Diablo III Review: Blizzard's Brilliant, Blundering Wreck

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Diablo III: The Game (Continued)

So, the game play is great. Loads of fun. And while that's always important, it's particularly important in this case, because Diablo III's story is poorly told and terribly executed. As the game progresses, the tension between the ambitious cinematic arcs and the rest of the plot becomes nearly palpable. This is a game plot that aspires to greatness -- and misses, badly

Game plot, like size, matters...
It's absolutely fair to ask how much this matters. Diablo III's story is something that you'll sit through once; Blizzard wants you playing the game ten years from now. Between gameplay and story, gameplay wins. What's notable, however, is that Diablo 3 is the first Blizzard game ever in which the company's gorgeous cinematics and crisp pacing have failed to carry the day. The stories Blizzard tells might be the equivalent of popcorn movies, but that's always been true in the best sense of the phrase.

And there arose a war in heaven, in which celestial fought celestial, for the future of mankind

Not any more. D3 kicks off strongly with a great callback to the first game, but staggers badly in the latter half of the first Act. The designers attempt to invoke the Worf Effect to pump up the credibility of a new villain, but the chracter isn't strong enough to sustain the role. Longtime series fans will be left blinking in bewilderment wondering what Blizzard was thinking.

Act I closes with a strong cinematic and the story rolls along merrily enough through Act II right until the end, when a one-two unveil casually rewrites the plotline of the entire game and scarcely no one notices. Imagine if, instead of stepping out of the shadows with dire portents and some nifty Protoss missions, Zeratul's scene with Jim Raynor had played out like so:

SCENE: The bridge of the Hyperion. Raynor looks out the window, bottle in his hand.

If only I could save Sarah.

(Steps from the shadows)
But you totally can, Jim. I've got a can of Xel'Naga ZergAway right here.

Holy crap, it's Zeratul!
Hey, where'd you get a can of ZergAway? 

I, uh, picked it up at a garage sale on Braxis maybe 8-10 years ago.

8-10 years... Zeratul, that was four years BEFORE we even met! We went through hell together, teamed up to kill the Overmind, and saved Shakuras... and all this time, you had a can of ZergAway in your pants...

Protoss do not wear pants.

Zeratul, she's slaughtered millions of innocent people. Destroyed entire planets. And I was in love with her.

Yeah, I'm really sorry about that. My bad. Let's go spray her with it!

Jimmy, I might've forgot to mention this, but I'm probably totally gonna have to kill her.

Sometimes Michael Bay gives us Transformers, sometimes Transformers: Revenge of the FallenDiablo III is the latter, it's bad even by the dubious standard by which it's fairly judged.

And the Lords of Hell plotted, awaiting the moment to strike...

The difference is all the more noticeable when measured against the enormous amount of work that went into crafting the game's lore. Each time you encounter a new monster, a narrator voices a description of it. The game doesn't necessarily travel to more locations, but the various NPCs and Followers you encounter discuss a much wider range of locations and events. Diablo III takes place in a much wider world than either of its predecessors, but the game's history and storyline don't co-exist -- they fight for supremacy, and we players are the losers.

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