Reaper of Souls First Look: Westmarch Level Design

Hot on the heals of their historical look at DiabloWikiWestmarch yesterday Blizzard have shared insight into the design processes when creating a new area.


There was a time when DiabloWikiWestmarch was a lively, vibrant city. Now, an unnatural chill hangs over the sprawling mass of Gothic architecture, and the unmistakable stench of decay chokes its few remaining survivors.

Take a trip with us through Reaper of Souls’s first zone and peer behind the scenes at our design team’s process in putting together the gloom and eeriness of a city under Death’s siege.

Westmarch, Interrupted

When discussing Westmarch, we’ve often referred to it as the site of a “haunted apocalypse.” What was once a bustling metropolis and the military capital of the west has now been reduced to something of a wasteland, its previous grandeur (and population) gutted by Malthael’s vile, soul-pillaging minions. The elegant Western European and Gothic themes, upon which this city draws heavily, are now juxtaposed by the stomach-knotting dread that only the Angel of Death and his agents can bring.

WestMarch_01_thumb.jpg WestMarch_02_thumb.jpg

Don’t expect Westmarch to be a simple palette of browns, blacks, and grays, though. More than a swatch of colors was considered when crafting this locale. Creating a truly dark and foreboding city requires evoking an emotional atmosphere, and you’ll feel the burden of that weight as you brave the dangers wrought by Maltheal’s reapers.

The Lay of the Land

Picture the fog-laden cobblestone streets of London in the 1800’s, in the midst of England’s Gothic revival. The rows upon rows of buildings tightly packed together, occasionally punctuated with small, dilapidated shops and sprawling passageways. The rotting clotheslines hung precariously between shingled rooftops and grimy windows, heavy with freshly-washed laundry. Or the pools of fetid water flooded with animal waste and discarded trash stagnating in neglected gutters and potholes, ideal breeding grounds for unspeakable plague.

That foreboding feeling, a setting where Jack the Ripper or Mr. Hyde might seem perfectly at home, is what you can expect as you navigate the winding, narrow alleyways and broad town squares of Westmarch. Our artists and designers worked to further this sense of dread and doom by leaving visual breadcrumbs of Malthael’s presense, covering the city in a blue-green haze and littering its byways with freshly-reaped corpses. To give Westmarch a more worn-torn, apocalyptic feel, they also peppered the landscape with tattered remnants of failed defenses (smashed bulwarks, supply carts, and spiked blockades, for example) and emptied the city of its living denizens, replacing them with animated constructs—all macabre reminders of the slaughter that has occurred.

Westmarch%20Chapel%204_thumb.jpgWestmarch%20Walk-Up_thumb1.jpgWestmarch%20Street%201_thumb1.jpg Westmarch%20Corpse%20Blanket_thumb1.jpg

A Welcomed Reprieve:

The inspiration of this Gothic age does not stop there, however. The Survivor’s Enclave, the artisan and quest hub for Act V located in the heart of Westmarch, was designed to be a place where the remaining citizens could feel safe as they seek refuge from Malthael’s army, and also a location where the nephalem can rest and regroup.

Settled atop a hill overlooking the city, this cathedral square has been modeled after a real world locale in Toledo, Spain. As a densely packed city originally built in the 13th century, its large cloister safeguarded by soaring towers seemed to fit the safe haven tone just right.

Cathedral%20of%20Toledo_thumb.jpg Toledo%20Spain_1_thumb.jpgAct_V_Door_01_thumb.jpgAct_V_Hub_01_thumb.jpgAct_V_Outside_Hub_01_thumb.jpg

Event Planning:

Littered throughout the zone, you’ll also find multitudes of randomized sequences we affectionately refer to as “cellars,” named after the one-room events scattered throughout Old Tristram in Act I.

This concept of one-room events has been taken to a new level in Reaper of Souls, to the point where you might consider these less like events and more like mini dungeons. One of our artists, Johannes Thé, came up with a new idea on how to chain together multiple types of rooms, which has allowed our designers to create some truly immersive experiences!

Imagine starting in a small house that opens up into a courtyard, where a path guides you through an alleyway to a new house. Not only is this a great way to introduce larger, more interesting story elements, but it’s an opportunity to experience Westmarch as though you were actually traveling through it.

Overall, there are about 30 different cellars, more than in any other zone, scattered throughout Westmarch, each providing more juicy insight to the city’s history and people (and, of course, luscious loot).

Per Ardua ad Astra: Adversity in Design

Designing Westmarch did not come without its difficulties, however. The camera system used in Diablo III quickly proved an interesting obstacle when creating an urban feel. Our lead level designer Dave Adams offered some insight on this challenge.

