Diablo 3’s Musical Style is Unheard of?

A new post on Bloody Disgusting laments the fact that Matt Uelmen is not in charge of the music/sound in Diablo III. We’ve seen a lot of fan comments about this, and Blizzard has said their current sound guys are great, and pointed out that the DiabloWikiDiablo III music includes 90 minutes of acoustic guitar Matt recorded years ago.

Maybe someone should tell that to the BD guy, as he doesn’t seem to like the sound of Diablo III. Here’s a quote from the post:

One of my favorite aspects of DIABLO I & II – one of the things that really made it what it was – was Matt Uelmen’s soundtrack. Walking around the grasslands, in town – going down into the dungeons – no game before or after had been better enhanced by its music. I still burn one and stand there in Tristam just to listen. There’s something peaceful and serene and beautiful about is darkness.

…Matt Uelmen is not the composer for DIABLO III. Its being done by DiabloWikiRussell Brower, who has a background founded in kiddie cartoons (Animaniacs, Goof Troop, Tiny Tunes Adventures) – you get the picture.


I trade emails with Matt Uelmen now and then, and we’ve been planning a big interview covering everything from the early Diablo days up to his present work on Torchlight 2. (The interview keeps getting delayed along with TL2.) One thing I’m definitely going to ask him about is the way different games present sound and music, and how that affects the player’s experience. It’s a question many Diablo 3 beta players have considered, since the music in D3 is so much less impactful than the music was in D1 or D2.

Click through for the rest of this article, with direct video/audio comparisons of the three Diablo titles.

Like many of you guys, I really enjoyed the music in D1 and D2. I’m not sure about the music in D3, since despite playing a great deal of the beta, I don’t feel like I’ve actually heard it yet. Oh, I have the sound turned on and my speakers turned up, and there’s audio content, but it’s not really “music.” It’s ambient sounds; crickets chirping, wind blowing, water dripping in caves, etc. It sounds nice and does something to build the atmosphere and mood, at least during the rare seconds when it’s not drowned out by the massive explosion sound effects produced by virtually every skill in the game, but it’s not anything like the music that was themed to every level and dungeon in Diablo 2.

This is somewhat odd, since there is music in Diablo 3. At least we’ve heard some sample tracks that aren’t bad, though it’s unclear when/if/where/how those are heard in the actual game, rather than just on the log in screen. Also, it’s not like Blizzard didn’t have time to hire musicians or record music for the game. No, what we’re listening to (or not) in the beta is a conscious design decision, and they clearly decided to go with ambient sounds, rather than big, present, noticeable symphonic compositions of the sort that we heard in D1 and D2. (Assuming the beta is representative of the final game. It may not be, and D3 release version could have much more music than we are hearing now.)

If you want a very quick and easy comparison of past to present, check out that video comparison of Tristram that we posted this morning, and skip to about 4:58. There you see (and hear) a warrior enter the Cathedral in Diablo I, followed 15 seconds later by a Diablo III Barbarian entering the D3 version of that level.

I’m a fan of Diablo I, so it’s no surprise that I really like that clip from the older game. But doesn’t everybody? (Listen to the whole piece.) It only takes a few seconds to get the whole mood and tone of foreboding danger and menace that fills the game. Spooky vocals, eerie echoing character voice, and then rising, pounding drums. It gives me a very strong sense that bad things are about to happen, and that it’s time to fight or die.

Compare that to the Diablo 3 Cathedral entrance, which has… the faint sound of wind blowing. And something a bit like cars being parked half a mile away. Where’s the drama? Where’s the suspense? Where’s the horror and menace? I’m sure D3’s version sounds a lot more like what a real ruined subterranean catacomb would sound like, but are we going for realism or exciting video game action?

True, the D3 Cathedral is not the first area of combat in the entire game, but it’s not like you get dramatic, mood-establishing music in the first or second brief zombie battles outside of Tristram. It’s also possible (I hope) that we’re not hearing the finished version of Diablo III. Maybe there will be a lot more dramatic, noticeable music in the final game?

All that said, maybe I’m just old school on this, and loud, impactful music written to correspond to each individual area in the game is no longer the way things are done. Now it’s about atmospheric noises that don’t distract from the car crash sound effects of every Barbarian skill.

