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I've only just gotten Diablo 3 and played through normal mode, so my experience through the latest story is rather fresh. In a summation of what I have evaluated from my own experience I wish to relate a few things in discussion. While most of these are in hindsight that won't have any bearing on a game thats already released, perhaps some things mentioned here might help with perspective for future installments.
Part of what I found particular about Diablo 3 thus far is it feels almost completely identical in settings to Diablo 2. Forest + Tristram visit in act 1, desert to jungle/oasis/sewers abridged into a single act, a war and a venture into the face of hell pressed into another single act. Within the first three acts of the game, its like Diablo 2 and expansion have been squeezed out and each act progressing faster than the previous, with less to do, to draw this vocal point to the last act.
Outside of a variance in the class gameplay mechanics, it feels too familiar and done even on the outset. This is a huge contrast from between Diablo 1 and 2.
I am aware that in previous iterations the story development was an after-thought presenting only segments through conversations and primarily being revealed through cut-scenes between acts. And I found that that worked.
Even back in Diablo 1, this great hero that surpassed Diablo takes in the soul stone leaving the first game players in anticipation of a sequel; an evil that will be greater because it took in what defeated it before. At the end of Diablo 2 vanilla, the story of Marius comes full circle by revealing he was speaking to Baal the whole time, and giving him his stone; another ending point that leaves the audience with anticipation. Now come Diablo 3 and players are told there is probably going to be two expansions, but left with an ending of Tyrial claiming himself wisdom, Prime burning to ashes and a brief spec of the black soulstone falling down.
Previous two games end on a note of anticipation by showing audiences something anticipate; third game audiences are told instead.
Let me digress a bit to say I do enjoy much gameplay wise in Diablo 3. But, when the story is woven into the game in a much greater factor than previous diablo installments, the story telling bears a greater burden on the play experience. The above example with just the story ending comparisons seems a consistent summation of experience between all the acts between games 1, 2 and 3. D2 places a greater emphasis on showing key story elements and D3 feels like its mostly telling.
We're told about the Prime Evils, their aspects and then shown destruction and corruption in their wake. We're told that Imperious is the greatest warrior in all creation and then see him getting stomped and frustrated at every turn. We're told Belial is the lord of lies— he lies like twice and then reveals himself without contingency. We're told Azmodan is a uncanny tactician, and then he tells where he's going to strike and bears like two phases to his militant might.
I feel this disparity between what is told and what is shown creates the biggest weakness I see in the current experience of Diablo 3. In Diablo 2, players see Tyrial be a baddass archangel, even when he loses. So he's already the fan-favorite for a skirmish in Diablo 3. For Imperious' lose to Diablo as the Prime to have greater impact, his should be the victory (or at least stronger position) in the squabble. This establishes a hierarchy for players in the game experience: Wanderer > Tyrial > Imperious > Prime Diablo. (the Wrath cartoon doesn't help as that has Imperious getting whomped by Diablo then too, so its like this "strongest" is that in name only)
We're told Kulle is unkillible, did all this annoying things to the horadrum in his immortality, and then shown that he can be slapped down into nothingness.
Course, since i don't have idea on the future projection of game events and expansions, so maybe some of the disparity in shown/tell isn't going to remain in this state, but I don't think it needed to be so clunky feel so clunky in the first place.
Would have exceeded the character limit in my previous post, so kinda losing some of my transition passing here.
Anyway, in light of the above particulars that I noticed between d2 and d3, I think a few what/if projects might help illistrate some of the above:
Tyrial doesn't "chose" to fall. Instead, he's cast down as a consequence for his actions in Diablo 2.
Act two could have worked out with having only fought a false Belial; some clone that acts through him to deceive the players into thinking they had indeed confronted the demon lord.
Act 3 fleshed out into a full military campaign against Azmodan's ground force commanders with Belial having been behind Azomodan's military lines (Azmodan having manipulated Belial into this positioning)
Act 4 is this battle through the hell-on-earth to thwart the reserves and guard of the army and then confront Azmodan. Give way to some progression of victory feeling, some quest goal to seeking to destroy the black soulstone and then...
In cinematic have Adria kick Tyrial to the curb. This then leaves The Prime reveal as either an Act 5 or just a closing cinematic to create anticipation for a first expansion.
Pacing isn't so rushed and offers some chances for more "showing" game play experiences to compliment the lore being "told"
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