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Diablo 3 for WoW Players Part 2: Diablo 1 Lore

May 8, 2012

This is the second installment of a multi-part series in which I’m attempting to explain the Diablo franchise specifically to WoW players.

  • Part 1 gave a synopsis of Diablo lore prior to the events of the original Diablo game, as well as a brief discussion of some of the similarities between the lore of Diablo and the lore of Warcraft.
  • In this installment I’m going to discuss the lore of Diablo 1.
  • I intend to cover Diablo 2 lore in Part 3, and discuss the Diablo class system and basic aspects of gameplay in future installments.

Part 2: The Lore of Diablo 1

Once again, I want to mention that I’m not an expert in the Diablo story.  Much of this information comes from the many articles in the Diablo wiki, which is an excellent resource if you’d like to explore the lore in more depth.

I’m going to try to keep the synopsis as brief as possible and then discuss more of the parallels between Diablo and WoW lore.  Still, this post will probably be on the long side, for which I apologize in advance.

Also, I added pictures because I love you guys.  (All images are copyright to Blizzard.)

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

Institutions Crumble and Fail in Their Purpose.

For over 200 years the soulstones held the Prime Evils captive.  But, as the long years wore away, the institutions sworn to guard the stones fell into a slow decline.  The number of Horadrim dwindled until finally only Deckard Cain remained.  Meanwhile Mephisto gradually managed to corrupt the minds of the Zakarum priests that kept him imprisoned.  Eventually Mephisto managed to gain control of the Zakarum High Council itself.

Through the Council, Mephisto ordered the Archbishop Lazarus and the nobleman Leoric to travel west and establish a kingdom in the land of Khanduras, ostensibly to be a new center of the Zakarum faith.  They were told that the capital of this new kingdom should be the town of Tristram, and Lazarus was secretly instructed to search for Diablo in the Cathedral there.

Mephisto’s plan was successful, and Leoric became king of Khanduras.  Leoric made the Cathedral the seat of his power, as Lazarus suggested.  At first, Leoric was a kindly king, well-respected and much-beloved by his subjects.  However, Lazarus searched deep within the bowels of the Cathedral and found Diablo’s soulstone.

A Long, Slow Descent Into Madness.

Lazarus managed to partially free a weakened Diablo from the stone, but Diablo required a physical host.  Diablo attempted to possess the mind of King Leoric, with limited success.  Over the next four years Leoric battled for control of his own mind, becoming increasingly erratic and violent.  Lazarus feared that someone might figure out what was happening to the king.  Lachdanan, the captain of the king’s guard, was a particular threat, so Lazarus convinced Leoric to send his army to war with the neighboring nation of Westmarch.  This was a suicide mission, as Westmarch had a vastly superior military force.

With Lachdanan out of the way, Diablo made one last attempt to possess Leoric’s mind.  To Diablo’s dismay the King’s will proved too strong and Leoric managed to resist being completely dominated.  Diablo abruptly released Leoric and ordered Lazarus to bring him Leoric’s youngest son, Prince Albrecht.  Young Albrecht was no match for the demon, and it was a simple matter for Diablo to turn the boy into a physical host for his own spirit.

The sudden departure of Diablo from his mind, followed by the immediate disappearance of his son, finally caused Leoric to come unhinged.  Consumed by grief and paranoid suspicion, Leoric accused those around him of treachery.  He summarily executed half the population of Tristram, including his own wife.

Tempest Keep Tristram was Merely a Setback!

Defeated in battle, Lachdanan returned home to Tristram only to discover the madness of his beloved lord.  With a heavy heart Lachdanan drew his sword and put King Leoric out of his misery.

Unfortunately, the king did not remain dead for long.  When Lachdanan attempted to give his king a proper burial, Leoric rose up as a skeletal version of himself.  The Skeleton King laid a curse on the knights gathered in the burial chamber, turning them into servants of Diablo.  Lachdanan alone managed to flee the chamber, but the curse left its mark on him as well.  Knowing he would be a risk to the people of Tristram if he returned there, Lachdanan wandered deeper into the Cathedral and died.

Demons quickly overran Tristram.  Lazarus led most of the remaining townsfolk into the Cathedral where they were slaughtered.  The few survivors fled or attempted to survive among the town ruins.

Finally, the Player Gets to do Something!

Although there were three player classes in Diablo 1, (warrior, sorcerer and rogue), canonically it was the warrior who became the hero to defeat Diablo.  And not just any warrior — it was Leoric’s eldest son Aidan.

Aidan served in the war against Westmarch, and he returned after the devastation of Tristram was nearly complete.  Learning of his brother’s disappearance and his father’s undeath, Aidan descended into the Cathedral.  Eventually Aidan managed to kill his own father the Skeleton King, the Archbishop Lazarus, and Diablo in the form of his possessed younger brother.

But all was not well.  As Aidan fought his way through the Cathedral, Diablo was busy attempting to influence the mind of this powerful warrior.  By the time Aidan had reached Diablo’s soulstone, Aidan was convinced that the stone could not be destroyed, and that the only way to confine Diablo was within the body of a living being.  Aidan plunged the stone into his own forehead, absorbing Diablo into himself.

