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Page 1 of 2As many of you already know, several gaming sites that provide coverage for Gas Powered Games' upcoming Dungeon Siege received a limited content preview of the game from Microsoft last week. The package contained two CDs that were accompanied by a page of instructions and a brief letter that claimed the preview was about 20% of the entire game and offered eight hours of gameplay. Before installing it, I really didn't know what to expect, but after having played through the preview twice now, I can tell you just how fortunate I was to have received it.
The game begins quite traditionally with the creation of a character. The creation process is pretty quick, due to the fact that there is no class to select, no ability scores to roll, and no points to allocate. You're still able to create a unique character, however, since the game presents you with five different criteria (gender, face, hair, pants, and shirt) with a range of options for each one (except gender, of course). Once you're happy with the way your character looks, you'll be prompted to give him or her a name and then be taken to a narrated intro that will give you an understanding of what has taken place in the Kingdom of Ehb over the last 300 years.
Towards the end of the introduction, you'll find your character tending to one of the fields on a small farm. Things seem peaceful until Norrick, an old friend of yours, walks into the farmstead grievously wounded. With his last words, he tells you that the kingdom is under attack and that you must get to a man named Gyorn in Stonebridge, a town not far down the road. At this point, several Krug, as they're called, will invade your farm and you'll be forced to defend yourself. Once you've finished with the initial battle, you'll be able to loot one "weapon" from each of the four professions in the game - a melee weapon, a bow, a basic Combat Magic spell, and a basic Nature Magic spell. Which one you decide to use is an important decision, as it will determine how your character develops over time.
To elaborate a bit on my last statement, your character (and each of your party members, once you have some) has four different skills that they can become proficient in: melee, ranged, combat magic, and nature magic. There are no "experience points" in the game, advancement in each of your skills is determined by which one you actually use during combat. For example, if you find yourself firing a volley of arrows at every opponent you come across, then your character will slowly become a better archer. Additionally, each character has three attributes (strength, dexterity, and intelligence) that will increase depending on the skill you use. So, for the example above, the character using a bow will find their dexterity increasing far more than their strength or intelligence.
Each attribute has several distinct purposes in the game. Strength affects how much health your character has and allows you to do more damage with a melee weapon, dexterity increases your character's defense rating and improves the accuracy of your ranged skill, and intelligence enhances the effectiveness of your spells and grants you more mana. In addition to the above, most of the equipment you find in the game will have an attribute requirement. In order to use some of the best armor, for example, you're going to need plenty of strength. In short, the skill and attribute mechanics are pretty simple to figure out, yet are robust enough to ensure each character is unique and balanced.
Having already mentioned the initial battle, let me tell you a bit about how combat works. As you can imagine, it becomes a little difficult to issue orders to each of your characters during every battle. Luckily, GPG has put several options at your fingertips that allow you to predetermine the actions your characters will take. At any time, you can bring up one of your characters, and with a few clicks, tell him or her exactly how to react when battle erupts. Want your character to hold his ground and only fire his bow when he's been fired upon first? Or would you like your character to charge into battle the instant he gets near a group of monsters and automatically attack the strongest one? Not a problem. With the options presented in the press copy I played, you have up to 27 different combinations of actions your character can take when combat starts. If that isn't enough, GPG has also added the ability to pause the action at any given time, allowing you to issue separate orders to each of your party members, similar to how combat works in the Infinity Engine games like Baldur's Gate. Overall, it makes for a very smooth combat system, and is one of the most efficient ones I've ever seen for controlling multiple characters.