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Review #420

Dungeon Siege III
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Square-Enix
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 06/21/2011

My favorite development team of all time was Black Isle Studios. They gave us the original Fallout games, Planescape: Torment, the Icewind Dale series and strongly helped Bioware with Baldur’s Gate. Unfortunately, Interplay killed them and the team branched into two directions, neither of which were as good as the original team. Troika Games gave us The Temple of Elemental Evil, Arcanum, and Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines - all of which sold poorly, were considering good but buggy PC titles, and still have a cult following to this day. Unfortunately, they no longer exist. The second offspring of Black Isle is Obsidian Entertainment who is also known for making good, but even buggier games. They have given us Neverwinter Nights 2, Fallout: New Vegas, KotOR II and Alpha Protocol. Okay, well Alpha Protocol isn’t considered a good game, but I digress.

This brings us to Dungeon Siege III. There’s quite the back story behind DSIII, but suffice to say, that neither Square-Enix nor Obsidian were the original developers or publishers of the Dungeon Siege games. In fact, out of the four Dungeon Siege games, there have been three publishers (Microsoft and 2K games are the others) and three development teams (Gas Powered Studios and Supervillian Studios). This is also the first Dungeon Siege game made for a console, although there has been one for handhelds (Throne of Agony) that neither sold well, nor was it particularly good. Without any connection to the original series at all, what hope did Dungeon Siege III have of being any good?

Well, two things. The first is that Chris Taylor, creator of Dungeon Siege served as an advisor for this game and the other is that Black Isle members have made some of the best action RPGs of all time, including the best ever console exclusive action RPG in Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II. Even if the team stuck to the Dark Alliance 2 formula and didn’t deviate the game was sure to be a decent one, if uninspired. So with the creator of Dungeon Siege back at the helm and coupled with the genre members of Black Isle and Obsidian do best, was Dungeon Siege III a quality affair, or was the series best left dead after the Uwe Boll film?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Dungeon Siege III tells the story of the death and rebirth of the 10th Legion. Thirty years ago, the Legion and nearly all of its descendents were slaughtered by one Jeyne Kassynder. She tricked the people of Ehb into thinking the Legion had murdered their King. As Jeyne was also the head of the Church of Azunai, she was able to not only instigate hate amongst the common folk of Ehb, but infuse it with religious zealotry as well. Needless to say the Legion was all but exterminated.

Fast forward to the present day. A man named Odo is attempting to gather the four remaining children of the legion. You have the half brother and sister of the Montbarron family, Odo’s adopted daughter who is an archon (think fire elemental and you’ll be fine) and Reinhart Manx. Each character is noticeably different and depending on who you play as, events will unfold slightly different. The order you encounter the other three characters and the cut scene visuals, for example. Lucas Montbarron is your prototypical warrior character, but the other three characters are very different from what we’ve come to see in an action RPG. Don’t go looking for a thief or cleric here. Anjali the archon is a fire elemental, Reinhardt is a steampunk mage with technological as well as mystical abilities and Katarina is a gun toting swashbuckler, whose blood retains some of the Lescanzi witch magic from her mother’s side. As I have said, all three are distinctly different in play, look and dialogue and that helps to keep the game feeling fresh instead of just using generic combatants. Since I played as Lucas and Anjali in the Dungeon Siege III demo, I chose Katarina as my character to fully play through DSIII. What can I say? I always go with the archer or cleric and Katarina was the closest out of the four to either.

I won’t lie. The story of Dungeon Siege III is a generic one. It’s the same old song about an unlikely hero who saves the world from a threat that is both growing and evil. In fact, it’s very close to both Dragon Age II and the original Dungeon Siege story. Hell, you could probably name several dozen video games that have the same basic plot. However, the key is in HOW the story is told. With four different characters that you can play as, each with their own distinct personality, the game feels different each time you play it. As well, the characters in the game are nicely fleshed out in terms of personality, There are also some quests that are very much gray in terms of morality and what is the “right” choice to make, which is always a nice touch. There is also a nice amount of humour, which I enjoyed as it is an element too often lacking from a lot of high fantasy titles.

