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The Diablo 2 Wiki archive is available for anyone looking for information on Diablo 2. All information here is pre-D2R but contains a lot of useful information that is still relevant. Updated sections for new D2R features can be found on the PureDiablo Diablo 2 section


From Diablo 2 Wiki

There are three difficulty levels in Diablo II; Normal, Nightmare, and Hell. The difficulty levels are essentially identical; characters replay the same acts and quests on each. The difference comes from increased monster hit points and damage, some changes in monster variety and skills, and heaps of new, higher level equipment.

Though the difficulty levels are the same game x3, they were clearly not just tacked on to extend the game's longevity; Diablo II was designed with them in mind, and the knowledge that most players would hardly get to experiment with their highest level (30) skills before finishing the game for the first time. This is less true in D2X than D2, since characters commonly level from 30ish to the low 40s in Act Five, leveling that took place in Nightmare, before the Expansion. Still, most characters don't start to round into their final forms until Nightmare, since they have all of their skills by then and can start to max out the most useful ones. Even Nightmare is kind of a training mission for some, and for experienced players, Hell is the only difficulty level that really matters. There the top items can be found, characters can unleash their true powers with maxed out points in several synergistic skills, and the monsters are powerful enough to provide more of a challenge.

Level Up Guide

The magic number when it comes to gaining experience is +/- 5. Monsters within that range of levels, compared to your character's level, are worth 100% of their potential experience. See the Experience article for full details and figures.

Under Clvl 25
Mlvl / ClvlExp gain
1 to 5
-5 to 0

There is no hard and fast rule for what level a character should be in different areas. Experience is best gained when characters are within +/- 5 levels from the monsters, but players need not worry too much about remaining within that narrow band. If monsters 7 levels higher are worth twice the experience of monsters 1 level higher, then killing the 7 level higher one, even with the 68% penalty, is better on the whole. Also, character levels will increase more rapidly than the monster levels while progressing through an Act, if you play in large games or use the Players X command.

A useful general guideline for experience gain is that monsters are very near the Ilvl of the level they spawn on. So you can look at a chart that shows the levels for every area in the game, and figure your character should be about that level to get the full experience possible. Here's a quick reference list of the highest level area in each act, in all three difficulty levels:

  • Act One, Catacombs 4: Level 12 / 43 / 73.
  • Act Two, Tal Rasha's Tombs: Level 17 / 49 / 80.
  • Act Three, Durance of Hate 3: Level 25 / 55 / 83.
  • Act Four, Chaos Sanctuary: Level 28 / 58 / 85.
  • Act Five, Throne of Destruction: Level 43 / 66 / 85.

As even this quick list shows, the level progression is jerky and erratic. There's virtually no way a character could start Act 2 at level 12 and only be level 17 at the end of the act, if that character did any sort of killing. Most characters level up easily past 20 in Act Two, and then very quickly rise into the mid-20s in Act Three, before gaining few levels in Act Four, and then gaining levels at an absurd rate in Act Five, where the experience is vastly more plentiful than in Act Four.

Leveling up in Nightmare is more up to individual preference and character design. Many players pass down useful items to their new characters, and as a result leveling speeds blast off past Clvl 30 or 35, when good exceptional weapons become usable. Others avail themselves of friends to "rush" them through the difficulty, moving quickly on to Hell and the better items and huge experience available there.

Normal Difficulty

New characters begin on Normal difficulty, automatically creating or joining normal difficulty games. They can not join or create nightmare games, nor will they see them on the game menus on

  • Once one of your characters finishes Normal Difficulty, you will be able to create Hardcore characters on that account.
  • Once a character finishes Normal difficulty, they will only see Nightmare difficulty games to join on the menu. This can be inconvenient if you were hoping to level up a bit more with Baal runs before moving up to Nightmare, Act One.
  • Characters who have finished Normal difficulty gain titles:
    • Softcore: Slayer
    • Hardcore: Destroyer

Other features of Normal difficulty:

  • Death does not bring any experience loss on Normal.
  • Unique and Champion Monsters get +90% damage bonus in Normal.
  • Hirelings and Summons do 50% damage to Act Bosses in Normal.
  • Nihlathak's Corpse Explosion deals 50% damage in Normal.

Nightmare Difficulty

Nightmare can be accessed once a character defeats Diablo in Diablo II and Baal in Diablo II: Lord of Destruction. This achievement also allows that character to enter the Secret Cow Level on normal difficult (but not on Nightmare, until Diablo/Baal are defeated on Nightmare difficulty). Only Hell difficulty games are seen on the game join list on once Nightmare is finished, which can make joining Nightmare games to level up before moving to hell problematic.

Exceptional items will be commonly found in Nightmare. (Some of the lower level types show up in Act Five/Normal.) Some lower level Elite items will turn up in Act Five/Nightmare. Regular monsters have about a 10% chance to drop something exceptional. Bosses and Champions have about a 20% chance.

