A Hollywood Writer Rates Diablo III’s Story

Most of the discussions I’ve heard (or taken part in) about Diablo III’s story and plot have praise for the game’s storytelling tools, much of the dialogue, and the background and world lore, which is deep and rich and interesting. The criticisms are more focused on the main plot, which feels dumbed down and predictable in a Hollywood-style, and especially the in-game cinematics which feature such treats as Cain’s utterly-anticlimactic death, Zoltan Kulle’s infuriating impression of a birthing coach, and about 10 more lecturing nagging holographic visits from Azmodan and Diablo than anyone wanted or needed.

Thus it’s kind of ironic that this blog post about Diablo 3’s story, written by a Hollywood writer, says nothing about the overall game story and focuses instead of the individual character interactions and the NPC dialogue tools that drive most of the game’s narrative. Thanks to Malaya for the news tip.

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-existent. 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. 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.

I think I agree with him on the sepia-toned segments, though they’re far from what I’d single out for comment if writing about the game’s story. The opening one that each class/gender gets is nice and sets the tone and I often rewatch those when they reload when one of my characters progresses into a higher difficulty level — they’re pretty, they’re short and to the point, and they set the scene nicely. But all the little segments dropped in, in 20-second tidbits, throughout the acts… meh. I pretty much skip all of those, at this point.

What do you guys think? It’s universally known that aRPGs are tough to tell story in, since players just click through everything after they’ve played through the game a few times. With that in mind, after 2+ months, are you still experiencing any elements of Diablo 3’s story? Do you listen to some of the dialogues, or the lore books when you play a new character? Do you miss the books and tomes and in-game lore when you’re playing with an Inferno character who has already seen them all?

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52 thoughts on “A Hollywood Writer Rates Diablo III’s Story

  1. Wait, you just said you didn’t agree with the article’s thought on the sepia cutscenes, yet liked the intros and hated the mid-game cutscenes… which is exactly what the article said.

    • I shortened the part I quoted without changing my comments, so I just updated those. I mostly agree on the sepia-toned stuff, but I disagree with the author’s focus on those. His main complaint in the blog post is that the NPC dialogues aren’t good and that he wanted his character to be more involved in them, and that’s what I was going to debate, since I think those are done as they need to be.

      The game wasn’t going to support 5 (or 10) different versions of the story. It had one story that all classes/genders were slotted into, and thus them talking more to the NPCs wouldn’t have made any real diff. Plus I think the devs wanted to keep the usual “my avatar is a blank slate” feel to some extent, and thus all the heroes just go through the heroic motions, without individual personalities in the game since that would just complicate things. (Remember when the male Barb was going to be the same guy from D2, but they dropped that since it was too complicated to write him different dialogues, explain how he already knew Tyrael, etc.)

      Unique stories for all or even some of the classes would have been awesome, but an impossible amount of work for the devs, who clearly weren’t capable of writing even one good story, much less 5 or 10.

      • Wholly unique stories may have been impossible, but I do really miss one of the D2 storytelling devices where, in each act, one NPC would react differently and specifically to each class (e.g. Gheed hated Necromancers, Charsi loved Barbarians…) That would have brought in at least a small element of unique flavor to each character choice, a bit of roleplaying.

        (Edit: While we’re on the subject, I also dislike that all the merchant NPCs essentially are identical. Not only does it not make sense that the bartender can repair your gear but the blacksmith cannot, but it gives you no reason to visit any one vendor over another. Wish they’d split it up better, and also improve the random world vendors so that when they appear you actually want to talk to them for a reason other than to offload crap. Maybe they always get a == CLVL rare?)

        • Uhm, you realize that each of the 5 classes has different audios? So while they go through the same story, each of them has different text in what they say.
          Especially the Witch Doctor totally fulfills what you want – when he speaks of Mbwiru Eikura for example, most NPCs just react with “WTF?”.

          I think especially the NPC conversations in their diversions between the characters are awesome – but as Flux pointed out in the article, most players skip every dialog once they played the game through with one class and therefore never realize what they miss.

