[Review] Dungeon Siege III – This Time, it’s Not Dungeon Siege II
Available on: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Publisher: Square Enix; Developer: Obsidian Entertainment; Players: 1 – 4; Released: June 21, 2011; ESRB: Teen; Official Site
I’ve been a fan of Dungeon Siege since the first game came out, when I was hot in my exploration of swords and magic themed narratives. The open-ended feeling of the character development and geographic design let me spend many hours finding secret places with unknown and powerful monsters hoarding magnificent treasures. Dungeon Siege II heavily redesigned the gameplay to facilitate more linear character development, which at first felt constricting, but turned out to be a clever way to make the player focus on a goal.
Dungeon Siege III focuses the intense white-hot narrative to make an action-oriented RPG that feels less like the original Dungeon Siege than some may be comfortable with, but it is okay; beating up the bad guys is more fun when it is an activity rather than a process.
The narrative is familiar to those who have played Dungeon Siege or similarly themed games: a kingdom is in trouble and it’s up to you to bring it out of trouble, and the road to victory will cross through a bunch of dungeons. In the first two games, the player would command and direct a mutably sized party as one would in an RTS, demanding a significant degree of attention to each party member’s location and activity at any given moment while embroiled in combat with fifty skeleton warriors at once. Watching your party members perform commands to achieve a well rehearsed and organized victory is a unique sort of thrill, a thrill developed further in Dungeon Siege II with player-activated action commands, which increased a sense of teamwork among party members. In Dungeon Siege III, however, the player never manages more than two characters at a time, which is a significant departure from the RTS feel of the games. Additionally, all the actions of the character, where they could usually be set to automatically activate under the correct condition in the first two games, are now under complete control by the player. The shift from top-down RTS-RPG to top-down action RPG may feel alienating or strange at first, but the thesis of the product remains intact: to siege a lot of dungeons. It is just that the sieging will be more hands-on.
The characters available for play are pre-developed, class-based characters that do not adhere to the Dungeon Siege tradition of developing classes based on the weapons or spells players use the most. This departure from the series tradition is a gameplay design choice that keeps the player focused on the action more than choosing the right equipment to develop a class ability or stat building in general. Character building is minimized to three screens that appear whenever characters level up, where abilities are boosted or collected with limited ability points. With only one or two points per level to select between about ten abilities and bonuses, the ramifications of each decision must be carefully considered against the player’s idiosyncratic gameplay technique. Leveling up is an exciting time in this game.
I played the game on the maximum difficulty because I asked my momma and she said I can be hardcore if I want but to call her every once in a while. The major perk of shifting from issuing commands to executing actions themselves is that players will become better at the game; technique, rather than stats alone, becomes an important factor in victory. With this, you can feel good about yourself being good at the game rather than feeling good about your character being good.
The AI-controlled party member tends to be able to fend for itself, which makes me think I may not be playing as strongly as I possibly can, which is only slightly discouraging. Even on the hardest difficulty, fights do not feel particularly challenging with the AI helping out. To remedy this clear and offensive underestimation of my human capability, I asked Davis to play the game in co-op mode with me. Instantly, common skirmishes became brutal and harrowing assaults, and boss battles became nigh impossible. Even a slight misstep or miscommunication led to certain death. The victories are significantly more rewarding, however, knowing that the hardest difficulty of the game, though weathering our resolve, sharpens the edge of our technique, making lesser difficulties an exercise in yawning. It is a lot more fun to die with a fellow human than to die and be revived by a superior computer partner though, so the increased difficulty tends to be more welcome.
I suppose that in playing this game, I felt a large degree of nostalgia for the previous games that made me feel that Dungeon Siege III wasn’t exactly Dungeon Siege, but some tricky product with the same name. The innovations to the combat system and streamlined character building make this a very different game than either of its predecessors, and I learned to appreciate these differences the way I learn to appreciate change in my best friends. Apart from its context as part of a series, Dungeon Siege III is a very solid game with rewarding and challenging gameplay. Newcomers will probably enjoy it as a pretty casual dungeon crawler, though with enough stat-based depth and character-building interest for variable gameplay.
Note: A retail copy was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher.