Diablo was one of my favourite games of all time. The overall concept and execution was ground breaking and it built up a huge cult following. Falling in the shadows was Dungeon Siege, another ‘dungeon crawler’ style game which while buggy was also a tremendous amount of fun. The latest title in the series, Dungeon Siege 3 was released last week and hopefully will help drive sales and satisfy the RPG hardcore audience.
Dungeon Siege 3 has very little connection to the previous titles in the franchise. Obsidan Entertainment have taken the developer role – a group of people responsible for games such as KOTOR 2, Alpha Protocol and Neverwinter Nights 2. Microsoft Game Studios are also no longer in control of publishing rights, with Square Enix stepping in. A few raised eyebrows already?
When many heard that Obsidan Entertainment were going to be creating Dungeon Siege 3, more than a few groans were emitted across the globe. No Gas Powered games as developer? Well, if I was being honest Gas Powered Games ‘Space Siege’ was an unmitigated disaster, so perhaps a move was a wise choice.
Immediately, I was impressed with the production levels in DS III. The player is taken on a video backtrack …. an update on recent events as the game takes place. The title revolves around the ’10th Legion’, a small group of skilled individuals who have managed to keep the lands peaceful and prosperous. The rule changed hands soon to ‘The Monarchy’, who started developing some hostility (and jealousy) with the 10th Legion. Without ruining the rather enjoyable intricacies of the scripting, the king was killed and blame was passed onto the 10th Legion.
Jeyne Kassynder, an influental (and somewhat evil) leader, put all of the 10th Legion to death. Well, almost all. The few remaining survivors managed to escape and run away to regroup, while Kassynder and followers hunted them down. The properties, estates and chapterhouses of the Legion also came under attack, with many important artifacts plundered from their walls.
Some of the legionnaires survived, with Odo – apparently the sole survivor of the Legion. Odo fought hard to stay alive, protecting his bloodline. This leads into how the game starts.
The player can take control of one of four characters, both male and female. Odo has called the Legion descendants to assemble, mounting a counterattack. Time to kick ass and take names.
The playable characters are diverse by nature and beautifully designed. You can take Lucas, Reinhart, Anjali (my favourite) and Katarina. Each of these characters has very different skills and powers at hand and much of the game will flow around your abilities and decisions, therefore a replay is possible. Anjali, is easily my favourite, a mythical archon diety who can both fight by hand in one form, and shapeshift into another to wield magical spells of fire. Heck, she can even summon creatures during a battle, to even out the odds. She isn’t hard to miss at the start, she is the rather attractively designed (hey, don’t laugh) babe with the intense stare. Reinhart also deserves a mention, he is a powerful spell caster, skilled at fighting from a distance and toasting his enemies from afar. Katarina didn’t appeal to me, but she can use rifles and pistols to destroy her foes. Lucas is the best warrior of them all, with some immense swords available for him later in the game.
I beat the game in a few days in single player mode with Anjali as my choice (15 hours or more but I didn’t record the time closely). Initially it was a challenge as her powers were weak and I was getting frustrated. But within the space of a few hours she had mutated into a formidable warrior and magic user. I particularly liked her capabilities for creating an attack circle of fire, which also healed her as it damaged the enemy on touch.
While the game can be played on the PC with a keyboard and mouse, I found a wired Xbox 360 controller to be a much better bet. DS III fully supports the Microsoft game pad and all the controls are easily accessible by buttons and combinations of buttons. Movement alone is worth the swap from keyboard to Xbox 360 controller, it is much more intuitive. If you use the keyboard, then the game becomes a matter of mashing keys. 1, 2 ,3 keys are used to activate various abilities and the shift key is the toggle for other secondary defensive and aggressive attacks. Remember that the game is played in real time and some of the more difficult fights will punish hard for any stalling while keys are being fumbled.
