With Dungeon Siege III, Obsidian Entertainment takes over the development reigns from Gas Powered Games and brings the popular RPG franchise to consoles. The studio has a history with role-playing games from Star Wars: KOTOR II, Neverwinter Nights II and Alpha Protocol to the more recent Fallout New Vegas. Granted, the last two titles are mostly known for their technical flaws than for their supposed immersion into the RPG genre but if there’s a chance for redemption, Dungeon Siege III might be the one. Plus, bringing the perennial franchise to consoles led Obsidian to change the way Dungeon Siege games are played.
Is this new entry in the award-winning franchise a success or failure? How about something in between. That sounds about right.
While fans of the franchise will enjoy the various references to past titles, newcomers won’t need to hit the Internet or play past games in the series to understand what’s at stake. Set once again in the world of Ehb, 150 years after the events of the last Dungeon Siege game, Dungeon Siege III follows the vestiges of the 10th Legion, an imperial army who used to provide stability and protection to the kingdom, fighting for their survival. Scattered and almost annihilated by Jeyne Kassynder, your goal will be to rebuild what’s left of it and take back the kingdom from her before it’s too late as one of the four characters connected to the Legion (Lucas Montbarron, Anjali, Reinhart Manx and Katarina). Lucas is a skilled swordsman, Reinhart possesses magical powers, Katarina wields firearms while Anjali (my favorite) is an Archon - a mystic capable of switching between human and fire forms.
The story arc is interesting but being an Action-RPG heavier on the action than the RPG, it isn’t surprising to see the hack n’ slash dungeon crawling action overshadow the tale itself. Obsidian does its best to make you feel the role-playing side of things. Heroes can collect, use and trade equipment as well as earn experience points in combat to purchase new powers or abilities based on your current rank. Character interactions are delivered via a Mass Effect-styled wheel system. Decisions made during key conversations have a certain influence on the main quest as well. Unfortunately, the willingness to pull you in isn’t strong enough to make the dungeon crawling experience memorable. And since voice-acting isn’t stellar either, despite solid scriptwriting, players will focus on upgrading their abilities and inflicting major pain upon their enemies until the credits roll. This should happen after +/- ten hours of gameplay.
While the game’s RPG side is timidly felt, the action is well presented and satisfying whether the adventurer is played in solo or cooperatively (two players local and four online - drop-in/drop-out in both cases). Combat is furiously fast, inviting players to switch between their character’s stances, time their attacks/blocks, pull off combos and execute acrobatic dodges to overcome the horde of monsters thrown at them. Like in many games in the genre, Obsidian designed Dungeon Siege III to be played with friends. Questing alone with the AI remains feasible and somewhat enjoyable but relying on your CPU-controlled partners to use their specific skills and abilities in the middle of a heated battle might give some headaches. Speaking of a game built around co-op play, I was surprised to see how restrictive the component was. Basically, the host has a major advantage, keeping all the XP and loot and leaving the others as simple peons. Players who jump into a random or friends’ game will get to use one of the host’s three available characters. There’s no way to bring over your own character. For some, yours truly included, this aspect is quite disappointing. Is it that hard to pull-off? Someone needs to explain that to me one day. The host doesn’t control 100% of the actions. During conversations, all players can vote by choosing the best dialogue option. A small consolation prize. Luckily, online play doesn’t suffer from noticeable lag, weird glitches or engine performance drops...that would have been catastrophic. Some weird camera angles haunt the game from time to time, but that’s about it. At this point, playing the game by yourself is pretty much the best option given the peculiar nature of the cooperative component. A sad realization? Yes.
Visually, Dungeon Siege III has its moments and looks great most of the time but is far from being the next big thing. Environments tend to show little in the way of variety - certainly the biggest complaint but that’s almost a given in most dungeon crawlers - but they do bring an element of surprise once in a while, particularly the outdoor levels. I’ve already mentioned how the script was poorly delivered by the voice actors but not everything is bad sound wise. The astounding spell effects and the soundtrack composed by award-winning composer Jason Graves, mostly known for his work on all three Dead Space games, are saving graces.
There are other irritants that went unmentioned so far. Things like a weird checkpoint system, unskippable cut-scenes (I’m one of those guys who likes to get the option when needed) and cumbersome loot management needed to be pointed out but there’s a reason why. As much as this review may come across as “negative”, Dungeon Siege III is a fun and easy to pick up game and certainly the best technical effort from Obsidian Entertainment in recent memory. If there were more complaints than praise it’s because I really wanted this new entry in the DS franchise to be the best Action-RPG cooperative offering it could have been. High expectations? I would lying if I said no.
Despite everything, it remains an easy recommendation for those who used to spend hours playing other titles like Gauntlet and the PS2 classic Champions of Norrath. A solid update on an old style of gaming but not the groundbreaking experience some of us were waiting for.
Release date : 2011-06-21
Publisher : Square Enix
Developer : Obsidian Entertainment
Gameplay : Action-RPG
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