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Dungeon Siege 3 Preview

By Jeff Buckland, 2/22/2011

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When Square Enix first announced that they were coming to the Western games market in force, people were understandably a little underwhelmed by the news. Japanese publishers have done this in the past, and the results havenít always been so great. Dungeon Siege 3 developers Obsidian Entertainment experienced that first-hand when Sega published last yearís ambitious, but ultimately unfinished action-RPG Alpha Protocol. (When I asked about it, I wasnít expecting to get any serious dirt - nor did I as itís silly to burn bridges like that - but the rumors I had heard were that there was shared fault between Obsidian and Sega.)

Square, however, seems to be running things with a much higher level of commitment - starting by throwing around a considerable amount of cash theyíve made off of the Final Fantasy games over the years. They bought the Dungeon Siege franchise from Microsoft, then hired Obsidian Entertainment to make a third game in this previously PC-exclusive series. Original developer Gas Powered Games isnít in the picture, although we were told that series creator Chris Taylor has had plenty of input into this third gameís design. Obsidian doesnít have the most stellar reputation for making the most polished games, but their RPG experience is unmatched in any Western development studio thatís still standing.

Dungeon Siege 3, as it was explained to me by multiple people at Obsidian, is a reboot of sorts while still serving as a sequel. They know that bringing this game to the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 means lots of players will be completely unfamiliar with the story, and getting a re-introduction is a good thing all around, because of all the people Iíve talked to over the last few years that played any previous Dungeon Siege, none of them remember even one tidbit of the plot. (Admittedly, I donít either.)

In Dungeon Siege 3 youíll be able to choose between four vastly different characters, each with their own very unique gear, abilities, and skillsets. Only two have been announced so far - Lucas, a seemingly-stereotypical knight type with plenty of melee-based skills, and Anjali, a half-human, half-fire-elemental chick who adds blue, orange, and yellow flames to pretty much all of her abilities. Both characters have access to an almost fully unique selection of gear, with the exception of rings and amulets (thereís got to be something you have to fight over when playing in multiplayer), and your three stances each use a different weapon which youíll keep equipped separately.

Of your three stances, one is for defense, and the other ones each fulfill a particular role for that character, and each character has distinct and unique stances. Lucas has a sword-and-shield stance with speed and balance in mind, as well as a two-handed stance (yes, with a bigger weapon) that sacrifices defense and speed for overwhelming power. Anjali has a staff she uses in melee to swing out at long range, and her fire elemental modeís weapons are, well, magic bracers, and she floats off the ground and fires out spells at long range, with the magical properties of her bracers modifying her attacks. The defensive mode also has gear that goes along with it, and you activate this mode simply by blocking. During this period youíll be able to dodge (or in Anjaliís elemental mode, teleport) to get away from attacks. As the designers explained it to me, this defensive stance is to allow you to survive without having to keep retreating, something that any Diablo player knows is a necessary evil (and huge pain in the ass) for a good half of the game.

You will also not have access to a belt full of potions to chug - the developers do give you regeneration abilities through direct healing and passive add-ons to other offensive spells, but youíll have to be smart about using them in order to survive. Orbs from fallen enemies do give you an instant health boost, and it does seem like these were yanked wholesale from Diablo IIIís Blizzcon demos, but overall Iím really happy with not having to manage a separate inventory of potions.

Your abilities are fueled from a Focus bar that resembles mana, and connecting with normal attacks quickly refills this bar. This leads to you carefully mixing in special attacks with your regular ones, and then once youíve fired off enough of your mana-using special abilities, youíll fill up these little purple orbs at the bottom of your screen, allowing you to unleash heals for yourself or even more powerful moves reminiscent of Super Combos in Street Fighter. I played with this and found that early on in the game, heals wound up being the most useful application of these orbs, but I can see plenty of situations and RPG builds where that changes.

Loot is a full Diablo-style mix of unique items and gear created through the mix of base items and magical properties denoted by prefixes and suffixes. Youíll see the standard mix of item rarity with the familiar colors (gray, white, green, blue, purple, etc) as well, and youíll have a higher chance of good loot from the randomly-placed lieutenant monsters, too.

My hands-on time with the game showed us a half-decent plot that is delivered through backstory-delivering books as well as in Mass Effect-style conversations, and while you wonít be interrupting people mid-sentence with a killshot, nor will you be soothing situations with Paragon-styled blue text, you do often get the chance to excuse yourself from a long-winded piece of lore so that you can go and kill more stuff. My extended time spent one-on-one with the developers meant that I didnít get to experience much of it, but itís definitely there - itís a question of how good it is, especially once I found out that the gameís lead writer wanted to spend more time with the game than he was given.

From a technical standpoint, Dungeon Siege 3 looks fantastic, with detailed textures and lots of eye candy blanketing everything. We saw ragdoll physics, big and bright effects for all the spells and abilities, and very sharp details on the PC build we got to see and play. Console versions were obviously cut down in detail, but they still looked and played great. Controls on consoles were pretty much exactly what youíd expect, and while we only got to use a gamepad on the PC version, Obsidian promised that mouse-and-keyboard controls are there - itís just that they need significant work done before theyíre ready for public consumption.

That being said, the gamepad scheme made Dungeon Siege 3 feel a hell of a lot like Baldurís Gate: Dark Alliance, which for those of us fond of that gameís light-hearted action, is easily a close second to a mouse-based scheme. But no matter what controls you use, itís important to point out that this is not a brainless action game containing only a smidge of RPG sprinkled in; there are a ton of loot choices to make, and your character will be juggling which proficiencies to drop points into every level - and when you do, it comes at the cost of choosing other ones. Then there are quite a few talents for each character, which youíll also get to drop a point in each time you level up, and these bestow passive bonuses on your character. Toss in the ability to have one of these four characters as a permanent companion on your single player campaign - and the ability to fully control their equipment, proficiencies, and talents as well - and weíve got a pretty deep game for what, on the surface, might look like just another Diablo clone.

When we first got to see Dungeon Siege 3 in action last June, we saw a solid foundation of a game, but very little beyond some solid-looking combat and impressive visuals. Now, after seeing everything more polished and with the RPG depth youíd come to expect from Obsidian, I can confidently say that this is shaping up to be the biggest and best loot-centric action-RPG in a long time - at least since Titan Quest, if not Diablo II: Lord of Destruction. Obsidian has to be happy about hearing word that Diablo III is unlikely to make it to stores this year, because Dungeon Siege 3 is set for release on PC, PS3, and 360 on May 31st.



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