Diablo 3′s Story: What Went Wrong
SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t completed Diablo 3, this article spoils the ending and many plot points.
In my review of Diablo 3, I had to hold back on discussing why the story was mediocre in order to avoid spoilers. I made mention of predictable plot twists and clichéd dialogue, but I’d like to now revisit the topic and spell out every issue I had with the game‘s storytelling — I’ve been happy to note that I’m not the only one who has problems with it.
I’ll start by mentioning that the companion storylines and interactions are fairly good, and probably make up the strongest storytelling in the game.
As for the “A plot,” its quality peaks in Act 1 and progresses steadily downhill from there. Instances of subtlety are buried under heavy-handed storytelling and characters that spew mountains of exposition for no reason other than keeping the audience informed about every plot detail.
Now, I can forgive any number of problems with a plot as long as a story delivers a satisfying conclusion, but Diablo 3 sadly fails here as well.
We’ll analyze the game’s cinematics, the villains as a whole, and several of the key characters individually.
I’d like to begin with the more positive aspects of Diablo’s story, which mostly revolve around its cinematics, before we tear apart its characters.
Cinematic 1: Blizzard is off to a strong start, both by opening with a dramatic hook and by clever use of foreshadowing.
Cain narrates, “And at the end of days, the first sign shall appear in the heavens; Justice shall fall upon the world of men.” This, of course, foreshadows the reveal that the falling star will turn out to be Tyrael, the archangel of Justice, but the story doesn’t beat you over the head with it.
There’s also a scene in which Imperius is depicted on a stained glass window, which parallels a scene in a later cinematic in which Imperius is splayed against the gates of Heaven as they shatter like glass. It’s genius. So genius, in fact, that one may say it was unintentional, but I’m willing to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt.
Cinematic 2: After his cheap death, Cain gets a proper funeral in this cinematic, which suitably closes out Act 1. The cinematic, however, suffers from melodrama, cliché, and jarring character behavior.
For instance, as Tyrael mentions sacrifice, Leah snaps at him: “What would you know about sacrifice?” I get that she’s emotional, but that’s a tad presumptuous of her. Then, after seeing the flashback, she is moved to tears. “You chose… to be one of us.” Why is she so moved by this? She goes from being snippy to being awed almost instantly — and don’t joke about mood swings.
In the flashback, Tyrael speaks to Imperius. “All I am guilty of is bringing justice, while you cower behind your throne,” he says, and shortly thereafter, adds, “You cannot judge me; I am Justice itself.” That’s a cool line, but it’s clearly exposition for its own sake. Why would Tyrael say this to Imperius? Does Imperius suffer from Alzheimer’s? And you’re laying it on a little thick with the justice talk, there, Tyrael.
“Thus I fell… willingly,” Tyrael later says. “Because humanity is the only hope for this world.” And there we are. Did you order some provolone? Parmesan? Feta? No? Then why is there so much cheese around here?
The cinematic closes with the lighting of Cain’s funeral pyre, with a shot of Tyrael and Leah standing before the burning pyre, backs to the camera. As the smoke rises, we pan to the starry sky as John Williams-esque brass orchestrals play. The scene is so reminiscent of Darth Vader’s funeral that I expected a circular wipe to cut to credits while the Star Wars theme played.
As harsh as I’ve been here, the cinematic is nonetheless an appreciated send-off to a beloved character, and features some thrilling Tyrael vs. Imperius action.
Cinematic 3: While this cinematic starts off rough, it presents an intimidating introduction to Azmodan while proving once again that Blizzard is capable of subtlety.
Leah opens the cinematic by speaking aloud: “None of this makes any sense to me. What am I missing, uncle? What am I supposed to see?” Why was this dialogue necessary? What purpose does it serve the rest of the cinematic? Nothing — you can remove it without affecting the rest of the scene in any way. More exposition for expositions’ sake.
Then Azmodan makes his terrific first appearance and begins talking to what initially seems like Leah — and the player, through association. But after beating the game, the dialogue takes on a completely different meaning:
“You thought you were so clever… that you’d outwitted us all. One by one, our brethren fell into your trap. But not me. I defy you. I know the Black Soulstone is the key, and it shall me mine. Soon my armies shall pour forth from the shattered mountain, ravaging this world and all hope of resistance. My minions will find the stone, wherever you choose to hide it. Then, at long last, Azmodan shall reign as the Prime Evil.”
Azmodan is actually talking to Diablo. Once again, Blizzard shows that it can be clever in its storytelling and doesn’t have to make everything glaringly obvious.
Cinematic 4: Not much to discuss here; Diablo and Imperius pontificate vacuously, then we get that lovely scene that was foreshadowed with the stained glass, and we end with a recycled shot from a WarCraft 3 cinematic: a tumbling tower-like structure that slowly collapses, blowing smoke up to the camera as a fade-out.
Cinematic 5: Bring out the cheese grater. Diablo 3 closes with a symbolic sunrise as Tyrael monologues as trite an ending as he can possibly muster, challenging himself to stuff as many clichés in as he can before the credits roll.
“A new day breaks for both Angels and men. For mankind’s greatest champion, the Nephalem, rose to confront the darkness that we, in our pride, would not face.
“My brethren, I will take my place among you once again. But this time, as a mortal. Since justice has been met this day, I will now stand as Wisdom, on behalf of those who risked all to save us. Forevermore, we shall stand together, angels and men, in the light of this glorious new dawn.”