessors in certain aspects. There is no doubt that it is a very polished game with good gameplay. I, for one, have both the original version and the expansion on both PC and PS4, which should tell you how much I like it! However, the atmosphere is simply not the same. Why? I believe it boils down to a couple of things.
Firstly, in the previous games you felt you were truly alone in your hunt for the Greater Evils. Sure, in town there were people who helped you, but when you went out, you were alone (apart from the henchmen in D2 - but they were silent, offering no solace. Plus, they died easily.). The spectral forms of the villains did not appear before you along the way to taunt you with pitiful attempts to arouse terror, nor did your character reply with words exuding, shall we say Nephalic, confidence. No. In Diablo 2 you wandered the dark, seemingly endless dungeons of the Monastery until you accidentally came upon a lair filled with enemies and a huge, half-naked demoness who, by the way, did not first give a minute-long speech before pouncing on you. (I will admit, the first time I went to kill Andariel, I went into a panic and died. In fact, I did that a lot.)
Music from Act I in Diablo 3, by Russell Brower
Secondly, and I think this is even more important than people realize, the soundtracks of the first two Diablo games had a huge part in establishing the atmosphere. I am not saying this to bash those who composed for Diablo 3. I think they are excellent professionals, and I have enjoyed their work on both Diablo and other games. However, Uelmen's music in Diablo and the original Diablo 2 had mood, and drive. It was sometimes even disharmonic, and therefore difficult to listen to; the music itself sounded evil. What we have in Diablo 3 is a very different style. It is atmospheric, but instead of driving you forward with forceful percussions, it blends into the background. And instead of disturbing you with notes sliding into disharmony, blending with screams, it is mostly very easy to listen to. (The only exception to this are the boss fights, which tend to have more prominent music playing in the background.) It could very well be because that was the brief given to the composers - the developers might not have wanted the music to be so noticeable that people would grow tired of it after roaming the dungeons for hours. I do not think that would have been a problem, however - good music is good, even after hours of playing, and if anyone grew tired of it (I never do, unless it's REALLY bad), they would turn it off in any case.
My Tribute to Diablo
Ironically, the tribute piece I composed borrows mostly from the third game's soundtrack. I cannot truly say why - perhaps the tracks I borrowed from were easier to break down and convert into something with a melody. Nevertheless, I picked my favorites. The tribute begins with a nod to the soundtrack version of Bastion's Keep. I think it has excellent mood, and why they did not have it play in-game in its entirety is beyond me.
Prophecy, a Tribute to Diablo
The quiet part beginning at 1:30 mixes two often-heard themes in the first two games. You can hear them in the caves and catacombs of the first game, in the already mentioned Wilderness track from D2, and various other tracks, as well. 2:00 starts the culmination, which was heavily influenced by the main theme of the Reaper of Souls expansion and the beginning of the Blood Marsh compilation published before the release of the expansion. Finally, the tribute ends with a theme that plays in New Tristram.
The lyrics are a jumbled version of the Prophecy of the End Days, with a few lines omitted, changed and added. They are as follows:
At the End of Days
Wisdom will be lost
As Justice falls upon the world of men
And, at the End of Days
A sign shall appear in the Heavens
Justice shall fall upon the world of men
The Heavens shall tremble, the armies of Light
and Shadow shall clash on the fields of Eternity
Hope will be swallowed whole by Despair
and Death's shadow shall spread its wings over all
Betrayed by blood,
devoured by Terror
Her soul shall be lost
And what am I going to do next? Well, I am currently working on a tribute to Neverwinter Nights 2, or more precisely, its expansion Mask of the Betrayer, one of my all-time favorites.