Explore the Blood Marsh and the Soundtrack

A look at the design of the new area in Act V, and its soundtrack

The Blood Marsh in Reaper of Souls
The Blood Marsh is one of the new areas coming to Diablo III, and will be seen in part of Act V in the Reaper of Souls Expansion. The area is explored in the First Look blog series, following the earlier look at Westmarch. This covers the history of the Blood Marsh, and how it fits within the expansion. Another blog focuses on the music that will be heard in the Blood Marsh, written specifically for that environment. Read on for all the details!

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 Soulsâ„¢ 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. 

A curious adventurer cautiously explores some mysterious structures.

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.

The Crusader holds off a vicious enemy in one of many Blood Marsh caverns.

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.

Left: The Ruins of Corvus lay waiting to be explored. Right: An early concept for the Blood Marsh.

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. 

Corruption Spreads:

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.

Bogans and their Boggit offspring viciously attack unsuspecting tresspassers.

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.

A lost civilization peeks out from the primordial overgrowth.

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.

The flora reflects the Blood Marsh theme while the remaining ruins are consumed by it.

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.

The Crusader valiantly defends the entrance to one of many lost ruins.

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.

Another blog provides the opportunity to hear some of the soundtrack written specifically for the Blood Marsh, and details on how it came to life.

Nestled in the shadows of Westmarch, the Blood Marsh may appear to be no more than a simple swamp to many who pass through its mephitic trenches—an unforgiving mire with an unnatural complexion, but one possessing little significance to Sanctuary or the Eternal Conflict.

But the marsh itself is far from ordinary, boasting a history as deep and furtive as the ruins which lie beneath its murky surface. It is a place of corruption and sorrow, of memory and magic. And, recently, the wetlands have become a refuge for an entity of great power. . . and great evil.

We've already delved into the lore and visual landscape of the Blood Marsh, but there's still one more important design element to explore: its music. To whet your auditory appetite, we've put together an exclusive preview track featuring just a small sample of new melodies you'll hear as you adventure through this haunting environment.

To get a better understanding of what goes into creating a soundtrack for a game like Reaper of Soulsâ„¢, we also sat down with Diablo III Music Director Derek Duke for a quick Q&A.

Q. Alright, before we get ahead of ourselves. . . Tell us the truth: Do you ever light candles, chant ancient lore, or perform any arcane rituals to help get into the mood before you record? 

Derek: I do admit to burning candles when I was playing Diablo III. But for mood, certainly turning the lights down is the first step.

Q. On a more serious note, what sort of prep work or process do you have in place to get ready to write music for Diablo III?

Derek: At the early conceptual stage, it's really about getting in the mood and the right head space. Immersing myself in everything Diablo is important, from playing early builds and perusing concept art, to studying the story and all other the sources of lore that are only available behind Blizzard's iron gates.

There's also quite a lot of scribbling in notebooks, drawing on manuscripts, singing into the phone, and talking to people. All that, gathered together, is key, so when it's time to make the musical and artistic commitments, the emotion, mood, and story have become part of my subconscious enough that they can influence the music without me "forcing" anything.

Q. When setting out to create the soundtrack for the Blood Marsh, where did you begin? What inspired or influenced you for this particular area?

Derek: The Blood Marsh actually went through a lot changes, both artistically and from a design perspective. Musically, we also tried a lot of things. On one tangent, we recorded a bunch of really crunchy, long electric guitar tones, trying to get at that swamp vibe. Didn't work. Banjo. . .nope. I could never boil it down to any single simple idea.

In the end, what worked was actually scoring to the Blood Marsh's theme of a lost history, and the emotion and drama of events that take place there. I don't want to spoil the experience for players, so I'll refrain from sharing too many details. The preview track does a great job of capturing the over feel of the zone, however. 

Q. What's unique about the music for the Blood Marsh? Are there any instruments or themes that are specific to the zone?

Derek: The very first time you enter the Blood Marsh, you'll hear women intoning a sacred text. And you'll begin to hear more and more of these texts sung and chanted in game from this point through the conclusion of Reaper of Souls. (Fun fact: Much of the game’s music was inspired by and written to these texts.)

The Blood Marsh is also the first place the "inevitability theme," or "Chains of Fate," returns since its debut in intro cinematic. Down in the Ruins of Corvus, you'll also make first contact with some of the quasi-"aleatoric" (semi-random) music in the game. They are extended creepy, textural pieces created from a very different way of working with the orchestra.

Q. The world of Sanctuary is so diverse. When creating tracks for specific areas, how do you make sure you're creating a unique identity while also providing a cohesive sound across the game?

Derek: It's certainly a challenge, and hopefully one we've done well in Reaper of Souls.

One of the ways we've tried to bring musical cohesion into the Diablo franchise this time around was to filter all the music through a single person and process. The Diablo series was originally scored by a single composer and, while the other Blizzard franchises have benefited so much from having all of Blizzard's unique musical personalities contribute to a project, it really felt like Diablo—and Reaper of Souls in particular—wanted a single voice.

While writing a majority of the music myself, I was also able to leverage themes written by Russell Brower, Jason Hayes, Joseph Lawrence, and Glenn Stafford. Those themes were then built upon, arranged, stretched, and orchestrated to sound as though originating from a singular musical voice.

In addition, all our music was recorded with the same orchestra in the same decommissioned church with the same team over two years. 

Q. Can you tell us a bit about the track you're sharing with us today?

Derek: It's an edit of quite a few things, starting with the bells tolling, into some of the creepy, textural orchestral music of the dungeons, then an ancient text chanted. Next, you'll hear some darkness and another choral text into an earlier musical progression from when the Blood Marsh (originally called "The Bog" within the team) was first being worked on. The piece then concludes with a version of the inevitability theme, mentioned previously, heard as a duet of solo violin and oboe over the descending four notes.

That solo violin, heard so much in Reaper of Souls, has always represented to me the hero's personal, solitary decision (and commitment) to fulfill his or her destiny. It's a great symbol of that singular choice to do what is needed to save Sanctuary and the whole of humanity. 

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