When enemies are killed, they leave behind green and blue coloured orbs. These are used to regenerate health and mana bars – which are called HP and Focus in DS III. The combat is not at all like the second title, which isn’t really a bad thing. Healing during battle is important, and this is one of the biggest niggles for me … if you take control of a warrior, the system is not the easiest. Anjali can cast a long term healing spell which can often keep her alive when surrounded by multiple enemies. Quite often I would cast a healing spell just before combat started, then the close range circle fire spell – and stand still. While the enemies would run into it to attack me, I was delivering a constant fire damage attack while healing. Chucking fireballs in this stance and summoning creatures when surrounded is one of the most deadly means of attack in the game, especially against hordes of creatures.
I have heard many complaints about the game already, saying that the difficultly level is too high, and I have to agree. Unless you are willing to persevere and have a lot of patience, the game may prove frustrating in the early stages. Again, I feel part of the problem is that many gamers will jump immediately into taking the ‘warrior’ class character Lucas. Unlike many RPG titles, I found him one of the weakest as the majority of his attacks are up close melee attacks, interspersed with a lot of potion consumption.
Tactics are important, and it is key to your success to master the control system. While you might be able to scrape through some of the fights by mashing keys, there is a fair amount of skill involved. Even with high ranking characters there are times when a retreat will make the difference between success and death, so be warned. Dodging and blocking is easy enough. If you use the keyboard then SPACE will block an attack (not all attacks can be blocked however). To try and keep it simple, the SPACE key with a movement button will cause the character to dodge in a direction, not stand still with a simple block. Again, with an Xbox 360 controller, combat flows much better.
Sadly, the party can only consist of two players at a time, either a computer controlled AI, or another player. The game supports two Xbox 360 controllers, so playing with a friend in CO-OP is absolutely brilliant fun. I still miss the fact that the older games allowed for four players at one time. Battles were certainly more frenetic with four characters. If you die in combat then it is up to the computer (or friend) to revive you. If you are fighting a boss character then the AI might mess up and while he is trying to heal you, he is getting mauled from the back. Shouting ‘move you idiot’ at the screen doesn’t seem to help. If both characters die, then a restart from the last checkpoint is required. Save points are glowing gold pillars of light in the game.
Playing with another human player really does bring the game to a whole new dimension, because combat can become a true ‘team’ event, rather than relying on the computer AI. The AI isn’t really that bad, sure there are times it won’t do what you would like, but generally the computer will pound away at enemies and tackle bosses in a manner that is half decent. The only problem in cooperative mode is that the screen will not allow two players to split up, so if you are trying to run away to recover, you might very well get caught in the edge of the screen while your buddy is fighting other enemies. It is a sure way to die quickly, and can be slightly frustrating. If you have an aggressive friend it might be best finding another game to play.
So far it is clear that the game has problems, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed the title and have started to replay it again. With a little patience, the flaws can be overlooked and once the combat mechanics are mastered then we are left with a really cool, fun, dungeon crawler. To be fair, the game is a little more than ‘just dungeons’, because it is packed with some beautifully designed environments and locations. Voice acting and audio is also realistically handled. With airy fantasy style music being played from time to time. We are also glad to hear that no Welsh or Irish people seem to be in the game either, unlike Dragon Age 2 which tried to hard be a multi cultural cocktail to appease everyone.
The game itself is a mixture of quests, subquests and traveling across landscapes. Thankfully you never get lost because there is a tracking system which is very cleverly designed. You can select a quest, then push a button on the controller to find the path you need to take. If you get annoyed with wide open worlds and wondering where the hell you are meant to be going , then this might very well be the breath of fresh air you want. On the other hand, it could also appear to be linear by design. Everyone has different views on it.
There is a full system for levelling up characters, equipping them with new weapons and armor, fitting out with rings, amulets and secondary support items. Various paths can be taken in the skills menu, with other powers added as you progress, and various improvements offered as time goes on.
Overall, I feel Dungeon Siege 3 is polished, very attractively designed and a lot of fun to play. We aren’t sure that purist followers of the first game will enjoy it quite as much as I did, due to some of the points I made earlier, but I found the overall concept and structuring to be great. The story line, character development and cooperative modes ensure this is a game you shouldn’t miss. It offers enough to differentiate itself from previous titles, but it may also alienate a portion of the audience.