John August, an American screenwriter and film director, recently updated his blog poking fun at Diablo 3's storyline, calling it "pretty damn weak." His opinion is backed by plenty of Hollywood experience having written the two Charlie's Angels movies (screenplay, story), Big Fish (screenplay), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (screenplay), and many more. Needless to say, he may know a thing or two about a dialogue-driven story and plot progression.
The first thing he points out is that the player encounters most of the plot by merely being an observer, listing to NPCs as they talk back and forth. The player character talks every once in a while, but overall the decisions have been made and the player is sent off on an errand.
"I’m a witch doctor. I’ve got an intelligence of 235, and later in the game I’m revealed to be a unique supernatural being.So why am I taking marching orders from you?" he writes. "I’m apparently the only one who can save heaven and earth, so maybe you should shut up and let me talk. Note that I’m not actually demanding choice or free will as a player. Look, I’ve played Diablo. I’ll go kill the next thing. But I’d love to feel like my character was making the choice, rather than being a lackey."
To Blizzard's defense, Diablo 3 is not a true RPG. Players aren't given a list of choices and replies that help shape the outcome. It's an action title that's designed to begin at point A and end at point B with a lot of slashing and exploring in-between. Still, the plot itself seems secondary when it should be just as important as the exploration and sword-swinging.
"At several points in the game, major NPCs betray you and/or die. And you shrug. It doesn’t have to be that way," August writes. "Remember Raynor and Kerrigan from StarCraft? I became invested in those characters, not because of their cut scenes, but because I got to play as them. I kept them alive through zerg rushes, and watched as they made sacrifices that transformed them. So even when I wasn’t playing those characters, I knew them."
He goes on to assume that the interludes between each act came later on in development, that someone possibly realized that the player/plot relationship was non-existent. These segments go into a completely different style of animation, he says, feeling oddly repetitive and tacked on. "It very much feels like voiceover added to a movie that's not working," he adds.
To read the full scoop, head here. He eventually admits to liking a few story and character elements, so the post isn't entirely negative.