One of Diablo 4’s greatest strengths is how much attention it pays to its characters and story. Although unexpected, the time you spend fighting Lorath, Donan, and Neyrelle while uncovering the secrets of Lilith’s dark machinations adds a lot of weight to the gameplay and gives your character a sense of identity and purpose. Diablo 4 has an engaging narrative structure that allows you to explore each region of the Sanctuary and team up with another companion to get to know them while dealing with the consequences of Lilith’s influence. It climaxes in the second half, when all three companions come together to hatch a plan to stop the Daughter of Hate from completing her mission. Diablo’s campaigns have always been more about mythology than plot, but Diablo 4’s focus on characters and relationships adds some much-needed depth to the story.
I’m a huge fan of Diablo 4’s story and every time I’ve gone through the campaign (three times so far) I’ve found new things to appreciate. The pace sometimes drags, but the friendship between the characters perfectly holds everything together. The cast has a Fellowship of the Ring quality that makes the story feel lofty and consequential, and when all is said and done, the satisfaction you get from ordinary mortals battling the lords of Hell is deeper than ever. It all comes together beautifully, but after multiple playthroughs, there’s still one beat that rubs me the wrong way. Last chance to backtrack before major spoilers:
I can’t believe they got Donan by wandering too close to the pillar of handy skeletons. It is a terribly unfitting end for such a powerful mage and accomplished Horadrim. I understand the purpose of his death in the story, but did our dear friend, who had already suffered such a great loss, have to go out in such a shamefully pathetic way? It doesn’t sit well with me, and any further gameplay has only served to make the moment worse, especially when there’s an obvious ending for Donan that would be far more appropriate.
I understand why Donan had to die somehow. All three of our companions made incredible sacrifices to ultimately stop Lilith. Lorath makes a fateful deal with the Whispering Tree, offering his head to the tree where it will hang for all eternity in exchange for knowledge of Lilith’s situation. Placed in the unenviable position of choosing which demon to trap in the Soul Stone, Mephisto or Lilith, Neyrelle escapes Hell, doomed to wander the Asylum searching for a way to safely deal with Mephisto’s Soul Stone once and for all . When Donan is stabbed, he slowly, painfully bleeds out in Lorath’s arms and dies without even getting the satisfaction of knowing that Lilith is defeated, his last words being a plea to the heavens, unsure if the sum of his actions was even enough. It’s interesting to consider who among the three faces the worst fate, and the fact that they all sacrificed so much gives the story more weight.
At the same time, hasn’t Donan suffered enough? Donan’s greatest act was defeating the demon Astaroth and trapping him in the soul stone, but he failed to protect the stone from Lilith when she laid siege to Eldhaime Keep. As a result, Donan’s son Yorin became Astaroth’s host. Not only did Donan lose his son, but he had to help us defeat Astaroth once more when the demon took over his son’s body and burned his soul from within. It was a cruel fate for young Yorin and the most devastating thing that could have happened to Donan. Horadrim is still dealing with the aftermath of his son’s death at the end of the story, so I’m not sure why he had to die when living with his failure would be punishment enough.
Donan’s death was the catalyst for the plot. He had to die so that Lorath would be forced to stay, that Neyrelle would be forced to choose for herself what would happen to the soul stone, that she would have an excuse to escape from Mephisto’s room before Lilith arrived, and that the group would be separated and she could escape to the western realms with the soul stone. It was narratively necessary, so I don’t bother with the fact that Donan died, just the way it happened.
In the last flashback, we see Lilith talking to Astaroth in Hell as he allows her to enter Mephisto’s domain. We know that Asteroth is present in Hell and near our location shortly before we arrived. Wouldn’t it be far more appropriate to let Donan face Astaroth, the demon who killed his son, and let the once mighty Horadrin die for revenge? It would make sense that the old man would not be able to stand up to Astaroth since it took three heroes to destroy the demon the first time. Seeing Donan fall under Asteroth’s sword would give us a possible rematch with the demon as well. Instead, Donan stumbles against a pillar and is uncharacteristically shaken by a freaky waving monstrous hand. Not exactly a dignified end for one of Sanctuary’s last heroes.
I appreciate that his death gave us a touching moment between him and Lorath, two old warriors who spent a lifetime building respect for each other and seeing things through. I also appreciate that the epilogue focuses on Lorath’s journey to bury Donan because it accurately highlights the human cost of the Eternal Conflict. Maybe I’m just too attached to Donan, but I don’t think the man deserved to die in such an unpleasant and anticlimactic way.
Next: Playing Diablo 4 Solo is like living in a parallel universe