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Dungeon Siege III is the long-awaited follow-up to Dungeon Siege (2002) and Dungeon Siege II (2005). The first two games in the series were developed by Chris Taylor and Gas-Powered Games, but this newest entry was developed by Obsidian Software in a fairly typical Obsidian type of move -- taking somebody else's franchise and running with it. Unfortunately, while Obsidian usually makes games more interesting and sophisticated when they gain control, this time they took a PC title and ran with it straight into consoles where nobody wanted it to be.
In Dungeon Siege III, you control one of four characters: sword-swinging Lucas, gun-toting Katarina, magic specialist Reinhart, or fire archon Anjali. Each character gets two battle stances (one for solo battles and another for group battles) and a defensive stance, plus nine abilities (three for each stance). As characters advance in level (up to level 30), they eventually gain access to all of their abilities; the only things you select for the characters are their "talents" (upgradeable passive bonuses) and "proficiencies" (upgrades for their abilities).
As an example, one of Anjali's abilities is called Aura of Immolation. It causes fire to appear at her feet, and any enemies who step into the fire get burned for some damage over time. To improve the ability, you're given the choice of selecting the Fiery Presence proficiency, which increases the amount of damage done by the ability, or the Cauterize proficiency, which adds a healing effect to it. Each ability can have up to five proficiency upgrades, and by the end of the game you can completely upgrade six of the nine abilities.
As for talents, some of Anjali's choices include Spiritual Devastation, which gives Anjali a chance to stun enemies when she scores a critical hit, and Fiery Fury, which increases Anjali's damage for a short time after she defeats an enemy. Each character gets 10 talents in total, and just like with abilities, they can be upgraded five times each, meaning that by the end of the game you can completely upgrade six of the ten talents for each character.
Since characters gain so many of their possible upgrades during the course of the campaign, character development isn't all that exciting. I played all four characters all the way to the end of the game, and for each one I always got to the point where I didn't care whether they leveled or not because there weren't any more upgrades that I was interested in. To me, if an RPG doesn't generate discussions somewhere about possible character builds, then it's barely worth playing, and I doubt anybody out there is agonizing over their choices in Dungeon Siege III.
Dungeon Siege III isn't anything like either of the other two games in the series -- which makes sense since Dungeon Siege II wasn't anything like Dungeon Siege, either. The main difference here is that Dungeon Siege III was clearly designed with consoles in mind, to the point where it was barely playable using a keyboard and mouse when it first came out. Fortunately, Obsidian quickly released a patch to make the controls at least passable on the PC.
In the single player game, you control one character, and you also get a companion (one of the other three characters, once you've met them during the campaign) who is under computer control. For multiplayer, you can choose between an offline two-player mode (where the second player takes over for your companion) and an online four-player mode. I didn't try out either of the multiplayer modes, but my understanding is that they use the same campaign as the single player mode.
The controls for the game are about what you'd expect, with the WASD keys driving your character, the middle mouse button rotating and zooming the camera, and the left mouse button causing you to attack. You can also use the Q key to toggle between your battle stances, the spacebar to activate your defensive stance, and the 1-6 keys to trigger your abilities. However, the game is much friendlier to play using an Xbox controller (where, for example, the LT button serves the same purpose as the spacebar). I started playing Dungeon Siege III with a controller when I got it, and then decided I liked it better that way even after the PC patch came out.
As for what you do in the game, since Dungeon Siege III is still an action RPG like its predecessors, you spend a lot of time slicing and dicing and burning and shooting a multitude of enemies, including goblins, spiders, and cyclopes. There aren't any potions in the game, but enemies drop health and mana orbs that you can use to replenish your character, provided that you're agile enough to claim them before they expire. Enemies also drop lots of gear for you to collect, and the gear is easily identified by its color, from orange (unique) to white (normal).
Annoyingly, regular movements are sort of clunky during battles since you're not allowed to move and fight at the same time, but dodging is pretty powerful. When you dodge (basically somersaulting away from your current position), you're invulnerable to damage, and so many battles involve you using a healing-over-time ability and then repeatedly dodging back and forth until you're healthy enough to fight again. This strategy is kind of cheesy, but it's almost required for some of the tougher boss fights.
As you progress through the campaign, you also find numerous quests to complete, including required main quests and optional side quests. Most of these quests involve you going somewhere and killing something, or going somewhere and collecting something, and, as you might be able to tell from the way I just described them, the quests aren't very creative. There also aren't any puzzles in the game. In other words, Dungeon Siege III pretty much focuses and battling enemies and nothing else, which is unfortunate because there isn't a lot of variety to the enemies or to the tactics required to defeat them, and combat gets a little repetitive by the end of the game's 20+ hour campaign.
