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Diablo 3 for WoW Players Part 1: Lore Events Prior to Diablo 1

May 7, 2012

Diablo 2 was my introduction to Blizzard gaming.  My then-boyfriend, now-husband, introduced me to the game as something we could play together while being in a long-distance relationship.  It was (and still is) an excellent game, so I am totally excited about the release of D3 next week.

However, recently I’ve been fielding questions from friends who’ve bought the WoW annual pass, (and are therefore getting D3 for free), but have never played the Diablo games and know nothing about the franchise.  I realized that there might be thousands of people out there in the same boat — people who know WoW inside out and backwards but for whom Diablo 3 is a mystery.

This is a shame, because the world of Azeroth has a lot in common with the world of Sanctuary.  The two franchises share many elements, from class and gameplay design to major thematic elements of the lore.  If you move from one to the other there will be an immediate sense of familiarity, and yet the two games have their own unique flavour, ambiance and style, creating two very different gaming experiences.

If you play WoW but you’d like to know more about Diablo, then this is the blog series for you.  This week I’m going to explain the lore behind D3, the D3 class system and basic Diablo gameplay, all while using WoW as my point of reference and basis for comparison.  Stick with me and you will be well prepared for the D3 release on May 15th.

Part 1: Lore Events Prior to Diablo 1

First, I have to say that I’m not really an expert in Diablo lore.  For one thing, I’ve never read any of the novels.  However, I have read through many of the articles in the Diablo wiki, so I’m reasonably sure I understand the basics.  If you want more detail, or to check things out for yourself, I highly recommend starting there.

In this first installment I’m going to give a brief synopsis, (well, as brief as possible), of the Diablo story, from the creation of the universe up to just before the events of the first game.  I’ll then discuss some of the similarities between the Diablo and WoW franchises.

Although Diablo lore is generally less complicated than WoW lore — there’s fewer major characters, for one thing — this article is probably going to be a little on the long side.  I promise that other parts of this series will be a lot shorter.

SPOILER ALERT!  If you intend to read the books or play the earlier games and you don’t want the lore to be spoiled for you, do not read anything below the cut.

In the Beginning was the Pearl

Before there was a universe, there was a Void, and within this Void a pearl.  This pearl was Anu, the one, and he contained within himself the sum of all things: Good and evil, order and chaos, light and dark, the physical and the spiritual.  Anu decided to purify himself, and he cast off the evil and the dark aspects of his being, turning himself into a diamond warrior.

However, what he had cast off did not cease to be.  Rather, the evil and the darkness assembled itself into the great seven-headed dragon Tathamet.  Confined within the pearl, Anu and Tathamet battled long ages against one another until finally they simultaneously killed each other.  The energy unleashed by their deaths created the universe.

From the body of Anu the High Heavens were formed and the angels were born.  Tathamet’s body became the Burning Hells and all the demons.  Each of the dragon’s seven heads became a Great Evil.  The three center-most heads became the Prime Evils: Diablo, Mephisto and Baal.  The other heads became the Lesser Evils (lesser compared to the Prime Evils, but still very powerful): Andariel, Belial, Duriel and Azmodan.  Between Heaven and Hell there was an area called Pandemonium.  Within Pandemonium there existed a large, powerful crystal remnant of the body of Anu called the Worldstone.  The Worldstone, as its name implies, had the power to create entire worlds.

The Eternal Conflict

Since the moment of their creation, the angels and demons have waged unending war against each other.  The forces of Heaven struggle to bring order and light to the universe, while the forces of Hell strive to create chaos and shroud the universe in shadow.  Both sides battled furiously for control of the Worldstone.

Eventually the angel Inarius grew tired of the conflict and sought out other like-minded beings in both Heaven and Hell.  He discovered there were many who thought as he did, including Lilith, the daughter of Mephisto.  Together, Lilith and Inarius managed to steal the Worldstone and use it to both create a new world and to hide that world from Heaven and Hell.  They named this world Sanctuary, as it was to be a place of refuge for all those who wished to withdraw from the Eternal Conflict.

