Way back in 2002, Gas Powered Games and Microsoft released Dungeon Siege on the PC. A favorite at LAN parties, this four player co-op game had players battling hordes of monsters, sacking all kinds of loot, and generally just having a heck of a time. A sequel and expansion packs followed, but the series has been quiet since late 2006.
That's all behind us now though, as Square Enix and Obsidian Entertainment have teamed up for a full on sequel with Dungeon Siege III (DS3). This newest entry takes place on the same continent as the previous games, Aranna, and also marks the first time the series is available on consoles.
Whether playing alone, with a friend via splitscreen, or with up to three others online, DS3 is an addictive and enjoyable experience.
Ehb And Flow
The story behind DS3 ties back to events in the previous Dungeon Siege games but it's not necessary to have played those to get satisfaction from this new story. Players do revisit areas from the first Dungeon Siege, which is cool if you did play the old ones, but DS3 does a good job via cutscenes and text of catching you up.
All that said, the Kingdom of Ehb is under grave danger from one Jeyne Kassynder. The 10th Legion (think of them as a group who protect and serve for justice) is falling apart and Jeyne's dark grip is growing stronger. As one of the Legionnaires, a great responsibility falls on you to seek out companions to turn the tide against Jeyne and her plans for domination.
So at the beginning of your campaign, you must choose between the four Legionnaires. There's Lucas Montbarron, a skilled swordsman. Anjali, an archon, a human with the ability to summon fire and use fire in a variety of ways. She also carries a spear. Reinhart Manx, an old and skilled mage was my choice. He can summon lightning attacks. Finally, there is Katarina, the daughter of a Legionnarie and a witch; she is skilled with firearms.
No matter which character you choose, you will encounter the others along your journey, either via the story or in co-operative multiplayer. Each character is upgradeable, of course, and there are numerous items that they can wear and wield. With Reinhart, for example, you can find and purchase different robes for him to equip as armor. He can also wear a ring and an amulet to increase his stats, and there are several other categories as well. Katarina has similar needs but with different names, i.e., she wears clasps and outfits different rifles and shotguns.
A large variety of items exists for every character, and I found myself spending a lot of time in the Equip screen going through my items. Most items I found in chests or took from fallen enemies. You can see what an item is before you pick it up, but it's difficult to tell if it's better than what you are using now or not without going into the inventory screen. Fortunately, doing so is as easy as pressing Right on the d-pad. It's also easy to scroll through your items for each category and see what their stat effects are. So maybe a certain pair of boots offers more Agility but reduces Armor, or a particular breastplate may increase Armor and Will but reduce Doom, and so on. There are a dozen or more stats that can be tweaked with the right equipment.
But while I appreciate the numerous items, I wondered after a few hours of play if it wasn't just a little too much. In other words, there are so many different items that you end up looting a lot of junk. Now granted, you can sell all of this stuff to any merchant you see at anytime, they will never refuse you. Or, if your inventory is getting full (which has never been a problem for me), you can Transmute items into coins, although you won't get as much if you just sold them. My ultimate point being, you end up spending a lot of time checking your inventory to see if there is anything better to equip for yourself or partner (if playing with the CPU) than what you already have. The vast majority of the time -- unless you have just defeated a large boss or completed a quest -- that isn't the case, but you can't really know
until you check.
The upgrade system is built around Abilities. Each character has nine abilities split into three tiers. Six abilities are offensive, while three are defensive. As you advance, tiers two and three open up and you can choose which powers to unlock. You get 1 Ability point to spend after leveling up. Each ability can be Empowered if you use it a whole heckuva lot, and this gives you a permanent upgraded form of said ability. You use this alternate ability, which drains your Power meter, by pressing L2 and then the corresponding face button.
