Dungeon Siege III
Is Dungeon Siege III a comedy? It was a question we found ourselves asking again and again as we worked our way around the kingdom of Ehb and kept on meeting stranger and stranger creatures and characters. It’s not as if comedy and fantasy role-playing games have no history together.
Over the years the two have gone comfortably hand in hand, but we didn’t necessarily expect it of this game. The further we delved the more it became apparent that Obsidian had found a title where it could not only be incredibly respectful of a past series of games, but also stick two fingers up at RPGs as a whole.
The oddities of Dungeon Siege are many. The voice acting on the whole borders between the passable and the hilariously bad, but it’s something that Obsidian seems to be having some fun with.
For instance, the playable heroine Katarina has a pseudo-Russian/Eastern European voice that doesn’t quite hold together and then there’s all the seemingly American NPCs you meet. Call us old-fashioned or jingoistic if you want, but aren’t fantasy games supposed to be populated by British characters?
Anyway, most of that can be forgiven when NPCs talk about people like Baron Barrenbaron or when you get to meet the guy everyone calls The Krug who only says “krrr”.
It’s silly little things like this that give what might have otherwise been an impenetrable and dry RPG a bit of personality and frankly getting to meet the next nutcase was as good an excuse as any to keep playing.
Some of the cheapness and lack of polish can be jarring at first and it can’t be denied that the character models are rather poor in terms of detail and variety.
Human characters often look like they’ve been taken from the same plasticine mould and simply given different hairstyles and a few spots to differentiate them.
This is particularly noticeable on the female characters where old women look more or less like younger women, but with grey locks or shawls, like everyone could be related to one another.
Then again, many of the characters are related for one reason or another, so in some cases it may be more deliberate than others.
There’s an eerie quality to all of them that is not entirely unpleasant and sort of fits the mood, but probably isn’t all that intentional.
Either way, among the humans – because let’s face it none of us really expect the goblins or Cyclopses to look like individual characters as we slay them – there’s a uniformity that tells you this wasn’t an area considered to be a top priority with the development team.
Those efforts have gone into other, perhaps more important areas where time and polish actually make a difference to your experience. Besides, the peculiar-looking NPCs and characters add to the comedy factor.
One of those areas and the one we came to appreciate immensely was the looting and item management. We love a good looting game and Dungeon Siege III is jam packed full of little items for all four of your warriors to collect and use.
Balancing out your HP, Agility, Armour and everything else with every new helmet and pair of stockings you retrieve from a dead body or treasure chest.
It’s an addictive process in most games like this and Dungeon Siege III manages to get it spot-on. We spent about as much time in the early part of the game flicking back and forth between the world and our menu screen as we did battling with our enemies.
If you had the pleasure of experiencing something similar with Borderlands then you will understand what we mean. And like every good looting game should, the items you choose to equip change the appearance of your character.
So, Dungeon Siege isn’t polished to a high shine, but that doesn’t mean it ever feels unfinished. This is a game of humble origins that is holding tight to the classic style of titles like Baldur’s Gate.
Where BioWare has attempted to update those ideas with Dragon Age, Obsidian has held firm and delivered as fine an example of the genre as we’ve seen on consoles.
As strong an element as anything is the story, which ultimately was what kept us pushing on. Sure, the conversations could be a little stunted and we’ve talked about the voice acting and characters, but the intricacies of the plot can suck you in pretty quickly.
The tale of your attempts to resurrect the 10th Legion and bring the kingdom of Ehb together against the evil Jeyne Kassynder has a lot more grey area in it than first appears.
There’s no strict good and evil system to the game and no measurement of your moves towards being a rogue or paragon, but those sort of choices do exist and they usually revolve around how you react to the revelations characters lay at your feet.
Is the Legion’s past too dark to truly serve the people again? Can the monarchy be trusted? Is Kassynder really as bad as your elders made out? Seeing all these questions unfold revealed that while the presentation of Dungeon Siege III’s story can leave something to be desired there can be no question of Obsidian’s ability to pen a compelling tale.
An important part of that was seeing your party gradually populated with characters. You can play as one of four characters from the beginning as well as adding co-op characters immediately if you’re playing with someone else.
Otherwise those extra party members will join you later and in a different order depending on who you choose first. As you play through the game, all of the characters level up simultaneously with you.
That means that regardless of who you choose as your party member in battle at any given moment, they should all be more or less on a par in terms of the number of abilities they have and their power.
It also means that should someone decide to drop into your game and start playing co-op with you (locally or online) they will kick off with exactly the same level of character as you and have a full set of abilities to draw from.
It’s a simple and welcome touch that speaks to the fact Obsidian really wants you playing this game with friends. Your choice of comrade can affect what you hear and the information you get during the course of the game, too.
We spent most of our first playthrough with Katarina partnered by Anjali and the archon had plenty to say in every new area we visited and during our conversations with NPCs.
There is a degree of depth to the conversation system, dialogue trees and the choices you make that we would expect from this sort of game, even if it doesn’t run very deep.
A number of decisions we made had a clear consequence in the later stages of our adventure. That should give you some sense of ownership over the story and your character that you won’t otherwise get from these pre-written, pre-designed heroes.
It also means that while the over-arching plot will remain the same, there are four quite distinct paths through that story and it is seen in very different ways by each of the four possible heroes.
That certainly offers some replay value, as does the fact mentioned earlier that you play the entirety of the game in co-op with up to three other people on and offline.
When you have someone to really co-op with other than just the AI you can combine your abilities and upgrade them in tandem. That’s not necessarily something the AI will think to do for you.
Not that the AI is all that bad. It gets on with its business and perhaps most importantly knows how to look after itself. We found ourselves only having to revive our AI partner a handful of times in the whole game, while it was called upon to play medic far more often.
It didn’t waste any time either getting to us and made good use of its special abilities at all times. All in all we were pleased to have it kicking around with us.
Getting a partnership going with the AI or with a friend that you feel comfortable with is really important. With a total of nine abilities to unlock per character and with each of those being customisable in some way in terms of their secondary effects, there’s a fair amount of combat customisation to Dungeon Siege III.
It’s not quite as deep and sprawling as Dragon Age, but it’s got enough about it to give you some tactical options out in the field.
The enemy AI isn’t really much to write home about, though, but what it lacks in brains it makes up for in brute force and numbers.
It’s interesting how some of the smallest enemies in the game were often the most destructive. Ogres and giant robots are slow, lumbering beasts that could kill you in a couple of strikes, but are easy to dodge. It was the pesky grenade-throwing goblins that really hacked us off.
Anyway, much like any boss, every enemy you face has some kind of attack pattern that you can learn and in turn avoid. By throwing lots of different types at you and then placing you in more and more dangerous locations the game keeps up with your ever-improving hero.
We didn’t really get any sense that these enemies levelled up with us. We were kicking all sorts of beastly behind by the end of the game without breaking a sweat, which is what levelling up your hero should be all about.
In many ways Dungeon Siege III feels rather dated and sometimes even limited, but as a package it comes together. It’s like a good B movie.
You may see the plot holes and the acting stinks and the special effects are woeful, yet despite yourself it charms you with its one-liners and quirky characters.
In bringing this series to consoles it has rounded off some of the edges and simplified certain ideas, which may put off some. Dragon Age is clearly the more ambitious game, but in setting its sights slightly lower, Obsidian has created something simpler and yet still involving and engrossing.