Understanding the Worldstone.
The nature of the Worldstone has been puzzling gamers for a decade now, and while Diablo’s Lore is truly quite vast it has not always been very concise. Especially in-game we find ourselves in an almost Mad Libs kind of state as we try to understand the events unfolding around us. This is partly because of information revealed through dialogue that as players we didn’t have time to listen to, or didn’t remember to go back and specifically ask NPCs for.
By and large we understood as players what we were doing. We were chasing the highest ranking lords of Hell across the world in an attempt to destroy them and prevent the legions of Hell from invading the mortal realm, and in Lord of Destruction we understood that it was important that we chase down Baal and stop him from corrupting this “Worldstone” which wasn’t really even mentioned in the first four acts of Diablo II. But why?
~ Diablo I & II
In the first Diablo game we were introduced to the existence of a red crystal which contained the demonic essence of Diablo. The second game provided significantly more elaboration on this “soulstone”, and provided backstory on how the three greatest demons, The Prime Evils, were once cast out of the Burning Hells into the mortal realm, where a band of mortals led by an Angel eventually captured their essences in three Soulstones, which were then hidden away to protect the world.
In Lord of Destruction, it is revealed that much of these events had been orchestrated by The Prime Evils themselves. Their imprisonment within these crystals served to provide them the opportunity to corrupt the crystals, and ostensibly once freed allow them to use the crystals to corrupt a massive artifact known as The WorldStone.
There is very little elaboration within the games themselves as to why this is a big deal, or even what precisely the Worldstone is. Granted, an entire civilization (The Barbarians) have apparently sworn their lives since the dawn of time to protect it, so it must be important. We’re casually informed that the stone supposedly keeps the planes of existence, The Mortal Realm, Heaven, and Hell seperate, and it’s again casually mentioned that the corruption of the Worldstone could allow Hell to invade The Mortal Realm, though how precisely is again not revealed. When the player inevitably fails to foil the plans of the Prime Evils (This is a Diablo game after all), the Archangel Tyrael chooses to destroy the mountain sized crystal to protect us.
Do you see the Catch 22 here?
In our attempt to prevent the Lords of Hell from using the Worldstone to summon an invasion of demons into our world, we have chosen to destroy it and by doing so remove the very barrier that was keeping the demons out.
And so for almost a decade we’ve been left to ponder just how successful or unsuccessful our heroes in Diablo II actually were.
~ The Short Answer
I am however exaggerating a bit. For folks whom have read the Sin War novels or The Book of Cain, more information has been brought about regarding the nature of The Worldstone which in turn has helped to better explain Tyrael’s decision to destroy it at the end of Diablo II.
The Short Answer is: The Worldstone is intimately tied to humanity, and the corruption of The Worldstone meant the Corruption of Humanity itself. When Diablo II refers to the power of The Worldstone allowing Baal to turn the Mortal Realm into Hell itself, they mean that quite literally. The Worldstone has the power to create and reshape worlds with which Baal intended to bring down the barrier between our realm and hell, and even with the death of Baal, the fact that it had been corrupted meant that every living human mortal would eventually have been corrupted as well with Baal’s overiding desire for destruction. Humanity would have changed into a species bent on destruction had Tyrael not destroyed it. That was the plan of The Prime Evil’s all along. Not just to invade our realm, but to change humanity into a new army as well.
Essentially, we have foiled the plans of the Prime Evils, but in doing so we have exposed ourselves none-the-less to invasion from Hell. Yet a longer explanation is still due for why The Worldstone has this power, and how all these events truly came about in the first place. For that, we need to delve deeper into the Lore of The Sin War and The Book of Cain.
~ The Long Answer
In the beginning, there was Anu. Anu was everything, both good and evil. Anu cleansed itself of evil so that it could be pure, but in doing so evil became a seperate entity, a seven headed dragon (I’m sure Anu thought it was a good idea at the time). Anu spent eons fighting the dragon, and eventually both killed each other in a messy way. Their deaths and their corpses created the planes of The High Heavens and The Burning Hells. From Anu’s spine arose the Crystal arch where angels are born, and from the heads of the Dragon arose the Seven Lords of Evil. But most importantly, one of Anu’s eyes remained intact, and this became known as The Worldstone.
The Heavens and Hell are frankly diametrically opposed in their beliefs and nature, and it was simply impossible for any sort of peace to exist between the two just as peace between Anu and the Seven Headed Dragon had been impossible. The war that occured became known as the Endless Conflict (aptly named) and at the center of this war was The Worldstone.
