Dungeon Siege 3 Review

By Matt Cabral - Posted Jun 30, 2011

Despite a few flaws, Dungeon Siege III marks the welcome return of the high fantasy-themed action-RPG. It generally retains the looting-and-leveling addictiveness the genre's known for, while also making the experience accessible to those brought up clutching a gamepad. If you're a fan of cracking open skulls and treasure chests, the Kingdom of Ehb's a great place to visit.

The Pros
  • Fast, well-paced combat
  • Addictive character progression
  • Engaging storytelling
  • Richly realized fantasy world
The Cons
  • Voice acting is often weak
  • Nerfed online co-op
  • Uninspired loot

Dungeon Siege 3 Review:

The success of Torchlight on Xbox LIVE Arcade proved that console gamers loved to loot, level, and lay waste to dungeon-dwelling hordes just as much as the mouse-and-keyboard crowd. Still, the dangerously addictive genre continues to take a back seat to titles that‘d rather arm players with bullets than blades. Even the promising hack-and-slasher Hunted: The Demon’s Forge attempted to please this gen’s trigger-happy fans with Gears of War-like gameplay.

Thankfully, with the release of Dungeon Siege III, the bar wenches and blacksmiths are back in business, and the loot’s once again flowing as freely as mead from the village tavern tap. Square Enix’s and Obsidian Entertainment’s reboot of the previously PC-only series isn’t perfect--and its most faithful fans will no doubt find fault with its makeover--but those craving a good dungeon crawl could do a lot worse than getting lost in this fantasy-rich world.

 

 

Slaying and Storytelling

The action-RPG genre has generally forgone narrative depth in favor of beheading trolls and upgrading arm gauntlets, so it’s refreshing to see DSIII support its action with a surprisingly engaging story. Obsidian, who’s already proven multiple times over they can weave an absorbing yarn, have utilized storyboard-like cut-scenes, hidden books and scriptures, and chatty NPCs to flesh out its expansive tale.

It’s not about to put George R.R. Martin out of work, and the often undercooked voice work undermines its true potential, but the story still serves as much more than an excuse for players to tame oversized spiders. It also does a decent job of introducing new recruits to the Kingdom of Ehb, while also throwing seasoned fans some Easter eggs and other universe-expanding extras.

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Of course, if you wanted to be entertained by storytelling, you’d pick up your Kindle, not a rune-encrusted broadsword; this is an action-RPG after all, so engaging in thumb-blistering combat takes precedent over listening to some white-bearded dude go on about his world-saving ambitions. Luckily, DSIII delivers in this department, yielding nuanced action, complemented by a variety of character-building options and upgrades.

You begin the game by choosing one of four unique characters, all of whom should be familiar to anyone who’s hacked, slashed or spell-casted through creepy crypts or haunted forests before. We went with Katarina--a witch with lips that make Angelina Jolie’s look like deflated pool toys--who has the ability to unleash hot lead and screen-clearing curses in equal measure.

Regardless of whose arsenal you get behind though, you’ll have access to a pair of offensive stances, as well as one defensive position. The former two can be supported by three special attack abilities each, while the latter gets a trio of defensive skills, such as healing spells. The left trigger and bumper switches up stances effortlessly, and the special abilities and basic attacks are mapped to the face buttons. Within minutes of using this intuitive set-up, we were comfortably piling corpses like cordwood.

Behind the rifles and dual-hand cannons of Katarina, we’d switch back and forth between ranged attacks and up-close kills, tossing in the occasional debilitating curse to remind our adversaries they were dealing with one wicked Wiccan. Abilities siphon a focus meter--which builds gradually during combat--so rather than mindlessly pounding potions, you’re tasked with strategically keeping baddies at bay with basic attacks while waiting for your special attack bar to brim.

 

 

Level, Loot, Repeat

In addition to gaining new abilities every few levels, you’re also granted points to pimp out proficiencies and talents; the former further enhances abilities, while the latter offers passive perks. Once mastered through repeated use, abilities can also be empowered, allowing your attacks to pack some extra pain in a pinch.

All these traits, and how they’re managed, afford plenty of character-developing depth and combat variation without ever becoming daunting. The system might feel a bit stripped down and streamlined to fans who grew up pointing and clicking through dimly-lit dungeons, but those raised on a gamepad’s limited real estate should appreciate the manageable balance.

 

 

On top of grooming your own Ehb-saving badass through these varied skills and disciplines, you’ll, of course, have access to more loot than you can shake a Bastard Sword of Smiting at. From downed enemies and conveniently placed treasure chests, to random pots and other breakables, there’s absolutely no shortage of loot-spewing sources. While Dungeon Siege 3 captures the inherent thrill of bashing a beast’s head in and stealing its stuff, however, not all items freed from the fleshy piñatas are worth a second look. Sure, there’s plenty of items you‘ll be proud to equip, and many of their names are endlessly entertaining--we doubt you’ll find Katarina’s “Stockings of Rage” at the local Victoria’s Secret--but often the goodies are more functional than cool.

That said, this isn’t a major gripe, as most likely won’t care what their blade looks like when it’s buried deep in the belly of some otherworldly baddie. And speaking of introducing enemies’ insides to your sharp steel, DSIII pits players against a nice variety of human thugs as well as the expected creatures of the winged, horned, clawed, and fanged variety. There’s swarms of nasties just begging to meet the business end of your blade, and meetings with low-level threats, sub-bosses, and level-capping big bads are paced nicely throughout the campaign.

 

 

Better Off Alone

Visually, the game impresses with richly realized outdoor environments and atmospheric interiors; from flickering flames to bubbling brooks, this fantasy world’s drenched in mood setting details. Lighting, shadowing, particle, and physics effects also seem to be firing on all cylinders, especially during more intense combat encounters. You can take all this eye-candy in with an A.I.-controlled teammate or recruit buddies to join your fight.

Two players are supported locally, and up to four online, but playing with friends or strangers isn’t exactly encouraged. In an unusual move on Obsidian’s part, players can’t use their own characters--or keep collected experience or loot for their home-grown hero--in another host’s game. Those who’ve participated in someone else’s adventure, however, will find all their goodies waiting for them if they decide to rejoin the quest at a later date.

 

 

While this odd omission will no doubt rob the game of some of its replay value, the solo campaign’s 15 or so hours should be enough to satisfy those who’ve been sharpening their battle axes in anticipation of a quality dungeon crawl. Additionally, each of the four characters can shape the critical path to some extent, resulting in a unique ending for each; so, at least a second play-through is easily justified for the bravest of beast-slayers.

DSIII doesn’t revolutionize the genre, nor does it pose a threat to the upcoming Diablo III. However, its lightning-quick combat, addictive character progression, and fleshed-out story make it more than a welcome entry, especially in a generation that’s seen us scavenging more ammo clips than loot.