As a series, Dungeon Siege has always had an odd position in games industry. Dungeon Siege III‘s predecessors were adequate PC dungeon crawling romps that stood in the colossal shadow of Blizzard’s incredibly popular Diablo games. While it proved to be a moderate success, the franchise seemed to fade away into obscurity shortly after release of the sequel.
Now, Square-Enix has acquired publishing rights to the series . This time around Dungeon Siege has the jump on Diablo III, and is on both consoles and the PC. Dungeon Siege III set out with ambitious promises to deliver a revamped, reworked Dungeon Siege experience. In practice it’s one that often falls short, leaving us with a mildly entertaining, linear hack-and-slash game.
The opening of Dungeon Siege III sells the game short. If someone walked in on you they could be forgiven for assuming you’re playing an isometric Dragon Age: Origins, but with worse writing and even creepier uncanny valley facial animations. Dialogue is haphazard at best. There’s one hilarious scene in the beginning where your character runs into a burning house where everyone dead inside. He then meets up with a colleague, and says “When I got here, the house was on fire and everyone was dead!” in a dull monotone voice. It’s not an isolated incident and it was immediately off putting.
However, when the game gets through the initial slog of exposition and actually lets you play I started to enjoy myself much more. If you stick with the game despite its rather unimpressive opening and quaint but nonetheless tired narrative of you being the last hope against an evil dictator, you’ll discover that gameplay starts off strong and quickly becomes the most memorable part of Dungeon Siege III.
In a shift from its isometric Diablo-clone roots Dungeon Siege III plays much more like a traditional hack-and slash. Characters very fluid movement from an isometric perspective and can block and dodge roll against enemy attacks in real time. You can also unlock new abilities, special effects for said abilities, and passive effects as you level up and gain experience in the traditional fashion.
Your character two types of offensive combat capabilities: Melee strongman Lucas, for instance, can wield one-handed swords ideal for dispatching single enemies and bosses, and broadswords capable of cutting wide swaths through larger groups of mobs trying to surround you. Abilities build on these specializations, such as a broadsword ability that triggers an earthquake or a sword technique that momentarily stuns an enemy.
Each hero also has a set of defensive abilities usually based around regenerating health or boosting their resistance to enemy attacks. Swapping between different offensive weapons, defensive weapons and skill sets on the console version of the game is seamless. There is a beautiful flow to this process as you adjust to different enemies and combat situations.
What I really appreciate about all this is that there’s actually strategy behind it. Hammering either attack button will serve you up to a point, but especially on normal and hard difficulty settings you’ll need to dodge, weave, and use your abilities to prevent from being surrounded or get caught in a boss’s deadly energy blast.
It’s all about exploiting openings, vulnerabilities, and using every edge you can get. Even status ailments are not only much more relevant than in most games but can turn the tide or save your life during a critical battle. The freeze status saved my life from a particularly harrowing arachnid boss encounter early on, and Lucas’ stun lock ability became crucial when I went toe-to-toe with bosses.
The game makes an effort to cut down on excessive item clutter and inventory management and succeeds particularly well in combat. Instead of lugging around ten tons of potions you restore health and will (mana) by being effective in combat. You restore will as you hit enemies with standard attacks, essentially encouraging you to balance standard attacks with abilities.
I mentioned the health regeneration ability, which can be enhanced with healing auras, life stealing attacks, and a variety of other abilities that are augmented by the one teammate you’re allowed to have with you in battle. Not only does this free up a lot of item spaces but you also don’t have to repeatedly spam the potion hotkey when faced with an intense boss, and it streamlines battles very nicely.
The attempt to streamline inventory management did seem to stop halfway because of how much obsolete gear you’ll be carrying around at any given time. Enemies drop equipment, most of which is completely worthless since you can buy some of the best stuff in the game from vendors when you pawn your truckloads of swords and leather armor that you don’t need. Even rare item drops from bosses wound up being less useful than most of what I was able to buy until the very end of the game with a one-in-a-million exception of finding a rare, helpful item somewhere on the road.
As much as I laud the game for taking some initiative I can’t really call it ambitious, and there are times when Dungeon Siege III seems phoned in. There are some creative enemy designs but you’ll see a ridiculous amount copy/pasted bandits and spiders, with some of the same enemies that appear in grassy meadows then appearing on the tops of snowy mountains.
The game is also extremely linear, and while this isn’t a problem by itself, the linearity doesn’t add to the narrative or provide for a deeper experience. All it really does is string you by the nose and tell you what direction to move in. In fairness the linearity lends itself to the hack-and-slash gameplay but there’s very little creativity in the challenges you face or the types of enemies you need to defeat other than a sequence where you need to dodge cannon fire as you battle through a mountain.
There are some efforts to deepen the gameplay but it just makes the game feel pretentious. There’s a conversation choice system that has almost no real purpose other than letting you decide whether a few defeated bosses live or die. Whether or not you undertake certain side quests or let people live has a minimal effect on the ending but your actions don’t have any serious consequences. The bland story and lack of any characterization or development mean you probably won’t even care about the village that starved because you didn’t open up the trade route you needed to. There just seems to be so many bells and whistles attached to an unrefined product.
Then there are the bugs, which at least aren’t as prevalent as they’ve been in some of Obsidian’s previous releases. Depending on where you are the camera will periodically zoom in without warning, leaving you without visibility when you’re trying to dodge roll away from a batch of soldiers. Sometimes your character seems to clip into the ground resulting on what feels like an invisible wall until you run backwards to fix it.
While your AI character can generally be trusted to handle him or herself, your partner has a terrible habit of walking directly into an enemy’s damage aura and not noticing that their health has started plummeting, and usually all you can do is revive them when they get killed.
Dungeon Siege III also features drop in co-op but it simply isn’t worth your time. If you join another player’s game you don’t bring your own customized, battle-armored hero along for the ride. What happens instead is you inhabit the host’s version of Lucas, Katarina, or which respective character, rather than your own. This means the possibility of different equipment, different specializations, and ultimately a different character. There isn’t any real benefit of partaking in multiplayer unless you’re hunting for a platinum trophy and need the multiplayer-only achievements.
First impressions aren’t everything, which is why this review score started out as a 4 and inched its way up. It does wind up being capable by its own merits; there’s nothing egregious about it and it at least makes an effort to distinguish itself from the prior two Dungeon Siege games. The result is basically a comfort food-type game. It doesn’t push the envelope aside from experimenting with gameplay but if you like this type of game you’ll probably enjoy yourself as long as you speed through the story.