The Dungeon Siege series, the hack-and-slash dungeon-crawler originally developed by Chris Taylor and the folks at Gas Powered Games, saw two full retail releases in 2002 and 2005, with parts one and two receiving their own expansion packs. In 2006, the series also made a brief foray onto the PSP. Now, in 2011, developer Obsidian Entertainment has taken up the mantle and are poised to reboot the series this May. Dungeon Siege 3 will be the first game in the series playable on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, in addition to the traditional PC offering.
I traveled to Obsidian's offices last week and was able to see the game running on all three platforms, and also spend some time playing through the game's opening segments on both PC and PlayStation 3. Chief among my concerns was how Obsidian would translate the series' Diablo-like pointy-clicky combat into something suitable (and fun) for console controllers.
Dungeon Siege 3 returns players to the kingdom of Ehb, which will likely appeal to fans of the fiction in previous Dungeon Siege games. In a nutshell, legionnaires protected Ehb during the War of Legions, with the 10th Legion forming an independent kingdom which began to rival the monarchy of the old Empire. Thirty years after the war, a charismatic leader named Jeyne Kassynder rose up and slaughtered the 10th Legion, scattering its remaining survivors and further fracturing Ehb's power structure. The game opens as Odo, the last surviving member of the 10th Legion, issues a call to the remaining decedents of the 10th Legion, in an effort to reclaim Ehb from Kassynder.
The lore and back-story in the game have plenty of meat for fantasy fans to sink their teeth into, including the return conversation-based dialog trees present in the first two games. However, Dungeon Siege 3 takes an approach more akin to Mass Effect 2 in this regard. When in conversation, you'll have a hub of possible subjects or attitudes to select, some of which can even affect the attitudes of any companions you have, depending on the selected responses. Conversations are also presented via a zoomed-in cinematic view, which also helps make the story more engaging.
The game looks very good in action, and each area that I saw - from outdoor town and forest areas, to caves and dungeons - utilized a rich color palette and light sources to great effect. The hand-painted fire effects and crackling embers I saw when making my way through a burning estate looked great, and the same sort of care extended to the effects for spells and abilities. Though I only fought a handful of enemy types in the game's opening areas, it didn't feel as though more variety was needed.
Though Dungeon Siege 3 will feature four different playable characters when it's released, only two of those characters - Lucas Montbarron (the Legionnaire) and Anjali (the Archon), have been revealed at this point. Both were playable during the preview event. Far from being simply re-skinned versions of the same avatar, the differences between the two characters are also significant to how each plays.
Lucas is a fairly traditional warrior-type, and Anjali is a fire-based magic-user of sorts. All characters can utilize three different combat stances (normal, heavy, or guard) on the fly, each with different ancillary abilities. Heavy attacks have Lucas using a large primary weapon (like a huge sword), and do a lot of damage. As one would expect, normal attacks are faster, but deal less damage. The guard stance blocks enemy attacks (duh!) but can also be leveled up with additional abilities. Special attacks are unique to each stance. In the normal attack stance, Lucas can shield-bash an enemy to stun and damage them, but the special attack becomes a high powered dash when in the heavy attack stance.
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Anjali, on the other hand, wields spear-type weaponry and can issue a spinning kick to enemies in her primary stance. In her secondary stance (which transforms her into a floating, other-worldly "fire-spirit" version of herself, Anjali can use a power called the Aura of Immolation to lay down a fiery radius that damages enemies, or lob fireballs at enemies from range. Blending these abilities in combat can be very effective. When playing as Anjali, throwing down the Aura of Immolation at the start of combat, and then quickly switching to her spear to swipe at the attackers while they burned, proved quite effective.
Secondary abilities (and additional character-specific perks)can be leveled up, once enough experience is accrued. In the case of Anjali, her Aura of Immolation could be leveled-up in one of two ways - with a 10% damage increase, or the ability to heal team damage at a rate of 2% for companions standing inside the active Aura. Each character's list of abilities is unique, and can likewise be leveled in one of two ways with each point spent.
The transition from mouse-based point-and-click to console controllers (even the PC versions on display were hooked up to Xbox 360 gamepads) works very well, in practice. Each attack type is mapped to its own button, stances can be easily switched with the top-left shoulder button, and the camera is rotated using the right stick. Special abilities (and healing) are also easily used by pressing a combination of an attack with a trigger modifier. All in all, it's a natural fit that does a better job of placing players in the middle of the action. At the same time, strategic control of AI companions goes by the wayside. It's clear that some inspiration was taken from other console-based hack-and-slashers, like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. From a gameplay standpoint, Dungeon Siege 3 seems to have as much in common with BG:DA as it does with the previous Dungeon Siege entries.
Loot is still king in Dungeon Siege 3, and you'll constantly be picking up new goodies from chests and fallen enemies. Inventory management is quick and easy, though with the amount of treasure to be gathered, you may find yourself popping in and out of the menus (where gear is compared and equipped) more often than you'd like. That said, once inside your inventory screen, it's very easy to spot and select your best equipment (based on color coding and price).
Co-operative play is also on tap in Dungeon Siege 3, though it wasn't available to try during my hands-on time. It'll accommodate up to four players (a maximum of 2, locally), and is similar to the drop-in, drop-out co-op present in the recent LEGO adventures. The adventure (and associated progress and loot) is tied to the host's saved-game. The game's difficulty in co-op will also scale a bit, depending on the number of human players.
All in all, Dungeon Siege 3 looks like it has the potential to do quite nicely for those who want a rich fantasy storyline and characters to go along with their marauding, monster-killing, and loot-collecting. We'll know for sure soon enough, because Dungeon Siege 3 is scheduled for a May 31, 2011 release on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.
This Dungeon Siege 3 Hands-On Preview is based on pre-release code at an closed-door press event hosted by Square Enix and Obsidian, held at the Obsidian offices in Irvine, California. Square Enix invited Shacknews to cover the event, and provided overnight accommodations for one editor. Hands-on included play time with both PlayStation 3 and PC versions of the game, with additional time spend viewing (but not playing) the Xbox 360 version.