This post probably contains spoilers. I think.
Here’s yet another post that differs from my ‘usual’ fare- if I can even be said to have a usual fare. It feels rather strange to write this- almost as though I’m airing dirty laundry- but it’s something that I think I need to say. To be honest, I’m not even certain I know what I’m trying to convey at this point- I only hope that when I’m done typing this up, it’ll form a coherent, cohesive narrative that adequately expresses my thoughts.
And that, reading it, I’ll be able to discern what, exactly, those thoughts are.
Today, I’m going to discuss Diablo III. More specifically, I’m going to look at the plot of the game. You see, I said in my review that I loved the presentation of Blizzard’s latest entry into the franchise. And it’s true- I did. I loved the characters and their interaction, I loved the soundtrack, I even loved the set design- pure eye candy. The plot, on the other hand…
Well, on closer examination…it’s…actually pretty terrible.
When I first played Diablo III, I found myself on a bit of a deadline. You see, I was slated to write a review for the game- but due to Blizzard’s half-cocked launch, I was unable to get online for at least a day and a half. While I certainly didn’t rush through any of the game- I made sure I’d experienced the full campaign before composing my review- I’m not going to lie- I ingested a lot of caffeine in my pursuit of the remaining evils.
In hindsight, that exhaustion may have colored my perception.
See, in my review of the game, I said that, aside from a few plot holes and cheesy, overdone elements, the plot was…actually pretty good. I feel the need to clarify that, now that I’ve had the chance to look back and think about things a bit. While I certainly enjoyed a few particular aspects of it, I was plagued by nagging concerns at the back of my mind that something was very, very rotten here. I suppressed those concerns and soldiered through.
I got caught up in the story. The literary corners of my mind were screaming in protest, but I couldn’t hear them over the white noise. I was killing demons. I was enjoying the scenery. I was happy to have one of my most anticipated games ever in front of me. In short, I was either too exhausted or in too much a state of glee to really care all that much.
A few days later, I revisited the plot, and looked at it in closer detail. And I realized something. The concerns that I’d suppressed…were very valid. D3’s story, while it’s actually pretty fun if you could just step back and experience it, is actually pretty terrible if you stop to think about it for a few minutes. Before I look like I’m just spouting hot air, I should probably explain.
The Problem with the Plot
Emotional scenes are overdone and incredibly hammy. The Lord of Lies is a terrible liar. Many of the villains feel like they were ripped straight out of a Saturday Morning Cartoon. The existence of the Black Soulstone bothers me to no end- as does pretty much everything about Zoltan Kulle. The player character is an instant hero, and in later chapters, the word “Nephalem” is thrown around with about as much frequency as “Chosen One” in a bad fantasy novel. Chinks in the armor of D3’s story become more and more prevalent as you play through the game.
Why would the Lord of Lies make such obvious mistakes in his game of deceit? How did destroying the Soulstones at the hellforge not send Diablo and his ilk into nonexistence? Why does everybody think that destroying the Prime Evils mean all evil just ceases? What’s with all the villains narrating everything they do? Why does everybody celebrate when Diablo is ‘defeated’- without any soulstones to contain him? Can’t he just come back to the gates of heaven and rough the place up all over again? And where in the bloody hell did the whole “angels can basically become humans that aren’t really humans” schtick come from?
As for Leah being Diablo’s daughter…that honestly just felt like an ass pull to me, even with all the foreshadowing we were given.
Even when Deckard Cain- a character who’s been a staple of the series- died, it wasn’t actually that emotional of a scene. Instead, I was just wondering why my character didn’t simply break in and send the cultists packing. I wondered why Maghda decided to kill Cain instead of kidnapping him- and why, if she’d had that power in the first place, she didn’t just take everyone along for the ride. I mean, I went on a roaring rampage of revenge because of Cain’s death- because that’s just how things are done, right?- but I never truly felt emotionally engaged by it.
To be honest, I was surprised he was even still alive when the game started.
I guess, in hindsight, plot hasn’t exactly been the Diablo series’ strong suit, though. I mean, there are only so many iterations of “That guys a demon, he’s bad, he has armies, go kill him,” you can do before you start running out of ideas, right?
And yet…in spite of all that bothered me about it, I still enjoyed it. Act III felt truly epic, defending a falling keep against the hordes of hell in what felt like D2’s Act V on steroids. Azmodan’s boasting didn’t actually bother me all that much- though I felt he should have been labeled “The Lord of Pride” rather than the catch-all “Lord of Sin.” I mean, you’ve gotta admit- he was a rather arrogant fellow, all things considered.
And at least the cuts-scenes looked good, right?
At the end of the day, Diablo III’s plot plays out like a bad action movie. I’m not really sure why I enjoyed it- and it’s something of a guilty pleasure that I did- but it was a fun experience just the same. Will it win any awards for its writing? Probably not. Can the characterization stand up to the likes of Mass Effect or Dragon Age? Nah, not likely. But in its own way, it was still a fun experience.
A plot doesn’t always need to be ‘good’ to be entertaining, after all.
A Final Word
Maybe Diablo III won’t offer as many countless hours of entertainment as the previous entries in the series. Maybe, once I’ve grown tired of the new system, I’ll go back to playing through older titles again. But is Blizzard’s new approach really all that terrible? Yes, the game’s got a tone very different from the other entries in the series- it’s certainly not as dark, grim, or hopeless. But does it really need to be?
You’re never going to be able to please everyone. There was so much hype surrounding Diablo III‘s impending release, it’s honestly a wonder Blizzard actually pleased anyone.
I won’t lie. Although the always-on DRM that Blizzard ham-handedly saddled an otherwise entertaining title with it pisses me off (and it should piss you off, too), while the spotty connectivity and crippling server issues are certainly troublesome to me, and while the horror stories I’ve heard about late-game balance make me hesitant to play past Nightmare…I still feel like Diablo III is, as a whole, an enjoyable game.
In spite of all the things Blizzard botched.
Perhaps I’m simply starved for a decent dungeon crawler of late. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I’ve rambled on long enough, and you’re probably all tired of reading my senseless babble.
I’ll see you folks on Tuesday.