Last week, I tweeted:
Finished Diablo III. Writing credits are pretty deep in the end crawl, consistent with how little they cared.
Yes, I was trying to kill two birds with 140 characters. The writers weren’t given very good placement in the hierarchy of credits, and the storytelling in Diablo III is pretty damn weak.
Many folks have asked me to elaborate my story gripes, so here we go. There are very minor spoilers within. Trust me, I’m not really ruining anything.
I didn’t come here to watch NPCs talk to each other.
In Diablo III, you encounter most of the plot by listening as other characters talk to each other. Leah talks to Deckard Cain. Tyreal talks to Adria. They’re having an exclamation point party, and you’re welcome to quietly observe.
Every once in a while, your character chimes in, but it’s generally to say, “I’ll do it!”
The decisions have been made and you’re sent off to do/get/kill whatever they’ve decided upon.
Shouldn’t my character be in charge?
I’m a witch doctor. I’ve got an intelligence of 235, and later in the game I’m revealed to be a unique supernatural being.1 So why am I taking marching orders from you?
I’m apparently the only one who can save heaven and earth, so maybe you should shut up and let me talk.
Note that I’m not actually demanding choice or free will as a player. Look, I’ve played Diablo. I’ll go kill the next thing. But I’d love to feel like my character was making the choice, rather than being a lackey.
I don’t know or care about any of the NPCs.
At several points in the game, major NPCs betray you and/or die. And you shrug.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Remember Raynor and Kerrigan from StarCraft? I became invested in those characters, not because of their cut scenes, but because I got to play as them. I kept them alive through zerg rushes, and watched as they made sacrifices that transformed them. So even when I wasn’t playing those characters, I knew them.
The only NPC I cared about a little was my sidekick/meatshield, Kormac the Templar. He had a limited set of phrases, but he made an effort, and our canned conversations felt at least a little humanizing. Here’s the test: When I could have switched to a different hireling, I didn’t, because I would have missed him. A little.
I was way ahead of the plot.
Gee, nothing bad could happen from sucking all those demon lords into a fiery black soul stone.
The sepia-toned character interludes feel like band-aids.
At several moments in the game — generally at act breaks — the game goes to a completely different animation style. Your character gives voiceover to recap what’s just happened and where they’re headed next. It’s oddly repetitive and tacked-on.
My hunch, though I have no proof, is that these interludes came very late in the development of the game, when someone at Blizzard realized that the player/plot relationship was non-existant. It very much feels like voiceover added to a movie that’s not working.
To be fair, I liked a few story and character elements.
I dug the character introductions, which are done in that same sepia style. No matter which character class you choose, your hero is racing to get to Tristram to investigate a falling star. I love characters who run towards danger. Their backstory details are interesting and specific — and sadly irrelevant, because you’re never going to refer to them again.
I liked the environments — although I wish more interesting things were happening in them. Fairly late in the game, there’s a spider queen who tortures chained giant somethings. Are they gods? Titans? I wish they weren’t just set dressing.
I played through the first boss with each of the character classes before settling on the witch doctor.2 To their credit, each of the character concepts felt distinct, with nice voice acting and interesting animation. I liked the female barbarian a lot, and if I decide to keep playing, I’ll probably give her a shot.
But I’m probably hanging up my mouse on Diablo III. Like its predecessor, it ultimately becomes a game of optimization, and that’s just not my thing.