Experience loss occurs on death in Nightmare. Dying will subtract 5% of the experience required to reach the next level. Characters will never go down a level to this penalty, so if you're going to duel or die a lot, try to do it immediately after leveling up. If a character recovers their corpse in that game, 75% of the lost experience is returned.

Monsters are much improved in Nightmare, gaining more hit points, damage, resistances, and more. See the full stats for every monster in the game in the Category:Monsters.

  • Unique and Champion Monsters gain a 75% damage bonus in Nightmare. (This bonus is compared to what a normal monster of that type does.)
  • Monsters that can cast skills gain 3 levels to their magical attacks.
  • Random boss monsters gain a second random Monster Modifier.
    • Most Superuniques gain one random modifier to add to their preset properties.

Other features of Nightmare difficulty:

  • All player characters suffer a 40% resistance penalty in Nightmare.
  • Hirelings and Summons do 35% damage to Act Bosses in Nightmare.
  • Freezing, Life/Mana Stealing, Chilling, AI affecting Curses (Confuse, Attract, Dim Vision)

Are cut in 1/2 in Nightmare.

  • Static Field will not reduce a monster's hit points to less than 33% in Nightmare.
  • Nihlathak's Corpse Explosion deals 35% damage in Nightmare.
  • After the v1.09 patch, monsters are greatly randomized in Act Five, with a half dozen or more types possible in every area of the Act.
  • Some levels are much larger on Nightmare and Hell than on normal. These include the Forgotten Tower and level 2 of the Durance of Hate.

Characters who finish Nightmare gain new titles.

  • Softcore: Champion
  • Hardcore: Conqueror

Hell Difficulty

Hell can be accessed once a character defeats Nightmare Diablo in Diablo II and Baal in Diablo II. This achievement also allows that character to enter the Secret Cow Level on Nightmare difficult (but not on Hell, until Diablo/Baal are defeated on Hell difficulty). Only Hell games are now seen on the game join screen. Normal and Nightmare games can be joined, but only by typing in their names manually.

If you wish to play in those games with a Hell character, ask a friend to spot some game names, or log on with a lower level character and remember (or copy/paste) them. It's often possible to ride out a series of games; if players are creating "CowRuns24" you can safely guess the next one will be "Cowruns25" and can join or create it yourself. Large games of this type are very helpful to level up in, since you can often run Baal by yourself and rack up huge experience gains while other players are doing easier and less profitable areas.

Experience Penalties

The experience loss death penalty is increased to 10% in Hell. Again, this penalty is taken from the experience your character needs to gain the next level, and this loss will never level-down a character, or take away more experience than they've gained towards the next level, so go dueling right after you level up. Recovering your corpse in that same game returns 75% of the experience lost. (Recovering your corpse in town in the next game gains you nothing in terms of experience, but it beats dying five more times trying to recover your first loss.)

Leveling up speed has varied quite a bit between the versions of Diablo II, as each patch tweaks the monsters' experience values, experience gain penalties, and other variables. In v1.09, leveling to 99 was not at all difficult since the high level penalties were not very strong, and when the last ladder reset of that patch kicked off a worldwide race to the top, new characters reached level 99 in less than 48 hours. In v1.10, reaching 99 is a much greater achievement, since the experience penalties gain teeth past level 90, and really begin to bite past 95. Hundreds of Baal runs are required to gain levels at that point, and marching to 99 has become quite an endurance effort in v1.10 and v1.11.

Item quality continues to increase in Hell, since monsters have much higher odds to drop exceptional and elite items. Items dropped by Hell monsters have a,

  • Normal monster: 30% exceptional, 20% elite.
  • Boss/champion: 40% exceptional, 40% elite.

Monsters are much improved in Hell, gaining more hit points, damage, resistances, defense, and more. Some even gain new abilities, such as adding elemental damage to their attacks. Their AI improves as well, allowing them to react more quickly and attack more ferociously. Act Five monsters are again randomized in Hell, with many possible monster types in every area. (See the full stats for every monster in the game in the Category:Monsters.)

  • Unique and Champion Monsters gain a 66% damage bonus in Nightmare. (This bonus is compared to what a normal monster of that type does.)
  • Monsters that can cast skills gain 7 levels to their magical attacks.
  • Random boss monsters gain a third random Monster Modifiers.
    • Most Superuniques gain a second random modifier to add to their preset properties.

Other features of Hell difficulty:

  • Nihlathak's Corpse Explosion deals 20% damage in Hell.
  • Character resistances take a 100% penalty in Hell.
  • Hirelings and Summons do 25% damage to Act Bosses in Hell.
  • Life/Mana Stealing are cut to 2/3. (Many hell monsters, especially Superuniques, have additional penalties to leech.
  • The duration of freezing, chilling, AI affecting Curses (Confuse, Attract, Dim Vision) is cut to 1/4.
  • The Sorceress' Static Field spell will not lower a monster below 50% of its hit points.
  • Some levels are much larger on Nightmare and Hell than on normal. These include the Forgotten Tower and level 2 of the Durance of Hate.

Characters who finish Hell gain new titles.

  • Softcore: Patriarch/Matriarch
  • Hardcore: Guardian