There are few videogame legends more famous or enduring that than of the Diablo cow level. There actually isn't a cow level in Diablo (1997), but rumors of one were so persistent and pervasive that Blizzard included one in Diablo 2, and later brought cow-themed levels to Diablo 3 and even World of Warcraft. There's even an entire Wikipedia entry dedicated specifically to the cow level, including a section on its "impact and legacy."
In light of that, at least some fans were no doubt surprised and disappointed when Diablo general manager Rod Fergusson said that there's no cow level in Diablo 4. "We've been really focused on trying to keep it as grounded as possible," Fergusson said in a May interview with Kinda Funny. "And because of that, there's no secret level in Diablo 4 that people might be looking for."
That's a pretty unambiguous statement, backed by sound reasoning. But not everyone is taking no for an answer: A growing number of Diablo 4 players are now searching for a cow level that they believe has to be stashed away in there somewhere—a belief driven by what they perceive to be clues scattered throughout the game.
Some of those hints are relatively overt, like a reference to "Oxen Gods" in Ked Bardu who may grant a blessing to those who make a worthy offering.
Other so-called evidence is less convincing—like this cow head on a Diablo 4 map, for instance.
But while some supposed clues are clearly a stretch, the search for the elusive bovines is shaping up into an old-fashioned internet treasure hunt. This busy Reddit thread has a running tally of everything of substance that's been discovered so far, some of it found in the game and other bits datamined, and I won't lie, it makes a compelling argument.
For me, the presence of items including a Bloody Wooden Shard—"A worn, bloodstained chunk of wood with tattered leather straps. The letter 'W' has been crudely carved on one side"—and a badly damaged blue "musty tome" are impossible to overlook: Wirt's wooden leg and a Tome of Town Portal are items required to open a portal to the secret cow level in Diablo 2, and here they are.
One Diablo fan, Carpeggios, found the search for cows so engaging that he launched a Discord server to support the effort called D4 – Not Finding a Cow Level.
"The datamined leads I saw in the Reddit thread were just enough for me to want to get 'ahead of the curve,'" Carpeggios told me over Discord. "I see other games do scavenger hunt type content, and often it's just down to clue-finding and the like ... I think even in the case of there not being a 'conclusion' to the hunt, there's still a lot of people that like to participate, as I saw people do in things like the GTA5 Mount Chiliad conspiracy."
Carpeggios said he's not a committed believer in the Diablo 4 cows, and suspects that a lot of other people immersing themselves in the chase aren't either. Instead, he thinks many of them are just looking for something new and fun to do within the community after beating the campaign. He set up the Discord for basically the same reason: He said he takes Fergusson's statements about the absence of a secret level "at face value" but felt the interactive nature of Discord would make it a better place for the community to come together, share ideas, and have some fun.
"I think part of me wanted to be involved in a way I knew I could be, so I just started a Discord," he said.
There's no doubt that some of the stuff players are digging up is very credible: Either there are secrets waiting to be found in the depths of Diablo 4, or someone at Blizzard is having a lot of fun at players' expense. On the other hand, not every lead is a hot one.
"I think the spawning of a unique mob and the presence of cows in the area is at the least interesting," Carpeggios said. "[People] seeing a cow on the map is giving me serious 'Jesus on toast' vibes though."
But trying out wild and stupid ideas is "part of the fun"—if nothing else, "at least you get memes and funny tangents"—and so is Blizzard's insistence that there is no cow level in Diablo 4. Fergusson says it's not there and Carpeggios believes him, but he also knows that of course Fergusson would say that, especially if there is a cow level.
"The 'there's no cow level' is just an endless staircase of, is it real or not? It just folds on itself," he said. "The best time for there to be a cow level is for when all reason points to there being no cow level. So for me at least, the fun bit right now is just disregarding and trying anyway."
The quest for cows heated up considerably today with the addition of a new "cow-level-hunt" channel on Sanctuary, the Diablo 4 Community Discord: Discussions, theories, screenshots, and locations of cows are flying fast and furious, and there's a palpable excitement to the whole thing. These players are clearly having a lot of fun looking for cows in Diablo 4 no matter what Rod Fergusson says.
Carpeggios acknowledged that the new channel on the Sanctuary Discord renders his server obsolete. He said he'll likely leave his server up in case the one on Sanctuary doesn't work out, but he won't continue promoting it. He is going to keep his hand in the cow hunt, though.
"I have a couple ideas to test," he said. "I've been enjoying Diablo 4 but at level 83 I'm slowing down from the grind, and this may give me a little more enjoyment until some seasonal content drops. Sometimes the community aspect of these scavenger hunts results in someone just 'stumbling' on something, which can be fun to hear about as well. Monkeys typing on typewriters infinitely, etc."
Fergusson hasn't yet commented on the growing number of people who, unlike Carpeggios, have questions about whether he's being entirely forthcoming about the Diablo 4 cow situation. I've reached out to Blizzard to ask if he has perhaps changed his mind on whether there might actually be some secret cows somewhere in Diablo 4, and will update if I receive a reply. The mooth is out there.