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Page 5 of 6However, presentation isn't everything. The sad fact of the matter is that Diablo III's story is borderline moronic. While the earlier games never set records for tight storytelling, Diablo III's plot is simultaneously convoluted and simplistic, with too many pointless side-characters and worthless diversions that add nothing to the storyline whatsoever. It also suffers from pacing issues, with the first two acts full of plot development and side-quests to undertake, and the final two lacking these almost entirely. It's not that the story events lack emotional impact or don't hit the right notes, but there are so many plot holes, retcons and other issues that really harm what could have otherwise been a genuine evolution for the hack-and-slash genre.
Unfortunately, the story can't be saved by the quality of the writing and voice acting. There's tens of thousands of lines of dialogue, but much of it is juvenile even for Diablo standards. Once-fearsome characters like the silent Skeleton King have been transformed into moustache-twirling cartoon villains, and even old stand-bys like Deckard Cain have been changed in ways that don't fit with the previous games, solely in order to make the story work. The voice actors, though in some cases clearly having fun with their roles, often sound like they were recorded on other sides of the country, and conversations are frequently disjointed because of this - suggesting it's more an issue with direction than any of the voice talent involved. At best, the dialogue is satisfactory; at worst, though, it's cringe-worthy, and usually at the worst possible times too.
Of course, one has to say "this is a game about killing monsters and collecting loot, what did you expect?" and it's a fair point to make. But, Blizzard also made it a significant point to improve on Diablo III's story, both in terms of complexity of the plot and its delivery. While the presentation is impeccable and engaging (at least in the first half), much of it goes to waste because the details are frequently nonsensical or, frankly, stupid. Considering Diablo III is a game that was in production for close to a decade, I think it's more than fair to hold it to high standards, especially the ones it sets for itself. It simply comes across like so much wasted potential, and needlessly excessive to boot.
Hell's Never Been Prettier
If there is one thing that Diablo III nails, it's presentation. Boasting a somewhat controversial painterly visual style, Diablo III is a beautiful game. The amount of detail is obscene, and while it might not be the most technically proficient title on the market (close-up you'll notice low-res textures, blocky character models and liberal use of 2D sprites), it looks just as nice in motion as it does in screenshots. Special effects are equally impressive, with high-level spells wreaking visual chaos. Artistically speaking, however, Diablo III is quite different from previous games, and the traditional Gothic architecture, gritty and dark atmosphere, and twisted religious iconography is entirely gone, and it made me miss moments like treading through the blood-stained Aztec-style temples of Diablo II's third act.
Unfortunately, playability can sometimes suffer as a result of the visual direction. Though the game is gorgeous, and characters stand out from the backgrounds nicely, interactive parts of the environment are sometimes hard to pick out amidst all the detail, and can't be highlighted to differentiate them. Sometimes the screen is also filled with so many particle effects that it becomes hard to tell what's going on, as well. Additionally, the expansive levels are often a sight to behold, but their layouts have been heavily simplified, most likely in the name of visual splendor - a few are even long, straight corridors of the most literal variety, and as such the dungeons lack that maze-like feeling.
The aural side of the game is very capable, though perhaps not impressive. Many melodies are reused from the previous games in the series, with a tendency towards the epic, Wagner-inspired soundtrack from Lord of Destruction. However, in doing so, much of the ambiance and creepy atmosphere, just like the visuals, has been abandoned. Sound effects are generally a bit better - melee attacks feel meaty and powerful, enemies have distinct voices and cries, and so on. It's all good stuff, though some of the spell effects do sound a bit weak in comparison to the Diablo II versions, most notably Meteor. As mentioned earlier, voice acting is competent and plentiful, but due to poor direction often comes across poorly.
Where I think Diablo III drops the ball most is in its user interface. Most notably, the game starts out with "elective mode" and "advanced tooltips" disabled, which means that it's impossible to map skills to the mouse buttons and number keys exactly how you want them from the beginning, and detailed information is obscured as well. Many smaller issues abound as well. There's no way to view a record of previous quests in-game, only from the character selection/management screen. Some text can be vague (is it 10% current item durability lost on death, or maximum?). The skills menu is cumbersome to navigate and it's impossible to get a good overview of all of the ones you have available. The game also doesn't explain how to identify rare and legendary items anywhere other than a load screen tip (right-click). The user interface is definitely usable and looks good (unlike some big-name RPGs released lately), but these oversights, like other parts of the game, suggest a lack of polish I simply don't expect from Blizzard.