Blizzard has posted an article detailing the historical origins of Westmarch, the setting for Act Five in Reaper of Souls. If you’ve looked through the Book of Tyrael this will all be familiar since the origins of Westmarch are extensively documented in that book, but this is a good primer for fans who don’t know of the lore.
What first comes to mind when one thinks of Westmarch, the first zone players will encounter in Reaper of Souls? From the home base of an eponymous order of knights to an architectural wonder built of monuments to King Rakkis’s conquests, it is a city steeped in tales both heroic and bloody.
But what of its founding? Or the secrets that drove King Rakkis to be buried in a fetid swamp rather than his shining capital? It is said that the best preparation for the future is to study the past, so let’s take a closer look at these legends as we steel ourselves for the impending destruction and chaos of Malthael, the Angel of Death.
Click through for the rest of this post, plus some bonus Westmarch concept art not posted today by Blizzard, and speculation about how Westmarch was chosen for D3X’s setting. (Rather than say, Skovos…)
Product of Conquest
Nearly two and a half centuries past, at a time when the Zakarum faith was quickly gaining momentum, the empire of Kehjistan was beset by a myriad of troubles. From famine and disease to rioting amongst the citizenry, the stage was set for a new faith to rise and stoke the fires of hope in the hearts of the desperate. While many politicians and nobles saw this evangelical traction as a threat, Emperor Tassara, fresh to his rule, realized the teachings of Akarat could be used as a tool to solidify his reputation. By embracing the burgeoning religion, Tassara would hasten the rapid acceptance of the Zakarum doctrines, allowing him to ensure the people would stay devoted to his cause.
The Rise of Rakkis
Soon after his ascension, competitors for Tassara’s throne banded together in an attempt to overthrow the emperor before his position was fully secured. Anticipating this insurrection, Tassara enlisted the help of one of the most zealous Zakarum converts and a skilled military general: Rakkis. The exploits of Rakkis echo through the annals of history, but it is important to note that his undeniable strength and his series of victories to protect the crown were an inspiration to the common folk.
Rakkis’s popularity proved a double-edged sword, however, as Tassara began to consider the general a potential threat to his own rule. Thus, he ordered Rakkis to venture west and spread the Zakarum faith through conquest.
As this crusade tore across the land, Rakkis’s army faced steep resistance, especially from the nation of Ivgorod and the barbarians of Mount Arreat. Despite these setbacks, Rakkis eventually banded together nine warring clans of the subcontinent under his banner, slowly integrating the Zakarum faith into their culture. This new force allowed him to crush the remaining resistant natives of the south.
Soon, it came time for the general to claim proof of his deeds. To this end, he declared the land he seized Westmarch, in honor of the task to which Tassara had assigned him. Its capital, which would share the same name, was settled as a river port, and its convenient proximity to the sea allowed the city to quickly flourish into the mighty martial and mercantile power it is today.
The City Under Siege
Westmarch enjoyed many decades of peace and prosperity, as few would dare the wrath of its intimidating military. Those who did, such as Khanduras’s ill-fated invasion during the Darkening of Tristram, were slaughtered, with few survivors left to tell of their decimation. In the two hundred plus years since Westmarch’s founding, no outside force would visit harm upon those within the city’s formidable walls, until the arrival of Malthael, intent on slaughtering the entire population of the capital for an as yet undetermined purpose.
This begs the question: Why Westmarch? What secrets does the city hold that would lure the Angel of Death to its doorstep?
A Secret History
Generally speaking, if one were to carve a vast nation from the wilderness, the least appealing location to build one’s new home would be next to a sprawl of fetid marshes. Yet, that is precisely what Rakkis did when he chose the location for his nation’s capital. Was there an ulterior motive? Surely there must have been, as the site would later draw forth the interest of not one, but two independent members of the Angiris Council.
Near Westmarch lay a treasure far more valuable than anything Rakkis had procured during his campaign. After his coronation, the king spent many years of his reign wandering the cyclopean ruins that lay forgotten beneath the adjacent marsh. At his behest, King Rakkis was laid to rest within it after his death. It was whispered by some that the ruins were not those of just any civilization, but rather, a lost city of the Nephalem.
This location holds undeniable power, and few have managed to pry secrets from its ancient corridors. The greatest quality the lost city is said to possess, however, is remarkable warding against the trespass of both angels and demons. Mentions of this warding were well hidden, but the new mortal Aspect of Wisdom, Tyrael, learned of the ancient protection in a time of great need. Seeking a place of refuge on Sanctuary for the Black Soulstone, he planned on using these ruins to hide the terrible artifact, shielding it from both demonic and angelic intervention alike. With power of the Prime Evil stored within the stone’s murky facets, not even the High Heavens could be trusted with its safekeeping.
Unfortunately, no one, not even Tyrael himself, could have foreseen the adversary who would pluck the Black Soulstone from its refuge. . .
Like Tyrael, Malthael had undergone a transformation, and his new incarnation as Death allowed him to cross the threshold of the ruined city unhindered.
The Future of Westmarch
Now, dangers beyond imagining threaten to lay waste to Westmarch, and only you, brave Nephalem, can save the historic city from ruin. Its residents are being culled and raised as an undead army bent on serving Maltheal’s every whim. How will you help cleanse Westmarch of the evil that’s befallen it? What unknown horrors do you imagine wait to stop you?
This is basically the Cliff’s Notes version of the much longer story in the Book of Tyrael, but it gets across the gist of things. Below is a bonus concept art of Westmarch that Blizzard didn’t include in today’s post.
There were several arts of Westmarch and other regions released in the early days of Diablo 3 — areas that were not included in Diablo 3. Obviously Westmarch is making an appearance in D3X, but I wonder what we’ll see in D3Y, and if this was their plan all along?
Skovos, home of the Amazons, is the other area seen in the most concept art, but it’s bright and sunny and sort of Greek Island themed, though there are vast temples and dark jungles as well. But given how much the devs are pushing the “dark and gothic” nature of Westmarch, seemingly as a counter to the still lingering “D3 is too colorful” complaint, I think if they had any plans to originally set D3X in Skovos, they must have changed them soon after D3V’s launch and the art controversy.