Dungeon Siege II is a very polished and near perfect hack-n-slash RPG from the very talented Chris Taylor and Gas Powered Games, but like its predecessor lacks any kind of challenge for experienced gamers. That doesn’t mean that this game is short on fun, and this reviewer couldn’t wait to get his hands on a copy. I was very fortunate to be able to review this game, as I am a big fan of the series.
The story takes place in Aranna and rekindles the ancient battle between Zaramoth and Azunai. Legend tells a story of how a controlling, hateful, and merciless ruler named Zaramoth comes to power. Zaramoth’s sources of power are his sword and his Dark Wizards. They feed and channel the planet’s mana for their own, and do not allow the rest of the world to enjoy its wonder.
Along comes Azunai, who like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, rallies and unites all the splintered races to form an army to overthrow Zaramoth’s treacherous rule. Zaramoth is forewarned of the challenge, but is so egotistical that he allows it to take place. Azunai knowing he will need great weapons and armor pleads with the Half-Giants to provide them. The Half-Giants, known for their great ability to forge the best weapons and armor in the land, eventually agree. As a special tribute to Azunai, they create a massive and powerful shield hence forward to be known as the Shield of Azunai.
A great battle takes place and when the Sword of Zaramoth meets the Shield of Azunai, a mega explosion occurs killing everyone on the battlefield and restoring the mana flow to the world. However, the mana stream becomes splintered and is now spread across the world. Many years later a Prince named Valdis, believing he is Zaramoth reborn, locates Zaramoth’s spirit and undergoes a brief ritual and, in essence, becomes Zaramoth. Guess who ends up being the descendant of Azunai? This is the story line you will follow from, and the game is filled with many quests and stories to be heard.
The graphics for Dungeon Siege II are very rich and colorful, but I would not call them cutting edge. Some spell effects look really cool while others like ice bolt are very basic. One of the best spell effects I have seen so far is a Nature AOE spell named Ripple. It actually distorts the target area, and looks very similar to a time rift that you would see in many science fiction movies. Most of the armor and weapons that are imbued with some sort of enchantment or magical property are very detailed, and also have really sweet particle effects and/or lighting effects. You definitely know when you have equipped a new piece of armor or weapon by looking at your character or party.
Many of the NPC’s are also highly detailed which helps to create and show the culture of the different races you will come across. The Hak’u, for instance, are very tribal looking. Many of them don painted war masks and grass skirts, and they use spears or magic as their primary source of attack. They even have tribal dance animations. The dungeons are full of flaming torches, broken bricks, statues, and lighting effects. During your exploration you will see crates of books, half spilled out on the ground, and paintings near encampments as if they were partly reviewed after they were pillaged from some other area. You will see this kind of attention to detail throughout the game.
One area of disappointment was the desert area. Living in a desert area I understand the lack of anything other than the color brown, but in Dungeon Siege II you go to this area directly after the rich and vibrant jungle area, and it pales in comparison. The cut scene movies are pretty good, but could have been better. Like in Diablo II you will trigger these movies as you encounter special events in the game such as blowing up the Morden’s outpost towers.
The music and sound effects are very well done, and they are used for effect in many situations. Each spell or weapon has a unique sound, which adds to the graphic detail mentioned above. During the walk through the initial trenches you will hear battles taking place in the background as nearby explosions and arrows whizzing by your head are to the forefront. It gives the game a sense of space, and sometimes alerts you to what is around the corner.
Many of the NPC’s have their own unique sounds for not only their speech, but their weapons and magic as well. Like the graphics, the sound adds to the distinct culture of each race you encounter in the game. Some of the voice acting sounds a bit hammy, but overall the voice complements the rest of the game experience. The sound effects, in addition to each one’s uniqueness, fit what it is actually tied to. Nature’s Rain AOE heal spell for instance, sounds like rain or snow falling on the ground. The whoosh and crackle of the Combat Mage’s fire spells sound like a flamethrower going off, and the crossbow sounds so real you’d swear it was actually made of wood instead of 0’s and 1’s.
Some of the speech will catch you off-guard, and you’ll end up laughing and chuckling often. I can’t describe enough the attention to detail that was put into the sound of every spell, weapon, surface, area, or character that you encounter in Dungeon Siege II.
