Dungeon Siege III is the latest in a long line of Dungeon Siege games, certainly, but also in the ever-growing lineage of sequels that seem to have become Obsidian’s bread and butter these days. Fallout: New Vegas, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Neverwinter Nights 2 precede Dungeon Siege III as examples of well executed torch-passing from the IP’s originator into the hands of Obsidian. Their gig as the go-to guys for fast-paced sequel building has been hit-and-miss thusfar, but Dungeon Siege III is clearly shaping up to provide a solid – if not paradigm shifting – RPG experience to hardcore RPG fans.
You can feel the shift almost immediately. The third chapter in the franchise has something of a lighter touch with some visual and contextual shifts to fall more in line with recent fantasy RPG’s like Dragon Age. Conversation trees abound, albeit with less game-changing impact than we’ve seen in Bioware’s titles. The game’s coloring seems a bit brighter, as well, the environments a bit less oppressive. Visually speaking, the game appears more inviting than our memory of previous chapters, but it’s hardly aiming to redefine the archetypical fantasy universe as we know it.
In the short demo, we played as Lucas, a descendant of the Legion intent on restoring the organization to greatness. We began in our burning ancestral mansion, battling our way through an onslaught of thugs intent on torching the sprawling château to the ground. After a fair amount of barrel smashing, randomized item drops and slain enemies, it’s here where we got our first glimpse of the game’s rather intuitive combat system. Alternating between heavy and light attacks – and eventually magic – fighting is really just about a series of well executed button presses.
What’s unique about the system is the concept of stances – the slower, more powerful two-handed stance or the more defensive, one-handed sword-and-shield combo. Each stance has its own series of attacks which, in turn, vary depending upon the chosen weapon. You can switch between stances on the fly and the mechanic ultimately adds a surface-level degree of strategy, a welcome addition for those of us who prefer to exercise some level of mental agility without having to constantly micromanage our battles.
While the enemies we encountered were admittedly a bit addle-minded – rushing at us, screaming, seemingly ready for death – the combat proved both compelling and fun, especially once we journeyed into a dimly lit cave filled with more monstrous opponents. On a mission to rescue an eventual ally held captive by the witch Vera, we descended into the subterranean caverns, lit purple by magical torchlight, and found that the battles required a substantially more deft approach even with an admirable load-out. We even found ourselves gladly switching between the standard overhead, top-down view and a more console-friendly, over-the-shoulder perspective depending upon the situation at hand – a nice touch in variety if you ask us.
Leveling up works much the same as anywhere else, according to the sum total of your accumulated XP, but players are awarded with abilities that also offer customizable proficiencies. For example, the Shield Pummel ability can be leveled up along two paths, one which increases its damage and another which increases its likelihood to stun an opponent for an all-out assault. Skill trees and talents also play a part, although any low-level RPG fan will find these instantly familiar.
Experience, as in all RPG’s, is best gathered by sub-questing and there’s no shortage of additional missions to be found along the way. We spent some time in a small village on the edge of a perilous forest – go figure – and picked up a few quests from beautiful, busty villagers that required us to backtrack in order to defending missing husbands or murder marauding brigands. Either way, the mechanic for gathering quests is tried-and-true and will hardly surprise anybody.
In fact, that’s a fair way to describe Dungeon Siege III in general. It’s certainly fun to play at this stage and it looks as impressive as the series has ever looked, but it’s virtually indistinguishable from similar, albeit better, games within the genre. Only the full game will tell us whether this lack of inspiration is systemic, but regardless, what we played had us willing, if not necessarily wanting, to pick up the controller and do it all again.