          • I’ve played through 4 of the 5 classes now (admittedly, not the WD as s/he holds the least appeal for me). Yes, (some) of the dialogue varies from class to class, but almost without exception it’s only *your* lines that change, not what the NPC says back. And none of the NPCs show any particular preference for or against any one class, which is what I was talking about anyway.

  2. For me, the story mattered most the first few times (2-3) I played it…after that I usually just skip through as much as I can. I enjoyed finding the lore audio diaries the first couple of times, but once I started my third character I didn’t find them quite as enjoyable. The most annoying thing is the way the story elements are “shoved in your face” pretty much the whole game. Act I is not that bad, but as you progress there’s just more and more bits to skip past. I wish there as an option to squelch/mute the Azmodan/Diablo chat channel in Acts 3/4 as the more you play the game, the more annoying they get.

    I’d have to say the integration of the story into the game action is one of the big flaws in the game – Blizzard wanted to keep players interested in the story and make it an important part of the gameplay, but I think they went overboard with it, especially the way you have always repeat quests – and repeat all the story bits therein – in order to do any sort of boss/farming runs. Diablo II didn’t overwhelm you with the story or lore at all and if you wanted to learn more, you had the option of talking to not only Deckard Cain but any number of NPCs in each act. In Diablo III though, I’ve gotten sick of having to skip through all these cut scenes that I don’t have much interest in exploring the optional dialogue that’s available. At some point later, maybe once I’ve taken a break from the game, I might revisit the story elements but for me it’s overkill right now.

  3. I never understood the argument that basically says “It’s an ARPG! Who cares about the story?!!? SMASH!” Why can’t both the gameplay and the story be good? Writing seems like it would be one of the cheapest aspects involved in making the game. How about instead of doing a 10th iteration of the inventory system they spend a bit on real, proven writers. All that money and time to animate those beautiful cinematics and the cut scenes… why not also write good dialogue for them? I don’t get it. Could have taken someone’s free fan fiction and based the plot on that instead of overpaying whoever overwrote this plot.

    It was writing that first got me excited for this game (reading the class backgrounds posted on the official page for the Witch Doctor, Monk, and Barbarian), and then it was the writing that sadly ended up being by far the worst aspect of the finished product (for me.)

    • whoaaa bro. whoaaa. Internal testing feedback was overwhelmingly positive about the games story and the way it was delivered. So there’s really NO issue there. I got yo back jay. I got it.

      • Blizzard doesnt need outside testers to tell them that the story is not good. Any adult person with average IQ can see that and they know how bad is it. They do it with a purpose and hence the generic answer “we have a good feedback on it”. They very well might if they ask younger audiance…

    • Blizzard has the capability to write MUCH better story (the 5 class stories you mentioned clearly prove this). The problem is that they dont want to. This is the story designed to appeal to younger gamers since Blizzard knows that the old players will buy the game just because it is called Diablo so there is no need to appeal to them.

      It is very unfortunate that things are this way because im absolutly in love with the game and the story is real thorn in my ear. It is especially bad since the worst part of the story is the main character: Leah. The moments when she says “let me go” in the child emperor cutscene or that “leave her alone” directed to “evil demons” in the scene where they find Adria are nothing short of emberassing.

      The worst thing is that Blizzard will probably never fix this but hopefullu they give us the options to remove the cutscenes from the game.

  4. I agree with Bobbobertson. How many games have been put out over the last couple years that have no storyline or are seriously lacking one. For example, the COD series. The story components of those games blows, and the newer ones are very popular. I think it is partly our fault for buying up the games with crap stories which in turn essentially tells the producers of such games that they don’t need to spend time or money on that aspect of their games.

    D3 needs more depth in addition to the rest of the things discussed here. I enjoyed picking up every lore piece I could with the exception of the Battlefield Reports 👿 and found it saddening when I had listened to them all. This has more depth but for some reason the implementation of that content was skimped on for who knows what reason.

