Reaper of Souls Background Story and Lore


Diablo 3 Podcast regular Neinball is our resident Diablo lore expert, and we called upon his talents in the pre-Gamescom podcast to speculate on what we were going to see in D3X. His predictions were pretty good; right on with the Malthael speculation and much of the general story and Pandemonium Fortress setting — not so good on the sixth character. (Unfortunately, since I’d have found a half-demon, shape shifting Druid a lot more interesting than the Paladin: Black Ops that we got.)

We’ve now moved from prediction to analysis, since Blizzard revealed a lot of lore and story of RoS at Gamescom; obviously in the opening cinematic but also in various interviews with the developers where they talked about the Crusader class, Malthael and his mission to exterminate all Demons and humans, the dark background of Westmarch and the Paladin order, and much more.

I enjoyed that stuff, but since I’m not a real expert on the overall game lore, I turned again to Neinball, firing him a few questions on some of the key story and lore topics. I’d planned to combine his feedback with some basic info about the story, but he provided such detailed replies that it would be a shame to chop them up. So here’s a sort of FAQ/Guest Article, with questions by me and replies by Neinball. If you want more, he was one of the guests on The Diablo Podcast #108, in which we spent a lot of time talking about the story of D3:RoS. That episode will be posted later today, so if you read this article and then listen to the second half of that show, you’ll be as caught up as anyone on what we currently know about the story of the Diablo 3 Expansion pack.

The following is full of detail about the Diablo world lore, with information taken from the Diablo games, the Diablo novels, the Book of Cain, and other assorted official sources. Neinball adds his own speculation to that and obviously his opinions are his own and may not prove 100% accurate in Diablo 3.

Malthael, Archangel of Wisdom and Reaper of Souls

Can you summarize Malthael’s history and where he’s been and where he came from?

malthael_artNeinball: Malthael becoming the aspect of Death on Sanctuary shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who is a fan of Diablo lore. Long before he was given the title of the Archangel of Wisdom, Malthael was portrayed as the Angel of Death in the Sin War trilogy of novels even though he was never actually called as such. His concept art solidified this motif; cladding him in black robes, wielding sickles and covered in mummy-like wrappings he was completely different from every angel we’ve seen before. Even his voice brought forth visions of death in the souls of mortals. A bit more back story was added to Malthael at Blizzcons and in the Book of Cain.

Now he was depicted as the embodiment of Wisdom and leader of the Angiris Council. The portrayal of him now was more befitting of this station. He was quiet, contemplative and cherish life. He spoke very rarely, but when he did all of Heaven would stop to listen to his wisdom. And as a far cry from his depiction in the Sin War, the voice of this Malthael was melodious and inspirational. His insight into Creation (the universe) made him the defacto leader of the Angiris Council. Although Imperius was considered to be one of the greatest warriors in all of Creation it was Malthael who orchestrated the battle plans of Heaven against the forces of Hell in the Eternal Conflict.

But then something happened that darkened Malthael. The Worldstone was stolen by the renegade angel Inarius. The connection between Malthael and the Worldstone and the reasoning for the change in his demeanor have not been stated. In the Book of Cain it’s theorized that maybe some of the source of his wisdom came from the Worldstone. Some say instead he say he saw the birth of the Nephalem in the Pools of Wisdom long before the discovery of Sanctuary and that he was troubled by these strands interconnecting across the tapestry of Creation. It’s not stated exactly why he changed, but the difference was night and day.

He became withdrawn and distant. He was no longer as concerned with the happenings of the Angiris Council and many of the angels of Heaven even become fearful of his new darkened presence. Twenty years ago when the Worldstone was destroyed he vanished, completely abandoning Heaven. He hasn’t been seen since, until now.


Read on for much more lore and story info, including an explanation of why Tyrael’s sword could not hurt Malthael, and why Malty didn’t completely drain Tyrael’s soul when he had the chance.


