'Diablo III': Chris Metzen on the 'end of the trilogy'
Diablo fans finally had their 12-year wait come to an end on Tuesday with the release of Diablo III. In fact, there was such intense demand to revisit Sanctuary, the world that’s always coming under attack from all manner of hellspawn, that many fans weren’t even able to log in to Blizzard Entertainment’s Battle.net site — a requirement whether you’re slaying demons solo or in multiplayer droves. EW spoke to Blizzard’s senior VP of creative development, Chris Metzen, a living legend in the gaming world for his work developing Warcraft, StarCraft, and all three Diablo games. He sees Diablo III as the “end of a trilogy” and an opportunity at last to tell stories in that universe that he’s always wanted to tell. So is this the last Diablo game? And why did it take 12 years to get made? Read on and find out:
EW: Fans have had 12 years to speculate about Diablo III. What’s the one question you’ve been asked the most?
CHRIS METZEN: The really easy answer is “When the hell’s it coming out?” But from a lore standpoint I think the biggest question is “How does Diablo fit into this one when we apparently kicked his butt at the end of the last two games?”
Why did it take 12 years to get Diablo III made?
It was in development for a few years at Blizzard North, but we ended up restaffing the team and rebuilding a lot of the technology and tools for the game. We pretty much started from scratch. We’ve been trying to find our feet in a post-World of Warcraft world, and there have been a number of growing pains that maybe took us a little longer than we’d expected. The development team has killed it, though. They’ve built a beyond-worthy Diablo sequel, even if it took a little longer to get the oil that it needed. It’s felt like we’ve been a pregnant mother in month eight for awhile now. It’s ready to come out.
Was some of the delay also attributable to, as you said, the character Diablo being so thoroughly trounced in the last one? Did it take a while to pin down the concept?
Oh, not at all. Not at all. I think we had some pretty strong intentions for this game’s story right out of the gate. Story elements you see in Diablo III are things I’ve always wanted to see in a Diablo game, since the first Diablo. For one reason or another it wasn’t the right time to chase those ideas back then. But for this one it was, since it’s the end of a trilogy in some ways, even though it happens about 20 years after the last product, according to the timeline. It’s really the ending of a cycle, the ending of a meta-storyline in many ways.
What were some of those ideas you had going back to the original Diablo?
I always wanted to see the angels come forward, the other side of the argument in the Diablo universe. In the past couple games we’ve been fighting Diablo and his kooky cousins, the Lords of Hell — it’s been a series defined as much by its villains as its hero characters — and there’s only a few NPCs apart from the player characters that are very noticeable, like Deckard Cain or Tyrael. But we never heard from the other side, the angels, to get a sense of the grander conflict that’s playing out within the franchise. I knew from the get-go that this sequel, Diablo III, would be a little more informed by the broader tapestry of the universe and mankind’s role in it. It’s not just demons going crazy, although certainly it’s predicated on that.
NEXT: Metzen on the end of the Diablo “trilogy.” Does that also mean this is the last Diablo game?
You say this is the end of the Diablo “trilogy”? Does that mean we can’t expect more games set this in this universe from you guys?
Not at all. I see this as the ending of a specific storyline. It’s not at all the end of Diablo, the end of a particular age or era, but it is the end of a series of machinations that have been playing out on Sanctuary for the last couple centuries. If Diablo ever really had a plan to mess people up, to bring about doom and destruction, this game really illustrates how grand that design has always been. Before, we didn’t have all the information. This game shows just how smart and cunning he’s been over the arc of time and why he’s the series’ unique villain. In the first couple games there wasn’t a whole lot more detail to that character other than that he was a big red dude who kicked the s— out of people. So why is the series named after him and not Baal or Mephisto? Is Diablo stronger? I would argue that he’s just really clever, he thinks laterally in a way that his brothers do not. He’s not just one of the seven big Evils. He’s Doctor Doom. And Diablo III is the culmination of his machinations, even if it’s not the end to potential stories we could tell in that universe.
So 20 years have passed since Diablo II. What’s changed on Sanctuary in that time?
I’d say the world isn’t all that different. It’s only been 20 years and things move a bit slower on Sanctuary. But in Diablo and Diablo II, the conflicts didn’t really spill out into public awareness. In the first game, the events were localized in the sleepy town of Tristram. If you lived in Caldeum for instance, the great city to the East, you might pick up a newspaper and read “Strange Things Afoot in Tristram,” but you might not believe that demons are actually alive and well in the world. So these conflicts were always secretive, a world within a world, and the vast majority of mankind was unaware of what’s occurring all around them.
In Diablo II, it blew up a bit wider than that. In Acts 2 and 3, it did spill out into public consciousness a bit more, people started to realize that things that go bump in the night are wandering through their lands. Certainly in Lord of Destruction, the DII expansion set, the conflict was on a huge scale — but in a very isolated, remote area. The strength of the franchise is that the conflict between Heaven and Hell is largely secretive. And in the past 20 years civilization has lulled themselves back into disbelief. Those events of 20 years ago are poppycock, stories for simple folk. They don’t really believe there’s physical evil out there. That’s the world in which this story begins to bubble up again. Few will be prepared.
But a few are aware of what’s about to happen?
Some like Deckard Cain believe the End Times are imminent, that the things we’ve seen before were just hors d’oeuvres at a dinner party, not even remotely indicative of the scale of what’s to come. Deckard knows it’s on, it’s the 11th hour, only a matter of time before the forces of evil do what they’ve really been wanting to do this whole time. The world is absolutely unprepared to deal.
What’s your favorite new character class in Diablo III?
My favorite one is the Monk. I always loved Barbarian, but he’s old school. Of the new ones, definitely Monk. I love the way the character moves, the way he’s conceptualized, the backstory. I just think he’s badass, because he’s part of a principled group of heroes in a world that is increasingly dark. It’s not like they are boy scouts, but they are fighting for a better world and sometimes you need to break a few eggs to achieve that.
Everyone knows you’re a huge comic geek. You just mentioned Doctor Doom, though, in relation to Diablo. Is he your favorite pop culture villain?
I love Doctor Doom, because he represents a mix of technology and sorcery. He’s ultimately a tragic figure because he got into all this evil stuff while attempting to save his mother’s soul. There’s something very noble and regal about that. But when the chips come down he’s monstrous in the application of his plans. I also love that he was best friends with his archenemy, Reed Richards, in college. And his name is Doom! Come on!
Diablo III is rated ‘M’ for Mature and is now available for PC and Mac.
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