Review: Dungeon Siege III (Microsoft Xbox 360)
by J. Rose on July 5, 2011

Dungeon Siege III
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action Role-playing
Release Date: 6/21/11

Arguably one of the very best Diablo clones ever, the original Dungeon Siege on the PC provided a complete and thoroughly polished package for the click to kill action RPG gamer. Since its release in 2002, the series saw a spirited stand alone expansion, as well as a full fledged sequel, in the years to follow. Prior to part 3, however, the last offering in this fantasy driven hack and slash series came by way of a lackluster PSP spin-off exclusive that was light on the hacking, slashing AND looting.

Now, close to a decade since its original release, and for the first time on home consoles, the Black Isle born team of Obsidian Entertainment take the reigns for the series’ notable return with Dungeon Siege III. So… how is the dungeon this time around, one has to wonder?

STORY:

The events of Dungeon Siege III take place one hundred and fifty years after those of the original Dungeon Siege, where the once proud and noble order of the Tenth Legion has been all but wiped out by the hand of the fanatical Jeyne Kassynder, a charismatic woman with a serious grudge against the Legion for both personal and diplomatic reasons. From here, the plot more or less follows statically along with one of four playable protagonists who all claim stakes as either being descendants of the original Legion or having strong ties to them: the Warrior Lucas, son of the Legion’s fallen Grand Master, Katarina, a gun wielding witch and half sister of Lucas, Reinhart, a magic user of the same bloodline as the Legion’s most powerful mage, and the mysterious Anjali, who comes from the shape shifting race known as Archons. The goal of reuniting the now scattered and defunct Legion remains the same regardless of your character choice, as does the general progression of the main story. All paths will see the characters start and end within an identical series of events, with only a few character specific dialogue scenes to differentiate between them.

While the plot is certainly competent enough to drive along the hack and slash gameplay formula it’s adhered to, Dungeon Siege III goes to greater lengths to make you as interested in its rudimentary and forgettable story than it really needs to. A good number of dialogue scenes with both main and secondary NPC’s will have you choosing responses and asking questions, much like that of the thematically similar Dragon Age games. However, unlike Dragon Age, these choice driven conversations rarely have any effect outside of themselves, and will never lead to alternative game outcomes. Whenever one occurs, the conclusion to a conversation with an enemy leader will always result in them attacking, no matter what response you choose. The same can be said about any number of plot important interactions and the introductions to various side quests. Eventually, you’ll either ask all the questions you can, or dismiss the conversation with a choice that will take you to point of it. On a few rare instances, a morality choice can be made which can garner the player items or influence with one of the other characters, and these specific conversations are honestly the only ones where the element of interactivity feels like it has a purpose.

The plot and motivations of the characters collectively are generally derivative and considerably uninteresting, and never amount to more than a generic backdrop for the hacking, slashing, and looting that take place on top of it. The inclusion of interactive cut scenes and cataloguing journal entries and various other essays on the history and people of the game world seems thoroughly unnecessary in a lot of respects, as does the windy narrative whenever one examines a skeleton or locked door. While I can certainly understand the motivations of making any RPG product as immersive as possible, the sub genre a game like Dungeon Siege III is associated with rarely lends itself well to such dramatics, especially if they aren’t very exciting or interesting.

GRAPHICS:

Though nothing extraordinary, the graphics in Dungeon Siege III are considerably polished and look nice, and character models are reasonably detailed, even considering that most of the time the game will be played in a zoomed out view, which is standard for an action RPG game of this type. There is little in the way of personality in regards to the design of things, but collectively, the assorted locations, characters and bestiary come together as a fine portrayal of a bog standard fantasy setting.

To further detail the events of the game, a series of colorless parchment illustrations are used time and again. These illustrations look nice, but lack the level of expert finesse usually required when this sort of slide show cut scene is put into effect. As expected, a large number of different armors can be obtained over the course of the game, and a fair amount of them will make your characters appear different. Weapons of increasing rarity burn bright with fire and other elements that they may be imbued with as well.

SOUND:

Much like the visual presentation, the assorted sound effects and music in Dungeon Siege III are comparable to others in the genre, but largely generic. Spells whiz and swords clang as they should, and most areas are accompanied by an appropriate ambient soundscape, which will at times swell into a traditional fantasy inspired medley of strings and horns.

Though the subject matter itself is fairly uninteresting, Dungeon Siege III is entirely voice acted, and the actors involved do a great job for the most part. Lucas speaks with a pseudo regal elegance, and Katarina carries an appropriate Romani accent, akin to the nomadic tribe the character comes from, for example. The various NPC conversations come across as believable with only the occasional actor over-selling the performance.