Malthael’s Murderous Motivations

It’s not in the cinematic, but during the RoS presentation the devs stressed that Malty wants to kill all demons, and all humans also, since Nephalem are half demon. (And he doesn’t seem real fond of angels either.) Truly angel of death, wanting all to die. Any ancient justification for him being so driven? Was he one of those voting to eliminate all humanity in the old days of the Angiris council?

As an angel it’s almost encoded into his being to fight against the demons. Angels and demons have fought since the beginning of time and for all that we know Malthael was the main strategist for Heaven since it’s creation. All the offensives and battles were his planning. It was under his guidance that the Angiris Council directed Heaven and his tactics that lead them to countless victories. Seeing nephalem as half demons would be more then enough reason for him to continue his age old quest of defeating the demonic hordes once and for all.

In the vote to spare humanity, he abstained. Whether all the nephalem lived or died it, “made no difference” to him. It seems he’s regretting that decision.


Tyrael and Malthael

What’s up with Malthael and Tyrael in the cinematic? Blizzard is pushing that question via their twitter:

“After Malthael, the Angel of Death, stole the Black Soulstone, why do you think he let Tyrael live?”

Tyrael joining the battle in Westmarch.

Tyrael joining the battle in Westmarch.

Tyrael is seen in screenshots from Act 5, so he clearly survives that encounter, presumably after Malty floats out with the rock. So why does Tyrael’s sword not touch him, and why then does Malty not kill him? Seemed like he started to suck out his soul but then stopped once he recognized Tyrael, or maybe had some 2nd thought that Tyrael would be more useful to him alive? And Tyrael is still human, apparently, so could have been killed. Another blue post said that Tyrael and Malthael are angelic brothers, and that their relationship is complicated.

I think Tyrael is spared simply because he’s mortal and not a human. Like I speculated on the podcast, Malthael was gone when Tyrael forsook his divinity and became mortal. He didn’t know the being standing in front of him was his ‘brother.’ He took special notice of the little soul strand he pulled out of Tyrael because it didn’t contain any demonic essence and then he “tasted” his soul further to be sure. He’s got no problem with the angels, he just wants to finish his job of ending the Eternal Conflict.

Tyrael’s sword, El’druin, is said be the sharpest blade in all of Creation but that it cannot harm those of righteous intent. Malthael’s intent is actually pretty righteous from the point of view of an angel. They were practically created to fight the demons and all Malty is doing is fulling that purpose. We as nephalem are part demon, we’re tainted from that point of view. He doesn’t want to wipe out all of existence, he just wants to do the same thing Tyrael did for the eons that they fought side by side together in the Eternal Conflict.

tyrael-soul-suckTyrael, Malthael, Imperius and all other angels are ‘brothers’ in the sense they are all created by the Crystal Arch. That artifact literally births angels from music and light, since they all come from the same source it’s easy to see them view each other as bothers and sisters. Other then that there is no preexisting lore connecting the two any further then that.


The Return of the Horadrim

Who are the Horadrim? We heard all along that Deckard Cain and maybe Leah were the last of them. But there’s a bunch of ineffectual dudes with polearms in the cinematic. Did Tyrael quickly deputize more?

It’s unclear how much time has passed since the end of D3C and the start of D3X, but doesn’t seem very long. Certainly not long enough for Tyrael to train up a new batch of Nephalem and build that underground Black Soulstone hiding place. So were there all along secret organizations of Horadrim on Sanctuary that Deckard Cain somehow didn’t know about? Or did Blizzard just ignore those details to create more Horadrim with Tyrael to further the plot? Metzconned!

This one is a good question and will probably get answered in the Book of Tyrael coming out in October. While Cain and Leah would be the last of the original Horadric line, it was Tyrael that created the order in the first place to fulfill his plans to protect Sanctuary from Hell. He could have easily created a new order in his wandering around the world following the events of the original D3.

If they pull a secret sect of a secret sect then yeah it got Metzconned but it’d be far easier to just say that he created a new order. There is no significance to this place they were hiding the stone in in prior lore. Some ancient prison for King Rakkis from the ages of yore?