Dungeon Siege II works like many of the hack-n-slash RPGs where you click with your mouse to move and attack. If you want to continue attacking you simply hold down the right mouse button. Switching through the different combat options or spells is very easy, and the game offers the ability to hotkey specific party setups that allow quick toggling between different party configurations.
The formations that were in the original Dungeon Siege no longer exist, and there are four modes to control party behavior. Rampage mode allows NPCs to choose their targets, and allows them to roam around whereas Mirror mode gives more control to you, making your party only attack what you attack. Mirror mode is great for focusing on boss NPCs while Rampage is often used for attacking groups of NPCs. The remaining two modes, Wait and Defend, can be hotkeyed in the controls menu.
Most of the actions you would want to hotkey are already setup for you such as “M” for drinking mana potions and “H” for chugging health potions. WASD is used to rotate the camera view, but you can also use the mouse. As you can see, the controls are pretty straightforward and intuitive, and I didn’t find myself struggling to perform any in-game actions. There really wasn’t anything I changed from the default setup, and I feel that Gas Powered Games had a good handle on how people would play the game, and what they would need to do it.
Much like the original, Dungeon Siege II is somewhat linear. There are quests you will receive that cause you to have to revisit areas you have been in, and when you do the areas are repopulated with the same level NPCs to fight and loot. This can be used to exploit the loot system, and allows a player to farm loot from bosses, or areas.
If you have a Ranger in your party you can collect health potions that grow on bushes in certain areas of the game. If you have a Nature Mage you can do the same for mana potions. It just requires you to have a certain skill point. Like the loot exploit listed above, you can also do the same to farm health and mana potions. Teleporters make the exploits more feasible as you can revisit areas over and over again, and they will be repopulated.
This game, like FATE and the Diablo series, is based on loot mania, and will satisfy all the loot hounds out there. I found myself constantly comparing the different items, and swapping them out between the different members of my party. There are item sets, which provide bonus enhancements as you acquire each piece; there are also unique and rare items as well. The sad part is that you don’t really need all the extra power they provide because most of the NPCs are like cannon fodder to your party. The only real challenges in the game are boss NPCs, and the occasional party wiping surprises like mimics that have 10000 hit points and hit like a truck, or popping a door and the room is filled with level 28 NPCs and your party members are level 16! These areas either require a boatload of patience and potions, or you have to remember to come back when you are higher level.
The game offers NPCs for hire to round out your party, or you can purchase pets from a vendor that actually grow as you go through the game. Some pets can be spawned if you have the spell for them, and do not grow like the purchased pets. One of the new features to the series are chants. You will pick these up from reading book tablets throughout the game world, and can be read at certain shrines. These chants can offer temporary buffs to your party. In some cases, when certain “mysterious” chants backfire, summoned powerful NPCs will appear, and now your party is in a world of crap.
This game also introduces powers and skill trees, which work with each other to make your character more unique, and even more powerful. Each character has about a half dozen or so powers that they can unlock by choosing certain combinations of skills to invest in. The game makes it easy to tell what skills you will need to obtain the power by highlighting the skills needed. Powers recharge as you battle, or instantly from random war pedestals. Powers can provide devastating attacks or can even grant temporary invincibility!
There are many puzzles to solve in the game too. In order to enter a lost temple for example you need to align statues holding mirrors to unlock the gates much like something you would find in a Lara Croft: Tomb Raider game or movie. The game is a great deal of fun to go through, but like I stated earlier, really devoid of any real challenge or requiring the need for any complex strategy. Simply right click and go, and enjoy the storylines.
Part of the value to any game these days is with the multiplayer options and maps. Dungeon Siege II provides this, but unlike the original, you get to play through the single player game with one of three options. The different options allow for a party to be made up of up to 6 characters including pets and NPCs, but at most only 4 real characters can play. I liked the multiplayer from the original, and I was really let down that they didn’t offer a different campaign to go through. The multiplayer can be over the Internet via the GameSpy Network, direct through GameSpy, or via LAN. We didn’t get a chance to test the multiplayer options, however, so more may be written later in this regard.
The game does allow you to level up your character even further by playing through on Veteran and Elite modes, but it’s still the same exact game. I can’t find any real reason you would want to go through again other than to see different loot and spells that may become available. Nonetheless, the game is free of any bugs or glitches, and is worth the money to play through it even once. It is quite an astonishing feat to have such a polished release compared to most titles that come out for the PC today. Maybe the reason this was achievable is that they only designed the game to run on Windows XP!