From Diablo Wiki
- There are no exceptional or elite item types in Diablo III.
Exceptional items are identical to normal items of every type, except that their base stats are raised across the board. Elite items, added in D2X, form a third tier of every type of item, and are found in late Nightmare and then throughout Hell.
The creation of Exceptional and Elite items allowed the game designers to effectively double, and then triple, the number of base items in the game, and since there were unique items of every type, plus numerous item sets that included exceptional and elite items, the item game was hugely extended.
Diablo III does not use exceptional or elite items. As a result there are many more base item types, but they have larger differences between them. For instance, there were 16 base types of body armor in Diablo III, making for 48 different types when exceptional and elite versions were included. As a result, the difference in their potential defense and other stats was very slight. In Diablo III there are only 18 types of body armor in the entire game, rather than 48 in Diablo II. As a result there are clear and impactful differences between each tier of body armor, which should enable players to differentiate between them more clearly than the large amount of item overlap allowed in Diablo II.
Diablo II Armor
For example, here are the normal, exceptional, and elite versions of the lowest quality armor in Diablo II. Every item in the game has 3 such versions, with appropriately increased stats and requirements.