The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Diablo III Crusaders

A Crusader stands on the log on screen, clad in gold and white holy armor.

In case you haven’t been paying attention this week, but Diablo III: Reaper of Souls dropped. I have written about my time spent with this pleasant hack-and-slash game before, and it has been mostly positive and about how fun the game is. I had put it down for a while to focus on Mists of Pandaria but their pre-expansion patch 2.0 dragged me back with all of the quality of life changes. The expansion is no less engaging so far, as well.

What Diablo III: Reaper of Souls introduced, along with the new story quest content and Adventure Mode is a new class called the Crusader. A previously small branch of holy warriors that follow the religion of Zakarum, they are pious defenders that rid the world of sin and demonic activity. They apparently are similar to the paladins of Diablo II, but my own investigation into this has yielded at least one glaring question: why are they so white?

The thought that prompted to look into this class’ possible beginnings was wondering why Crusaders wouldn’t look like Tyrael’s human self versus the great white-haired-and-blue-eyed woman that stands on my logon screen.

Tyrael in the Reaper of Souls cinematic.

Tyrael (voiced by Jonathan Adams) is a fallen angel of the Heavens who is portrayed in the cinematic as well as his in-game portrait as black. Wouldn’t it make at least a clever bit of sense to have the newly minted Crusaders be made in the visage of Diablo III‘s most holy knight? It’s not like the game isn’t lacking other black and brown characters at this point, though the problem is that up until this point in Diablo III‘s career, the witch doctors are not exactly something I’d call a positive portrayal of black people. Witch doctors, although entirely fun as a game class, are black people that are styled in a way that is built on incredibly racist tropes.

When I started looking into Diablo’s history with other black characters, this was brought up to me:

Upon looking at the Diablo II wiki, this became pretty obvious. Paladins and Crusaders are both warriors of Zakarum. It would make both aesthetic and narrative sense to have the two classes look similar. The fact that how Crusaders look now is remarkably different from how they should have looked is touched on in-game. There’s a lore book in Reaper of Souls explaining why this occurred (somehow) as the crusaders split off from other holy orders to go East (which ignores things like how migration doesn’t magically turn you from black to lily white in a rapid fashion).

The Crusaders of the present also differ physically from their forebears—Abd al-Hazir referred to them as “tall blonde warriors,” very different from their Kehjistani forefathers.[10] While these Crusaders still bear the name of their forefathers, they are ethnically of Sanctuary’s far east rather than Kehjistan.[7]

Diablo 3 Wiki

There’s also the problem where it is intimated that the Crusaders split off due to their purity and zealousness and immunity to corruption that paladins never had that bothers the living heck out of me. It reads very oddly to have a holy order that is “ethnically different” from darker forebears but is also fabulously more pure. How does only a handful of generations of holy warriors manage to become a crusader of a different color if they are typically loners with only an apprentice? I wonder.

Even if none of this lore was particularly threadbare and bizarre on the subject of religious soldiers, there’s still the matter that often fantasy bases it’s portrayal of divine holy people as light and bright, skin color entirely in line with this. Seeing black or brown Crusaders in the vein of the paladins of yore would have gone a long way to shaking up the makeup of Diablo’s classes and unoriginal fantasy palettes even further. While it is commendable that they’ve done a handful of things differently than other games in this vein, perhaps, they’ve done not nearly enough and done a few things hideously wrong.

I get that maybe Blizzard got hyped on a tall, blonde Joan of Arc warrior woman type and while it’s cool to see them develop a woman character as the driving force behind a creative endeavor but the fact that she was yet another conventionally beautiful, blonde warrior woman in a long line of them in fantasy as an acceptable “strong” woman visage was nothing new. They missed out on a logical, fairly necessary place to honor some of Diablo’s older lore as well as create more characters that aren’t white.

11 Responses

  1. The crusaders left for the east, took apprentices, fought the corruption and died. Upon their death, the apprentices took on the identity of their former masters and began recruiting their own apprentices. And so forth, for 200 years. That is, in essence, the lore contained in the 9 books about the crusaders you can currently find in DIII. No bleaching occurred, they just took apprentices with different skin and hair color…

  2. Although according to the Diablo 3 RoS Crusader Lore there’s no reason why they can’t be white, I would have liked the in-game character models to be non-white for two major reasons.