What do you guys think? Do you miss the very present, impactful style of music from D1 and D2? Or do you prefer the subtle, ambient effects in D3, with the “music” only kicking in during dramatic moments like quest boss battles?

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77 thoughts on “Diablo 3’s Musical Style is Unheard of?

  1. Matt, in my mind, is pretty much a legendary composer already.  The guy has incredible talent.  I’m sure the D3 music will be great (including his guitar-work), but it definitely won’t the be same without Matt there leading it.

    I’m assuming I’m the minority here, but I was pretty disappointed when I found out Matt left Blizz and wouldn’t be working on D3, aside from his guitar stuff.

    • to be honest… I turned the music down, after I finished baal. It just was too much, and I wanted to hear some of my own music, like SOAD oder Rammstein, which I really enjoyed.
      The Music was great to enchance the atmophere, but I guess, if it really were close to the same in D3, I’d turn the volume down again.

      I’m sorry for all those, who enjoyed the music in D1 and D2, but I think, maybe music don’t need to play all the time.
      For example, Left for dead (okay, it is a completely different franchise, I just want you to get that point)  works without that music playing all the time. When I first played that game, the Music made me shit in my pants. I was so full of fear, when the first horde of zombies came at me, that I put that game away for a few days. 
      I think this had never happened, if the Music played all the time. Some soundeffects in the background can be good, to enchance the atmosphere as well, and, who knows? Maybe you can enjoy it even better?

      One last thing: In music lessons, I learned about background music in movies. My teacher quoted some important person. He said that Music needs to be some kind of hidden. It mustn’t be too ear-catching, in order to establish a good atmosphere. 
      Maybe that’s the same for games?

      PS: sorry for my bad English.

  2. Having only played through the beta twice, I:

    1. Don’t mind music only grabbing attention now and then, since that makes it memorable in its own way.

    2. Definitely noticed some Uelman music when entering New Tristram, which I thought was an awesome homage.

    3. I was quite surprised the first time I heard the power-chord rock type music during the SK encounter….but I think it actually really works.

    4. I do not remember the amazing music from Diablo II. Maybe I always played with the music on low, but I’d say the D III music is as good as II, though not as good as I (not nearly).

    5. Totally with you on the car crash skills….in fact I think something must be seriously wrong with the volume levels in the beta. I have “effects” at 10% and everything else at 100% and it sounds about right.

  3. I suppose we didn’t have a music related controversy in some time now. I wonder if Flux has a small checklist/calendar sort of thing for when he gets bored and wants to throw in one of the more popular… passionate internet discourse starters.

  4. The current music is pretty awful. The annoyingly loud trumpets of the overture played at the main menu screen were enough for me to turn music completely off.

    • So you judge the games music on one small peace when you start up the game.  Troll much?

      • Title screen music should put you in the mood for playing more of the game. Think of it as a preludium of good fun ahead. If title music is uninspiring, then you don’t get the thrill of turning on the game.
        Example of game that acomplished that exceedingly well would be Deus Ex (search it on youtube).

    • Yes I’ve noticed that Russell Brower’s work in WoW, StarCraft 2 and Diablo 3 has blatantly prominent trumpets as well as choirs; there’s barely any muting going on and a lot of his work especially for SC2 and some D3 gameplay trailers have completely been ripped off popular scores (he could go for SOME subtlety in his work) and only had some notes slightly changed OUT OF TUNE to differentiate from them.  I miss the days of Jason Hayes, whose work with WarCraft III (at least on the cinematic side if not his gameplay music) was amazingly professional – I think he did a lot of the d2 cinematic music as well. I don’t like to tell people ‘fire him’ or w/e but honestly, Russell Brower sucks.

  5. The music of the first Diablo is incredible, I definitely agree on that. I don’t really remember the music of D2 since, apart from maybe the first month of playing it, I played it without any ingame sound on. In D3 beta I’ve so far played mostly with sound on, but lately I’ve taken to listening to audio books while playing instead of having the ingame sound. D2 and D3 are the same in that regard I guess. Maybe it’s because I play D2 and D3 mostly for the gameplay whereas D1 is played for story and atmosphere.