(Dev interviews from Gamescom, posted after I asked Neinball this question, explained that the Horadrim seen in the cinematic were trained/created by Tyrael. When/how he had time for that is unclear, but either D3X takes place some years after D3C, or else it’s just Metzconned and we’d be happier just not worrying about the time flow too much.)


Reaper of Souls vs. Expectations

How does the story of D3X and Malthael’s role as the angel of death compare to your expectations? Your predictions on the podcast were pretty accurate about Malthael.

I thought they’d make Malthael be on a quest for vengeance against Tyrael and Nephalem for the destruction of the Worldstone. In that respect it seems I’m far off, but I got Pandemonium and Malthael right. Some of my musings on side characters and the Worldstone we probably won’t know if I’m right or wrong until the game itself comes out.


Reaper of Souls Story Progression

What do you expect to happen going forward? Based on what you know of the angels and their past history? Where’s Imperius as all this goes on?

I was actually surprised to see Imperius a part of the Council again in the opening cinematic. I think despite his misgivings against the nephalem he still values order and the wishes of the Council. I fully expected Blizz to use him as a bad guy, but it looks like they aren’t going to. I think that’s a better move and gives him a little more depth of character the just Rawraw Kill humans!

Going forward from here I think it really depends on Malthael’s plans. Does he just want to kill the nephalem because we’re part demon? Or does he want our souls to fuel his power to combat Hell? The devs made special note of those “Death Spheres” sucking out the souls of Westmarch in the demo. I think that Malthael may have found the something in Pandemonium (the reformed Worldstone perhaps?) and is powering it with the souls of the nephalem and the Black Soulstone with the purpose of destroying the realm of Hell itself. Just like angels are born from the Crystal Arch, the demons are birthed from Hell itself. The reason for this goes even further back in the story, if you want to go deeper I touched on the story of Anu and the Dragon in my lore specualtions, but I understand you don’t have hours to read through all my bad writing.

For the ending to RoS, I see us coming to the rescue and stopping Malty but oh no! We let loose Diablo again. “Not even Death can save you from me!” indeed. If they don’t use this obvious and extremely corny setup at the end of RoS I will be disappoint.

Thanks to Neinball for the detailed replies. His opinions are based on a pretty extensive knowledge of the game lore, but everyone’s welcome to join the debate. The Bliz guys do seem to take the lore seriously now, and in their Gamescom interviews they made regular references to the source material and the larger world lore, so (unlike in the D1/D2 days) they’re no longer just making it up as they go long.

Comments

You're not logged in but can still post comments. Register or login to remember your details.
  1. One note on the timescale – I don’t see any reason why the Horadrim we saw had to have had years of training. They’d have to start somewhere, I can’t see Tyrael waiting years to deal with the soulstone, and the “you have done well, Horadrim” line came across as very teacher addressing his students to me.

    In that yes or no interview, Josh indicated he was unsure if RoS took place in the same year as D3C. To me that suggests only a few months have passed, which may or may not take us into the next year depending on when exactly D3C started and how long it took.

  2. I do really enjoy the Diablo lore but……..can we pretty, pretty please have Tyrael back as an angel now?? From a lore perspective, that was my least liked part of the D3 storyline. >:|

    PS – Imperius is in the opening cinematic?

    • In the sketchy bit at the beginning, when Tyrael’s talking about the Black Soulstone corrupting Heaven.

      • Oh, I see it now. I don’t think much can be read into that tiny glimpse. It just means he’s still in heaven. Probably still all being wrathy and whatnot.

        • From D3C I’d have expected him to be out killing Nephalem before the Black Soulstone was even recovered. So I’m surprised he’s not clearly a “bad guy” right off the bat. Won’t be surprised if Imperius goes that way eventually.

  3. Westmarch and the unnamed whereabouts of the Pandemonium Fortress being the first expansion’s destination, came indeed as a bit of a surprise to me. Theme-wise that’s probably a solid choice, going into a much better direction than D3C did, but it kinda leaves me wondering:

    Does this mean Ureh/Skovos/Tenganze-tiki-mojo-madness for the second expansion/grand finale? I mean they already started production on the jungle theme to some extend (see D3 announcement cinematic for Minas-T…err Ureh and concept art galleries for jungle/pyramids/temples/amazon islands) and I’m not conviced the blue budget masters of endless recycling will give up on those investments easily. –– Ugh. (Never liked D2’s acts II and III, as lush green canopy and bright daylight desert dunes weren’t exactly a fitting continuation of Tristram’s atmosphere).