The story in Dungeon Siege III revolves around the 10th Legion, which was accused of killing Ehb's king 30 years ago, and which subsequently fell on hard times after a "saint" named Jeyne Kassynder rallied the people against them. Each of the four characters you can control are involved in the Legion in some way -- for example, Lucas is the son of the former Grand Master, who was executed by Jeyne -- and your goal in the game is to defeat Jeyne and restore the Legion to power.
Unfortunately -- and disappointingly to me, since I had high hopes for Obsidian -- the story is pretty basic, about what you'd expect from an action RPG. Obsidian did a nice job with Jeyne, developing her backstory and giving her some pretty strong reasons for wanting the Legion destroyed, but everything else is basic and shallow. Worst of all is the characters you control. They seem like they should be heavily involved in the plot, but they end up being anonymous killing machines, and the campaign barely changes for each one. For example, when Lucas confronts Jeyne at the end of the game, I don't think he mentions his father at all.
On the brighter side, Obsidian does a nice job in referencing some of the people and events from the earlier games. Some of these references are covered in the numerous lore entries that you can read as you make your way through the campaign. Others are only noticeable if you're paying attention. For example, at one point as you're traveling between towns, you pass by a dead donkey that was clearly overburdened by its master. At another point, you discover the tomb of "the farmer" from the first game.
Sound and Graphics
The graphics for Dungeon Siege III demonstrate both strong and weak points. They have all the bells and whistles that you'd expect, and all of the locations are polished and unique (something BioWare could learn from)... but everything is also generic and uninspiring. When you go through a crypt, it could be any crypt in any game in any fantasy universe anywhere, and ditto for the swamps, forests, and factories that you visit. I remember playing the original Dungeon Siege and being excited about what might come next. Similar excitement did not surface here.
Meanwhile, the script for Dungeon Siege III doesn't require any heavy lifting from its actors. There aren't any scenes of anger or great emotion, and most of the actors do a credible job of reading their lines cleanly -- that is, except for Anjali, who gives a cringe-worthy performance. Why she didn't get recast, I have no idea. For a while I thought that she was using a strange and mechanical cadence to emphasize the difference between archons and humans, but then later you meet some other archons, and they don't have any such issues. Because of her voice, Anjali ended up being my least favorite character.
As with the sound and graphics, Dungeon Siege III has some pluses and minuses when it comes to the technical aspects of the game. On the plus side, saves and loads are fast, there aren't any loading screens between zones, and I didn't encounter a single crash bug during the 100 or so hours that I spent with the game.
But on the minus side, there is sloppiness all around. When you examine an item, you're shown a comparison to what you're currently wearing -- except for jewelry, where the game pretends you're not wearing anything. Some abilities require targeting, but if there's an actual way to target them, I never discovered it. Abilities can gain an "empowered" mode if you use them enough, but it takes so long to gain this mode that you might never bother with it. The Causeway world (which is how the game handles teleportation) is empty and boring. There's one character who is guaranteed to show up and give you some information -- even if you killed her earlier. And more.
Finally, as I mentioned before, Obsidian's focus was on consoles when they developed the game, and as with pretty much every cross-platform game ever designed, it takes a lot more work to create a good PC interface as well as a good console interface, and so developers don't. They just create a console interface and then pretend it's good enough for the PC, which is never good news for PC owners. And so in Dungeon Siege III, you get restrictive saves and you can't name your saved games, the camera is more "immersive" than "useful" (there are a lot of boss fights where it's tough to keep the boss on screen), and the interface employs clunky menus and scroll bars. Console gamers might not notice anything wrong, but these shortcomings are more than evident on the PC.
Overall, Dungeon Siege III is a playable but unexciting game. It provides you with lots of stuff to kill and equipment to loot, which gives it the minimum requirements for an action RPG, but it doesn't include anything to keep you playing or wanting more. It is slightly better than Space Siege, preventing it from being the worst Siege game of all time, but it's a near thing. That being said, if you're not expecting much, and you just want to mess around killing stuff here and there for an hour or two at a time, then Dungeon Siege III can get the job done. I'd just recommend that you pick it up during one of the sub-$25 sales we've seen lately rather than the $40-50 range that it typically hovers around.