Each year’s BlizzCon tends to be a major fixture in Activision Blizzard’s calendar. The company aims to promote its newest offerings during the event. Last year, however, ended on a sour note due to the announcement of Diablo Immortal. The mobile spinoff earned the ire of long-time Diablo fans who felt that a full-fledged PC version was off the table. Recently, though, some worries have been alleviated with the announcement of Diablo IV. The latest game in the franchise introduces Lilith as the arch-villainess, and perhaps Rathma as well. We might even see a resurgence of the lore based on The Sin War Trilogy of novels.
The Sin War Trilogy
Diablo fans will, no doubt, remember The Sin War Trilogy. The novels were written by Richard A. Knaak — who’s also authored several books in the Dragonlance and Warcraft universes — were released from 2006 to 2007. They fleshed out the lore behind the lands of Sanctuary and the characters therein.
The Sin War novels — Birthright, Scales of the Serpent, and The Veiled Prophet — all provided a glimpse into the machinations of the angels and demons, and their never-ending war. It introduced readers to the tales of Uldyssian ul-Diomed, his brother Mendeln, the mysterious Rathma, and the ill-fated lovers Serenthia and Achilios. The Nephalem.
The term “Nephalem” has been uttered all too often during Diablo III. Your character, no matter which class you chose, was referred to as such. You were given hints and pieces regarding the backstory of your “people” — the chosen few who were the offsprings of unholy matrimony between angels and demons, wielding the powers of both divine races.
In The Sin War books, the original Nephalem became embroiled in a plot between the angel Inarius and his lover, the demon Lilith. The two, along with some of their fellow angels and demons, had grown tired of the everlasting war between heaven and hell. As such, they created the world of Sanctuary, forever hidden from the prying eyes of the Prime Evils such as Diablo and their counterpart, the Angiris Council led by Imperius.
Unfortunately, this paradise was not to last. The evil taint left behind by the demons could be felt surrounding the world. Uldyssian and his friends managed to survive great battles, leading to Lilith’s downfall. However, these conflicts also attracted the attention of the angels.
After a vote was cast by the Angiris Council, Sanctuary was spared. Its inhabitants, including the Nephalem, had their memories wiped in order to provide a fresh start. The angel Inarius was banished into the depths of hell, to be forever broken and tortured. Uldyssian, the hero of the epic, had sacrificed himself to preserve the world of Sanctuary.
Time passed, and the legends of old became forgotten. It was only in recent games where the truth about the Nephalem was revealed. Remember Tyrael’s words talking about your Nephalem character’s strength, able to defeat both angels and demons, and yet remaining a mortal who’s susceptible to corruption? Check out the Diablo III: Reaper of Souls ending from YouTuber BHDGaming:
Diablo IV – The Return of Lilith… and Rathma?
Diablo IV‘s announcement cinematic showed us the return of Lilith. After being summoned by a blood sacrifice, the Queen of the Succubi, Daughter of Hatred (Mephisto’s own kin), finally returned to Sanctuary.
Lilith’s motivations are, as of yet, unknown. Based on The Sin War novels, we know that she’s not fully aligned with the Prime Evils. But, we also know that she’s power-hungry and manipulative, seeking a world remade in her image (much like what Inarius had also planned, though it was more about people worshipping him as a god).
The most curious personage in the trailer, however, is the pale, bald sorcerer who ends up calling Lilith “blessed mother.” The sorcerer also asked for Lilith to “save” him and his people. This character is rumored to be none other than Rathma. In The Sin War, Rathma revealed himself to be the son of Lilith and Inarius, a first-generation Nephalem. He didn’t align himself with either of his parents back then. In fact, his motivations were to “preserve the balance” between good and evil. He had even met with the celestial dragon known as Trag’Oul.
At the end of The Sin War Trilogy, Rathma and Mendeln started their own sect, the Followers of Rathma. These keepers of the balance — life and death, good and evil — became the Diablo series’ Necromancers that we saw in subsequent games.
The Sin War Renewed
If the sorcerer in the trailer truly is Rathma, then we could be seeing the culmination of The Sin War novels published over a decade prior. We could also see a narrative that goes deeper into the lore in Diablo IV. After all, the first two Diablo games showed us “amoral-but-sort-of-good-guy adventurers” battling hell’s demons and the undead. It was in Diablo III where we saw the arrival of the angels such as Imperius, Auriel, and Malthael, proving that the eternal conflict between heaven and hell is a lot bigger than the usual ARPG dungeon romp.
Rathma’s and Lilith’s motivations remain unclear. But, if it still is about “restoring balance” and the threat that the Nephalem posed (often described in the books and in Diablo III), then Diablo IV might lead to newfound enemies such as other Nephalem who are aligned with these characters. There is a possibility that the events of the last two games “upset the balance” that Rathma and his followers were keen on preserving. Given that this mysterious figure already asked the help of his mother, then he might even visit his dad. We might see an unshackled Inarius down the line.
There’s also a thematic element in Diablo IV‘s announcement trailer, that of the bond between the parent and their child, the creator and one’s offspring. You can see this the moment Rathma’s and Lilith’s fingers touch, evoking similarities with Michaelangelo’s The Creation of Adam that adorns the Sistine Chapel. Lilith and Inarius brought about the existence of Sanctuary, the Nephalem, and basically everything we know in the Diablo universe. Perhaps they’ll be the ones who can undo all of creation.
I’m hoping that Diablo IV does delve deeper into the lore, at least without sacrificing continuity and characterization. We know Blizzard completely botched storytelling in the previous game (Deckard Cain’s death to a Butterfree named Maghda or Asmodan telling you about his invasion plan like a Saturday morning cartoon villain). Let’s not see a repeat of that. There’s only so much butchering (pun intended) that the Diablo universe can take.