E3 2004: The RPGs

Dungeon Siege II

After spending a good deal of time just trying to make it through the mob of people in Microsoft's booth area, we were finally able to take a closer look at Gas Powered Games' ambitious Dungeon Siege sequel. The game is looking fantastic, with an optimized version of the original engine and a slew of additional features. New in Dungeon Siege II are several new pets (aside from just the Packmule), a full skill tree system, very impressive monster AI, a host of new set items, dual wielding, and more. On top of that, GPG is striving to make Dungeon Siege II into more of an RPG, creating an engrossing story to keep players captivated. NPCs now offer branching dialogue selections, and the choices the player makes will determine how he or she will overcome certain obstacles. The team has also reduced the total party number to six, and has added random dialogue between the NPCs in your party (similar to Baldur's Gate II and Star Wars: KotOR). Both of these additions should ensure that each character in your party has more significance and importance than in the original game.

As I mentioned above, GPG has been hard at work developing the AI of the monsters in the game. During our demonstration, we were shown how monsters will actually lure the party into traps. After defeating a group of opponents down to only a few left, the remaining enemies ran us into a ravine where many more monsters ambushed us from the top of a cliff. Additionally, if a group of creatures has a leader, the lesser creatures will surround and protect the leader at all costs. The strategic advantage to this, though, is that if you kill the leader, the rest of the creatures will typically lose all morale and scatter.

The new skill tree in Dungeon Siege II is similar to games like Diablo and Champions of Norrath. As you gain experience levels, you'll be able to allocate points in different Melee, Ranged, Combat Magic, or Nature Magic skills (currently, the game grants a character one skill point per level). The farther into the skill tree you go, the more prerequisites the skill will have. Since there is no level cap, though, a character could still become quite proficient in multiple (or all) skill categories.

To further advance the power of your characters, all set items from Legends of Aranna and a host of new set items will be making their way to the sequel. For those of you who are unfamiliar with how set items work, let me give you a quick summary. Certain pieces of armor or weapons in the game are part of a set, ranging from 2-5 total pieces. As your character equips more pieces of the item set, the stats for all respective items increases. During our demonstration, we were shown the Mirror Shield and Shining Blade, both of which were from the same set. By equipping both, our character gained additional stat bonuses, defense, and damage than if he had equipped two items that were not of the same set.

Packmules were a huge part of the first Dungeon Siege, so the team has expanded on pets entirely this time around. We were told that the sequel will have anywhere from 8-12 total pets that the player can acquire, and that all of these will be purchased from merchants (sorry, no summoning). During the demonstration, our party had a small fire elemental that helped carry equipment and even lend a hand during combat. Although pets don't gain experience and levels, they do age from "Baby" all the way up to "Mature", which provides an incentive to stick with the same pets over time. You can also increase their overall potency by equipping items for them and feeding them food. For example, you can hand your pet a powerful sword in order to increase their skill in melee.

Since there wasn't a whole lot of information available about Dungeon Siege II before E3, we really didn't know what to expect. However, after seeing the game firsthand, we were thoroughly impressed. Overall, the sequel has so much more to offer over the original that even if you weren't a fan of the original title, you'll want to give this game a shot. And since the original Siege Editor will continue to work with the sequel, you can expect to see plenty of fan-created content when it ships this fall.


Champions: Return to Arms

Sony and Snowblind's sequel to Champions of Norrath had an elaborate display right alongside the EverQuest II booth. The game is coming along very nicely, with several features that should make the action RPG even better this time around. The team is keeping all five of the same characters from the first game, but are also adding two more - a Vah Shir Berserker and a yet unannounced character. On top of the fact that there will be seven characters to choose from, Snowblind is also expanding the skill tree for each character from the original Champions by adding 1 or 2 new skills that they can advance in.

The Vah Shir Berserker is an extremely powerful combat-oriented character, capable of dishing out more melee damage than any other character in the sequel. To make up for this advantage, the Berserker will not possess much defense, so the player must be careful not to endure much punishment. However, if the Berserker does drop below a certain health percentage (currently at 25% in the build we played), he will go into a rage that will unleash even more damage on the enemy. In addition to the berserking rage ability, the Vah Shir will also be able to summon throwing axes at any time, simply by expending some mana.

The storyline behind Return to Arms is that after destroying Innoruuk in the first game, his body shattered and the pieces were scattered throughout the Planes. Now, evil has begun to corrupt each Plane that possesses a part of Innoruuk, so you must travel to each and put an end to the growing menace. The team told us that players will be traveling to all Planes in the EverQuest mythos, including the Planes of Hate, Fear, Innovation, Valor, and War, so can expect a unique and much more perilous journey this time around.