Faithful of Akkhan. Bastions of the Light. Stalwart redeemers of the Zakarum. All of these names could very well describe the newest hero class available in Reaper of Souls™.
Unlike other orders of the Zakarum, the Crusaders bring a distinctly grittier version of a traditional holy warrior to the world of Sanctuary. But where did they come from? What is their role in the Zakarum faith? How will they tackle the looming threat of Malthael on the horizon?
The answers to these questions and many more lay below, so let's kick off our week-long inside look at the Crusader class with some delectable servings of lore!
The Rise of the Zakarum
The Zakarum faith was founded many years ago, sometime after the Mage Clan wars by the prophet Akarat, a wandering ascetic from Xiansai. According to many historical accounts, it was during this pivotal time (in which humanity was beginning to reject magic for the comforts of religion) that Akarat received a startling revelation from a being he referred to as Yaerius, or "son of light" in his native language.
While there is some debate among scholars as to the true nature of Akarat’s prophecy—specifically, whether the "being" Akarat saw was the archangel Yaerius or simply an echo of Uldyssian’s sacrifice at the end of the Sin War—its significance is undeniable. It is said that the vision, manifesting as a magnificent flash of light and energy across the sky, ignited the fundamental belief within Akarat that humans were powerful vessels of light, and that all should seek their "inner light" in order to live good lives.
Upon receiving this revelation, Akarat set out on a grand journey to the cities Kehjistan, spreading word of his findings and encouraging others to embrace the Light he knew existed within them. Although Akarat would eventually vanish from all historical record, his teachings lived on through the people of Sanctuary, serving as the spiritual basis for the Zakarum faith and church. (Fun fact: The name "Zakarum" comes from "Zakara," meaning "inner light.")
Light's Dawn: The Birth of the Crusader
During the reign of Emperor Tassara and shortly before General Rakkis’ historic march to the West, a priest by the name of Akkhan sensed a foul taint growing within the Zakarum church. This taint, unknown to Akkhan at the time, was caused by no other than that of the Prime Evil Mephisto, Lord of Hatred, his darkness steadily seeping from the soulstone which lay beneath the Temple of Light in Travincal.
Determined to redeem his beloved faith, Akkhan sought out the most devout, talented warriors and issued them a sacred mission: find a way to cleanse the Zakarum of decay and corruption once and for all. These warriors traveled to the east, directly opposite the Paladins traveling with General Rakkis, following the rumored path Akarat took in the last days of his life before disappearing.
And so the Crusader order was born.
Amongst the Zakarum: The Crusader's Role
Long time players of the Diablo franchise are likely familiar with the Zakarum faith and may even fondly remember time spent with their Paladin, the playable holy warrior from Diablo II. While Crusaders and Paladins share a devotion to the Zakarum faith, they aren't directly related to one another nor necessarily serve the same goals.
So how exactly do the Crusaders fit into the picture?
Of Paladins Past and Present:
Let's go over what we currently know: a quick overview of the well-beloved Paladin. Paladins are devoted warriors of the Zakarum. Over time since their founding, different sects of Paladins began to form, with separate goals and bases of operation. This includes the Knights of Westmarch, the Order of Paladins, and the Hand of Zakarum.
During the events of the Zakarum Inquisition, the Hand of Zakarum was discovered to be corrupt and collapsed shortly after the events of Diablo II. The Order of Paladins, disgusted by the corruption of their faith, broke away and fled to the west, eventually settling in Westmarch. The Knights of Westmarch, already established from General Rakkis' conquest and eager to diminish their connection to Mephisto's corruption, absorbed the Order of Paladins and disassociated themselves from the Zakarum faith.
These different orders, some intentionally while others as a result of malevolent misdirection, evolved their arts and practices over the years, eventually developing into the Paladins we see today.
The Crusade Continues:
Unlike the Paladins, the Crusaders are an elite and insular group that has seen very little change since their founding, maintaining beliefs and practices most close to the original teachings of Akarat. Though Crusaders may exhibit similar ability to wield and bend the Light to their will as their Paladin counterparts, their fervor comes from a much more pure sense of righteousness. This is in part by design. During their formation, Akkhan made certain to only recruit those with the strongest conviction and battle potential. He also actively avoided bringing in anyone with Paladin training, fearful of any existing defilement or corruption carrying over into his crusade.
As a result of this focused purpose and very guarded lifestyle, the order itself is actually quite small. In total, only 427 Crusaders were sent east, and over time, their numbers have dwindled to the 341 known today. In practice, the Crusaders remain a loosely organized group, often traveling alone or with, at most, a single apprentice—a partnership which will persist until the Crusader's death. When it comes time for the Crusader to lay down their weapon, generally by falling in battle, their apprentice will not only take up their shield and armor, but their name as well, continuing a legacy set in motion so many generations ago.
Starting the Journey: The Nephalem Crusader
As with the other Diablo III classes, the Crusader is a nephalem, their blood pulsing with same hidden power. Hearing the tales of a mysterious star falling from the sky and having exhausted their search in the East, the Crusader has traveled to New Tristram, hoping to discover anything that might save their faltering faith.
Will you take up the flail and shield in the name of the Zakarum? Are you eager to smite your foes with the pure, unblemished power of the Light? Let us know in the comments below if you'll be rolling out your living, battle hardened tank on launch day!