Diablo® III

Why D3's story didn't feel the same...

As soon as I fired up Diablo 3 for the first time, I knew something was amiss with the story. Even before the endless bombardment of hamfisted dialogue and Saturday-morning-cartoon-esque one liners being flung around by the bad guy made itself known, the story just didn't feel like a Diablo game.

Something felt wrong, but I couldn't seem to identify it. I didn't really like the story overall, but liking the story or not liking is pretty subjective, and it's not really the way I wanted to go about breaking down the question of, "Why?"

Having said that, I really don't want to critically analyse the story in minute detail at this point, there's really no need. This story has been deconstructed by many people already that have done a better job than I could ever have hoped to accomplish. What I do want to focus on, however, is why Diablo III's story doesn't feel like a Diablo story.

So why does Diablo III's story, which contains a greater library of dialogue, more story elements, and much more interactive lore than Diablo I & II combined, feel like it's worse? Because the player is no longer the center of that story. The player, as an entity, is removed from the story's narrative, which excludes them from the emotional attachment as a result of their interactions with other characters in the story.

Let me back up a second, Diablo I & II's narrative was structured around the idea that your character in the game functioned as an avatar of the player. When lines of dialogue were spoken to your character, they were actually being said to you, the player. This is where the "Role-playing" element came into the story of those games. This gave you the ability to interpret those elements in almost any capacity that you saw fit, it gave the player a sense of involvement, and a greater sense of emotional investment.

My involvement with the story was limited only by my imagination of these characters. I wanted to rescue Cain from Tristram because Cain had helped me in the past before, I've established a rapport with him. As the player, I like Cain. I've stayed a while and listened, I've shared in his successes, I've shared in his plights - we have a connection with one another. So I don't need justification on why, in Diablo II, I would have a personal interest in rescuing Cain from an untimely death.

That kind of player involvement feels more personable. This would also explain why players view the Diablo II story as better. While the story might not actually have been better, it certainly made it more memorable. This is why I don't think that nostalgia is the only culprit for why players feel this way. This is also why I get just a little bit annoyed when the developers take the viewpoint that the story in Diablo II was "not as good as we remembered".

Sure, as a direct comparison, Diablo III has more to offer, but the lack of player's personal involvement with the story makes us feel like we've gone from being part of the story to simply watching the story. These two games offer two different story-telling methods that have a very different flavor to them, and while I might have grown out of the taste of the Diablo II story, it doesn't diminish the fond memories I have having experienced it.

So how does this affect Diablo III's story? Well, for one thing, it changes the way the story has to be told. When my motivations for completing a quest are no longer my own, that means my character needs motivation. This is where things immediately went sour for me.

Since my new Diablo III character has never been on the kinds of adventures with characters like Tyreal and Cain the way I have, I felt taken aback. A lot of story needs to be retread because this character has no real backstory to them that ties them to the events in the game. But this motivation factor is a real problem, because the individual quests don't do enough to establish motivation for my character.

This is where things got really lazy to me. See, without proper motivation from good story-telling, the spoken narrative comes to the forefront in a way that it didn't need to in Diablo's I & II. This is why we have bad guy's popping in every 15-20 minutes to throw out dialogue to keep our character on track. It's not that the player isn't aware of what's going on and needs these things, it's that the character the player is playing has no idea what's going on and would be completely lost without it.

It's not so much that this method of story telling couldn't have worked, but in the context of a Diablo game, a long running player-engaging franchise focused on role-playing story elements it felt uninspired, lazy, and was poorly written because our characters in the game don't have the kind of emotional attachment to the main characters they way that we the players do.
Edited by VSKBadCRC#1653 on 6/30/2012 10:27 AM PDT
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Diablo 1 and 2 had a sort of a "Here you go, have fun" approach, where they gave you a game, and you went out and had fun with it.

Because the focus of the game was finding loots and kicking butts, they dimmed out the story, as it was just an excuse for your character to be there and kick !@#.

If that wasn't enough, you could fill in the story on your own, adding to the dark and mysterious atmosphere.