  5. “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 think the article writer needs to play through that area with the Scoundrel at that point. I absolutely love the things he says throughout the entire game, but what he says there fleshes it out quite well.

    The conversation is as follows. If you want to hear it for yourself, then I suggest to stop reading now.
    Player: What is that?
    Scoundrel: Oh, that? it’s a flay demon. Demons carve it’s flesh to fashion roads, Like the one we’re standing on right now!
    Player: How do you know this?
    Scoundrel: I may… have peeked at one of Cain’s books when Leah wasn’t around.

    • Angry naked women attacking me? This is my summer in Westmarch all over again!

      Lyndon is easily the best thing about the game for me.
      As for playing through without a follower, it can get really weird. Like the portion you mentioned, the player character will say “What is that?” but then nobody responds. It’s just awkward.

  6. They needed to integrate more of the “Extended Universe” into the game itself… like the writer is saying, these are never returned to in game. The Demon Hunter’s dead sister for example–alluded to once. The Wizard’s old teachers–sometimes mentioned generically at Level Up. So essentially what they wanted to improve upon in D2 (generic characters) happened anyway. Really play any 8-bit JRPG and you will experience more character development. And I read the short story and all the quest flavor text…
    Conspiracy Theory: Game just draws you into the “world”; more products with actual tie-ins coming Soon to the Blizzard Store!
    Voice acting is superb though. I frequently rewatch the male DH cutscenes, I thought his voice was spot on.

  7. I think the story would have been better if the ending wasn’t leaked to me ahead of time (by someone on here, matter of fact…) — The whole time I was playing, I knew exactly what Leah was. If I hadn’t known that, it probably would have been a much better ending for me.

    I agree the Sepia cut scenes feel like they were added a week before release. With such a big budget and plenty of time, all cinematics should have been done in the opening video realistic style. Much more money, but it would have been worth it instead of these rushed cut scenes.

    • I knew nothing of the story except for what was in beta, and I still found it quite lacking.

      I think the game is decent, sure it has its fair share of issues, but the story definitely isn’t one of its stronger points…

  8. I agree the story isn’t Shakespeare, but I was left wanting to know whether this is the end of Leah, how Adria gets her comeuppance, what happens when Kormac confronts the Templars, and whether Lyndon reconciles with his brother. And if this is indeed the end of Leah, that will make me sad. So clearly I’m at least somewhat invested in the story.

    (I’m pretty sure points 1 and 2 are going to be addressed in an expansion. I’m not so sure if points 3 and 4 will be, but I’m hoping.)

    • I’d agree. There are a few plot points that sufficiently engaged my interest. I think a point in their favor is that they didn’t seem to leave anything out accidentally – pretty much everything is addressed one way or another unless it’s intentionally open-ended.

      Trouble is, all the best stuff is in the margins – little bits of dialogue, exchanges with your follower, diaries that call back to the previous games. The main plot (you know, the one you have to listen to every time) is about as nuanced as a face punch. Maghda talks like a Disney villainess, the Prime evils talk too much in general, every talking demon sounds like someone just found the “growl” setting on some audio processor, and way too many times do we get told how “YOU WILL NEVER DEFEAT ME! MWHAHAHAH!”

      Worst offender for me – when Diablo taunts you at the beginning of Act 4 and then immediately afterward Iskatu gets a nice long boast. Does *every* demon boss speak English? Aren’t any of them just scary monsters anymore? 😕

      • No, Maghda isn’t a Disney villainess. Maghda is a Dreamworks villainess. When I first saw her, I thought, “Wait, how did Fairy Godmother get out of Shrek and into Diablo!?!”

        I’ll definitely agree that I want to know what they were smoking when they thought Maghda was a good idea.

  9. Flux, I know the game is out and ‘everyone’ is supposed to have played it by now. But it wouldn’t surprise me if there are a lot of would-be players STILL holding back given the negative feedback that’s come out of the game (I for one know a few of them). These people might be looking at fan sites like yours for feedback still deciding whether to buy the game or what not.

