The Necromancer update for Diablo 3 is live, and it's really fun. Shooting bone spikes out of the ground and exploding corpses as I traipse around New Tristram reminds me a lot of what I love about the game's opening strokes.
But if I'm being honest, the story has never been the main draw for me in Diablo 3. What really got me interested in Diablo 3 was its world-building, and I've always felt it’s a shame that more of that didn't make it into the game.
Diablo 3 world-building: It still exists, but not on the scale that originally hooked me
Diablo 3 had a pretty long production schedule — it was officially announced in 2008, but wasn't released until 4 years later in 2012 — and that doesn't include the two years of development it had prior to its official announcement. Four years is a long time to keep the hype up, especially considering the expansion to Diablo 2 had been released seven years prior, in 2001.
However Blizzard made an incredibly savvy move after the game was officially announced — they began to post a lot of cool lore tidbits on the website, ostensibly written by an in-game source: the adventurer and merchant Abd-al Hazir. Although the casual Orientalism of the character makes me raise an eyebrow these days, I was captivated by the world of Sanctuary that Hazir's writings promised — one of demons and goat men, great cities and secret cults, through which it's implied Hazir met his end.
Sadly, a lot of this lore didn't make it into the game. And even where it did, it was hard to ignore that the tragic origin story of the Khazra was little more than fluff that didn't impact the fact that you were popping them like zits during the latter half of Act 1. Much of the lore surrounding the player characters doesn’t factor into the story at all. In spite of being trained under Visjerei mages in Caeldum, the Wizard gets no special dialogue in Act 2 when you travel there.
Diablo 3 world-building: It was crucial to the game and the in-game world is emptier for lack of lore
A lot of this original text by Abd al-Hasir doesn’t exist on the Blizzard site anymore. You can still find it all collected on the Diablo Wiki, but it’s not quite the same as it was reading them as they came out. Coupled with concept art and illustrations, the text made it seem like you were reading an adventurer’s diary.
It’s not to say there’s no lore left on the Diablo 3 site — they just released a great lore post explaining the history of the Necromancer class — but there’s much less of it than there was when the game was in development, and that’s a real shame. Diablo 3 was its strongest for me when it showcased its cool ideas in the context of a world that seemed fully realized.
The story of Diablo 3 is serviceable, but your character is always a cipher with no motivation other than “Stop Diablo.” Even worse, Leah, Deckard Cain’s ward — a character with real motivation and purpose — gets unceremoniously used as plot fodder at the end of Act 3, basically never to be seen again. Having a robust and easily accessible backstory available on the site didn’t alleviate these problems, but it went a long way toward making my time in Diablo 3 not seem like a giant loot treadmill.
Though the promise of a new class, and the fact that I never played the “improved” Diablo 3 that was released on consoles, has brought me back to the world of Sanctuary, something is still missing. I’m hoping to find that little spark of lore and world-building that initially made me wonder, “What else is waiting out there for me?”
That was where Diablo 3’s true strength laid.
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