So yes, the story is predictable and generic, but the characters that populate the world of Dungeon Siege III make up for that. With the four different options to play through, the ability to mix and match your partner and the fact that the story is well told in spite of being one that we’ve all heard before (albeit it with different players), I found the plot of Dungeon Siege III to be an enjoyable one.

Story Rating: 6.5/10

2. Graphics

Like most top-down action RPGs, the graphics aren’t impressive compared to a lot of other games for the Playstation 3 right now, but everything does look quite nice for this particular genre. Like a lot of action RPGs, there isn’t as much detail to backgrounds and characters due to the pace of the action and the sheer number of moving characters that can be on your screen at one time. This isn’t because the developers couldn’t produce jaw dropping graphics - it’s because this is done to prevent slowdown. It’s the nature of the beast.

Don’t take the above paragraph to mean that Dungeon Siege III is ugly. No, it’s quite pretty. I really liked the protagonists designs, even if there isn’t a lot of detail to them, and I also liked how their outfits would change (slightly) based on what you equipped them with. Monsters and enemies weren’t all well polished, but that’s always true about cannon fodder in these types of games. Backgrounds are nice, although they get very repetitive quickly. Cut scenes are mainly static images with minimal amounts of animation instead of full blown cinematics. Enemies look decent, but never impressive or imposing (except for Cyclopes).

Overall, the visuals of Dungeon Siege III are better than, say ,Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, but not as good as Sacred 2 -both of which are available action RPGs for the PS3. Like the story, the visuals of Dungeon Siege III are enjoyable, but I’ve experienced better.

Graphics Rating: 6.5/10

3. Sound

The voice acting in Dungeon Siege III is very well done. Katrina has a slight Eastern European accent to her voice, as do most of the Lescanzi. Accents and dialects come up frequently in the game and I love that this level of attention was paid to something most developers miss. They generally just throw voices together and hope it makes for a good cast. I also love other little touches with characters. Anjali is a little more atonal/unemotional that the rest, which comes from her not being human (or from this plane of existence). Reinhart is eccentric, to say the least, and his voice is just perfect for the character. Obsidian has put together a great cast, from the random nameless NPCs right on up to the protagonists themselves.

The score of Dungeon Siege III is also well done. The music fits the high fantasy feel of the game wonderfully and it’s a nice background accompaniment to the nonstop action in the game. Granted, the music does take a back seat to the rest of the game as you’ll be concentrating on combat over the soundtrack, but each track fits its respective scene nicely and it really helps the game to come alive.

Sound effects are equally well done. Whether it’s the shot from a flintlock pistol, the baying of a ghost hound, or the clash of sword on steel, everything sounds close to lifelike, or as lifelike as a game feating fire flinging goblins can be.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Having played the first two Dungeon Siege titles on the PC, I will admit that the control scheme for DSIII took a little getting used to, but that was more me than any actual problem with the game itself. That and the automatically thinking of the controls for Throne of Agony.

For the most part the controls are pretty good and it’s your standard console hack and slash RPG. You’ll use the X button to attack, and you can switch between two of your stances (which changes your weapons and power) via the L1 button and you can access the third, defensive, stance by holding down the L2 button. Each stance has up to three special abilities associated with it that you will unlock as you level up. Abilities also have their own version of XP and once you max out the ability bar, you will have access to an empowered version of it. Offensive ones tend to do more damage or cover more ground, while defensive abilities tend to affect your entire party if you use the empowered versions. Abilities also have proficiencies. There are two proficiencies for each ability, with very different powers. You can mix and match between each proficiency up to a total of five points spend. For example, with Katrina and her regeneration power, you can put points into the proficiency that lets you heal when you do damage, or the one that raises her defense while regenerating. Finally, there are Talents. There are nine in all, each of which can have up to five ranks. You only get a total of thirty talent points in the game and there are forty-five possible ranks amongst all nine titles, which means you can either slightly dabble in them all, or get really good at a few. You’ll also find secret permanent stat boosts known as “deeds” that are achieved by certain choices you make throughout the game.

