Being a super huge fan of the Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath games, I was anxiously anticipating the release of Dungeon Siege III . For all intents and purposes, it’s this generation’s version of those aforementioned dungeon crawlers; that’s a dying breed of gaming, and I was happy to see it return. For the most part, I’m satisfied with the result, despite my reservations concerning the mechanics and overly in-depth character advancement and outfitting, it’s exactly what one would expect. It isn’t any fantastic graphical tour de force but then again, neither were those other games. If you’re looking for a dark hack ‘n slash RPG with a whole lot of replay value, look no further.
Like I said above, the visual presentation is underwhelming. After their last project, which was also mediocre in this category, I have to believe developer Obsidian is just way behind the times. That being said, there is a fair amount of diversity in the realms and landscapes, the animations are smooth, and the special effects are often a big highlight. While the character design – typically only seen up close when interacting with someone else in a cut-scene – is lacking as well, the entire package is consistent and pleasing. The atmosphere is appropriately dark, there’s quite a goodly array of enemies, and there really aren’t any glaring graphical errors.
For what it wants to be, the technical elements are fine. The audio does its job by offering a fitting and occasionally rousing soundtrack, some well-performed voiceovers, and better than average effects for a game of this type. I still think the latter could’ve had more “oomph,” especially in regards to the melee attackers, but there’s a nice balance between all audio divisions. The music is just about right and combined with the fluidity of the animations; the action remains tight and satisfying throughout. In short, not only does Dungeon Siege III play a lot like those great action/RPGs from the PS2 era, it also looks a lot like them, only with the benefit of HD.
Honestly, if you’ve played any of the titles I’ve mentioned, you’ll quickly become familiar with the gameplay in DSIII; you run around in real-time and beat on swarms of enemies in plenty of different locations. There are towns to visit, side-quests to accept, fresh places to explore, and a surprisingly in-depth progression mechanic. Even the standard gameplay features a twist or two, which we’ll get to later. But for now, the biggest difference between this game and those older adventures is this- you get a party this time. That’s right, it isn’t just about a lone hero taking on the world; you’ll pick your character and recruit others along the way.
I still haven’t decided if I like this more or less than the old-fashioned solo method, but for the sake of this review, let’s just say the party scheme works well. At the start, you will select from one of four distinct heroes: there’s Lucas Montbarron, a warrior equipped with a sword and shield, Anjali, an archon “legend come to life” who shifts between human form and elemental fire, Reinhart Manx, your classic mage, and Katarina, a gun-wielding vixen with access to ensorcelled bullets. Now, regardless of who you choose, you’ll meet the rest in your travels; your choice simply dictates who you will control. I chose Katarina, just because I’ve never seen a firearm wielder in a dungeon-crawler, and I wanted to check it out.
Ultimately, I started over and tried Lucas, which turned out to be a better fit for me. That isn’t to say Katarina wasn’t effective and fun; I just felt a little…shall we say, removed from the combat, as I’m typically trying to stay away from foes, even when I switch to my sidearm/shotgun combination for closer encounters. And it isn’t the same feeling I get when playing as a mage, who also has to stay away; the guns just sort of distanced me from the action, if that makes any sense. But anyway, I soon found that all the characters are well balanced and enjoyable to play, so it really doesn’t matter who you choose. The mechanics are just a trifle iffy.
In addition to having a party, there are other unique gameplay alterations to the tried-and-true hack ‘n slash formula. For instance, you can roll-dodge with the L2 button, and you switch stances with the L1 button. This is important because not only does your stance change the weapon(s) used in combat, it also affects the skills you have at your disposal. For instance, one of Katarina’s special power abilities with her rifle sends a supercharged bullet that knocks over an enemy. When you switch your stance to dual-wielding the sidearm and shotgun, her power move causes her to spin around and fire quick shots in all four directions. So stance is crucial.
The controls just bug me a little bit, that’s all. The camera can be frustrating, and it took me a while to get the button layout through my head. Having to hit R1 to pick up any equipment is only a minor annoyance, but I had to really pay attention to both my stance and the types of magic and skills I would use based on that stance, and what I had been working on in my proficiencies. In truth, I actually think there’s a little too much depth; for a game like this, it feels overdone. Some hardcore RPG fans will disagree, though. It just drove me a little nuts to have so many pieces of equipment, and they’re different for each character.
Thing is, because you can pick up a lot at once, this affects the pacing because then you have to go in and see if anything you snagged is a better fit on one of your party members. I’m also not the biggest fan of the story, and having block be the same button as roll-dodge (you just flick the left analog to roll) seems like a bad idea. I also didn’t like the fact that most enemies typically seem to key on me, regardless of how far away I am, or what type of fighter I am. Other than that, the game is entertaining and relatively well designed. Having green and blue orbs that replenish health and magic feels too “action-y” to me, but I’ll let it slide. Heck, you could jump in Dark Alliance .
The game also offers online co-op play for up to four friends and an offline two-player co-op. These are great because such games really excel when playing with a buddy; I still remember going through Dark Alliance II multiple times with my roommate. Plus, given the four separate characters – each with individual storylines – and plenty of incentive to keep powering up your fighter, you’ll get some serious bang for your buck. The customization of each character class and the addictive nature of the side-quests and exploration is great for role-playing fans, and the gameplay is both accessible and intricate. It tends to drag at times, but that’s minor.
Dungeon Siege III is a solid action/RPG with plenty of punch due to an engaging gameplay mechanic that offers some fresh features. The four characters provide players with very different combat experiences, the party system works well (with only a few small issues concerning AI), there are many places to explore and plenty of foes to fight, the multiplayer is a definite bonus, and the longevity is appreciated. The pacing takes a hit because I think the developers went a little overboard in terms of character depth, the camera can be problematic, and a few too many of the abilities seem pointless, but in the end, DSIII is a dungeon-crawling winner.
The Good: Decent soundtrack. Fluid action and animations. Accessible yet complex gameplay mechanics. Character customization is a big plus. Longevity is high. Fun and quite addictive. Multiplayer is a big bonus.
The Bad: Lacking visuals. Controls can be a little tough to get used to. Camera is a little funky. Pacing can slow due to overcomplicated character setup.
The Ugly: “Man, these NPCs look like they might actually be from Dark Alliance.”