GAMEPLAY:

Much like the games in the series before it, Dungeon Siege III follows the specific action RPG structure originally made popular by Blizzard’s Diablo. Offering players a faster pace while partaking in traditional RPG staples such as gaining experience and collecting items, the hack and slash action RPG sub genre has been notable in the world of PC gaming for a good number of years now, though never as consistently on video game consoles.

Obsidian has done a good job making a genre of game that usually feels best on the PC feel right with a standard console controller. There was never a time while I was playing it where I thought the game could potentially play better with the traditional mouse and keyboard. The surface buttons of the Xbox controller serve as the basic and special attack buttons, while the triggers control blocking, dodging, picking up items (gold is picked up automatically by walking over it), and changing between the characters’ available weapons. The four available characters in Dungeon Siege III each have their own set of skills and proficiencies that make them unique. Lucas, for example, takes on the expected role of the warrior class, and attacks with swords and is able to equip a shield. Reinhart assumes the role of the mage, attacking from a distance with various magic attacks, and has a strong selection of de-buffing magic to ail enemies with.

Character development and the acquisition of skills are handled a bit differently from most games of its ilk, however. Instead of assigning various stat and skill points when a new level of experience is gained, the player will be able to invest in various special abilities from three available tiers which unlock as the character reaches certain levels. These skills can then be further fortified by adding additional points into a pool of perks that apply to the skill in question. A special attack with Lucas’ sword, for example, can be made to stun and slow enemies, life tap hit points, or a customized combination of the two, as an given skill can be upgraded a total of five times between the two perks associated with it. As these skills are put into practice over the course of the game, an “empowered” version of them will become available. In the instance of attack skills, these powered up versions equate to more damage, but various buffs can effect the entire party in their empowered stages. In addition to modifying the effect of skills, characters also have a set of specific proficiencies that a separate set of points can be used to strengthen. These range from percentage boosts in particular statistics, to discounted items at merchants, and even ones enabling characters to gain hit points back from merely defeating enemies. This mechanic does provide an interesting, and considerably deeper, level of customization as opposed to similar games that typically give the player a small amount of points to upgrade the character without their being any real difference besides the increase of power.

It might also come as a surprise to some to know that there isn’t a stock of hit point replenishing items to keep on hand and use as needed in Dungeon Siege III. By destroying barrels and defeating enemies, orbs that replenish either hit points or magic can be picked up and apply themselves instantly. Healing by other means is taken care of by way of your characters’ defensive healing skill, which will allow the character to regenerate hit points so long as the effect is up. Much like the skills discussed earlier, these defensives abilities can be fortified with an array of other benefits, such as an increase in armor, while the character has them in effect. While the absence of the traditional hit point potion might throw some players for a loop, it is a manageable way of going about things, and actually adds a good bit of dimension to the combat in Dungeon Siege III, as players will have to actively dodge, block, and stay on the defensive while waiting for their hit points to resupply themselves.

As expected, Dungeon Siege III is predominantly about slaying enemies, completing missions, leveling up, and most importantly, collecting items. While the game progresses along a linear path, the action RPG gameplay therein is fast, efficient, fun, and teeming with loot. The game might not take you longer than twelve hours to complete with any given character, but if hacking and slashing for gold and items is your thing, you’re in for a quality experience, and possibly one you’ll want to go through again instantly with a different character and different items. The game certainly has a “been here already” flavor to it, and isn’t quite as ambitious as the prior two PC games before it, but the gameplay is spot on, and certainly delivers the goods.

In favor of a more limited experience, which does not see the gameplay suffer as some might imagine, Obsidian unfortunately did dropped the ball with a couple of other things in Dungeon Siege III collectively. The first aspect in question is the underwhelming and virtually pointless multiplayer element present, a mode that has usually lent itself well to games of this kind for some time now. The component is extremely limited, and in many respects, seems like a loose afterthought that made its way into development at the last minute. While a multiplayer session can accommodate up to four players, only the host of the game’s character will retain any items and experience collected during the game. The other players are literally playing just to do it, which is fine in theory, but when it concerns a game that is optimized for character development and the collecting of items, playing a game for potentially multiple hours and having nothing to show for it except a few achievements can be very disappointing, with friends along or not. Instead of making a prioritized multiplayer component like that of the similar Sacred 2, the mode is merely shoehorned in with little interest for the player’s experience beyond the fact that there is some kind of multiplayer mode present.

