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?
Neinball: 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:
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, 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.