But with Diablo 3, they switched to the post Vanilla WoW style of "THIS IS HOW YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO HAVE FUN, QUIT PLAYING IT IN UNINTENDED WAYS" approach, where developers who believe they're the second coming of Christ for gaming, pushing their ideas and slamming them into your face.

So Diablo 3 ended up being very shallow, because everything was spelt out, and it was spelt out horribly. The game had some good ideas, but the "1-up syndrome", with a mixture of the "I'm right you're wrong" syndrome, have made the game a lot less fun for me.

The only thing keeping me logging on are the 2 or 3 friends that haven't quit yet, I suspect we're all supporting each other in regards to playing this game, like alcoholics that secretly go out drinking with each other after an AA meeting.
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90 Human Priest
16390
Well written OP.

I agree.
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Sounds like you prefer the empty slate of your character saying nothing. And honestly, I sort of agree.

One of the things I really disliked about D3's method of storytelling was the lack of fear and suspense. But while the most frequent knock against this is the Saturday Morning Cartoon villains that pop up and telling you exactly what's going to happen in a completely non-threatening way, I was also really put off by my character's dialogue.

Every single time the story tries to set something up as threatening, the PC instantly dismisses the threat. It's particularly bad as a male wizard.

"Tell Leah to abandon this foolish quest before she gets herself killed!"
"Why would I do that? I'm going to go with her and find Cain, because I'm an awesomely powerful dude."

"Oh no, the Skeleton King is back, and the dead are rising from their graves"
"Don't worry, I'll beat him."

"Oh no, Magda!"
"She can't hide from me! I'll beat her!"

"Belial is taking over the city!"
"Not if I have anything to say about it!"

"Azmodan is ransacking the keep!"
"We'll see about that!"

"Diablo is destroying the Heavens!"
"I'm out of comebacks. Let's just say I'm not worried."

Oddly enough, the PC's responses match my inner monologue almost exactly. But there's a difference between what I as a player am thinking, and what the character should be thinking. The character never once demonstrates any degree of fear, any wavering of confidence. It's a real atmosphere killer.

But I disagree about the story in D1 and D2 being driven by the player's interpretation of events.

D1's story was driven by the unknown, and the gradual discover of new horrors. You were a relative stranger in Tristram, which was necessary for tutorial purposes (it sounds funny if the NPCs say, "Hey, you live here, but just in case you were napping, here's what's going on"), but it also served to keep the story focused on what happened/was happening to the village and people of Tristram.

D2's story, easily the best of the three, was driven by the amazing cinematics. We never meet Marius, but he is the best character in the entire series BY FAR, and his stories about The Wanderer's losing battle against Diablo, and his own inability to conquer his cowardice, are the most powerful storytelling moments in all of Blizzard's history. The ending of Diablo 2 (not the expansion) is among the greatest video game endings of all time. And NONE of that has ANYTHING to do with your character. You are a footnote in that story.

Neither one was particularly big on the choices of the player. But because they largely ignored the PC, they were able to tell stories solely using characters that they had full control of, and they were able to avoid the age old problem of, "How do we address the PC without referencing its name, gender, or class?" The more often you're addressed directly in conversation, the more often you have to find a word to use. In D2 we were called "Hero" a handful of times. In D3 we get called "Nephalem" every third sentence... And that's when you start to feel like your character isn't fleshed out enough, despite the fact that D3 gives more backstory and inner-monologue than both of its predecessors.
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42 Gnome Priest
6820
It would help if there was a class that wasn't either self assured and aloof or an arrogant prick. Maybe a mute or a child hero or something?
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Sounds like you prefer the empty slate of your character saying nothing. And honestly, I sort of agree.

One of the things I really disliked about D3's method of storytelling was the lack of fear and suspense. But while the most frequent knock against this is the Saturday Morning Cartoon villains that pop up and telling you exactly what's going to happen in a completely non-threatening way, I was also really put off by my character's dialogue.


Yeah, see this is why I think of the vocal protagonist in this game as being something that works against itself. From a writing perspective, if one character spouts a bunch of mind-numbing one-liners, the vocal protagonist is going to counter those with equally cheesy one-liners.