In addition, for each Ability, there are Proficiencies that you can spend points on. Proficiencies are just like they sound -- they improve a specific ability. Each Proficiency has a total of five upgrade slots, but each Proficiency can be upgraded in two different ways. In other words, for Reinhart's basic lightning attack, I could plan to upgrade it five times over with a small damage increase, or I could split the upgrades between that and the second upgrade option (which increased the chance the lightning would jump to another nearby foe).
A third upgradeable element are Talents. There are ten of these per character, and they are more general than Abilities. Talents can be upgraded five times each and allow for increased Critical Hits, more efficient health recovery, and other unique, well, talents, that come in handy as you work your way through Kassynder's minions.
I'm more of a casual, action-oriented RPG gamer than a hardcore variety, so the inventory and abilities within DS3 are satisfying to me. I could see how someone coming from WoW or other more detailed RPGs could see DS3's offering as casual, though. Afterall, you cannot change the name or appearance of your character, there are no alchemy elements to customize your equipment, and compared to some other games, your total number of abilities here is less.
Still, with nine abilities to control, I thought Obsidian did a very good job with the control scheme on the PS3. RPGs on consoles is nothing new to Obsidian, so that only helps. The key to being able to go between your abilities is through Stances, which you can change by pressing L1. This literally remaps the face buttons X, Triangle, and O to different abilities than in your other stance. It's the most logical way to do this and it works very well. Other controls include pressing R1 to interact or pickup objects, R3 for zooming the camera in and out (the zoomed out view looks and plays better), and L2 for block.
No RPG is complete without Quests and DS3 has a good quest system in place. By pressing Left on the d-pad, you can view all active (and completed) quests. The quest descriptions are detailed and it's easy to select one as your current active quest. The active quest is important because the guide, a series of golden spheres (like breadcrumbs), leads you to that quest's location when you press Up on the d-pad. The spheres fade away after a few seconds. Some may see the guide as a crutch, but I found it very useful to stay on the right path, especially in some of the more twisting, winding levels with multiple elevations, such as the swamps.
As with some of the other aspects of DS3, the sheer volume and depth of the quests is not at the level of bigger, deeper RPGs. Were this solely a single player adventure, that would be more of a negative than it is given that this game is intended for relatively quick co-op sessions. That said, most of the quests boil down to fetching something for someone or seeking out a particular person. Quests take place in forests, swamps, castles, mines, graveyards, and several other locations. Each time, you are blazing through numerous weaker enemies, some stronger ones, and finally a boss character who ups the ante with spectacular attacks and a lot of HP.
At many points in the story, you will talk with NPCs and the dialogue system gives you several paths to take. Most conversations are about gathering information or quest details, but others can get more confrontational and have a bigger impact on the story. Decisions you make while conversing may affect the influence on your companion, as well as the outcome of the game. These moments are not as apparent as maybe I would have liked them to be, but I like that a consequence system like this was included.
Finally, there is a Deed system as well. Think of these as a series of challenges and rewards that you can optionally due to earn some additional status boosts. I received a "Full Time Hero" Deed, for example, for completing ten side quests which netted me a +2 Stamina boost. There are a variety of Story and Challenge Deeds, the key difference being Story ones usually have to do with a decision you make in dialogue while Challenge deeds are about performing some action (like killing a certain type of monster) x number of times.
Visually, DS3 is mostly impressive. Everything looks a lot better with the zoomed out view, by the way, including the character textures and especially the environment. Rippling water, glowing plants, all of that stuff looks a lot nicer when zoomed out. When you zoom in, the detail of the character doesn't look that great and I do wish that you could customize the appearance of them. The variety of locations were a visual treat too, thanks to all sorts of colored lighting and a variety of unique objects. I only experienced very brief and very minor framerate issues, too. The dialogue sequences look a little stiff, with the NPC standing firmly in place except for their wandering, blinking eyes. The voice overs for the dialogue aren't bad, maybe a little dry, and the effects and music are very good if not very memorable.
Overall, Dungeon Siege III gets a whole lot right, and not much wrong. Whether you plan on playing through this by yourself or co-operatively, there's a lot of enjoyment to be had.