The formula for a successful dungeon crawler is not particularly complex. A good combat system and interesting crawl spaces are a must. A multitude of different enemies to unleash a mixture of exciting abilities on, of course. But most importantly, a surfeit of loot.
Unfortunately for Dungeon Siege III, while it meets most of the above criteria, the loot table is something of a disappointment. At no stage does loot become something to get excited about, something that will drastically help the player. Dungeon crawling gamers will chase the proverbial loot dragon with the kind of fervour that would make Keith Richards blanch. They’re constantly seeking that sense of euphoria that comes with finally acquiring a rare item. This next monster, surely. Without a comprehensive or exciting loot table, it’s hard to get excited about grinding through the world of Ehb. Just as well there’s enough to be found elsewhere in Dungeon Siege III.
Made by Obsidian Entertainment, this reboot of a dormant franchise is a significantly different experience to the first two installments created by Gas Powered Games, which traded in top-down strategy and party management.
Despite the massive change, Obsidian has kept more than enough of the spirit of the series to legitimately call this a sequel. Ehb is still a long, monster-filled corridor, the camera still soars overhead, jokes and a light-hearted humour are still intertwined seamlessly into a grave plot, and the kaleidoscopic colour scheme still plays across the screen.
The four playable characters in Dungeon Siege III are descendants of the 10th Legion, a highly trained army that helped in the founding of the Kingdom of Ehb. Since the kingdom’s founding the Legion has fallen on hard times and a war between those loyal to Ehb’s monarch and those loyal to the Church, led by the villainous Jeyne Kassynder, has pushed the Legion to near extinction.
The game opens as Jeyne Kassynder puts a bounty out on all surviving 10th Legion descendents. This then is game-long quest: to find and recruit those 10th Legion descendents not on fire and attached to stakes; to reclaim Legion property – usually by turning out whatever it is that has taken up residence – and convincing the people of Ehb that the 10th Legion are not jerks and that, yes, they will take a break from saving the world to find your lost trinket.
Such side-quests can be picked up in the smattering of towns and strong points found along the rather linear path taken through Ehb. While occasionally pretty there is very little to do in these pit stops other than sell unwanted gear and help the townsfolk before moving on.
All quests occasionally throw up a “tough” decision to ponder. You just defeated the focus of your quest, do you kill him? Imprison him? Or turn them loose, with a smack on the wrist? While rare, such decisions act as a counterpoint to the larger task of cutting through the swathes of enemies inhabiting every nook and cranny Ehb.
Cutting said swathes is a simple enough affair in Dungeon Siege III. Each character has three stances to flow between. In a general sense, the character has a defensive stance for blocking, dodging and healing; a single target damage stance and a multi-target stance. Switching between the two damaging stances is just a matter of hitting the left bumper while the defensive stance is entered into by holding down the left trigger, a kind of block button. Once in any of these stances the button pad is assigned to corresponding abilities. Blocking and regular attacks also charge the focus meter, the pool of energy you draw on for abilities.
Most of the fights on offer will require a fluid mix of all the available stances, though apart from a handful of encounters it is possible to get through most of the action with half a mind on what to have for dinner. Dodge the bigger, facsimiled attacks heading your way, slap a few times at the attack button and let rip with fancy pants spells when the time is right.
It’s not brain surgery but is considerably more enjoyable. Each character has 11 abilities, as well as charged up versions, used best in slightly different scenarios. Trying to get the most out of each character is an involving combination of vivid particle effects, juggled stances and intuitive use of the abilities on offer.
Levelling up these abilities, and the characters behind them, is also a simple affair. There will be no time spent agonising over which mysterious statistic to put points in. Each level grants a point to spend upgrading an ability in one of two ways, and another to spend on a permanent buff to the character, while occasionally getting a point to buy a new ability. It’s that simple.
While Dungeon Siege can be played through solo, and it is a lot of fun, this game was made for co-op fun with friends. Sadly, there are a few drawbacks really letting the co-op side down. While playing online with four people sounds promising, the explosions of glossy, shiny abilities among the masses of enemies, the camera desperate to try and witness all the action occasionally missing it all and the general clutter involved with that much action make wanting to know what is going on feel like an exercise in futility.
To add a little insult, when joining another person’s online game your character will not keep any of the items, gold or experience gathered from the hours of play, leading quickly to a why bother mentality. Nor is there anything to stop a player joining your game, quickly selling all your stuff and bailing, for the pure joy of hurting you.
Then of course, there’s the loot. Here’s how it works in Dungeon Siege III: kill an enemy, open a chest and out pops some loot. That’s about it. Generally speaking new loot will be much like the loot before it, perhaps with an additional +2 to a statistic. The giddy casino so important to games such as this is entirely lacking.
Luckily for Dungeon Siege III, the loot – generally a major in games like these – and the flaws in the multiplayer can be covered for by the many other positives brought to the table. The slick action, the tidy levelling system, and the presentation all create a game well worth playing. Grab a friend, grab a couple of drinks and any problems seem to vanish.