Every single time the story tries to set something up as threatening, the PC instantly dismisses the threat. It's particularly bad as a male wizard.


I definitely agree with this. It really muddies the intended drama in a scene when characters throw out cliche one-liners. The only thing I could think of that would have started things off as being more awkward is if in the opening cinematic as the meteor began to fall, Cain and Leah would have started to make their way out as the cathedral began to erupt in explosions with Cain yelling, "I'm getting too old for this !@#$!"

Oddly enough, the PC's responses match my inner monologue almost exactly. But there's a difference between what I as a player am thinking, and what the character should be thinking. The character never once demonstrates any degree of fear, any wavering of confidence. It's a real atmosphere killer.


Yeah, it's not a good thing when the bad guy shows up and either says something out of character - like Maghda showing to tell me where the other sword pieces are because it doesn't serve her interest. You might say, "Because she wanted you to have them so that Cain would repair them." To which I would reply, "She forces Cain to do it anyways, it didn't matter who retrieved them because she was going to make him do it either way."

This kind of character development is superficial and one dimensional. It also goes to show that these characters do not even fit the profiles that we've been told they're supposed to fit into. The fact that Blizzard had to explain that Belial was the Lord of Lies and that his great talent was a great liar.

I'm going to pull a page from RedLetterMedia and propose the following question:

Describe Maghda's character WITHOUT saying what she look like, what kind of costume she wore, or what her profession or role in the game is. Describe this characters to your friends like they ain't never played Diablo III before. Use only information available from the game itself, and not what's been told in any of the novelizations. The more descriptive you can be, the stronger the character.

And my only response to this question, in all honesty, is "That is f*cking impossible because she doesn't have a character."

But even if I had said, "She's the cartoon villan, she spouts silly one-liners and exposition that ultimately works against her.", the problem is that every villain in the game does this. It's not a quirky trait for her and her alone.
Edited by VSKBadCRC#1653 on 6/30/2012 8:53 AM PDT
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I'm going to pull a page from RedLetterMedia...


I recently watched his Episode 1 review again. I realized the same things he said about Episode 1 could be said about Diablo 3, for exactly the same reasons.
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its nice seeing a rational write up for a critique here. I can totally see where the OP is coming from. Like Xanth up there said, the OP prefers a blank slate type of narrative.

thumbs up.

I on the other hand like the way the characters have personalities of their own. I dont play Diablo to roleplay after all.The Blank Slate type of characters of D1 and D2 were nothing special to me and in contrast to how the OP felt I felt more disconnected to the story. While admittedly the endless optimism of the PC can get grating at times, I much prefer them saying something about the situation where in D1 and D2 they didnt :P Stylistically I like the new approach of D3 with the characters rather than the "gophers" of D1 and D2

as for the fear component, I was inclined to also agree with Xanth that there isnt a lot of fear inducing moments in D3 for me. After all I knew how powerful I was going to be later on..

The funny thing though is that my GF who has played D1 and D2 still shows the fear and trepidation when exploring that I felt the first time I played D1. This is a girl whos played the resident evil and silent hill series and she likes scary games. she got into the atmosphere of Act 1 in a way that I didnt.

I envy her for that.

as for describing Maghda as a character: She's Middle Management. The Peter Principle hit Maghda hard. If you've ever worked in an office youll know what I'm talking about :D
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oh you know what I really miss?

NPCs rewarding me stuff :P

the pop up with the xp, gold and Quest Completed sign just doesnt cut it.
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Interesting OP, I hadn't really thought of that. But that actually makes a lot of sense.

While playing D2 I didn't really have an idea what I was doing in the moment (just followed quests), but I understood the overarching story. However, looking at D3, I realize they had to force the story on us with those crazy NPC popups all of the time. And even then it's a bit vague in my memory.

I've been under the impression that if they removed the corny (in-game) cutscenes, and cut down the voice acting, the complaints of the story would be much much less. Maybe if D2 had so many cut-scenes it would have annoyed us too?

