DSIII Lucas Katarina Dungeon Siege III Review

At first blush, Dungeon Siege 3 appears to be a misnomer. There is nary a dungeon for the first few hours of the story. To be certain, there are monster-filled caves, ghost-riddled mansions, and villains aplenty scattered throughout the landscape. Each of them carries an obscene amount of gold, trinkets, armor, weapons, etc. so that the loot whores among us will be duly satisfied with the amount of items to collect. It’s difficult to put my finger on it though, but I get a sense of déjà vu with this game. Maybe it’s the story. To wit:

The last member of a line of guardians of peace and justice in the old empire has been found. His/her order was obliterated by a dark lord woman named Jeyne Kassynder who succeeded in trapping the last remaining knights before unleashing some sort of power that slaughtered them all. Now, the last of these must rise up and learn to use their own power to retake the kingdom from this woman. Along the way, the warrior-in-training will form a party with other renegades, eventually leading a full-scale rebellion against Kassynder.

Hmmm. Where have I heard this storyline before?

If it sounds just like that now, wait until you play it. If anything, Dungeon Siege 3 so thoroughly rips off the aforementioned storyline that any hope of a surprise turn or twist is dashed before the echo from the starting gun has even faded. To be fair, no one plays a dungeon raiding game for the Michener-esque storytelling, but wasn’t there at least another fable they could have pillaged? It’s not like it’s hard to do. Hell, Dungeon Raid on the iPhone has an auto-generator that hilariously points out the limited range of these tales.

One last thing on the story before diving into the gameplay, and this one goes out to the writers on the Obsidian team. The next time you settle on the villain’s name, stop repeating it in every single conversation. The name Jeyne Kassynder appears five times in the page and a half synopsis in the reviewer’s guide, for example. It appears in virtually every conversation in the game three times apiece. Is the name Jeyne a title? No? Then break it up a bit. Call her “Kassynder,” “that she-devil,” or something else once in a while. Even George Lucas, no enemy of tin-eared dialogue, knew enough to break up references to Darth Vader (in subsequent mentions he was dubbed the dark lord, Vader, daddy, etc.). So please, work on your dialogue and naming conventions next time.

But you’re not here to find out whether the story is clunky or even memorable. You want to know all there is to know about the sieging of dungeons and the great rewards found therein. This is where Dungeon Siege will not let you down because there is loot aplenty found in every corner of Ehb, the world Dungeon Siege and its predecessors take place in.

One of the quirks in the first game was how linear it was – you never, ever doubled back to a previous location. As a result, all the accumulated wealth from your travels was essentially useless since local merchants only sold gear that cost far more than you were likely to have. Thus, it appeared the reason for merchants to exist was solely as a means to sell your loot. The merchants play a more vital role in this third iteration, appear more frequently throughout the game, and even have loot that’s you can afford to buy! A win for video gamers everywhere!

But to find the best loot in the game, one must quest high and low across the realm and in this regard Dungeon Siege 3 delivers. Everywhere you go, you walk away with a quest or three that need to be resolved. Normally, these quests can be located pretty close to the quest giver which comes in handy because there is no such thing as warping back to town here. No town portal scrolls will drop, thereby robbing you of anything approaching convenience. You are out in the wilderness and all you have to survive is what you can carry. The good news is that your inventory, while not limitless, is fairly generous in size. You won’t need a packmule to carry gear, and if you do happen to overburden yourself you do have the choice to transmute equipment into gold on the spot. In short, this is how you handle inventory management.

There is a good amount of covering the same ground over and over, but that comes from opening different sections of the world map as you progress in the story. I rather enjoyed this aspect of it because it helps reduce the extremely linear nature of the games in this franchise. Make no mistake, this is an extremely linear game despite the inclusion of role playing elements. Conversations with NPCs offer up branching paths which, usually, end up at the same place. But sometimes players might be able to glean additional backstory from Path B, instead of Path A which leads straight into combat. To Square’s credit, the branching aspect adds to the conversations which in turn adds welcome layers to the game. It elevates beyond a simple twitch/loot game, even if only by a modest amount.

Graphically, the game is a bit of a mixed bag for me. The way Ehb is structured, you have the sense that it’s massive. Yet, the way the camera appears in a fixed position either from a top-down perspective or slightly above and behind you means that properly appreciating the geography is impossible. Which is fine since it rarely inhibits combat, but it would be nice to see more than you’re allowed to. Also, Dungeon Siege 3 bears the distinction of being the straw that broke the camel’s back. I hereby cry “no mas!” Why?

