As Diablo III draws near, those new to the series may be asking: “What, exactly, are these ugly loot pinatas I'm slaughtering in droves for gold and shiny new weapons?” The Diablo universe has a long and detailed history, and if you're an unrepentant lore hound like I am, you already know how deep it goes. But Diablo II was released 12 years ago , so there's no shame in brushing up. This is the short version, for those who want more context on the game's world and story in a neat blood-soaked package.
Short on time? Look for the "too long; didn't read" summaries at the end of each section.
In the beginning...
Naturally, Tathamet picked a fight with Anu. After millennia, they finally killed one another, setting off an explosion that created the universe. Anu's body rose to become the High Heavens, and the Angels spawned from its latent energies. Tathamet's corpse took a tumble down to become the Burning Hells. Each of his seven severed heads became a Lord of Hell, creating the septet that would rule over the demons born from his rotting flesh.
- tl;dr: Omnipotent dragon split himself into good and bad halves, forming Heaven and Hell.
Sanctuary is formed
Unsurprisingly, the angels and the demons didn't get along well at all, and waged constant wars over the Worldstone. Believed to be the eye of Anu himself, the Worldstone held the power to spawn entire worlds. Eventually, some on both sides got sick of the fighting. They hid the Worldstone from both Heaven and Hell, and used it one last time to create the hidden world of Sanctuary. During the housewarming party, some angels and demons had a little too much to drink and ended up populating the new realm with the cross-breed Nephalem -- the ancestors of all Sanctuary's mortal races.
- tl;dr: Humans came from a cross-breed of rogue Angels and Demons, hidden away from Heaven and Hell in a world called Sanctuary, which was created with the super-powerful Worldstone.
The Sin War gets things going
It was clear to the renegade angels and demons that the Nephalem held vast potential. When the demoness Lilith tried to turn them into an army, the angel Inarius -- one of the only creatures privy to the Worldstone's hiding place -- used the Eye of Anu's power to curse his children. From then on, each generation of Nephalem grew less powerful, leading to the relatively weak mortals of the present day.
The three-way war between the Prophet, the Triune, and Uldyssian -- a mortal who discovered how to unlock the Nepahlem powers in himself and his followers -- is known as the Sin War. It concluded when Uldyssian sacrificed himself to strip his soldiers of their power so that Heaven would not see humanity as a threat that needed to be destroyed. It had already been proven, though, that the potential still existed in the Nephalem's descendants.
- tl;dr: The Prime Evils, Diablo, Mephisto, and Baal, tried to corrupt humanity, but a guy named Uldyssian proved that mortals can unlock the powers of their ancestors. Then killed himself so no one would get all uppity about it.
Up next: The events of Diablo