Opposites Attract, Sometimes with Disastrous Consequences

Inarius and Lilith fell in love, as did many of the angels and demons of Sanctuary.  These strange unions produced the nephalim: offspring that were neither angelic nor demonic, but with the potential to be even more powerful than either.  Lilith wanted to use the nephalim as a weapon to finally end the Eternal Conflict, but Inarius felt threatened and decided to have the nephalim exterminated.  To save the nephalim, Lilith killed every angel and demon in Sanctuary, leaving only herself and Inarius alive.  Unless Inarius wanted to spend the rest of his life alone, he would have to allow the nephalim to live.

Furious and horrified with what she had done, Inarius used the power of the Worldstone to banish Lilith to the Void.  However, her plan had succeeded — Inarius could not bring himself to destroy the remaining nephalim.  Instead, he altered the Worldstone so that it would slowly drain the power from each succeeding generation, causing their race to grow weaker over time.  These less-powerful nephalim eventually became known as humans.

The Sin War: Stuff that Happened, Except that it Didn’t

The Prime Evils managed to discover Sanctuary and began to spread their demonic influence by attracting converts to The Triune cult.  To combat this demonic influence on humanity, Inarius formed his own religion, the Cathedral of Light.

There’s also a world guardian that protects Sanctuary but is not aligned with either Heaven or Hell.  This guardian is a dragon named Trag’Oul, (“Trang’Oul” in the original games, later changed by Blizz), who began taking students and teaching them the art of Necromancy.

Around this time Lilith managed to escape the Void and return to Sanctuary.  Lilith cast a spell on the Worldstone causing it to slowly return power to the descendants of the nephalim.  Specifically, she chose a human named Uldyssian to wield this power.  Lilith engaged in complicated machinations to manipulate Uldyssian into doing her bidding.  Under Lilith’s guidance, Uldyssian raised an army of humans with newly-awakened supernatural powers, naming this army the edyrem.  The edyrem waged war on both The Triune and the Cathedral of Light.  Uldyssian was even able to change the very structure of the Worldstone, causing it to give power back to the edyrem at an much faster rate.

Meanwhile, the Archangel Tyrael discovered the world of Sanctuary and alerted the forces of Heaven.  Heaven responded by mobilizing an army to destroy Sanctuary.

Inarius became so desperate to stop Uldyssian that he made a pact with Diablo, attempting to join forces against their common foe.  Discovering Lilith, Inarius managed to send her back to the Void, but removing her influence did not solve his problems.  Uldyssian managed to defeat Inarius, imprisoning him and breaking Inarius’ bond with the Worldstone.

Suddenly the forces of Heaven arrived and Tyrael captured Uldyssian.  A three-way battle ensued between Heaven, Hell and the edyrem.  Overcome with emotion as he watched the horrific battle, Uldyssian lost control of his powers and cried out for everyone to stop.  Miraculously, all the combatants froze in place — Uldyssian actually managed to stop time itself.

Uldyssian attempted to remove all the angels and demons from Sanctuary and repair the damage caused by the war he had started.  However, his powers kept turning on him and causing additional devastation. Finally, Uldyssian absorbed all the destruction into himself, and with the help of Trag’Oul released it all into the Void, destroying himself in the process.

Hitting the Cosmic Reset Button: Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey Stuff

Despite Uldyssian’s sacrifice, Sanctuary was still pretty well destroyed.  The Archangels met with Mephisto and cut a deal: Both sides of the Eternal Conflict would leave Sanctuary alone and the humans would be allowed to determine their own fate.  In exchange, Mephisto was allowed to take Inarius to Hell, where Inarius presumably exists to this day.