  6. Whats to say about Matt  🙄
    Maybe he got lucky with D1 soundtrack (which was truly the best ever)   😈
    Maybe he really is kind of talented ^^
    Maybe he randomly smashes plates looking for a new beat 🙂

    btw torchlight 1 was a bloody useless joke (and im sure 2nd one will be just the same 🙂

    Flame on nerds 👿  

    • Well, I liked his music for Diablo 1, 2 and Torchlight. I also liked his work on The Burning Crusade – many people forget it was him who provided that special Outland atmosphere in WoW.

      • Hmm Darthnixa from the Eu BliZ forums :)?

        Anyway i truly agree with the fact that Matt did some decent work in the past… however i just feel that the Matt Uelmen name has attracted some kind of “dont bash” star quality to it (Which i rly dont think the name deserves as of yet)! 

      • Matt never made music for The Burning Crusade.  Before you say yes he did, really think about what I said.  Break it down and you might understand.

        • He did most of the burning crusade music areas: Hellfire Peninsula, Nagrand, Netherstorm, Shadowmoon Valley, Honor Hold, etc. It’s among the best music in World of Warcraft, in my opinion, besides the original composed by Jayson Hayes. In the track ElBozo embedded, skip to 4:40 and you’re in for a surprise!

          EDIT: Here is another atmospheric piece of music composed by Matt. Skip to 2:54


          • 4:40 sounds like the Diablo drums from… level 1 or the lava levels? That’s so cool!

            I really like the BC soundtrack. What’s so special about 2:54 though in the later clip?

            The music in the zone south of Hellfire is really really atmospheric, too. Can’t remember the zone’s name but it’s where the Capital City is.

  7. I have to agree with this guy’s sentiment…from what I’ve heard in the beta (yes, I know that it is a small sample size), the music is well, \FORGETTABLE\…It’s amazing how good and memorable music can give you a particular feeling that resurfaces whenever you hear it.  I still get that from the Diablo 2 tracks.  If I go to youtube, and listen to any of those songs, the sense of nostalgia almost overwhelms me and I immediately get transported back to wherever those sounds permeated from.  I don’t get that same sense with the ambient drones heard in D3…I just don’t…and that fact saddens me.  Ten years from now, I will still be able to play the theme from the \Cold Plains\ in my head, but I won’t be able to tell you what was being played just outside of \New Tristram\, I can guarantee you that.

  8. The D3 beta has good soundfx but very forgettable music. On my first run through I was surprised that entering the Tristram ruins and the Cathedral from D1 didn’t use any leitmotifs from past games at all. I don’t think D3 will have catchy or theme setting music in normal areas like D2 did. I think they’ll save that for the bosses, judging from the beta.

  9. Well, just because Matt did a phenomenal job on Diablo 1 doesn’t make him some type of video-game-music-god.  Yes, Diablo 1’s music is arguably the best game music I’ve ever heard (except for maybe Warcraft 2), but he also did the music to Torchlight, which was very lackluster.  We’ll see how it turns out.  

    • If not someone who is the composer of “arguably the best game music I’ve ever heard” then who would fall into video-game-music-god?

      • “arguably the best game music I’ve ever heard”

        Yeah well that kinda sums it up… some loves Matt Uelmen (Me for example). Others find him boring!

        But he aint no God nonetheless 

      • Nobuo Uematsu without a doubt. No one has composed as many memorable pieces as that guy. He’s a machine.

      • Noone named Jeremy Soule, the John Williams of video games? One of the greatest video game music composers out there (note, one of, not: the).
        Another favorite of mine is Michael Hoenig, for Baldur’s Gate 2 soundtrack. Pure greatness!

      • If we’re going by the definition that writing good music for one video game makes one a video-game-god, then there are many video-game-gods. I was always a fan of video-game-musical-polytheism. 🙂

  10. Being in the beta, I’ve only heard a tiny bit of the music, and I don’t think anyone can jump to assumptions on how the entire game will sound. That said, IMO, the music is great and very atmospheric, I get the new songs stuck in my head all the time. It might be in part because I’ve played the beta so much. We all love D2’s soundtrack because we played it over and over again and it became a part of us. Give D3 some time and I think we’ll all feel the same as we did with D2. 🙂

  11. Did he play D1 or look up videos on youtube? Dungeon music was almost completely ambient sounds.

    Hate to say it, but both Uelman and Brower worked on WoW:TBC and I always vastly preferred Brower’s tracks. I think he is outstanding as a game composer. I usually don’t even notice game music unless it’s horrible, but the music in WotLK was incredible. I would stop playing just to listen to it. Very impressed. 

