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August 31st, 2012, 10:42
Dungeon Siege III (with DLC)
Let's have a history lesson. Gas Powered Games is a company who always made strategy games and they might be most famous for Supreme Commander. About ten years ago they did two RPG's, with sequels, known as Dungeon Siege. These games were like a mix between Diablo and the Real Time Strategy genré, allowing you to control up to 8 characters at the same time in a game with almost continous combat, randomized loot and tactical gameplay. I were never a fan of the first one as I believed it couldn't compare wih games such as Baldur's Gate in story/characters/dialogue, but I had a soft spot for the sequel that did a better job. It expansion Broken World was poor though, almost destroying the joy I had with the main game. After it's release the series went into obscurity.

It must be said then that Dungeon Siege III is a very very different game. It's built by one of the RPG overlords, Obsidian Software, as their first action RPG. The gameplay that can be compared with hack & slash titles such as Gods of War or action RPG's such as Gothic, Risen or Two Worlds. It inherits companions similar to KOTOR, graphics similar to Neverwinter Nights 2 and dialogue wheel similar to Mass Effect. It's also published by Square Software who previously published Final Fantasy.

Cool history bro, but is it any good?

Story
150 years have passed since earlier titles. 10th Legion, a grand army that used to defend the Kingdom of Ehb have almost been whiped out by Jeyne Kassynder, a cleansing that begun 30 years ago. At the beginning of the game, the player picks one out of four remaining members who are summoned by the Legion scout Odo to rebuild the Legion. As the player reach the meetingplace it's burning, attacked by an unknown force. The player meets up with another survivor Marten and escape to eventually meet up with Odo himself. There are now only a handful of legionnaries left and it's from this darkest of times the player have to build up the Legion from scratch, starting by defending the nearby village.

True to Obsidians other titles the story is quite well written. Do not expect black & white characters. Every character you meet have their flaws and motivations for what they do, their fate is often up to you and moral options are usually between two bad or two good. Whatever you chose have effect on the games ending and may also influence (improve) your companion, each of which have very different perspectives on the proper action given the situation.

The four characters are deeply connected with the story, unfortunatelly you are just likely to experience two of them in my playthrough, your main character and your favorite companion. In time you will learn secrets of their background and connection to the story which might not be evident when you begin to play. The four characters include Katarina, a gunslinger with the Rogue persona, Lucas the paladin/knight, Anjeli who is a kind of a battlemage and Reinhart the mage/scientist. All of these are decendants from protagonists and npc's from earlier titles now hunted for being tied to the legion by blood.

One thing I fondly remember in Dungeon Siege 2 is the insane amount of lore. At the end of the game you would have half a library that told you about the monsters you encountered, every map you visited, numerous factions and historic trivia. DS3 still have a lot of lore by todays standards but only a fraction compared to DS2, everything now presented in a long list rather than in subcategories.

Engine: Graphics & Sound
The sound and music is what to expect from a developer who care. Voice acting is great, especially the narrator who also make the voice of Odo. The music from the main menu was actually stuck in my head after playing the game.

Graphically this is one of those games that have great graphics limited by making a console version for 7 year old hardware. Expect many shortcuts and simple geometry and with missing post-processing and pixel shading but still with beautiful in-game models and an often unique artistic style over it. You may note that all the ladies look like pornstars with a huge bust and lots of makeup which did bother me a bit. Katarina is modelled after an american actress Rebecca Grant.

This is a game that definitely took benefit from using three monitors. Since I played Katarina who is a ranged fighter, I could actually use the extra monitors as a shooting range to kill foes far away while keeping myself out of harm. It's as if the game allowed me to "see" in three directions, left, right and front, instead of just front.

Gameplay
Now this is a mixed bag. Let me begin by saying that there's very little connection between Dungeon Siege 1-2 and 3. What I remember from DS2 was controlling a large party in strategical gameplay, DS3 limit you to max 1 companion which I found to be a really uneccessary decision. I would definitely have preferred to build strategies involving all four and made sure all four were present in dialogues. Even though three of them are computer-controlled this was the case with DS1/2 as the AI in those games were quite good and required some thought on how to optimize the AI to give your companions efficient abilities that you wouldn't control yourself. I wish they had used something like the Gambit system from Final Fantasy XII actually.