But your post changes my mind a bit... there wasn't enough emotional development for ourselves perhaps? Instead they tried to take us on a movie-ride like the action games on consoles? Unfortunately the comicness of it hurts that, and is quite surprising in an M rated game.

Yeah, it's not a good thing when the bad guy shows up and either says something out of character - like Maghda showing to tell me where the other sword pieces are because it doesn't serve her interest. You might say, "Because she wanted you to have them so that Cain would repair them." To which I would reply, "She forces Cain to do it anyways, it didn't matter who retrieved them because she was going to make him do it either way."


It's surprising that Blizzard, full of University-educated people, did not critique any of this. Hell, even taking one screen-writing course would be enough to say "something is wrong with this story, make it better!!".
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22 Human Warlock
130
Soon as I personally stopped comparing it to Diablo 2(which, really wasnt that great of a game in of itself) I actually enjoyed the story for being just that, a story.
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I find it impossible to not differentiate between all three Diablo games. D2 derived elements from the original, while D3 took a whole new turn (which I felt completely removed the dark and mysterious elements of D1 and D2) and forced a rather lame story down my throat.

First of all, I liked the fact that I had to look for lore outside the game, making my character feel just as confused as I was (finding Duriel in Tal Rasha's tomb, for example). I don't role-play, at all, but reading the musty old tomes gave it much more of a medieval, evil spirited vibe. Something I didn't get from D3, at all. Maybe the overall ambiance, together with the bad GFX provided that vibe. Which I still get today, years after the release of both games.

I like parts of D3. I really do. But it's not evil. It's a Hollywood movie, rather than a old novel that didn't provide all the answers. Some like it, I didn't.
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I feel more like a clean-up crew than a hero in Diablo 3.
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07/02/2012 11:15 PMPosted by Kember
I find it impossible to not differentiate between all three Diablo games. D2 derived elements from the original, while D3 took a whole new turn (which I felt completely removed the dark and mysterious elements of D1 and D2) and forced a rather lame story down my throat.


Unfortunately that is the case. D1 and D2 left things to the imagination. D2 was a great first step into a larger world, enhanced class creation, more in depth story, etc.

D3 was set up to be a beautiful, in-depth story in the much more fleshed out world of Sanctuary, years of backstory and lore development... And then we got handed this plot.

I've used the same analogy before, FFXIII was a great game designed around the story. Not a story designed around a pretty decent (although unbalanced) game.

07/02/2012 11:15 PMPosted by Kember
I like parts of D3. I really do. But it's not evil. It's a Hollywood movie, rather than a old novel that didn't provide all the answers. Some like it, I didn't.


I'd go back to the old Dune books. Frank Herbert was an amazing writer, and his books and their popularity reflect that. There's even a Shai Hulud reference in this game (Desolate Sands elite). His son took the franchise and murdered it slowly, by cranking out prequels explaining every little detail and ending the series in a pitiful ending requiring not one, but FOUR deus ex machinas to end.

And to swing back to the original post, the story isn't the same. It's getting harder and harder to find someone willing to stay a while and listen, versus modern writing with hop-skip chapters and 30 second sound bites. In all honesty, how many of you that have read Lord of the Rings read all the way through the Sam and Frodo chapters? Or did you feel yourselves wanting to skip to the Aragorn chapters with the mighty battles and great deeds?

If you want great character development, support the fiction and games that give you that. Petition the makers of this game to go back and enrich the characters. Or check the box and skip all story and go somewhere else to use your imagination.
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Describe Maghda's character WITHOUT saying what she look like, what kind of costume she wore, or what her profession or role in the game is. Describe this characters to your friends like they ain't never played Diablo III before. Use only information available from the game itself, and not what's been told in any of the novelizations. The more descriptive you can be, the stronger the character.


I don't like Maghda all that much, yet even I can do that easily:

She's a power-hungry vixen; smug, boastful, pretentious, condescending, and loyal to a fault to Belial.
Edited by JohnnyZeWolf#1953 on 7/3/2012 8:35 AM PDT
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