This is not to say I haven’t enjoyed playing Diablo 4. With how many people have already trashed the game I don’t want to appear to be needlessly piling on.
But this is an exploration of a thought that occurred to me playing through the campaign, where as I finished each act and thought back on it realized summarizing what I’d done was harder than I’d thought.
I’ll explain, and compare it to Diablo 2 and 3’s stories to illustrate what I feel makes D4’s story feel weak.
Acts 1-3 In Diablo 4
You could boil Act 1 down to basically:
- Get sent on some ominous errands, meet a guy who seems to know what’s going on but won’t tell you, and then he leaves and you start doing errands for someone else.
- Meet Neyrelle, search for her mom, do some other errands that it’s unclear why we need to do to ultimately do the next steps (getting Inarius’ blessing to do a thing we end up doing without him anyway), get there too late, accomplish basically nothing.
- Part ways with Neyrelle, go to Act 2.
Act 2 is like:
- Go meet a new guy because Lorath said to, and do some errands. Kill bad guys, secure some encampments.
- Continue chasing Lillith and always be too late.
- Get there in time to fight a demon she helps restore to the world that only happened because we were inefficient and in the dark through Act 1. Kill demon, act over. Still no closer to Lillith.
By the time we hit Act 3, everything we’ve done to this point feels irrelevant. We’re no closer to stopping Lillith, we haven’t given her any real setbacks, and as far as we can tell everything is still going according to her plan. Lorath even says as much in the narration.
Sure, we killed Vhenard, but it wasn’t clear how Vhenard was even going to be a major threat to that area if we hadn’t. We mostly killed her because she was in our way chasing Lillith, so killing her didn’t feel like we’d made much of a difference.
Same for crossing the Black Lake. Did we actually need Prava’s (or Inarius’) blessing to cross the Black Lake? Because it seems like all that was needed was Neyrelle doing a ritual she discovers as part of her own quest line, making all the errands we ran for Prava’s quests irrelevant and… filler.
And what’s the outcome of crossing the Black Lake aside a boss fight? Nothing. We’re too late, we only killed a guardian Lillith left for us that seemed confined to the area, and didn’t really put an end to anything.
We did a bunch of busy work chasing someone we never catch until far later.
Act II is more of the same. Errands and checking on stuff, and even the small camps we secure don’t really give us a sense that we’ve made that area safer. The world is still falling apart and we’ve just kicked the can further down the road.
Act III is even more “chasing a person and always being one step behind with that feeling that if we hadn’t farted around so much earlier maybe we would’ve been able to stop what happens next.”
Compare This To Earlier Games
Even in Diablo 3, which by most accounts had a pretty flimsy storyline, I feel like the progression was handled better. Namely, because we’re actually allowed to win at some of our goals so it feels like we’re accomplishing things.
In Act 1 we’re searching for the Fallen Star. We find him, and his place in the overarching story is clear. We pay a price for our victory in Cain’s death, and Magda gets away.
However, we’ve restored peace to New Tristram and stopped all the evil there from overtaking the region, like resurrected Leoric, The Butcher, etc. The reason we need to go to Act 2, chasing Magda, is clear.
And in Act 2 we actually catch up to Magda and get justice for Cain, which feels meaningful. And by the end of the act, we also kill one of the prime evils (Belial). The entire region of Caldeum is safe again because of our actions.
By Act 3 it’s clear we’re joining a war, defending an outpost that is losing steadily. We kill several major demons and singlehandedly restore order and stop Azmodan from mowing everything to rubble. We don’t just stop Azmodan’s assault, we defeat him.
It’s always clear how the world is better off for our actions, and even though at this stage we haven’t yet found Diablo, he’s sustained heavy losses because of us.
Same for Diablo 2. In Act 1 we rescue Can, retake the rogues’ HQ, and defeat a prime evil. The region is safe because of us, and even though the Dark Wanderer gets away, we’ve at least set things right in the area. And the reason we head to Act 2 is clear.
We know where we’re going and we know exactly why.
In Act 2 we are too late to stop the resurrection of Mephisto, but we at least secure the entire region from evil and have a much clearer picture of Diablo’s plan and how we can stop him.
To me, I had to beat the game several times in the earlier Diablo games before I felt fatigued and wanted something like the Adventure Mode from D3 to get the action without the story.
Where Diablo 4 is concerned, I felt that same fatigue on my first play through. And I had to ask myself, what do you make of that?