Aidan emerged from the Cathedral victorious, and the remaining townspeople rejoiced and began to rebuild their lives.  The only person who suspected that something might be wrong was Adria, a woman with whom Aidan had had a brief romantic relationship.

Similarities Between Diablo and WoW

Originally this post was going to include the lore of Diablo 2 as well, but D2 lore is much more complicated than D1 lore, and good lord this post is running long already!  Also, it’s taking longer than I had anticipated to write this stuff.  (So. Much. Research.)  So let’s cut to lore comparison, shall we?

1. Our enemies are demons and the undead.

This is a pretty obvious parallel between the two franchises.  Demons are the primary force of evil in both universes, and the dead are often raised into un-life in service to those demons.

At first I was thinking it’s kinda strange and arbitrary for Blizzard to consistently link the two together like that, (like, why not demons and werewolves, or the undead and dinosaurs or something), but then I realized they are actually very closely related thematically.  After all, the whole concept of Hell is a place where the spirits of the dead go to be punished by demons.  Therefore, demons have power over the dead.  Makes sense.  Of course, this is undermined slightly by the fact that Heaven and Hell are physical places within the Diablo universe, not to mention the fact that there doesn’t appear to be a heaven or hell in Warcraft, and there’s no indication that the spirits of the dead are ever judged, punished or rewarded.  But I digress.

In the Warcraft universe, many of the undead are intelligent beings with a will of their own (or at least the ability to regain their will).  The Forsaken can actually be rather sympathetic characters, as they were innocent victims who were rejected by the living and have to fight for the right to continued existence.  This is not the case in Diablo.  The undead of Diablo are mindless, evil, grotesque mockeries of their former selves.  There is no hope of redemption or any hint of good in them.  They do not deserve pity or mercy and the only way to deal with them is to destroy them utterly.

2. Evil spreads through some sort of psychic osmosis.

Proximity to evil greatly increases one’s risk of being corrupted and becoming evil in turn.  Evil entities tend to mess with the minds of people near them, twisting thoughts, implanting ideas, and slowly causing insanity.  This makes combating evil very risky (an idea I’ll explore in more detail in the next installment).

The Old Gods of Azeroth are a constant and omnipresent motif in Warcraft lore.  Although there are no Old Gods in Sanctuary, the role of “big bad buried beneath the earth spreading corruption and insanity” is well played by the three Prime Evils.  It’s a major theme in WoW, and a minor theme in Diablo.

3. Defeated enemies rarely stay dead.

Anyone who plays WoW knows that death is merely a setback.  From Kael’thas to Deathwing, the big baddies just keep re-spawning.  How many times have we killed Onyxia now?  I’ve lost count.

Sanctuary struggles to deal with the same issue.  Killing an enemy just does not guarantee that enemy will stay down.  Like the residents of Azeroth, the people of Sanctuary have taken to burning their dead in an attempt to make sure the dead stay dead.  For more powerful bosses even greater precautions might be necessary.  Leoric dies twice during the course of Diablo 1, once as an ordinary mortal and then again as the Skeleton King.  Guess what?  The Skeleton King makes a comeback for D3.

It’s really best to make sure your opponent is well and truly deceased before you move on.  Burn the corpse, destroy the phylacteries, follow him back to his own dimension and kill him again — go to whatever extremes might be necessary.  Even then I make no promises.  Just, whatever you do, please resist the urge to put any object into your body that may contain a demon.  Ignore the inner voice telling you it’s a good idea to stab yourself with a crystal shard.  Trust me, it never ends well.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Raevyn permalink
    May 9, 2012 11:47 am

    This is such a fun series, thank you for writing it! I played a bit of D1 and D2, but I never got into the lore of the games, they were just ways to connect with my friends and kill things :P. I actually didn’t become a WoW lore buff until WotLK, either. But now I love the stories and settings of these games and I’m really glad you’ve taken the time to go through and put together a primer on the lore of Diablo. It’s awesome :).


    • May 9, 2012 11:57 am

      Thanks! To be honest, I just played D2 to kill stuff as well. When I started playing WoW I noticed a lot of thematic similarities, but didn’t give it much thought. Then I played the D3 beta for a bit and got the idea for this series. I’ve learned a lot in the last few days! LOL

  2. May 9, 2012 4:57 pm

    “Guess what? The Skeleton King makes a comeback for D3.”

    Well, of course. If you have a character as awesome as a “Skeleton King,” you’d better make use of him as much as possible! I’m going purely on the name and the lore you’ve provided thus far.

    Interesting series of posts. I’m planning on playing the Diablo franchise for the first time with D3, so this is all quite nice.

    • May 9, 2012 5:29 pm

      “The Skeleton King” is definitely the dumbest name Blizz has ever come up with for a boss. A guy with his backstory deserves better.

      And thanks! I’m glad people are finding this info helpful and interesting. 🙂

  3. JD Kenada permalink
    May 9, 2012 6:56 pm

    You forgot the comparison of Diablo possessing a child and Sargeras doing (pretty much, except even younger) the same. 😀

    Again, great read and helpful.

    • May 9, 2012 9:15 pm

      I’m actually planning to cover that in the next installment as part of a larger theme. 🙂

      • JD Kenada permalink
        May 9, 2012 9:49 pm

        Ah, I see.

        Can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

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