The second considerable gripe with the Dungeon Siege III experience is the lack of a “New Game Plus” option, which is another tried and true staple for a game of this sort. A New Game Plus, for those who might not be aware, is basically a set up that allows the player to continue gaining experience and items with their character after completing the game. Since such an option isn’t present in Dungeon Siege III, defeating the final boss and completing the main story will simply bring you back to the main menu, where your only options are to resume the save file prior to defeating the final boss. This is particularly disappointing when much of the best equipment in the game obviously comes towards the main storyline’s final act, which means your time with that super katana or devastating curse cannon is short lived, and the items themselves underappreciated, as you’ll not even get to slay many monsters with them. Having the character’s progress literally left uncompleted also means a good amount of skills and abilities will be left below their maximum potential, which is equally discouraging for those who like to power up characters as much as possible.

REPLAYABILITY:

Even with its disappointing multiplayer component, there is certainly a wealth of replayability by way of the single player campaign in Dungeon Siege III. Fans of this kind of game will most likely enjoy playing through as each character initially, then again later with different skill and equipment builds, as well as hacking their way through the harder difficulties as their favorite of the four equally useful characters.

Though I’d like to see Square Enix and Obsidian take the initiative to at least add a New Game Plus feature in (which shouldn’t be much of a problem, even after the fact), some additional DLC or characters are bound to keep gamers who can get into this sort of thing interested for quite awhile. Hell, I still play Diablo 2 every now and again.

BALANCE:

The unorthodox healing methods in Dungeon Siege III can make any given battle with a group of enemies turn deadly depending on what happens, which, as mentioned before, keeps the combat in the game energetic and more dynamic than most similar games. The boss battles in particular are usually very intense due to the mechanics as well.

While the steady acquisition of better armor and weapons makes a difference, the characters never felt overpowered I found. The hardest difficulty sees enemies (especially bosses) hit a lot harder, but again, the mechanics players practiced on easier modes should properly warm them up to the dodging and blocking necessary to survive this hardcore endeavor.

ORIGINALITY:

While thematically acceptable, Dungeon Siege III is easily one of the most derivative games of its kind, in terms of visual aesthetic, plot and core gameplay. The customizable skills and character development details do save it considerably from being a total ape of any number of other games that came before it, including the previous Dungeon Siege titles, however. A unique paint job or overly quirky gameplay mechanics aren’t going to make or break your hack n slash action RPG though, as Dungeon Siege III exceptionally illustrates, but a somewhat more creative plot and less than ordinary settings wouldn’t have hurt things either.

ADDICTIVINESS:

This specific brand of action RPG has survived as long as it has primarily on the fact that the inherent formula is one of the most addicting formulas conceived in modern gaming. The constant flow of new and better items, acquiring new skills, and being the biggest bad ass in the dungeon is a draw to be reckoned with, and to most extents Dungeon Siege III is waving the flag for this. Though a bit more linear and conclusive then the likes of the somewhat recent Sacred 2, Dungeon Siege III will be your game if you’re a hack and slash fan.

APPEAL:

Various download-exclusive titles have become available recently on both Xbox Live and PSN that fit specifically into the hack and slash action RPG subgenre, which leads me to believe that there is a considerable calling for games of this type. Dungeon Siege, as a series itself, is usually praised by gamers who are into these kinds of games, but as fun as the single player campaign can be to play through multiple times, we are in an internet age of gaming, where many consumers are expecting their sixty dollar game purchase to spread itself out well beyond the confinements of a game’s single player campaign. It’s unfortunate that Dungeon Siege III‘s multiplayer is so full of shortcomings, as I believe it could have seen the game along to many more people than it will most likely find its way to.

MISCELLANEOUS:

After completing the single player game as Lucas for purposes of the review, I noticed a few achievements did not come up that I should have certainly gotten. This is nothing a quick update can’t fix, and I, like many others who invested some time in Dungeon Siege III, would certainly be willing to wait if the developers wanted to add in a New Game Plus feature with that achievement patch. Thanks!

The Scores:
STORY: MEDIOCRE
GRAPHICS: GOOD
SOUND: GOOD
GAMEPLAY: GREAT
REPLAYABILITY: ABOVE AVERAGE
BALANCE: GREAT
ORIGINALITY: BAD
ADDICTIVNESS: ABOVE AVERAGE
APPEAL: ABOVE AVERAGE
MISCELLANEOUS: MEDIOCRE

FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:

Dungeon Siege III in no way, shape or form reinvents the wheel, or even takes the specific hack and slash action RPG subgenre out of the traditional giant spider filled forests many of us have seen in similar games over the years. What it does do is provide a fast, fun, and rewarding experience that lends itself well to multiple playthroughs as different characters, thanks to an interesting and very customizable skill development mechanic. A New Game Plus option would have been nice, as would a multiplayer mode that was worth a damn, but Dungeon Siege III is still a great time for fans of the specific subgenre, and a welcome, if not very spirited, return to the franchise.




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