    • But they weren’t quietly ambient and they all had memorable riffs/beats between the ambient horror drones.

  12. Haven’t played the beta, but if this is truly how it is I will miss the music. I didn’t like the D2 music as much as D1; didn’t find it as gripping, but each piece did fit its area pretty well.
    The sanctity of this place has been fouled…

  13. The “music” in the beta is bizarrely quiet but I played around in the emulator a bit and the music gets less ambient and more interesting in later areas. I’m hoping that trend continues.

  14. It’s certainly different, but I haven’t heard anything out of place or particularly bad. I actually quite like the more ambient spacey stuff R. Brower did. Very unnerving and fitting for the areas it’s heard. Listing a composers credits means nothing if you have any idea about composing. Several film composers typically work on all kinds of things. You get work where you can until you make it.

  15. I’ve said it in chat but I still think we’re going to get more, music and ambient sounds.

    • Diablo 1 and 2 are memorable just b their music… I did rip back then (with a cool program called Game Music Player that extacted .wav files from Diablo’s .mpq) and listened to it even without playing. My most favorite was the music in Harrogath. The first thing I said when I saw footage of Diii was “where is the music?” I hope i’ll be proven wrong

      • Nice name Legendary Dagger of M&M6 if i remember correctly 8)

        To answer your question however “where is the music?” 

        Hopefully D3 team got more in store for us… But i still think its quite good 

  16. it would be rather hard since he doesnt work for Blizzard enymore. Soundtrack in d1/2 was cool but i wouldnt say its expeciay important for the game – its not RPG where you would savor it. In diablo you mostly hear your attack sounds and music is just background…

    PS. for me most nostalgic music is from homm3…

  17. I like the direction DI and DII took. The scores in those two installments were well done , and it’s always nice to have them playing when you’re not doing anything exciting. Keeps you entertained. Though I played for only two weeks ,one of my big quarrels with WoW was the soundtrack, or the soundtrack I was exposed to. I remember mining, foraging, and questing using several different races, and in each case, having no music to accompany the tedious and repetitive tasks didn’t serve the game well . My thoughts on this are all things in moderation. Use ambiance when it is appropriate and use music when it is appropriate. I’d like to see a mixture of both though. Maybe a splash of music here and there on top of a nice ambient sound track.

    • I’m no WoW fan either, but how can someone take you seriously when you only played 2 weeks? Did you play the expansions? Nah? The music there is much better.

  18. I wasn’t thrilled by D2’s music, so I’m kinda indifferent to this.

    However, D1 has the most memorable music of any game I’ve ever played, both the Tristram music and the rolling drums of the dungeon. Since I’ll probably be playing most of this game with my own music or podcasts on, I’m not overly concerned. 

  19. being the huge hypercritical fan man i am of blizzard, and it being a big part of my life (flux) i have to say the music in these games never reaLLY BEEN A STRONG POINT to begin with, only matts guitar work for original tristram, and the reminiscense in diablo 2 tristram..I aLSO LIKED THE MENU MUSIC IN ORIGINAL D1, BUT I HAVE TO SAY I REALLY LIKE THE D3 MUSIC SO FAR…VERY GOOD COMPARED TO TERRIBLE D2S AND D1S( FOR THE MOST PART)… SORRY BOUT CAPS TYPING ON HORRIBLE NOKIA PHONE

  20. My additions to the comments:

    I too was saddened to hear he had left blizzard and wouldn’t be contributing to the direction of D3 in toto. I thought the Diablo1 music was sublime, obviously the tristram theme was fantastic, but all the dungeon themes were great. I loved the mix of classical/medieval/and a little guitar riff here and there 🙂 (like in caves for example). Diablo 2 at first I was disappointed with the start because I wanted more tristram theme! but as with all good things grew to really enjoy it. I even had the soundtrack on a playlist from time to time. I didn’t care much for the expansion music, I felt it was too overblown with orchestration and wandering, but respected it.