    • I do hope they bring back a jungle themed Act in a second expansion. It was my favorite in Diablo 2. Had great music by Uelmen as well.

      But.. knowing Blizzard, I guess they hate jungle as well… Everything they do is the opposite of what I want, basically. Fascinating.

  4. Is it such a crime to have liked the “make it up as you go” lore better than the numerous simplistic motivations we have in D3? When your brain is musing over the many gray areas in the battle of order versus chaos, it is difficult to stomach “I am good because I kill these guys because they are bad. These guys are wise because they have been around long. I am misunderstood because I am ambitious.”

    No I am not one of the D3 story haters I just typically prefer what I call atmospheric premises to fledged out story. (To me a premise is all that is needed because the player fills in the rest of the story by their actions)

  5. I remember on the first play through I was convinced we’d loot Imperius’ corpse at some point since he was such a jerk. I was disappointed after that in-game cinematic right before Diablo where all the angels collapsed since I thought that was gonna be the fighting arena.

  6. The Anu stuff doesn’t take that long.

    Anu was the totality of the universe. He was everything. He looked at himself, and strove for perfection. So he cast out the darkness, the hatred, the destructive qualities of himself, until he was perfect and harmonious. However, all those evil qualities could not simply be destroyed, so they formed into Tathamet, the Dragon. Anu warred w/ the Seven Headed Tathamet for millenia, neither gaining an advantage over the other, until finally they killed each other in a final, explosive blow. Anu’s shattered spine became the Crystal Arch, where angels are born and the High Heavens formed. His Eye became the Worldstone. Tathamet’s rotting corpse became the Burning Hells, and demons scurried like maggots from his rotting flesh. His seven heads became the Seven Evils.

    What this has to do w/ Reaper of Souls is actually more complicated. Book of Cain says there’s some other place, not Heaven, Hell, or Sanctuary, where the souls of the dead go, even the souls of demons and angels. Cain speculates about where Diablo and Mephisto went when we destroyed the soulstones in D2. How this “void” space fits into Malth’s dark crusade or how we powered up the Black Soulstone hasn’t been explicitly spelled out, but it doesn’t seem that big of a stretch that Malth can use the void while other beings (angels and demons) can’t. Whether we players go there at some point is unknown, and if we go there, do we bump into Anu, the Ancients, or Lilith?

    As for the whole Horadrim thing, they could simply be regular human vets from Bastion’s Keep or Iron Wolves are any number of soldiers we (and Tyrael) met running around Sanctuary. Yeah, they’re not the original team of badasses he got during the Dark Exile, but considering the lack of time, or imminent threat (the Seven Lords of Hell are locked up in the rock, not rampaging across Sanctuary), a handful of former Iron Wolves or Bastion’s Keep guards could be the foundations for a new Horadric order. He just calls them Horadrim to let them know that they’re the first of many to come later. We’ll probably find out in the game, though.

  7. My question is, what about Adria? She’s still alive and we know that she is working with Diablo. What part has she yet to play? Plus it would be nice if she was a mini boss, so we could beat up on her for sacrificing Leah to res Diablo.

  8. On another story / lore note, do you all think Leah will make a return? Most people I’ve talked to think she’s gone, but I figure there’s at least a chance her soul was trapped inside the soulstone…

  9. QUOTE

    On another story / lore note, do you all think Leah will make a return? Most people I've talked to think she's gone, but I figure there's at least a chance her soul was trapped inside the soulstone...

    Covetous Shen hinted at it in-game, Metzen strongly hinted at it in the CE DVD, and I think the Book of Tyrael may strongly hint at it as well.

