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Challenge Mode, also called Nephalem Trials later in development, is a cut game mode from Diablo III. It went through four iterations with many prototypes of possible events, spanning from before the game was released and continuing through the development of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. It ultimately led to Cursed Chests and Cursed Shrines, and several other concepts from its various versions ended up in other gameplay features.

The information about Challenge Mode's development was shared with the public primarily from the "Evolution of Cursed Events" talk by Senior Developer Zaven Haroutunian in connection with BlizzCon 2016.[1]


Challenge Mode had shifting goals and styles as Diablo III went through different phases of development. Part of its purpose was to explore the boundaries of what is possible and fun beyond standard Diablo gameplay, without an exact plan in mind.

The original idea for Challenge Mode formed before the game's release. Dubbed "Challenge Mode 1.0," the goal was to deliver more content using existing assets. Events such as Caravan Defense and Double Trouble were designed for this mode. Several components which did end up in Cursed events were present in these prototypes (particularly Caravan Defense), such as an objective progress bar and waves of attacking enemies. Feedback from within the team was generally positive, but also apathetic — the events didn't feel special, new, and exciting. Zaven Haroutunian stated "that wasn't good enough for us", sending them "back to the drawing board".

After Diablo III had shipped, the mode was redesigned into "Challenge Mode 2.0". The goal was now to create unique gameplay developed for the future of the game, taking live player feedback into account. Events for this iteration had more of a "minigame" feel, such as Goblin Defense and Grotesque Bowling. Internal team feedback was again positive, but claimed that these events ignored the core gameplay of Diablo (i.e. the lack of skill use and loot). It also wasn't fun when playing without any competition in single-player games; Haroutunian called it "completely boring".

What followed, dubbed "Challenge Mode 3.0," was a doubling down of the 2.0 concepts, namely the idea of multiplayer-focused PvE challenges as competitive mini-games, with a focus on skill-based gameplay (e.g. target acquisition and evading attacks/hazards). Soul Reavers and Barrel Breaker are events implemented from this period. This time, feedback was negative, as while the events were fun with friends, it wasn't enjoyable when playing with strangers via matchmaking. The gameplay often became an "AoE fest", winning felt random, and the classes were unbalanced for the types of events being produced, so it did not feel like a fair test of skill.

It was noted that "Challenge Mode" had become a misnomer, since it implied it would be a completely new way of playing the game. It was renamed as "Nephalem Trials," with a "reset" to pull back on the miningame style and put the focus on cooperative gameplay, with leaderboards to create competition instead of directly in the event itself. Fleshpit Grove was implemented as an event in this phase of development, bearing a close resemblance to the eventual Cursed Chest event The Cursed Grove. Reaction was positive, but the idea was not implemented in the final game as distinct challenges with leaderboards due to a lack of competitive depth. While technically cut from the game as a separate Mode, almost all Nephalem Trial events were integrated into Adventure Mode in the form of Cursed Chests and Cursed Shrines.


  1. 2016-12-17, Evolution of Cursed Events ft. Zaven Haroutunian. YouTube, accessed on 2016-12-21