    1) As a nod to the D2 Paladin, who continues to hold a special place in my heart,


    2) To deliberately avoid the stereotypes ACM mentioned.

    As they’re apprentices recruited from many different locations throughout Sanctuary their skin colour is completely arbitrary. In such instance I am enthusiastically in favour of undermining classical expectations.

  3. Maybe D4 will feature the option to choose more character models than just female and male. I see no reason why they can’t offer the same variety as WoW, with different faces, hair and skin color…

  4. Ugh are you rnning out of causes with WoW , now you want to whine about D3 also?

    let me paraphrase something you said in opposition to rape and other sexual uglinesses in WoW- “who needs realism?”

    so what if the humans in D3 are white. everything in the stories makes it cleaer humans did not evolve naturally- they were created why assume that there would be or SHOULD be a black population?

    stop crusading for fucking once

  5. Mrrrrghhhh yeah this decision vexes me.

    Like in concert with some of the sketchy colonialist WTF that keeps getting into extended universe material (especially in the work of one author who used to work with Tracy Hickman and thus injected a lot of Mormon grodyness into everything) this is really facepalmy. The equation of pallor with purity is a huge ball of wax that’s had an impact on all manner of everywhere–heck several British museums actually DAMAGED Roman and Greek marble works “cleaning” them; these sculptures were painted really brightly back in the day but because of a buttload of social and religious and political OMGWTF all rolled up together…yeah. These works got scoured.

    Back to Diablo–there’s no reason why tall blond/e people can’t be dark-complected, so this is honestly a case of lazy uncreative design ultimately rooted in problematic nonsense.

    I love that Tyrael is not a white bro, but I hate that Blizz seems to be like “okay we will just stop after him and the witch doctors lol”…just why. No. Guys no.

    They could’ve done something that was different and visually stunning and inclusive and cool…and instead theyyyyyy didn’t. It’s lazy and irritating that they did this.

  6. I was surprised the first time I saw Tyrael without his faceplate but pleasantly so, because it wasn’t what I expected (which says a lot about me, I suppose).

    I made a crusader with the purpose of making a dark paladin-type, because of D3’s ability to use dyes. I’m hoping my dark knight doesn’t appear too boring though, as I’ve heard the dyes tend to take some of the shine off the armor.

  7. I think it’s a little idiotic to whine about something we are not really sure about, I really don’t think blizzard did this in a racist fashion, but curse them if they did, nevertheless.

    In fact, when this Abd guy talks in that lore thing says something like: Alright, WTF happened to this crusader dudes?? they are not black as they used to be. So yeah, he is as surprised as we are and Blizz took the time to make this noticeable. So i just can think of some twisted connection between the black paladins and this uber white crusaders that is yet to be explained in some other expansion or D4 itself, beyond, of course, the fact that they were all once on that Zakarum shit together.

    I’m a huge fan of D2’s paladin, because he was all the good things together in one character, he was strong, cared for his allies, encouraged them to fight with no fear and he healed himself like a boss, all because of his faith. But above all things he was a black dude with wich I felt identified because I’m part black myself and I thought how cool and un-racist this is but it also felt as if Blizzard was not trying too hard either. I really look forward for a very elaborate explanation for the crusader-paladin story, and, if its not too much to ask, a new class like a reformed paladin of some sort, because it turns out, or so I’ve been reading, that the paladins were influenced by some major demons and so they were the “tainted ones” while the Crusaders are the “fanatics” of this story, so too much of anything won’t do, enter the balanced black-white holy warrior, I say.

  8. From D3 lore book, “The Crusaders, part 8″
    “I recently met a returning crusader, and now, I understand. Each crusader took an apprentice. When a crusader fell, his apprentice would take up his armor, his place in the order, and even his very name! When the first generation of crusaders fell, their own apprentices took up their identities. And so it has continued for two hundred years.”

    • What exactly is bigoted about this?
      In the lore the crusaders were seen as fanatics and driven out of their homeland towards the east, where the indigenous people’s of Westmarch were of a fairer complection. They (being the crusaders) found apprentices to the order among the locals and in time were succeeded by them. I see no evidence of bigotry in said timeline.

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