Oddly enough, in BlizzCon's seven-year history, there has never been a panel devoted explicitly to the Diablo franchise's lore. That changed today, however, as Blizzard senior VP of story and franchise development Chris Metzen took the stage alongside Diablo III lead content designer Kevin Martens and senior world designer Leonard Boyarsky.
Metzen began the session with an apology of sorts for the substantial amount of tinkering that has been done to Diablo's lore in advance of the third game's release. He said that the franchise has been developed by three different companies with novels from eight different writers, and therefore "it was kind of a mess." To tighten up the universe, Blizzard had to enact some intentional retconning, but he emphasized that the studio only made these changes to strengthen the property.
As one example of the change, Blizzard gave an identity to The Dark Wanderer, who was the hero of the original Diablo. Moving forward, the universe presupposes that this character is the warrior from the original game, and he has been given the name Aiden. Metzen noted that just one reason for this change is that if the Diablo story were to be told in another medium, this character would need to be the launching point for that. He emphasized that no such development is currently under way.
To start off the lore talk, Metzen launched into The Eternal Conflict, which is the war that has raged between the High Heavens and the Burning Hells since the beginning of time. The motivation behind this conflict is to gain control of the Worldstone. This artifact is a relic of the original conflict between the ultimate manifestations of good and evil. It contains an aspect of the creator, and the controller of it can shape reality to their whim. The Worldstone is contained at the center of the universe, in a place called Pandemonium, and control of this fortress has passed back and forth between the High Heavens and the Burning Hells throughout time.
During the current epoch, the High Heavens control Pandemonium, and it is under their rule that the angel Inarius renounced the Eternal Conflict, and with a faction of other angels and demons, they stole the Worldstone and took it to Sanctuary. Here, they interbred, creating humankind, and the DNA has both angels and demons fearing that humans can be mightier than they. This process also sent heaven and hell into turmoil, as they had lost the impetus for their conflict. Therefore, they call an armistice in their conflict to retrieve the Worldstone, while also making a pact to not directly interfere with humankind.
Metzen then addressed The Angiris Council, better known as the five archangels that rule the High Heavens. The functional equivalents of the Lords of Hell, this group's members have their own personalities and characteristics. Tyrael, the Archangel of Justice, has thus far received the most play in the Diablo games. Tyrael's personality evolved after the events of the first game, when the human Uldyssian sacrificed himself to save the world. Described as anal retentive, Tyrael becomes the maverick of heaven, having come to realize the capacity of humankind and their innate worth after Uldyssian's move.
Auriel is the Archangel of Hope. She is the most upbeat and positive member of the council, functioning as the great mediator and grounding force of the forces of Heaven. The Archangel of Wisdom, Malthael, is a storyline still being developed, Metzen said. However, he went on to say that this angel provides the voice of reason for the council, and he's typically correct. However, when Inarius stole the Worldstone, Malthael apparently went slightly mad, darkening his personality.
Imperius serves as the Archangel of Valor, and he is the warrior champion of the heavens. His personality is that of a great commander, and slaughtering demons is his purpose. Imperius and Tyrael are often at odds, due to Imperius' view that humankind should be eradicated. Lastly, Itherael is the Archangel of Fate. Though he can't actually see the future, he is able to see all of the different strands in play and can often predict what will come. However, since the Worldstone was stolen, Itherael can't see the strands of humans, as they weren't meant to exist. This fact, of course, freaks everyone out.
Boyarsky then took over to discuss the two remaining Lords of the Burning Hells. Belial is the Lord of Lies, and he is the first nemesis that Diablo III players will encounter in the game. A master of subterfuge and indirect dealing, Belial has subverted the city of Caldeum, which serves as the greatest trading city in the world.
The second demon is Azmodan, Lord of Sin. Azmodan is currently the primary evil, and he has ruled hell for the past 300 years. His design is to emanate raw power, and the Seven Deadly Sins are his lieutenants. Two of these minions will be seen in the game. Interestingly, the Maiden of Lust is modeled off of the Mistress of Pain and was only included after the studio saw the costume contest winner at BlizzCon 2010. The second lieutenant was not revealed. Azmodan's goal in the game is to gain control of the Black Soulstone, which can be used to destroy him or give him ultimate power.
Boyarsky also brought up the fact that after Azmodan, there will be no more Lords of Hell. Once Azmodan is gone, the theory is that there will be evil left in the universe. That's the theory, at least, Boyarsky emphasized.
Martens closed out the session by showing off three new areas in the world of Sanctuary. The first of these was Caldeum, which he compared to Rome at the height of its power. The city is undergoing a massive refugee crisis due to the meddling of Belial, and it is currently being ruled by a child-emperor. The second area was Dahlgur Oasis, which is the central farming region for Caldeum. In contrast to the arid atmosphere of Caldeum, this area offers lush environments fed by the oasis. Belial's forces have infested this area, creating a food shortage for the city.
Lastly, Martens showed off the Archives of Zoltun Kulle. This area is an underground temple of sorts that houses a portion of the remains of Zoltun Kulle, who was part of the original Horadric Order. As the story goes, Kulle turned evil, becoming the most dangerous person in Sanctuary. He achieved immortality, and the only way that the Horadrim could deal with him was to cut him in two; his head was buried in the desert while his body was transported to an alternate dimension.
Blizzard's lore efforts for Diablo are being led by their upcoming compendium, Book of Cain. For more from BlizzCon 2011, check out GameSpot's previous coverage.