Tell me, Muse, of the battles between angels and demons, order and chaos—the wanton destruction brought by the Lord of Terror to the world of Sanctuary. Begin our story!
You've probably heard of the Diablo franchise, even if you're only a casual gamer. Initially released in 1997, this monster series has sold millions of copies and boatloads of merchandise, spanned across multiple platforms, and according to Time Magazine, includes one of the best video games of all time (Diablo II, coming in at number 21 out of 50). Now, with the release of Blizzard's Diablo Immortal, the franchise has found a home on mobile.
With so much content to consume, it's easy to get lost in the series's lore! Before you download the new game and embark on your odyssey to save Sanctuary, you might need a quick reminder of the events of the Diablo universe. Whether you’re new to the series or just want a quick catch-up, here's what you need to know! If you don't like spoilers, stop here and play the games right now!
Before the Games: The Endless War and the Creation of Sanctuary
Diablo is a world that encompasses many mythical creatures, with three particularly noteworthy factions: angels, demons, and humans. Since the beginning of time, the High Heavens (home to all angels) and the Burning Hells (home to all demons) have engaged in a war known as "the Great Conflict" with no end in sight. Eventually, a mighty angel named Inarius, along with the sultry hellspawn Lilith, grew tired of the fighting and led an exodus of angels and demons to a hidden world, appropriately named Sanctuary.
Lilith and Inarius clearly have the hots for each other, so after some very passionate, immortal being-style hanky-panky, they produced children known as the nephalem. Nephalem are the ancestors of humanity. Unfortunately, things don't last between Inarius and Lillith, and the age-old argument between mom and dad arises: What do we do about the kids?!
Inarius wanted to kill their offspring, as he viewed them as a threat to their own existence and the existence of higher beings alike. Lilith, on the other hand, wanted to recruit the nephalem in her war against Heaven and Hell. Inarius got the upper hand and, after casting her out from the realm she helped create, imprisoned her in the Void, a world of endless darkness where powerful beings are sent for all eternity. With Inarius in control of Sanctuary, many nephalem were killed during this time. Eventually, the High Heavens and Burning Hells would take notice of Sanctuary and the nephalem, leading to an event known as the Sin War and humanity’s spread across Sanctuary. Since nephalem have blood from both of these powerful eternal races, they are sought after by both angels and demons seeking to influence them.
In the universe of Diablo, there exist seven great evils, beings responsible for much of the in-game woes and terrors. These evils are seven powerful demons spawned from the seven heads of Tathamet, a great dragon who created the Burning Hells. The titular Diablo, Lord of Terror, is one of these evils. After learning about the existence of Sanctuary, Diablo convinces his brothers, Mephisto and Baal, to take part in the Great Conflict but betrays and absorbs them to become the Prime Evil. Eventually, in an epic battle involving a high council of Archangels known as the Angiris Council, Diablo's soul is trapped in a "soul stone." At this moment, all of humanity, save for a few wise humans, have their memories erased, and time itself is reversed on Sanctuary, with angels and demons agreeing to a truce to let humanity develop on its own without their influence.
Our Introduction to Diablo: Hell Unleashed
It's at this point, set centuries after the Lord of Terror is trapped in a soul stone, that we come to the events of the original Diablo. Set in the town of Tristram, Diablo tells the story of King Leoric, who holds the trapped soul of Diablo under his fortress. King Leoric's advisor Archbishop Lazarus shatters the soul stone, releasing Diablo's trapped spirit. Diablo fails to possess King Leoric and instead possesses the Archbishop and eventually the prince, Leoric’s son.
In some badass and epic action-RPG-style combat, the player character battles various minions and creatures to save Tristram and eventually journeys into the depths of Hell to face Diablo himself. In a noble effort, the hero—canonically he is named Aidan and is represented by the warrior class—implants the soul stone of Diablo into his own head. Eventually, our hero becomes haunted with nightmares of Diablo's power. The game ends with Aidan traveling east for answers to his nightmares.
Diablo II: A Fallen Hero and the Lord of Terror’s Return
In Diablo II, the first game’s hero has, unfortunately, succumbed to the effects of merging a demon-lord-carrying crystal with his forehead. The Lord of Terror has control of our previous champion's body and has begun the process of freeing his brothers, Mephisto and Baal (who are trapped in a soul stone of their own). The story opens with the wholesale slaughter of the town of Tristram except for one survivor, a man named Marius. Marius is compelled to follow the fallen hero Aidan, who now goes by the moniker the Dark Wanderer.