Now, it wouldn’t be an Obsidian game without the bugs so I guess it’s time to list all that I came across here. There was the usual camera angle issues at times or some noticeable A.I. issues where your partner will just stand around like a sack of clay instead of helping, but those are pretty minor. Instead, the big bugs occur when you access the menus via select, start, or the d-pad. These bugs include: losing hit points when you switch partners, losing focus (special ability points) when you switch partners random use of an defensive ability, the game taking control of your character for an entire battle sequence, leaving you an annoyed viewer instead of a participant, the freezing up of your character for a bit (yes, even in the middle of combat), the character walking in a straight line until it hits something, and Anjali refusing to let you look at her “fire form” stats in the menu screen (it will instantly change back to human form). These bugs all hit me several times, but never more than one or two at once (say loss of hit points and a defensive ability triggering when I returned to the main game from a menu) and they weren’t that frequent. However, when they hit they could be annoying and frustrating. I even died in a boss battle because the game took control of Katarina when I unpaused and then stopped controlling Anjali, leaving the CPU in a handicapped match with a catatonic archon watching and getting slowly killed by automatons. I’m always kind of shocked at how Obsidian lets all these bugs through in their game, but compared to the bugs in New Vegas and Alpha Protocol, this is actually a massive improvement.

Overall, the game is a lot of fun and very easy to get a hang of, controlwise. Yes it is buggy, but the bugs are not that common and generally minor stuff you can recover from quickly. Still, it doesn’t mean the game couldn’t have spent a little more time in quality control land. What’s here is enjoyable, but it could use some fine tuning.
Control and Gameplay Rating: 6.5/10

5. Replayability

This is easily the best aspect of Dungeon Siege III. Not only are there four very different characters to play as, but you can shape them very differently each time you play through. For example, my Katarina had insanely high Agility and Attack, meaning that she did a lot of damage and had a one in two chance of a critical hit. Unfortunately her will was extremely low, so her special abilities did little damage, leaving me to primarily use the defensive ones. I could have easily built her in another fashion. As well, you gain influence with your secondary character the more you use them. You could choose to use the same partner for the whole game or switch it up (and there is a trophy for doing both of those). You can also build partners different on further playthroughs. You’ll need to beat the game four times just to see all the endings and cut scenes and that still won’t let you see all the possible character builds.

Factor in you can also have a two to four person multiplayer experience and the game’s replay value shoots through the stratosphere. I had other reviewers from other sites jump into my game since I had my adventure set for a “public” one. Seven gamers in all – all of which played Lucas. Weird, no? When this happens, you’ll see the number of enemies and the difficulty ramp up a bit, but it also makes it a lot of fun. Finally, there are multiple difficulty settings, ensuring that there is always a reason to come back to the Dungeon Siege III. The sheer enormity of the replay value has ensured this game a permanent spot in my PS3 collection. Now if only we could get a HD console remake of the first two games in the series for the PSe and the 360 so console gamers can see what they have previously missed.

Replayability Rating: 10/10

6. Balance

We’ve already covered some of the weird A.I. issues that occur when you leave a menu screen, but I’m counting that as a gameplay glitch rather than a balance issue. No need to kick the game twice, right? Other than that, the balance in the game is really quite good. I always felt challenged, but never like I was getting a cakewalk or in store for something akin to an RPG version of Nightmare Geese Howard. It was a great experience across the board and I enjoyed seeing how differently each race or set of opponents attacked. The fact you can start over with a different difficulty level means that even of subsequent replays, you can set the game to the degree of challenge you are looking for.

I also liked how the game would scale itself based on how many people joined your game and that it would also bring things back down once someone left. Overall, the game is nicely balanced, with only a few bugs gumming up the works.

Balance Rating: 7/10

7. Originality

In my original comments on the demo version of Dungeon Siege III, I said the game was fun but that it felt pretty generic. Even after my time with the retail version of the game, this first impression still holds true. The game really does feel like a generic hack and slash dungeon crawl where the story and characters are just window dressing on the navigation and killing aspects. It doesn’t even really feel that connected to the first two Dungeon Siege games except for a bit of lore about the earlier titles scattered throughout. It’s an incredibly solid game to be sure, but aside from how you assign points when your characters level up and the overall feel of the four playable characters, this could easily be the sequel to any number of action RPGs, or even its own independent IP. Honestly, you could have stuck a Mummy Lord in as the last boss in the game and slapped on a Dark Alliance 3 title instead and no one would have batted an eye.