Then the Powers essentially hit the reset button.  They rewound time, undoing all events back to the point where Uldyssian was leaving his village.  All memory of the event was wiped out, with only a few exceptions.  (Some of the original nephalim — who seem to be very long-lived — were allowed to retain their memories, as was one of the students of Trag’Oul, a human named Mendeln.)  All the dead were revived back to life, The Triune and the Cathedral of Light no longer existed, and every consequence of the Sin War was erased.  (So, on the one hand, it’s like the Sin War didn’t happen, and players can safely ignore it.  However, because there is still some memory of the events, it’s possible that references to it will turn up in future story developments, so it can’t be entirely discounted as lore.)

The Dark Exile

Demons are by nature rather quarrelsome beings.  So it should come as no surprise that eventually civil war broke out within the Burning Hells.  The four Lesser Evils rebelled against the three Prime Evils and won, casting the Prime Evils out of Hell and exiling them to Sanctuary.  This would have bode ill for humanity, but the Archangel Tyrael was keeping an eye on things and quickly went into action.  Tyrael founded the Horadrim, a group of humans dedicated to capturing and imprisoning the Prime Evils.  (One of these Horadrim was a man named Jared Cain, most notable because one of his descendants would be Deckard Cain, the NPC that assists players in all three Diablo games.)

The Horadrim decided to imprison the Prime Evils within fragments of the Worldstone called soulstones.  By binding the demons within the stones they could be confined and imprisoned indefinitely.  This plan was successful and all three Prime Evils were confined within the stones and then hidden away with various guardians and protective measures taken to ensure the Evils would not escape.

Mephisto and Baal were captured at the same time, though Baal’s destructive force managed to damage his soulstone to the point where it could not sufficiently confine him.  A Horadric sage named Tal Rasha volunteered to take Baal’s soulstone within himself and use his own body and spirit to confine the demon.   Tal Rasha plunged Baal’s soulstone into his own chest, was sealed up inside the tomb meant for Baal, and then was left alone to struggle with the demon for all eternity.

I don’t know why anyone thought that was a good idea.

Believing it was dangerous to imprison Mephisto too close to Baal, the Horadrim moved Mephisto’s soulstone east to the land of Kurast.  Once there, it was buried under a large temple and left in the care of the Zakarum priests.  The Zakarum church was an ancient religion that worshiped the Light, and the Horadrim believed Mephisto’s soulstone would be safe under their watchful eyes.

Diablo fled to the west but was finally captured.  The Horadrim sealed Diablo’s soulstone deep beneath a cathedral in the town of Tristram and dedicated themselves to preventing his escape.

Unfortunately, the vigilance of the guardians would fail, the safeguards would be broken, and evil would be set loose in Sanctuary once more.

Similarities Between Diablo and WoW

If you’ve read through the above synopsis, I’m sure you will have instantly recognized some common elements between WoW lore and Diablo lore.  I’ll discuss several of them here, and more in the next installment.

1. Cosmic war between the forces of chaos and order.

The angels of Diablo are roughly equivalent to the Titans of WoW, and the demons of Diablo to the Burning Legion.  The angels are in many ways just as dangerous to humans as the demons are, and a case could be made that the Titans of WoW are dangerous as well.  After all, the Titans would re-originate Azeroth and destroy all life on it without a qualm if the world became too corrupted.

2. Powerful stones exist that separate different planes of existence.

In Diablo, it’s the Worldstone; in WoW, the World Pillar.  The Worldstone is much more powerful and magical though, and can be put to a variety of uses.  The World Pillar seems to be more structural than anything else.

3. Races descended from powerful beings.

In WoW, most races are somehow descended from Titan creations, or were created by the Ancients in some fashion.  Likewise, the humans of Diablo are descended from the offspring of angel-demon matings.

4. These descended races are surprisingly powerful – and potentially destined to overpower their creators.

Time and again the mortal races of WoW have defeated enormously powerful beings when by all rights they should have failed.  This was explicitly pointed out by Algalon in Ulduar, and now even the Dragon Aspects have relinquished care of the world to the mortals.  It’s widely believed that the final expansion of WoW will see players defeating Sargeras, perhaps the most powerful Titan of all.

