With more killing, looting and Jayne Kassynder than you can wave a stick at, Dungeon Siege is back under new management. The world of Ehb is in turmoil and tyrannical control, and it’s your job to kill everything in sight to make it better. How has Obsidian Entertainment fared in its reboot of the venerable series?
Action role-playing games are a niche sub-genre of RPGs, focusing on killin’ and lootin’ more than progressive story elements. Niche is probably a bit of a strong word to use, considering the choice of Diablo, Sacred, Torchlight, Titan Quest, even Borderlands, and of course, Dungeon Siege.
Dungeon Siege was about killing in various interesting ways, usually with companions, finding cool loot, using skill trees and the like to kill things faster, finding more loot, then moving from one area to the next to kill and loot more. It wasn’t completely mindless; there was a bit of a story thrown in and you had to carefully balance character roles with your play style. There was also a fair amount of character customization, not just in stats and role, but cosmetics, armor and such.
Obsidian, a somewhat notorious developer, gained the IP rights to the Dungeon Siege name a few years ago and has released a reboot to the DS series in the form of Dungeon Siege III, under review today.
A brief video has been added for your leisure, showing you the typical game progression of killing and looting your way through the world.
Now, why do I call Obsidian notorious? Well, there are certain expectations with each of its game releases, namely that of bugs. Obsidian is not a bad company, and it has produced some epic games in its time; Fallout: New Vegas being the most recent. But the state the games are often released in leaves a lot to be desired. The company is good with stories and progression, but lacks that executional finesse, the polish to make something truly fantastic. So how has it fared with Dungeon Siege III?
Let’s start at the beginning and run through the basics. DSIII is a 3rd person 3D aRPG, much like its predecessor. There are the ever popular 2D animation cutscenes thrown in for key story progression; you pick a character, go forth and kill, while trying to figure out the plot elements. The basic elements for any aRPG really… except for a few omissions.
Custom characters are so last year. You now pick one of 4 with a fixed gender and play style; A female Gunner or semi-naked fire-demon hybrid, or a male Technomage or Knight… no custom hair styles, no mixing and matching genders and builds – you can’t even change their names. Hmm… this is 2011 right? Just checking.
So OK, what can you customize about the character selected? You can change their armor… if the stats are worth it. What about skills? Yes they have skills, you can pick the skills in any order you want, depending on level – all 9 of them (no paths to choose). You can select skill modifiers though, which change the way the skill behaves to a certain extent. Then there are various character modifiers too, like increase critical hit chance, or the ability to pick up extra loot. Nothing ground-breaking or complex, nor any real way to mold your character.
Many of the item drops come with stats to which leave you clueless as to their purpose, such as ‘Doom’ and the various Chaos stats, warding, redemption, all forcing a visit to the main menu and reading the help. No in-game tooltips here. The loot you do find is often of poorer quality than what can be purchased from shops, leading you to sell everything you find so that you can buy the frequently rare quality items in stores.
What about the story? Action RPGs are not really known for their ground-breaking stories, but there is an attempt at one in DSIII, albeit shallow. You are a descendant of the 10th Legion (well, mostly), who were crushed and destroyed by one Jayne Kassynder. Jayne Kassynder didn’t like the Legionnaires for a number of reasons. Jayne Kassynder amassed a great army and wiped them out. Jayne Kassynder ruled with an iron fist and continues to devastate the world. If you haven’t guessed by now, Jayne Kassynder is the bad guy/girl, and it’s your job to put an end to Jayne Kassynder’s tyranny. You and what army? An army of 4… of which you can only pick one to follow you around. I guess Jayne Kassynder really is the source of all evil for this game.
[Ed: If you are wondering about the over-use of the name Jayne Kassynder, it's because the rather short intro mentions her no less than 5 times, and her full name crops up in conversations repeatedly... just in case you didn't catch who she was the other 40 times.]
So what about the game mechanics? Well, each character has two fighting styles, usually a mix of either heavy or fast, short or long range, single target or AoE, and you flick between them with the Q key. Each mode has a sequence for standard attacks and 3 abilities (when unlocked). Abilities make use of Focus (mana), but the game never tells you how much each ability uses, just a small flash on the Focus bar to tell you when you don’t have enough (not the best system in the world).
You regain Focus by using standard attacks or by picking up the frequently-dropped orbs during a fight. Your beloved AI companion however has no need of Focus, it will happily spam the same skills over and over while it’s stuck on a corner, never hitting anything. The AI will even place ground AoE attacks nowhere near the action, taking pot shots while you get slaughtered slaughter the waves of opponents. The good news though is the AI will come to your rescue and revive you upon an untimely demise, and it will walk through hell or high water to… oh never mind, it died… again.
So I’m being a little harsh, but Dungeon Siege III is filled with lots of minor annoyances. The collision detection on skills and attacks leaves you scratching your head, trying to figure out why you got hit when you performed a timely dodge; or phantom drops in health when you saw no attack or projectile fly near you. The video above (3:00) shows a number of occasions where I was clearly out-of-range of an attack, but still hit. One of my biggest gripes was a lack of strafed movement or an inability to change key bindings – these have however been introduced with a recent patch – although the strafe was a simple addition in which the character changed directions instantly, no turning animation at all.
The camera control is also extremely limiting, with 2 levels of zoom; both retaining an eagle-eyed view, preventing you from seeing too far ahead. The camera can be controlled by holding the middle mouse, but if you release at the same time as performing an action, it will get locked on, causing confusion when you move the mouse. If you run to a save point with the middle mouse held down, the cursor will disappear when trying to navigate the interface. It’s the little things that drives one insane.
Speaking of saving, the glowing yellow pillars of light are the save points, but there are so many, it begs the question of why don’t they just allow you to save anywhere? Though they do work as a good indicator of a tough battle ahead, plus provide a health boost (although it doesn’t actually save the game with health refilled).
There has to be some good to come out of all of this, right? Well, graphics and sound are definitely noteworthy. Many of the environments are varied, although they retain a grim tone throughout. The game renders quite smoothly too, between 40-70 FPS (1920×1200) on a AMD Radeon HD 5870 with everything turned up to max and 8x AA. Much of the voice acting too isn’t bad either. There are a few story/dialogue loopholes though, namely with a certain individual remembering you as a ‘boy’, despite the fact you look twice his age.
There is an element of charming humor thrown in too, with automatons politely reminding you not to excrete in alleyways. Misleading characters line the streets and there are plenty of choices to make as far as story progression goes, though often limited to binary replies.
Obsidian has made a reasonable game, it is fun, but it lacks polish in places and many of the features we often expect from an RPG, action or otherwise. The Dungeon Siege title is pretty much just a name at this point as it carries very few of the hallmarks of previous games. I do have quite a few gripes with the game, the typical swathe of bugs, finicky camera and half-witted AI, but there are moments of fun. The bosses can be challenging, the rapid action and killing, but for as many highs, there are just as many lows, if not more.
In interviews, Obsidian remain energetic but vague about forthcoming DS related material, which possibly involves the use of DLC, for both cosmetics and additional content. If it starts charging $5 for a helmet, or charging for features that should have been in the game in the first place, then we’ll know where it’s heading.
If you decide to buy the game, don’t go into it thinking it’ll be a Dungeon Siege title. While it remains an action RPG, much of what made the original games a favorite are missing. Obsidian are likely to fix many of the bugs in a timely manner (maybe), but as long as character customization isn’t a priority, it’s still a fun game – if you’re into killing and looting things for hours at a time.
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