Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Microsoft
Developer:Mad Doc Software
Release Date:2003-11-12
Genre:
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
When first being asked if I would be interested in reviewing the new Dungeon Siege expansion, Legends of Aranna, I was somewhat hesitant. Since the advent of Blizzard's Diablo series, role-playing games have begun to take a fairly large step toward a hack-and-slash type of game play, which for me has resulted in sore wrists, simplistic game play, and lack luster storylines. As far as I knew, Dungeon Siege offered nothing different aside from a three dimensional world, updated graphics, and slightly more efficient AI. Thus, at the time of its release, I didn't even think twice about passing it by. But, I am also one who enjoys expanding my collection further, so I decided to try out Legends of Aranna with somewhat mixed reservations.

Dungeon Siege was initially released during a wave of other CRPGs, including some of the most critically acclaimed for some time - Morrowind and Neverwinter Nights. Each title offered something different to gamers, and each boasted separate benefits. Dungeon Siege, of the three, was the more straightforward hack and slasher of the three, leaving much to be desired by the hardcore RPG crowd. Even though it had the linear story and repetitive game play, it did happen to have some of the most stunning visuals ever presented in a game, regardless of genre. But, its step up on other such RPGs was that fact that Dungeon Siege appealed to a larger crowd and was capable of grabbing and ensnaring more game players. With the success of Dungeon Siege, it wasn't long before the development of its expansion, Legends of Aranna, went underway.

One of the most fascinating features of Dungeon Siege (and the expansion) is its graphics engine. The lands of Aranna are beautifully rendered in three dimensions, creating an immersive environment which is pleasant to the eye, as well as fitting for the game. The paths in the game are clearly laid out for the player, without a whole lot of point and click and searching for hidden entries. Also, because the game loads the entire land for you before you begin playing, there is never any wait time between entering some underground mines or a vacant house. The way in which Legends of Aranna handles local transitions is also a pleasant method, in that the game engine simply removes the higher leveled graphics, often the roof or ceiling, of whatever it may be that you're stepping into. After the somewhat mediocre graphics from Neverwinter Nights' Aurora Engine, DS: LoA was definitely a fantastic environment to play in.

The music and sound effects in the expansion left something to be desired for me, though. At first, the background music was pleasant to listen to, but eventually, it became somewhat repetitive and dull, and eventually annoyed me to a point in which I simply turned it off. The same was true of the voice text, unfortunately. While it is enjoyable to find games these days that voice every bit of text, that option is somewhat of a double-edged sword. If a developer decides to make that call, then they must make sure they use talented voice actors that can fit the character they're talking for. It didn't take long for the petty whining of each individual town's person, NPC, and enemy for me to simply turn the voices off as well. On the plus side, though, the ambient sound effects weren't overbearing, and they fit the mood very well, so I left them on.

This brings me to my next point; I was pleasantly surprised to find that the combat was more than just a non-stop clickfest! As I had not played the original Dungeon Siege at its release, I was expecting to find such a combat scenario in the same tradition as the Diablo games. After a couple minutes of clicking madly on an enemy, I stopped a moment, only to see my PC smart enough to continue to attack without my supervision. Also, the combat animations, along with the rest of the graphics, are very well done. There is enough variety in attack motions, with several different weapons, that it isn't the same static attack each time. We're getting somewhere now. With the way combat looked, I was looking forward to the magic casting system. While not horrible, the spell affects did leave me somewhat upset. I was expecting a higher polygon count, or at least a little more flashy then what was given, but in the time given to review this game I wasn't able to tinker with the more 'explosive' spells. That's not to say the spell effects I saw were bad, they were just a little basic when compared to other RPG titles.

Because it's an expansion, the game assumes the player already knows the basics of the game, which effectively left me high and dry for the first twenty minutes or so. Fortunately, the game itself has a very easy learning curve, which most likely helped in its success. I caught on quickly enough, with the help of the six beginning tool tips that popped up when the particular instance arrived. After a short while, I was using the interface like a pro, and have had few complications since. While I seem to have mastered my end, it seems AI is still something that developers are having trouble with. Even though you're given a simple party AI interface, I find it is one of those options that can be a boon or a bane. At times, the AI (which I had set to defensive combat) would only act for the one NPC. In other words, a party of three could be side by side, with one being beaten to a small greasy pulp, and the other two could hardly care.

I didn't encounter much in the way of glitches and bugs, but that is more than likely due to the fact that Legends of Aranna is an expansion, and any major bugs have previously been sorted out with its predecessor. That was a huge plus for me, though, as there are few things more frustrating then being excited to play a game, only to discover a wave of bugs that impede the process.

Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna is indeed a worthwhile title for its expansion price, having the original title included along with it. The most effort has obviously been placed in the visual side of the game, but LoA expands on several other areas as well. It has a few other issues that will, sadly, never be addressed without much complaint from the community, but they can easily be ignored with the flick of a switch. It is definitely a title that is good for a good dungeon romp and stress relief due to the mindless combat, but if you're looking for something with a bit more substance, then I would recommend you look elsewhere. Dungeon Siege to me has always appeared as a one trick pony, and in this case, the graphics are its one trick. While stunning, they aren't enough to warrant long-term game play for the more hardcore group of RPGers.