~ Why was the Worldstone important to both sides?
The Worldstone possessed many qualities, most notably the power of creation. Each side could use it to create and reshape planes of existence. Primarily the Angels used it to expand The High Heavens, while Demons used it to reshape and expand The Burning Hells. The war essentially became a game of Capture The Flag, with each side vying for control of The Worldstone.
And then one day it vanished.
This caused a bit of trouble.
Unknown to either side, renegade groups of both angels and demons had banded together, stolen The Worldstone, and created a “Sanctuary” from the war. In this new plane of existence, these renegades intended to retire from the conflict in peace. The Worldstone was not only used to create this new plane of existence, but its power was also used to keep it hidden and separated from both the Heavens and Hells.
This plan was more or less working until humans showed up. Although demons and angels do not mate in the traditional sense, their union none-the-less brought into existence offspring which possessed powers greater than their own. These offspring were known as The Nephalum. The Renegade Angels saw them as abominations which threatened to expose their existence to the Heavens and Hells, and the renegade Demons saw them as a potential weapon that could tip the scales of the war should they choose to return to it.
To prevent the Nephalum from reaching their full potential, the angels “tweaked” The Worldstone, and used it to slowly sap the powers of the Nephalum over many generations until they finally became mortals without powers. This is very important to understand, as this lore not only codifies the reason why Sanctuary is kept separate from the Heavens and Hells by the power of The Worldstone, but also why Mortals are so innately connected to it as well. For almost all of humanity’s history, our existence has been explicitly tied to The Worldstone. It has power over us in a way that most mortals can not mentally comprehend.
Eventually, during the events of The Sin War, The Heavens and Hells came to learn of Sanctuary regardless, and there were of course disputes over the fate of this realm of mortals, with both sides understanding fully the impact these mortals could one day make. After negotiation, both sides agreed to leave the mortal realm alone, but the Prime Evils had very far reaching plans concerning it none-the-less.
~ The Dark Exile
From the get go, The Prime Evils understood that the Worldstone was the key to fully controlling the mortals and their potential nephalum powers. The challenge therefore became a matter of figuring out a way to regain control of the Worldstone and a means to corrupt it in their favor. They caught and corrupted an angel known as Izual, whose knowledge of the Worldstone allowed them to formulate a plan that would use shards of The Worldstone known as Soulstones. The Worldstone itself was far too powerful to be corrupted directly, but by using tiny shards from it to first attune their dark powers it would become possible to corrupt the greater crystal. So the Three Prime Evils hatched a plot that not even the rest of the Burning Hells knew about.
Through their truce with the Heavens, The Three Prime Evils goaded the Lesser Evils into a civil war against them, which they intentionally lost after putting up a convincing fight, and this resulted in their banishment to the Mortal Realm. Izual in turn betrayed Tyrael by informing him that The Prime Evils running rampant on Sanctuary could be trapped using small shards taken from The Worldstone.
Wishing to safeguard humanity, Tyrael removed three shards of ruby, amber, and sapphire from The Worldstone, and entrusted them into the care of specially selected mortals whom would come to be known as The Horadrim, and he charged them with the mission of capturing The Prime Evils. In turn each one was captured and spent hundreds of years attuning themselves to their prisons and corrupting the soulstones.
During the events of Diablo I and II we witness how these Prime Evils finally released themselves, and proceeded with their plan to use the stones to infect The Worldstone. Diablo’s stone would have instilled the terror in humanity needed to bend them to the will of the Demons. Mephisto’s soulstone would have instilled the hatred needed to motivate humanity towards abominable acts. Baal’s soulstone would have instilled all of the destructive urges in humanity needed to carry out atrocities.
Diablo and Mephisto’s stones were destroyed before they could infect The Worldstone, but Baal’s succeeded. For this reason Tyrael chose to destroy The Worldstone.
Of course, the destruction of The Worldstone is no true resolution unto itself. The Worldstone was afterall providing a barrier between Sanctuary and the Heavens and Hells. It was also sapping mortals of their potential to develop powers greater than those of angels and demons.
The start of Diablo III begins twenty years after the destruction of The Worldstone, and so an entire generation unhindered by The Worldstone has now come to pass. Will the destruction of The Worldstone mean the destruction of our world at the hands of the demons that now have access to it, or will we find salvation by developing the powers needed to fight back the demons?
Presumably the answers to those questions will be found in Diablo III.