    As for Diablo 3, I’ve played the beta countless times, and I’m happy to say that while I’ll leave judgement for down the road to compare it against d1 and d2, there are some really well done parts of it. Definitely some nods to prior work, including some of the guitar riff/medieval stuff and of course the new tristram guitarwork. I like it.. alot. Maybe not diablo1 alot but I do like it 

  21. Agreed completely. They’re taking such a huge step in a different direction, the wrong direction. This game feels like a different entity in itself and only takes some elements from Diablo 1 and 2. Don’t remove what made Diablo awesome and memorable.

  22. Skeleton King fight guitar riff reminds me of Dragonball Z or anything cheesy from the 80s. Apart from that, what i heard of D3 music is utterly forgetable. No character, just some ambient tones in the background (which i will replace with something from my playlist after 1 playthough… given that i buy D3).

    • In his defense, the devs have stripped A LOT of the “Diablo feel” from D3.  I’m not talking stat points, skill trees or permanent character choices but the “feel”.  The music, the lighting, the pop ups, the creepiness, laughing skeletons.  D3 may still be very fun, but the “Diablo feel” is dead.

        • Eh, what else would it be? This is a thread where people post their opinions. Of course its his opinion, kid.

          Maybe you weren’t born when the original Diablo released? That would explain why it doesn’t matter to you. Laughing skeletons definatly has nothing to do with the original, though some might think things need to change and that it isn’t bad.

  23. Matt’s stuff is great. But I think the best piece he did for the Diablo franchise was the Tristram theme. I feel like a lot of his other music was more audibly experimental. Specifically in Diablo 1. The themes for the levels were very subtle and in my opinion and didn’t really stick out much either. Not much different then what people are complaining about in for D3.

  24. My favourite game composer is of course Jeremy Soule, already mentioned before in these comments:
    A couple of probably familiar examples from the Elder Scrolls games:

    And some from Total Annihilation, probably the best RTS ever:

  25. Also worthy of note: just as it’s not a Diablo game without Matt, it’s not a Diablo game without exploding barrels.

  26. The Diablo franchise had SOOO much atmosphere.  Had a lot to do with the music.  All totally lost on D3.  Sad.

  27. The best music in Diablo3 (beta) so far all the various pieces that play during the login screen in my opinion.
    Looking forward to the Uelmen interview!

  28. D1 & D2 all the way. That’s what made the atmosphere and made the game unforgettable among other things.
    If D3 is all ambient and no music it’s gonna suck ass.

  29. —> Solution
    Make a sound mod that activated D2/D1 sounds according to map– > best thing that could ever happen

  30. Not to sound like a Blizz employee here, but I was never wild about the D2 music. D1 of course, was brilliant, but most of the score of D2 was forgettable and much of it I actively disliked (e.g. most of the music in Act 2 and 3, esp. the Arcane Sanctuary, the Harem/Palace, the Jungles, Kurast). I switched to playing my own music very quickly after the first playthrough. Did Brower really do the SC2 music? Because I loved that score, the Zerg music was absolutely perfect. If someone here really can’t stand the D3 score, I’ll be happy to take that beta key off your hands and see for myself… I did like the Torchlight music, too bad the game didn’t do it for me as a whole. If talking about game music overall, I would agree that Uematsu is at the top of the heap, with Final Fantasy 6 being perhaps his masterpiece (and probably my vote for best game of all time).

  31. I didn’t care for TBC’s music, not because the music itself was bad but because it didn’t really seem to fit Warcraft.

    That said, Matt had no small part in the “feel” of D1 and D2.  He absolutely NAILED those soundtracks.  The mood is set perfectly in every area.  That’s a hell of a boast, and not one most video game composers can make. 

    • Quite the opposite for me. I loved TBC music and the themes it provided. When i hear the music, the nostalgia is just overwhelming.
      Speaking of nostalgia, it seems like a lot of people have bias since they love the games so much. But honestly there werent even that many tracks in these games, sure there are very memorable pieces, but i doubt u can say that about all of them.
      There is gonna be much more of music in Diablo 3 with more variation as is custom with Blizzard games nowadays. We’ll just have to wait and see (hear).

  32. I still feel something unique when I listen to D2 music… I have mixed feelings about the D3 music I have heard so far. I haven’t played the beta though. Hopefully they havent failed in that part of the game. It is one of the most important…

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