Humans in Diablo are equally powerful.  They were considered such a threat that their power had to be deliberately drained from them and they were nearly exterminated by their own creators.  It’s possible that the humans will one day defeat the powers of Heaven and Hell and finally end the Eternal Conflict.

5. Similarity of religions.

In both games there exist religions that worship the Light.  Evil beings also like to create cults to gain followers and spread corruption.

6.  Fail-safes exist to reset the world.

When the Titans ordered Azeroth they created at least two methods of re-creating the world.  The most obvious is the re-origination device in Uldum, which would allow the Titans to destroy the world and create it over again from scratch.  The other is the Emerald Dream, which exists as a sort of back-up copy of Azeroth, should Azeroth ever need to be reverted to it’s original state.

In the Diablo universe it is apparently possible to actually rewind time and undo events.  This process is so powerful it can even restore the dead to their former lives.  (And I don’t mean as undead, but as fully living beings.)  I suppose the Diablo restoration process is preferable to the more destructive WoW processes, but it seems the Diablo method could potentially cause a lot of lore headaches.  I mean, why isn’t the rewind time method used more often to obtain favorable outcomes for either side?  Doesn’t rewinding time cause huge sections of lore to become obsolete, the actions taken by various characters made utterly futile?  Is it the most incredible ret-conning device known to mankind?  And will the authors use it responsibly?

Remember kids, don’t drink and rewind.  (And aren’t you glad you read the entire post just for that terrible joke?)

15 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2012 11:22 pm

    Thank you so much for this synopsis! I am one of those WoW players who will be entering the Diablo world for the first time next week. Thanks to you, I think I’ll be a little less confused now.

  2. slice213 permalink
    May 8, 2012 7:28 am

    Woot` it has been a while since i have read up on Diablo lore! Thanks for the writeup!

  3. May 8, 2012 9:20 am

    Thanks for this! I too will be seeing the world of Diablo for the first time next week. I will be following this series closely, I’m trying to read up anywhere I find info for Diablo newbies!

    • May 8, 2012 9:28 pm

      I’m glad to help! I’m hoping to cover pretty much all the essentials. It’s taking longer than I’d hoped to put everything together though, so we’ll see how much I get through before release day.

  4. May 8, 2012 9:54 am

    Count me among those who have an annual pass and will be trying Diablo for the first time. Looking forward to the rest of your series!

  5. Arvash permalink
    May 8, 2012 11:48 am

    Are you sure you’re not an ex-Blizz employee? Lol, thanks for the info!

    • May 8, 2012 9:31 pm

      You know, it’s not the first time someone has asked me that. LOL I was in a pug once and they all insisted I must be a GM in disguise because, “only a Blizz employee would be like you”. I still don’t know WTF they were talking about. Anyway, I swear that I do not now, nor have I ever, worked for Blizzard.

      • slice213 permalink
        May 9, 2012 8:24 am

        lol Khizzara is a Horde spy and a Blizzard spy, she is on the “man’s” side….

  6. kalcaryen permalink
    May 9, 2012 7:55 am

    Fantastic post! This was really helpful, and piqued my curiosity in the deeper lore of Diablo. I’m a huge WoW lore junkie, so effectively you’ve just shown me the new playground 😀

    • May 9, 2012 9:57 am

      Thanks! 😀

      If you love lore you’ll probably love the new in-game features they’re adding to D3. All sorts of information will be discovered in game and there’s a lore UI tab so you can look over what you’ve found whenever you want. I’ll describe it more fully in a future post, but let me just say now that it’s pretty awesome and I wish they had something like it in WoW.

  7. JD Kenada permalink
    May 9, 2012 4:41 pm

    Echoing what others have said as it was recently suggested to me that I may find a copy of D3 in my lap as an upcoming birthday present. This series looks to be a great intro to the game, aside from the very short synopsis friends have given me that basically include Diablo is an awesome series and here’s the spoilers if you don’t plan to play the second game. lol

    Great idea relaying it via WoW khizz. 🙂


  1. Diablo III – Finally! « WoW Misadventures

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