The pure gameplay could be compared to action RPG's such as Gothic, Risen or Two Worlds. You get full access to buying skills and talents for your character and equip them with proper gear that you then use in an action-game that requires quick controls. Mouse control in DS3 is rather bad so it's actually best to have a real 360 gamepad when playing the game. Now the amount of customization is for an actiongame way above average. You truly have to think when setting up your character to develop a strategy that fits you, especially on harder settings. The game have more than twenty different attributes that benefits different strategies such as dots, buffs, debuffs, increased criticals, improved criticals, mana regeneration, talent optimizations etc. Most of these comes from your choice of gear and knowing what you do really helps to make your character into an efficient killing-machine while not so makes you into a crippled goblin.

When playing a mage in Gothic or Two Worlds I often hurled the fireball for fifty hours or so. In DS3 you have instant access to up to eleven (quick count) different actions in combat, each of which can be leveled up in various ways and empowered for improved effect. You have your basic attack, two stances with three custom actions each, three defensive moves and finally an ultimate ability unlocked through the DLC. In the beginning this may actually be overwhelming and I have read many reviews saying that it's not really intuitive that you also level these up by using them, something I found myself near the end of the game (also missed that you can empower your regular attack which I discovered in the last map of the game).

Now to my criticism. My main complaint is with the games maps and quests. DS3 is a very slimmed down title with very few quests in very cramped areas. I compared gameplay with Gothic/Risen/Two Worlds but the areas in DS3 are often ultralinear and very small. I am often driven by the quests and tend to get bored when all there is is non-stop fighting in a generic landscape. I couldn't help feeling that the amount of foes you encounter are very few compared with earlier titles, prepare to meet a lot of spiders. Towards the end there are long stretches where you run through caves and fight a non-stop horde of people and it felt more like doing work than having fun since you spent a long time only fighting without any story to put meaning to what you do. You also have no subquests for companions which is something I liked with Dungeon Siege 2.

I also hate the dialogue wheel that the game borrows from Mass Effect. I hate it because it removes both context and control over dialogue and in the end is like selecting prerecorded voice acting. The decisions you make often effects nothing more than your influence to the one companion you have with you and they are usually black & white removing all subtleness from speech. You can't lie here. You can't say something fitting for the situation, everything you say is the product of your black & white persona, no manipulation, no motivative speech, no chance to explain your comments to your companions once you are alone with your companion.

DLC1: Treasures of the Sun
DLC's can be everything from horse armor to full-fledged expansions. Some provide nothing more than a couple of new items, some use rehashed content galore (kinda what to expect from a modder who only make custom maps with the gametools), others offers a whole sidestory with new content through-and-through as well as expanding gameplay. Treasure of the Sun belongs to the last category and I will in the future remember it as a good example that a DLC can definitely be both good and worth it. Sceptics will probably say it's probably content that was cut from the main game just to be able to demand money out of the player in order to get the whole thing, because the DLC is really something you wan't from the beginning of the game rather than add it after finishing it.

TotS offers two things, a new area with it's own story and item customization. It's the latter that feels like something that should have been in the game in the first place and it's what benefits a player that have it installed all along. Enhancements comes in looted bottles that are put into an item you got to give you a numerical benefit. I found this a bit broken though since I found a neat trick. Depending on what items you enhance your price will increase and it's possible to put every enhancement you find on a single item as long as the base item only have 1 attribute to begin with. So what I did was to take a cheaper amulet with a single attribute on it (like 9 agility) and then put every enhancement I found in the entire game on that amulet. At the end of the game I had all the custom attributes up to around +200!

The new area is really well done and it's actually better than the main game. It's filled with alot of subquests and several distinct areas tied to a hub. It uses an entirely new landscape (desert) so it gives a very distinct feel compared to the rest of the game. All in all it took me about 4-5 hours to do everything in it which is good for a DLC.

Verdict
I do not believe there will be a Dungeon Siege 4. Dungeon Siege 1 didn't impress me much. I liked Dungeon Siege 2 but it didn't sell well and Broken World destroyed it. Dungeon Siege 3 got rather poor reviews. At this time there's little that I can say what makes a Dungeon Siege game as the games are too different from one another. That said, Dungeon Siege 3 isn't a bad game. If someone played everything else from Obsidian, Black Isle, Bioware and Troika software there's nothing that should keep someone away from this one. The story is well written, the action gameplay puts Gothic and Mass Effect to shame and should be how action-rpg's are made, both well polished and intelligent. What Dungeon Siege III lacks is content. With more sidequests and larger maps DS3 could have been right up there with the top. Finally, please do not limit your party to 2-3 characters. Please stop doing that.

Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind. - John F Kennedy
An eye for an eye, and soon the whole world is blind. - Mahatma Gandhi
The world is my country. To do good is my religion. My mind is my own church. This simple creed is all we need to enjoy peace on earth. - Thomas Paine
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