    Well, in your first few paragraphs you’ve just gone and given those people huge spoilers with that news post without warning them. Well done.

  10. I’m kind of surprised to see that after my first normal playthrough, i’ve always skipped absolutely everything since. Haven’t even seen a character intro for anything but the male witch doctor. I thought i’d at least go through the list and watch them all in the cinematics section, but i have no inclination to do so.

    And i’m one of the people that enjoyed the story!

    I guess it’s no surprise – games like this are all about the gameplay, mang.

  11. That writer is a complete and total moron. Not surprised he comes out of hollywood, or at least claims to.

    Okay, the sepia-toned interstitials?
    Know when you re-start a quest and that little thing comes up? Games do this all the time. They usually just don’t stick them in while you’re playing. Television shows do this. “Last time, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer…”.

    They’re telling you what happened in case you pick the game back up after you leave off.

    What an idiot.

  12. Thrall hasn’t posted yet, so I’ll make his inevitable comment for him:

    “LMAO this site is full of haters. The story is no good? Yeah right fastest selling PC game ever and don’t get me started on the fake session spoofing. GG haters. Flux you should shut down this site full of hater because so are you.”

    • Wait, I think the problem with the site was that I was on blizzard’s payroll and only said good things about the worst game ever made?

    • Btw you forgot the mantra about the benefit of on-line gaming and the threat on vile hackers that want off-line solo playing. :mrgreen:

  13. The plot is actually quite brilliant, if you think about it in the right way. Sure, some of the execution elements weren’t good (e.g. Azmodan and Diablo talking too much). But the plot was well thought out and much more interesting than your average cRPG yawn-fest. Here’s a link to my rpgwatch post where I explain why:


  14. Anyone else agree DIablo III is a computer game and therefore shouldn’t be expected to be of the cinematic level of Hollywood?

    • Yup. It’s a computer game, so we expected way better writing than a Holliwood movie.

  15. The story of Diablo 3 is a lack uster. Cheesy B-movie story-telling, one-dimensional characters and cliches, totally predictable twists (I knew who was Belial…) and plot line.

    Diablo 2 (sigh, I am about to cry out of nostalgia) tells a dark and gothic story about overcoming demons.

    Diablo 2 has great characters, goose bumps-inducing cinematics, better music to accompany the story, etc etc.

  16. I certainly admire those who think that Diablo 3 is better than Diablo 2, because it is so inferior compared to Diablo 2, that it is beyond the capabilities of my mind to understand their theories.

    The effin bad story is just an example of this.

    • Diablo II wasn’t exactly shakespeare. The writing was awful but the difference is that it didn’t pretend it was good. The team knew what it was and they adjusted appropriately.

      Y’know I’m wondering what this team’s original story looked like because they hacked this game to pieces with a meat cleaver of editing, leaving it a mess.

  17. A few weeks after launch I dragged the ‘voice volume’ slider all the way down and the game became so much better. Glorious!

  18. “Most of the discussions I’ve heard (or taken part in) about Diablo III’s story and plot have praise for the game’s storytelling tools, much of the dialogue”
    You must be kidding me…

    • Sadly enough, one of the strong points of the game that keeps me playing through inferno is the “Everybody likes Chen” completion.

      So, as sad as it sounds, the dialogs and voice overs, as bad as they may be, still are the best part of the game for me (Except Azmodan and Diablo).

  19. I think this review was on the VERY positive side.

    The story and the actual style of writing was so bad it gave me cancer.

    Worse than a mexican soap opera.

  20. Question:

    I wonder what your feeling towards War and Peace would be if you reread it 20 times in a row during 6 days a week ?

    The first play through was not bad. The turning bad of the main character was surprising.

    And I must say that some of the cinematics were IMPRESSIVE. Burial of Kane and the end scene made me want to play my Paladin again (he’s not in the game).

    So War and Peace after rereading it 20 times: 6/10

    D3’s story after replaying it 100 times: 4/10, first time though I could dig a 7 for story telling.