    Covetous Shen: Do you think that Leah is lost forever?
    Player: Diablo consumed her. She is gone.
    Covetous Shen: Do you not think Leah’s soul is stronger than that? But, oh, but then sometimes I-I forget that you have not seen everything that I have seen.

    “It’s tragic what happens to her. But I think the truth of Leah is she’s innately heroic. She’s a good person. But this evil was rooted at a genetic level. And the turn that her life takes was inevitable to some great degree. When ultimately her turn comes, it feels terrible. We want you to feel like you’ve been socked in the gut, like you know, “anyone but her.” Her spirits still out there somewhere. There’s a good girl there that deserves to be saved and brought back from the Abyss. While we don’t have any clue yet what subsequent chapters will be, a couple clues (Metzen winks), I’d bet that we would chase that down because it feels right from a story level, and it feels right from a character level.”

    “In addition, Diablo III: Book of Tyrael features a fully removable illustration of the Leoric family tree and other influential characters from Old Tristram including Deckard Cain, Prince Albrecht, Archbishop Lazarus, King Leoric, Prince Aidan, Queen Asylla, Leah, and Adria.”

    Very likely we’ll be getting her back, since they care enough about the Leoric (aka Leah’s) family line to plot out a family tree for it, as well as Adria’s. Question would be: if her father is Prince Aidan, does that make her Princess Leah? There must be a reason they retconned the Dark Wanderer into Prince Aidan of all things. Could be that in the end Leah gets to be ruler of Khanduras instead of a mere innkeeper as was her dream, or that the Leoric bloodline has a greater purpose, a purpose the Evils sought to subvert. (The Mephisto-controlled Zakarum chose Leoric to rule Khanduras (and for D3 he was retconned from a northern lord to an eastern lord), where the corrupted Lazarus guided him to the cathedral above Diablo’s soulstone and then aided Diablo in oppressing and eventually possessing or destroying the family.)

  10. “It’s tragic what happens to her. But I think the truth of Leah is she’s innately heroic. She’s a good person. But this evil was rooted at a genetic level. And the turn that her life takes was inevitable to some great degree. When ultimately her turn comes, it feels terrible. We want you to feel like you’ve been socked in the gut, like you know, “anyone but her.”

    Um, yeah, guess that didn’t work out for ’em.

    (I seriously hope she doesn’t come back.)

  11. QUOTE

    Very likely we'll be getting her back, since they care enough about the Leoric (aka Leah's) family line to plot out a family tree for it, as well as Adria's. Question would be: if her father is Prince Aidan, does that make her Princess Leah? There must be a reason they retconned the Dark Wanderer into Prince Aidan of all things. Could be that in the end Leah gets to be ruler of Khanduras instead of a mere innkeeper as was her dream, or that the Leoric bloodline has a greater purpose, a purpose the Evils sought to subvert. (The Mephisto-controlled Zakarum chose Leoric to rule Khanduras (and for D3 he was retconned from a northern lord to an eastern lord), where the corrupted Lazarus guided him to the cathedral above Diablo's soulstone and then aided Diablo in oppressing and eventually possessing or destroying the family.)

    The Force is strong with the Leoric family 😉

  12. Comic Book Death. Funny thing, Comic Book Death is usually saved for popular heroes/villains, which Leah isn’t. They should resurrect Charles Xavier or Kael’thas in Diablo, that’d be hilarious.

  13. One key bit that makes me a little sad is that in D1 Leoric’s son that was possessed by Diablo died after the soulstone was plucked from him and rammed into your character’s head. So there is some precedent there for Leah to also be dead and gone…

  14. I don’t care who returns and who leaves, that much. I much more care about serious treatment of how these characters act in the game. The “Yeah, we did it!” and “Terroar!”, and “I am invincible you can’t kill me stupid! (azmo)” lines, just don’t work. C’mon guys. We are not 8 years old! wtf… am I the only one who wants a darker/more serious feel in the dialogues and the presentation of the lore? Only dialogues of some interest where those of the followers, and maybe Shen’s iirc.
    Just don’t screw this up again. It is the easiest-to-fix, screwed-up aspect of D3C. So please fix this at least!

Comments are closed.