Again, this is a fun game and a well made one, but originality and innovation are the one thing lacking. It’s a solid cookie cutter action RPG.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

Even after playing the demo twice, I was surprised how hard it was to put down the controller when I started the actual final product. I loved exploring every nook and cranny of the game. Sure it was a generic high fantasy title with a clichéd story that we’ve seen since time immemorial, but it is an extremely solid action RPG staffed by people that have made some of the best action RPG engines ever. How could I not love this. I mean, Neverwinter Nights suffered from the same issues regarding story and innovation and I still logged many a marathon session on that game back in the day. The same holds true with Dungeon Siege III. It’s just I’m using a controller instead of WASD controls.

I really didn’t want to put this game down and if I didn’t have to review Agarest War Zero, the Mystery Case Files for the Wii and play La Noire and Wizardry, I’d still be playing this. However, since there’s nothing in July or August that I’m interested in save Catherine and War in the North, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to try this out again. As well, since I’m a level 30 Katarina, I have no doubt that my friends will be asking me to join in their adventures to help them beat the game and get some trophies. Cthulhu knows I’ll only be too happy to use that as an excuse to play this some more.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

Everyone likes a good action RPG. Do you hate the slow monotony of a turn based RPG where characters take two steps, swing a sword and step backwards or have a three minute summoning sequence? You don’t have to worry about that in an action RPG. It’s constant frantic action. Do you hate the grinding and insane planning that goes into a tactical RPG? You don’t have to worry about that in an action RPG. It’s kill kill kill, and occasionally an update to your stats. It’s not as deep but it also isn’t as pondering. Action RPGs tend to be the most inviting to people who would otherwise eschew the genre. People like action games and action RPGs just tend to be action games with customizable stats. As such, Dungeon Siege III has something to offer most gamers, be it a nicely told story, some interesting characters, addicting gameplay and customization. The only people who won’t want to at least give it a shot (Remember, it has a demo) are those that either don’t like anything RPG-wise, anything high fantasy-wise, who won’t want to play the game because they aren’t PC gamers and haven’t touched the first two games in the series, or those that are extremely loyal to Gas Powered Games and don’t want to touch DS III because it’s not a “real” Dungeon Siege game. That’s about all I could come up with for a list of people that wouldn’t have some degree of fun with the game.

I’m exceptionally picky with action RPGs, and although Dungeon Siege III is no Dark Alliance 2, Diablo, or the like, it is a very well made game that most people will get both their money’s worth and have fun with.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

Much like a lot of Obsidian titles, the end result is a well made game with a few bugs that will pale in comparison to the old Black Isle days. Slowly but surely though, Obsidian is finding their niche as the company to hand western RPG sequels off to and perhaps someday we’ll see a game that can rival the old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons that made so many of their staffers famous. Well, famous in development circles anyway…

Dungeon Siege III is a fun, but somewhat flawed game. Thankfully those flaws are minor and the vast majority of gamers that pick this up will have a lot of fun with it. The fact that there is a ton of replay in this game and that DLC is bound to happen at some point (even if it’s just items like the ones you could get for pre-ordering the game) is just going to increase that all the more. I’m happy to say that Dungeon Siege III has gone from a “Eh, maybe I’ll get it.” to a “Well, the demo was okay” to a “one of my favorite games of 2011.” in the past few weeks. This is by far the best RPG I’ve played in 2011 so far. The question now is whether or not Dungeon Siege III can hold that honour for the remainder of the year.

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

The Scores
Story: 6.5/10
Graphics: 6.5/10
Sound: 7/10
Control and Gameplay: 6.5/10
Replayability: 10/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 8/10
Total Score: 69.5
FINAL SCORE: 7.0(GOOD GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Although Dungeon Siege III does suffer from a plethora of minor bugs and a rather generic clichéd storyline, Obsidian has not only made a game that is a worthy successor to the earlier games in the franchise made by Gas Powered Games, but it was almost as good as some of the titles they made in their heyday as part of Black Isle Studios. Sure, Dungeon Siege III isn’t a Planescape: Torment or a Dark Alliance 2, but it is a very solid entertaining game that is hard to put down. With four extremely customizable characters and the abilities to engage in up to four player co-operative play, Dungeon Siege III is the best action RPG I’ve played this year and it’s a game I know I’ll be playing again and again over the months and years to come.

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