    • STFU about War and Peace. Seriously thrall are you that big of a dumbass? I am amazed how can you even say War and Peace in any sententce different than : You cant compare a masterwork to a mainstream shit story.

      Seriously, fuck you and fuck that dumbass Jay Wilson: ” We didnt intend to create War and Peace , just some ok story(or whatever his words were, something along those lines).

      Hey fatass I got news for you, YOU CANT CREATE WAR AND PEACE STORY. And there are 2 major reasons.

      First it is a work of genius of such a calibre that there are always only few of these in every human generation(few at max). And you nor Metzen are one of them. Second, it is almost 150 year old book. You cant compare it to todays merits(and even if you do, that book wins which makes it even more awesome). In fact to be able to make another war and peace, it would had to be such an awesome thing like WaP was in regards to its era. So Jay or anyone else, unless you can come up with something like that, shut up. Dont even say you werent trying to write anoth..You dont have it in you to even try to try to try etc1000x to write literature of war and peace magnitude.


      Fuck you thrall,
      you everlasting tHroll.


      Sorry for the grammar, just had heartattack how stupid and ignorant some pathetic wastes of human lifes can be.

  21. It doesn’t matter that the story is bad, it matters that you cannot replay the game without the story interrupting you every 5 minutes and being shoved in your face. First time through I’m sure everyone thought story was fine whether they like it or not. 100th time through…people are looking for the options to shut up followers and turn off story crap.

    • Look at the top-left of your keyboard. See that key called ‘Esc’? Press that, et voila.

  22. If you’ve followed the creative process with the early concept art, you find that great potential was there from the start. Ahem, *was*.

    Cydaea’s fearsome grotesqueness, the female barb’s grit, the male barb’s heroic yet traumatic background, and Cain’s uglier and saggier face, all made for some wonderful characters. But alas, they were turned into bland nobodies with prettier faces. Someone–and I won’t mention any names b/c I have no idea who it was–came in at some point and told them to wipe away all that creativity, originality, character and grit. In a few years, it will be interesting to read interviews of D3’s artists (once they’ve moved on and are allowed to speak out) so we can discover what happened to their brainchild.

  23. I agree that those pencil-sketch-style interludes are mostly out of place. They work extremly well for the character and act intros to get you a quick, atmospheric (at cheap to produce) start for your next adventure. Whenever the ‘main quest completed’ scenes pop up however, I’m still quite irritated though (sudden black screens tend to rather scare me over the temperature of my graphics card).

    My main complaint in regards to their story presentation is the budget limit you’re feeling when watching the cinematics. They look stunning, not low quality at all, of course. But the amount of settings and characters designed and built feels limited somehow. A bit much focus on heaven and no hell at all.

    Pivotal events that, in my opinion, would clearly have deserved to be in a cinematic, were handled through in-game animations again. I don’t like those. They’re ok for minor scripted events with secondary or tertiary npcs, but not for the protagonists. The scene in Cain’s house should actually feel creepy, shocking and moving – it’s rather confusing though: “Uuuhhh … and that’s it?” was my first reaction. Same for the revenge dealt to Maghda; did that feel satisfying? No. Belial didn’t seem very deceptive at all and remained completly AWOL from cinemtics as well. As one of the top antagonists, his unmasking or death should have been handled a bit more awe-inspiring. Same for Adria’s story, and so on, and so on. In-game scenes don’t do these events justice.

  24. I thought the story wasn’t bad the first time through, but I found it few and far between to be enjoyed at any of the story elements after a single play-through, I still haven’t seen like 50% of those sepia cutscenes cause there all very boring and don’t really have anything unique to each character, so I pretty much skipped them completely after seeing them once with one class.

  25. Flux, why do you write that he “says nothing about the overall game story” when he does specifically say that it is predictable? In any case, his article was describing reasons that the plot didn’t connect with players, rather than faults with the plot itself. That doesn’t make it a bad article, nor does it invalidate his opinion; he’s just writing about something different than what you want him to write about.

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