The rot of organic life assaults the senses as fetid earth gives way beneath each step. Murky water bubbles along the sunken trails and strange, violent creatures lurk just beyond light's reach. Below the layers of silt and grime of this unwelcoming marshland lays an ancient ruin of great power. . .and even greater mystery.
Welcome to the Blood Marsh, the second locale to take the spotlight in the upcoming Reaper of Souls™ expansion. Just as we've covered the founding of Westmarch in our previous First Look series, let's take some time to peer beyond the marsh's veil of uninviting squalor and dig in to the lore and design of the wondrous treasures hidden within.
The History of the Blood Marsh
Enveloping a large portion of the western reaches of Khanduras, the Blood Marsh is a massive, swampy stretch of land, split by rivers and tributaries often utilized for passage and trade. Despite its current inhospitable nature, it was not always a dread-inducing locale and in fact was once the home of one of Sanctuary's greatest civilizations.
The City of Corvus & Rakkis' Claim:
Long before King Rakkis ever touched foot on the land that would become Westmarch, the Blood Marsh was the site of untold glory—the city of Corvus.
In ancient days, when the world was still teeming with the children of Inarius and Lilith, Corvus became one of the first cities ever founded on Sanctuary. A community entirely composed of nephalem was certainly a site to behold, and for many years, it thrived. After the events of the Purge (as covered in The Book of Cain), Inarius attuned the Worldstone to diminish the power of the nephalem. As this power waned and the years passed, the nephalem grew mortal and ignorant of their past. So did the glory of Corvus come to pass, and through the years, it, too, was lost to history.
Glorious finds have a habit of attracting attention, and when Rakkis swept across the West, one of his greatest draws were the ruins of this ancient city. The king was fascinated by the nephalem and the ancient power they held, and it became his greatest desire to unlock their potential. He founded the city of Westmarch nearby, likely to feed his curiosity and obsession. The lure of potential immortality convinced Rakkis that he might even be nephalem himself, though after many fruitless years of wandering the crumbling remnants of the city, his only consolation was to have his remains entombed within.
In time, the Blood Marsh’s ancient secrets were forgotten, and the powerful defenses left behind by the nephalem have deterred most adventurers from plumbing the ancient (and undoubtedly lucrative) depths.
As noted, the Blood Marsh wasn't always as dangerous as it is today. While the land itself has always been marsh, recent events (including, but not limited to the return of Malthael) have brought out the worst in the local flora and fauna.
The bogans, for example, tribal creatures that have inhabited the area for as long as anyone can remember, have recently grown more aggressive, defending their territory with increasingly insidious traps and fortifying their hovels with crudely constructed watch towers and palisades. What was once a verdant wetland has quickly evolved into a repugnant quagmire that grows less habitable by the day.
The corruption isn't unwelcome by all, however. Shortly after the defense of Bastion's Keep, whispers began to circulate of a powerful force arriving in the area. The marsh itself, renowned for the lost nephalem city of Corvus, is a hotbed for Blood Magic and surely one could only have nefarious deeds in mind when looking to exploit such terrible, primal power. . .
Blood Essence: Bringing the Blood Marsh to Life
Crafting a treacherous bog to explore as a bridge between two fantastic locations (Westmarch and Pandemonium, the final stage for Act V) could have been a relatively simple, straightforward task. Our designers, however, rose to an unspoken challenge and took the creation of the Blood Marsh a step further, delving into this location both physically and thematically.
Creating the Theme:
The first step in exploring any area's design is nailing down the ultimate fantasy of the environment, or its theme. In the case of the Blood Marsh and Ruins of Corvus that rest within it, the central theme happens to be one that's integral to the story of Diablo itself: blood.
When thinking of a sinking, festering marshland, the idea of exploring ruins of an ancient civilization hidden beneath the grime and muck became too tantalizing to pass up. Not only did this setting pair well with the physical representation of blood (in terms of palette and textures), but it also allowed the designers to touch on the environment's theme in perhaps a less obvious way—blood in terms of lineage.
Of Bloodlines and Birthrights:
In addition to affecting the visual look of the Blood Marsh and Ruins of Corvus, the blood theme also plays an important part in determining how the environment interacts with your heroes. Specifically, with their heritage, or bloodline.
At this junction of their journey, each hero has fully embraced their birthright and shown but a glimpse of their powerful potential. This power has a long history, and though it was once thought to be lost to the passage of time, it's certainly not been forgotten. As you explore the Blood Marsh and surrounding areas, distant remnants of the past will reach forward in time, resonating and responding to your very presence. In fact, don't be too surprised if you find the ancient relics and defenses that lie within coming to your aid.
Building on the Past:
The theme of blood and bloodlines even stretches into Diablo's own history when it comes to inspiration. For example, one of the main quests you'll complete in Act V involves finding the correct entrance to the Ruins of Corvus. Long-time players of Diablo II might experience a pang of familiarity for an oft-remembered tomb search from Act II.
Speaking with Senior Game Designer Michael Chu, he shared some of the many ways in which this blood theme is explored in nearly every facet of the location:
"From the standpoint of the visuals, you can see how the marsh, the water, the mud, seems to evoke that feeling of blood. There are also the blood golems, enemies created through blood magic rituals. If you really take a step back to think about the various storylines in the area, you can definitely also see the influence of the idea of blood, in the concept of lineages, relations, and in the more traditional sense."
The Blood Marshes are, both literally and figuratively, steeped in blood. Be it the blood spilt by the conquest that swept across the land or the distant lineage of Sanctuary's first inhabitants, you'll find remnants and reminders under every rotten log or crumbled passageway.
The Journey Continues...
The Ruins of Corvus provide a glimpse into the past while the Blood Marsh itself represents the arduous journey that lies ahead for our nephalem heroes. Blood, sweat, and tears have been shed on this journey, and the losses continue to mount. How many more must fall before the world can be at peace? What will it take to stop Malthael’s slaughter, and more importantly, to what lengths will you go to end it?
Are you prepared to take on the challenges ahead? Tell us what excites you the most about exploring the Blood Marsh in the comments below, but be warned: This journey leaves no room for faltering hearts.