Because on a standard definition TV, even a 40″ like what I have, the text is barely legible. My eyesight, for the record, is perfect. Actually, it’s better than that since it’s 20/15 despite my being north of 30. When I’m sitting six feet from the TV and squinting like I’m trying to make out a rider on the distant horizon, then the text is too damn small. Clearly, Obsidian and other developers have opted to toss standard definition TVs onto the ash heap of history, and that’s fine. I give. I’ll buy one by the end of the year then replay this and a slew of others. So if you’re stuck without an HDTV, then have a pair of binoculars handy as you may need them.

Fortunately, where the small text may present an issue already has a workaround in place. The text on items in your inventory is abysmally small, yet the designers had a small sense of foresight to add colored icons to the right of an item’s stats to indicate whether or not it will be more beneficial than whatever you’re currently wearing. There’s also a ridiculously thorough help section in the menu which breaks down the intricacies of the game in such exhausting detail that you can’t help but applaud Obsidian for including it. This section includes all of the lore you find scattered about the game (which fills in a lot of the backstory), the specifics of equipment and how to manage your character, as well as how to interpret stats and their effects.

So how does a game like this handle? Surprisingly well. I and other elder gamers hail from the old school Diablo click-fests so incorporating that genre onto consoles can be tricky. I like how the D-pad is your quick menu – hit the left button and your quest menu pops up, hit the right button and there’s your inventory. The RB button is the catch-all to open doors, chest, and everything else. The LB button lets you swap between two different fighting stances – one for raw power and the other for speed. The effects of the alternating stances depends on which character you’re playing as, and this is another area in which Dungeon Siege 3 works well.

You have four options: gunslinger, knight, fire mage/spear wielder, and mage.  Each have unique abilities reflective of their particular skillsets which you upgrade when you level up. Now, here’s where someone over thought the concept of skill trees. When your character levels up, you select which ability you want. These abilities are skills that improve through usage. Once your ability is set, you move on to choosing a proficiency. Each proficiency has one of two paths towards improving the skill, either a defensive or offensive choice. You can combine these over time or select only one style depending on how you want to play. After deciding on your proficiency, you then get to pick a talent. As you increase your talent, it affects the skills and abilities of your character in unique ways. The trick to all of this is figuring out which combination makes the most sense towards your character. And you get to do all of this without the option to swap those characteristics around after you’ve made your initial choice.

Of course.

There’s a kernel of a good idea here but it’s buried underneath a lot of unnecessary frills. I liked the concept of building a character through multiple skill trees and doing so all at once per level, but the multiple menus that open separately mean you’re not sure how a certain ability is going to affect a particular talent and vice versa. Your only option is to make a combination then hit the battlefield and give it a whirl. If you don’t like it, then here’s hoping you saved before you leveled up… which automatically happens by the way and usually the second that the heat of battle has passed. So clearly timing is the strong suit of this game.

But this convoluted bit of weak design pales compared to the flaws in the multiplayer. If you see your buddy online and want to jump into their game, then go right ahead! It’s as easy as a simple click. What’s that? You expect to keep any of the loot or gold from your friend’s game? Bah! No chance of that. Why ever would you want to do such a thing beyond providing wingman support from the goodness of your heart?

This is what’s known in business parlance as an “oops.”

If this was intentional, I can’t for the life of me understand why. The entire reason people play these games in multiplayer is to gain addition MP-specific loot or to help plunder their friends’ worlds. That’s it. It’s about the accumulation of wealth and equipment through combat, and if you’re talking to your friends at the same time then so much the better. Yet a game calling itself “Dungeon Siege 3″ utterly fails to accept the premise that friends who lead sieges on dungeons may want to utilize their acquired wealth in their own game. It’s a mind-blowing decision considering other titles like the “Fable” franchise illustrate how easy it is to incorporate into the game. Heck, “Fable” has entire achievements centered on the concept of loot sharing via Xbox Live.

On the whole, “Dungeon Siege 3″ is a lot of fun even though it takes a while to get going and in true RPG fashion your hero starts off grossly underpowered. Once you season a bit and start improving your equipment, the game becomes much more enjoyable. Ignore the multiplayer aspect (which is surprisingly easy to do considering that you’ll have at least one surprisingly competent NPC companion for the majority of the game) and focus on taking it to the monsters of Ehb. This game is an enjoyable way to spend your time, and one I’m actually planning on replaying through to the end with each of the available classes. The story may not be the greatest, but the gameplay is solid and for that alone you should check it out.