“When we think of cities, even old ones, they are typically filled with tall buildings packed together. We wanted that vibe, but we did not want to have all those buildings fade out in front of the player. It can become very distracting after a while and take away from the gameplay experience.”

What then, was the best solution to this issue? The fading of buildings has been reduced by positioning the buildings of Westmarch on opposite sides of the street to the regular camera angle. Roofs, similarly, have been angled away to minimize foreground distractions.



This effect results in the feeling that you are really making your way through a realistic cityscape.

The Journey Begins

Westmarch has been a challenging delight to explore, design, and implement. With this particular zone, we didn’t just want to set the stage for Reaper of Souls. We wanted to take you to a place of which you have heard only the faintest of whispers, to bring forth from your imagination a legendary location and make it breathe. Through the greatest depths of our artists’ and designers’ passion, it has been brought to life. . .only to be crushed beneath Malthael’s advancing legions.

Are you ready to face the horrors that loom around each cobblestoned turn? Prepare yourselves, nephalem: Death awaits you.

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    12 thoughts on “Reaper of Souls First Look: Westmarch Level Design

    1. Act V area seems sweet. By the way, I wonder if we’ll get Diablo versions of Jack the Ripper and Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde in Act V? The article mentioned the two, and while that was most likely just a literary allusion to establish the tone of the area, both characters could fit very plausibly into the Diablo universe. Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde could be a human transformed into some kind of monster, as we’ve seen versions of that in Acts I and II (cultists transforming into demons). Jack the Ripper, on the other hand, could be a human enemy preying on the confusion to hide his murders. In game terms, he could ambush the player with a random chance (higher chance if the player is female, as Jack the Ripper famously killed women). All in all, probably pretty unlikely to see either of those characters show up in any shape or form in Act V, but I think it would be kind of cool to see a Diablo version of those archetypal characters, especially if the area is modeled on the period and dark atmosphere in which those characters thrived.

    2. If they can actually get it to feel like you’re exploring a city, this might be my favourite act in any Diablo game. There’s something much more striking about Hell seeping into a city, an actually civilised area, rather than the open, barren fields and deserts of most previous acts, or a basement in a small village as in the first game.

      • they did it with kurast,and while it was the best part of the act (hated the jungle with the mini voodoos) it got kindof boring – upper, lower, richer, poorer…

        But i get a lot of good vibes from westmarch so fingers crossed.

    3. QUOTE

      If they can actually get it to feel like you're exploring a city, this might be my favourite act in any Diablo game. There's something much more striking about Hell seeping into a city, an actually civilised area, rather than the open, barren fields and deserts of most previous acts, or a basement in a small village as in the first game.

      That would be cool. But if you look at that last picture actually from the game, it looks like so many other areas. You’re running along some elevated corridor with open sides looking down from so far up you can’t really see anything. This one happens to be outside.

      • True, but the three smaller ones above it give me more hope. I mean, it’ll always just be an illusion, they’re not going to map out something like Liberty City, but as long as they avoid too much of what you point out, it could well work.

    4. This reminds me, has anyone else noticed how “nephalem” is the same singular as plural? I wonder if that was intentional, so they can say “the nephalem that saved the world” and be simultaneously referring to you if you soloed it or if you did it in co-op, thus everything is canon (and you don’t get things like in the Mass Effect books where sooner or later they had to refer to Shepard as “he” or “she”).

      It occurred to me when they described the heroes of D2 rescuing Cain in The Order; it’s described as a party that rescued him, so it didn’t feel “right” to me since I soloed that game. It might seem like I’m over-thinking it, but whenever I’ve read a novel based on an RPG, trying to keep your actions/class/gender/etc canon in the expanded universe it something they always struggle with.

      • Nephalem is a play off the nephilim of the bible. Both with nephalem and nephilim the singular is the same as the plural.

    5. It’s a shame, at least to what is currently known, that the earlier acts are not getting revamped to actually have true randomization like they are claiming a5 is going to have. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising considering a pvp promised within months of release is still no where near completion well over a year and a half after release.

    6. >Don’t expect Westmarch to be a simple palette of browns, blacks, and grays, though.

      No, it’s blue. All the screenshots are blue with a bit of green for variation. Like the crypts in Act I.

      >covering the city in a blue-green haze

      Ah, see. I really hope it won’t be an entire act consisting of just blue and green. Variety and areas devoid of color filters would make the journey a much better experience.

    7. Not sure if it’s been covered…I think if the FOV was able to be zoomed out a touch that would be a huge improvement. I always feel the urge to lean back when playing…

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