Dungeon Siege III

[GDC 2011] In the Name of the Kingsley

A hands-on Dungeon Siege tale
Author: J.D. Cohen
Published: March 11, 2011
Dungeon Siege III is right around the corner, with a release date set at the end of May this year. Thanks to the fine, patient folks at Square Enix, I had the opportunity to give it a whirl in a hotel room near the Game Developers Conference last week, and I left feeling positive. Dungeon Siege III is developed by Obisidan Entertainment, a studio with a reputation for being extremely ambitious, sometimes to a detrimental degree. I do not wish to suggest that this new game lacks ambition, but it does display a heretofore unseen degree of focus.

This change is perhaps influenced by the game's format. Dungeon Siege is traditionally a straightforward action roleplaying series; the core of it is composed of tactical real-time combat, character progression and loot. It is not driven by wanderlust and social maneuvering, though the Obisidian stamp is visible here in the form of a greater emphasis on story and dialogue. Dungeon Siege III is peppered with well-written and well-acted conversations in which the (fully voiced) protagonist will have many opportunities to be a jerk or not, making decisions that will tangibly impact the unfolding action.

It may be more accurate to refer to plural protagonists, because there are four to choose from. Rather than generating an avatar, these four are presented as fully realized characters, with unique personalities in addition to their specialized abilities. The seemingly friendly and harmless public relations representative who vigilantly watched over our play session would probably turn on me like a vicious badger if I revealed them all, but I can speak of Lucas, the sword-wielding bruiser type of guy, and Anjali, a magic user who specializes in setting things on fire from a distance. These two have very different abilities (broken down further into stances), though the similarities demonstrate the clever approach being taken to cooperative play, which can support two players locally, or up to four online.

Attacks which are primarily chosen for their offensive capability come with passive effects of benefit to teammates. For instance, Anjali can summon a swirling storm of fire to damage enemies in her vicinity; it just so happens that this fire heals her companions, making it a good idea to stand by her side (and possibly lure more enemies into it as a further benefit) upon seeing her cast. All characters also share the ability to revive fallen comrades, and everyone possesses a self-healing action of some kind. It would seem that regardless of how one develops one's character, it would be hard, if not impossible, to make one unsuited for the duties fighting alongside others.

If it sounds like all of this healing and reviving business will make the game lack challenge, don't fret. I mentioned earlier that my hosts were patient; I was not referring to a lack of punctuality on my part. Even with Director of Business Development and Executive Producer at Square Enix David Hoffman's ability to heal me and get me back on my feet, my ineptitude still managed to lead to a fail state on multiple occasions. Based upon my experience, Dungeon Siege III is not likely to devolve into the brute force exercise of a credit-feeder like Gauntlet Legends.

The player's choice of character impacts the narrative, as the story is (at least to some degree) unique for each, with multiple endings to boot. Likely due to the level of personalization in this regard, multiplayer finds the first player as the main protagonist, with the others tagging along for the ride. These hangers-on won't feel completely left out during dialogue scenes, however, since they are at least given the ability to throw in their two cents on what they feel the main player should say, which I found amusing. Some of the conversations are quite funny, especially when pursuing extraneous, pointless lines of thought. This lightheartedness is in contrast to the generally dark and forboding look of the game in the section through which I played.

Much of this dramatic visual impression is due to the nice lighting and shadows deployed by the graphics engine and the talented designers who use it. It's a tall order to prevent a dungeon-crawler from looking utterly boring, and they've done a commendable job here, without going in a cartoonish or even overtly stylized direction. The real style shows up in the attractively painted cutscenes. I saw the game on a Windows PC (using an Xbox 360 controller), so I can't speak with authority on the PlayStation 3 version, but barring any egregious technical missteps, it should be a looker. The controls seemed perfectly sensible; I never felt the urge to reach for a mouse and keyboard.

Dungeon Siege III should arrive on May 31 in the US, and promises to provide fifteen to twenty hours of monster-thrashing gameplay, with substantially more for those completionists who feel compelled to do every little side quest. If your compulsions are more on the kleptomaniacal side of things, then look forward to over 15,000 loot items for the pilfering. Based on what I played, it seems that Obisidian is delivering a solid, polished dungeon crawler with engaging narrative elements to keep players hooked in case a giant hoard of spoils isn't enough.