WARNING: Diablo universe spoilers below, relating to the Diablo, Diablo2 and the Diablo3 beta.
With 13 days left to go before Diablo 3 goes live, I had the opportunity to refresh my memory of the Diablo games with the Diablo wiki and Youtube. Below is summary of thoughts on death and storytelling.
When I entered the crypts below Tristram cathedral for the first time many moons ago, all I knew was that I would at some point confront an analogue of Satan and would be required to cease his existence through mortal combat.
Flash-forward numerous hours of frantically left clicking and chain chugging portions, the game ends with you slaying Diablo (at least his sprite undergoes a death animation) and players are treated to a 70 second FMV clip showing the hero taking Diablo’s spirit stone and painfully slamming it into their head. The hangover that followed must have been truly agonizing…
It’s now the year 2000 and there’s a new Diablo game on the shelves. The sequel sees the avatar from the original title overcome by the eternally corrupting influence of evil. You see Blizzard has cleverly wrong-footed players of the original title: using any kind of demonic magic without reading the instruction manual first is highly ill-advised. If you want to blame anyone, and I do, fault should be laid at the feet of smug old Deckard Cain, who probably saw all this coming but wanted to keep his corner of the Identify Magic Items market for himself.
Anyway, 5 new adventurers are taken on a field trip across a freshly randomly generated realm of Sanctuary, the wonderful wide world beyond those stone walls surrounding Tristram. Big demons have been busy summoning little demons everywhere and both need to slain. And slain again repeatedly, if you have the misfortune of logging off once or twice before reaching a checkpoint.
Eventually our heroes confront and ‘kill’ Diablo again, as well as his moderately evil brothers for good measure. They were encouraging him, you see.
The beauty of having an all-out war between Heaven and Hell is that both are populated by immortals, so they’re going to be fighting for a very, very long time.
This is especially fortunate for Blizzard Entertainment, whose revenue streams now partially rely on Diablo coming back every decade to stamp on the flower beds of the poor people of Tristram, resurrecting their dead, rummaging through their bins and generally being an unpleasant neighbour.
Of course, I have no doubt that Chris Metzen and mates have reasons why Diablo has survived death in Sanctuary twice but This Time It’s For Real (T.M). However, as in their depiction of Azerothian criminality in World of Warcraft, the reliance on the impermanence of death renders the whole activity of killing anything somewhat futile.
Blizzard’s antagonists are like Scooby Doo villains who are repeatedly thwarted only to return some time later with a wilder scheme for taking over the world. Metzen has even gone so far as to ask fans who they would like to see return from the dead, a move which is reminiscent of the comic book scene, where frequent ‘reboots’ enable writers to kill off key characters for dramatic effect (and increased sales!), only to have them returned later and explained away as occupants of an alternate multiverse.
‘Who do you want to bring back?’ democratizes and trivializes the storytelling process. I want to believe that there is a master plan, that there are people who work for Blizzard who are experts at their craft and can create memorable characters and original ‘epic tales’.
Beta participants earned the chance to kill Leoric again. Do I have any bets on us being able to kill a revived Butcher and Archbishop Lazarus? It wouldn’t surprise if we eventually encounter a grotesque monstrousity composed of bits of Wirt combined with the denizens of the infamous cow level…
All in all, I am eagerly anticipating the new title. But I hope that Blizzard can inject a little mortality back into their universes. Otherwise the only characters we will care about will be our Hardcore ones.