From here, the story unfolds in four acts. Eventually, in one of those dramatic twists Blizzard is known for, the Dark Wanderer sheds his human form and becomes Diablo! After the soul stones of Diablo and Mephisto are destroyed, it's happy times until Marius is tricked into giving up the soul stone to Baal, who then proceeds to kill Marius. With Marius's failure, the result does not bode well for Tristram or Sanctuary.
In the expansion, Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, we pick up right where Diablo II ends with a new fifth act. Lord of Destruction introduces two character classes, the Assassin and the Druid, who join in the fight against Baal. Known as the Lord of Destruction who the expansion borrows its name from, Baal has raised an army and attacked Mount Arreat, which is the location of the Worldstone. This powerful artifact is the only object hiding the existence of Sanctuary by keeping the power of nephalem under control. The player manages to defeat Baal, but not before the Worldstone has been corrupted with the power of Hell. Tyrael, the Archangel of Justice, appears and destroys the artifact, leading to the events in Diablo III.
Diablo III: The Black Soulstone and a New Threat
Set twenty years after Diablo II and told in five acts, Diablo III sees the new playable hero (known as “the Nephalem”) journey to the rebuilt town of New Tristram. There, they gain the help of a woman named Leah and her mother Adria, a witch who appears in the original Diablo. Adria reveals that the Black Soulstone is ultimately responsible for the horrors afflicting Sanctuary and the key to putting an end to Hell’s forces once and for all.
The Nephalem also befriends Tyrael, the aforementioned Archangel of Justice, who has become disillusioned with his fellow angels' unwillingness to protect humanity from the forces of Hell and has cast aside his divinity to become a mortal. Players eventually learn that Adria has actually been serving Diablo all along, and when she unleashes him, he promptly begins his assault on the High Heavens.
After many battles, Diablo is finally vanquished and trapped in the Black Soulstone. The day is saved, and Tyrael takes his place on the Angiris Council, dedicated to building a union between angels and humans for all time.
But, of course, evil never rests. In the expansion Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, a fifth act is added to the story, and the Nephalem returns with one new class, the Crusader. With the defeat of Diablo, Tyrael recovers the Black Soulstone. Knowing the danger presented by this artifact, Tyrael seeks to hide it. Unfortunately, Tyrael’s honorable task is interrupted by the appearance of Malthael, once the Archangel of Wisdom and now the Angel of Death.
Malthael steals the Black Soulstone and attempts to use its power to destroy humanity, which you can imagine the Nephalem doesn’t take too kindly to. The player character manages to defeat Mathael and his new death-based faction, known as the Reapers. But the victory is short-lived, as the hero also destroys the Black Soulstone, unwittingly releasing Diablo and his brothers upon the world of Sanctuary once more.
The Future of Diablo: Immortal Offerings and Humanity’s Mother
With a series that has spanned twenty-five years, any attempt to quickly explain it all is going to be a CliffsNotes version of things at best. Popular characters like Deckard Cain, who have appeared in every rendition of Diablo in one form or another, have been omitted to stick with just the meat and potatoes of the lore. The mythos includes novelizations, comics, game extensions, and even crossovers with other gargantuan series such as World of Warcraft—though those crossovers may be more for fun than anything canon.
The just-launched Diablo Immortal is an interquel set five years after the events of Diablo II but fifteen years before Diablo III begins. Players must locate and destroy shards of the Worldstone to prevent an apocalyptic event. Seeing as Diablo Immortal is the new hotness, we’ll refrain from digging into details on where the plot goes in this new entry. If you want to know more, you'll have to download and play it yourself. But with so much lore and action awaiting, why wouldn’t you?
Although we don't know many details yet, Diablo IV has been announced and will take place several decades after the events of Diablo III. After the destruction left in the wake of the war between the High Heavens and Burning Hells, the next mainline Diablo game will also introduce players to Lilith, one of the series’s biggest lore characters, in-game for the first time. It sure looks like she’s escaped from the Void somehow!
It's easy to get lost in the world of a game. Especially one as massive as the Diablo series. Nevertheless, with the wait for the hotly anticipated Diablo IV and the new release of Diablo Immortal, this is an excellent place to begin. Be sure to hit up the comment section to add any details we missed that you love about Diablo’s lore. See you in Sanctuary!