Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review - Dungeon Siege III

After the debacle Bioware experienced with Dragon Age 2, I think Obsidian Entertainment might be bracing themselves for a similar fandom backlash, especially considering how much they changed Dungeon Siege III from its predecessors. While a solid game in its own right, I almost hesitate to call the game Dungeon Siege at all - essentially the only thing that has been retained in this third entry to this popular PC game franchise is the massive amounts of loot you'll find and the story lore. And frankly, the lore was one of the weaker aspects of the first two titles.


Dungeon Siege III is a third person action role-playing game developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a company practically known for taking over other people's game series. With titles such as KOTOR II, and Neverwinter Nights 2 (and corresponding expansions) under its belt, Obsidian has a reputation for making deep, engrossing sequels filled with interesting characters and topped off with intricate plots.

With Dungeon Siege, this fan-favorite developer has stepped outside of familiar territory; most of their games are pseudo turn-based RPGs - Dungeon Siege III is their first fully real-time action RPG. DS3 tries to combine fast-paced action with Obsidian's renowned storytelling and for the most part it succeeds. Operative words being "for the most part."

You glow? I smash.

Unfortunately, the story of Dungeon Siege III falls a bit short of Obsidian's previous titles. The series was never really known for its storytelling, and Dungeon Siege III boasts equally lackluster lore. Because you are forced to select a character that was created for you, the game loses the sense of being a personal story that the first two DS games held (even if those two games did so with the flimsiest of grasps). What you're left with is four characters who you don't really know that much about, each only tenuously attached to the main plot. There is never a sense of character development; rather it feels distinctly like your selected character is just a medium for you to slaughter as many enemies as you can. And while there are plenty of lore entries scattered throughout the world, I was never motivated to read them as I was when playing Dragon Age. In short, the world of Ehb is definitely not as well-developed as Thedas.

Four awesome character designs ... that I feel absolutely no emotional attachment towards.
The main plot is equally forgettable - and short. While certain plot points were mildly interesting, for the most part the game was very generic. I found myself skipping through a lot of the dialogue, simply because I couldn't bring myself to care about what was happening. The main villain is discussed at length, but never really resonates as an antagonist worth all the ho-hum (in fact, she doesn't even appear until the penultimate chapters of the game).  Fortunately, Dungeon Siege games were never really about their stories.


While Obsidian may have chosen to opt for a completely new style and design for the game, at the end of the day, DS3 still plays fluidly and is - for the most part - pretty fun. You select a pre-designed character out of four available options at the beginning of the game, move through the game world and by the end of the game become an avatar of destruction. The action is fast-paced, the controls (on the gamepad) were sufficient and responsive, and leveling up was always a blast, especially after you've unlocked new tiers of abilities.

Level-ups provide you with talent and proficiency points (and every so often new abilities). There are 9 total abilities you can activate in combat (split among 3 different stances which you swap with the left shoulder button or the block button). The abilities are diverse and feel unique - there is no sense that older abilities are replaced - you will use them all throughout the game. The drawback is that it is the selection of abilities you get is quite limited compared to the previous two games. While you can assign proficiency points to your individual skills to augment them and talent points to your character to strengthen him/her, it doesn't quite make up for the distinct lack of choice you're given.

Lucas engages two ogres in a ... dance-off?

One criticism of the first two games was how they could almost play themselves. DS1 was known to need very little human interaction; while DS2 somewhat mollified that feeling, Dungeon Siege III has fully escaped that ill-repute. There is no question now that DS3 requires human action for you to progress forward. Fights are just the right amount of challenging, requiring you to employ all of your abilities strategically. At some point during the game you'll develop a sweet rhythm for facing enemies, making you a nigh unstoppable powerhouse. Watch out though: every once in a while the game will throw a curveball at you in the form of a new enemy or a particularly tough boss - defeating these challenges is especially satisfying.

Oh, and you can't forget the loot. There's so much loot, it's not difficult to imagine becoming a millionaire within the game. The only downside is I wish there was something for me to spend all my gold on. Most of the shops' inventory is filled with equipment I could easily have found just adventuring. Still, it's good to know Obsidian kept at least this one piece of Dungeon Siege heritage in DS3.

Graphics & Sound:

The game is visually quite attractive; while not as technically impressive as the Witcher 2, Dungeon Siege 3 still looks and sounds quite competent. It manages to maintain a distinct style all its own (and while it doesn't recall the previous two games, it is at least pleasing to the eye). The dungeons and towns are gorgeously designed, if a bit linear, and all the dialogue is voiced. Don't expect Bioware style cinematic conversations, however - most characters seem to be cursed with having only one bland expression, and there were multiple instances where I felt the voice-acting was forced. These are all minor complaints; DS3 still impresses with a level of polish that most players probably wish KOTOR 2 and NWN2 were blessed with.

Other Notes:

With Dungeon Siege III, Obsidian has departed from its typical game development cycle. What is perhaps worse, is that it chose to also depart from certain staples expected of the Dungeon Siege series. Gone is the vast and open world ripe for exploration, stripped down in favor of a decidedly linear string of plot and sidequest objectives. Gone is the ability to create and customize your own character and choose what abilities and talents you pursue. Gone is the PC focus of gameplay - Dungeon Siege III is clearly a game designed for the consoles. The demo Obsidian released two weeks prior to the official release of the game was met with cries of outrage at just how terrible the PC controls were. Similarly gone is the ability to manage multiple characters, though this is replaced with a lackluster multiplayer component. Joining a game does not allow you to earn XP or raise your skill levels on your own campaign, making it somewhat less enticing to play with friends.

Purple Bullet Power, Activate!
Final Thoughts:

Despite this betrayal of the other games in the series, Dungeon Siege III can ultimately still be an enjoyable experience and is still worth at least a quick look for any action RPG enthusiast. What it lacks in story and originality, it makes up for in good old fashioned hack and slash fun. If you're willing to forgive the character selection and development choices, pick up a gamepad (but definitely not a mouse & keyboard) and start sieging those dungeons (for the third time)!

Recommended For:
+ Fans of Real-time Action RPGs
+ Fantasy RPG Fans
+ Dungeon Siege Fans with open and forgiving minds
+ Gamers with Friends - as long as you don't mind not being able to retain the XP and loot you gain while playing in someone else's game.

Not Recommended For:
- Obsidian Fans expecting a deep and engrossing storyline
- PC Gamers without a gamepad
- Dungeon Siege Loyalists

*This review was completed using the PC version of the game. Dungeon Siege III is also available on the XBOX360 and the Playstation3.


Anonymous said...

Good review sir. Came here after reading your your brief review on MetaCritic. Well done, keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Going to nitpick your opening sentence on this one. Obsidian didn't develop DA 2. That was a Bioware title.

wangxiuming said...

Apologies, I phrased that poorly. Thanks for the heads up!

Anonymous said...

Very nice review, thanks!