After the monstrous success that was Diablo II a horde of copycats materialized in an effort to catch a fraction of its success. One of the more successful attempts was the Gas Powered Games developed Dungeon Siege. Dungeon Siege carved out a solid niche for itself but over the last ten years the gaming industry has drifted further and further away from dungeon crawling adventures and the series has been on hiatus for the last half decade. The gaming industry is cyclical though and the release of Torchlight a couple of years ago reignited interest in the genre.
This year has seen the release of the aforementioned Torchlight as an XBOX Live Arcade title, Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale and now Dungeon Siege III. Developed by Obsidian Entertainment with oversight by Gas Powered Games, Dungeon Siege III transports players back to the Kingdom of Ehb for another grand adventure.
Historically the dungeon crawling genre has not been a haven for strong storytelling. Dungeon Siege III attempts to break this mold by delivering a far-reaching story in the same vein as Dragon Age: Origins. And for the most part it succeeds.
While the ties to the original Dungeon Siege games are cursory at best, Obsidian has filled the game with a ton of intricate backstory, including a plot to assassinate a king, a decimated legion of elite warriors looking for redemption and a terrible civil war that has engulfed Ehb for decades. All of this is delivered via narration in static cutscenes as well as in-game conversations. Unfortunately that is the first of many failings the game has.
The cutscenes, while filled with interesting plot points, are dull and uninspiring. This presentation would have been considered dated a decade ago and even today Diablo II puts this game to shame. The cutscenes can be quickly forgotten as they only happen at the end of an act in the game however exposition via in-game conversations happens far more frequently and is doubly egregious due to the atrocious voice acting. Dialog is delivered without any sense of emotion, often times sounding like automatons are delivering the lines instead of real life voice actors.
A good story with a bad delivery is easily overlooked if the gameplay succeeds in delivering a solid experience. Sadly this is not to be. For Dungeon Siege III, Obsidian has taken the formula that has long worked in dungeon crawlers, including past Dungeon Siege games, and tossed it out the window. While the game sticks to the standard character classes, (fighter, mage, and ranged) Instead of utilizing the universally accepted control scheme for dungeon crawlers, Dungeon Siege III utilizes its own new control system and it fails, miserably. The game was obviously designed for play on a console with a controller as mouse and keyboard handles awkwardly and makes the game near unplayable.
At first glance the combat is not very strategic in nature but when looked at over the course of many battles there is quite a bit of strategy that goes into taking on the large quantities of enemies that the game throws the players way. The combat in Dungeon Siege III forces players to rely heavily on the dodge mechanic. Rolling and repositioning to better counterattack are the name of the game and once mastered combat becomes almost rhythmic in nature. The combat is a far cry from the constant click fest that the genre is known for and it can be quite fun, once understood.
Something else that will take some getting used to is the way in which the game deals with health. Dungeon Siege III has no Health or Mana potions, replaced instead with regeneration orbs that are randomly dropped from defeated enemies. Players can also heal themselves by using skills but these skills require quite a bit of energy and are not the fail safe that potions are in standard dungeon crawlers. This change in formula takes a lot of getting used to, especially when factoring in the save system.
If the awkward control system was not enough to convince someone that Dungeon Siege III was designed for consoles then the save system surely will. PC gamers have long come to expect the ability to save the state of their game anytime and anywhere, Dungeon Siege III forces saves to only be performed at save points scattered throughout the world. These points are generously spaced in the environment but even so it alters how one approaches battles.
Aside from the control issues, which Obsidian has publicly addressed, none of these changes drastically hurt the game instead altering how players approach the game. There is nothing wrong with mixing things up as long as the basic tenants of the genre remain. Obsidian gets the dungeon crawling mostly right, although at times it can seem far too linear with a lack of actual exploring. Unfortunately they get the other primary tenant wrong.
A strong variety of treasure (loot) is what keeps players coming back time and time again to adventure in the dungeons. Dungeon Siege III has a terrible loot system; aside from the random treasure drops being rather unexciting, the simple fact is that no matter what loot is acquired it never drastically alters the players appearance. What good is having a Dwarven Helm of Dragon Bone if the character on-screen still looks exactly the same wearing the Cloth Hat of Fail? In some ways it actually beneficial to the game that it has a hard end after defeating the final boss because there is no reason to explore Ehb further with the way the loot system works. Without a good loot system the only reason to play the game is the poorly delivered storytelling and that goes against the very nature of dungeon crawling.
The lack of customization extends to the multiplayer aspects of the game. Forgoing any sort of persistence, multiplayer in Dungeon Siege III is drop-in / drop-out co-op. Joining another players game forces players to select one of the four character classes that are not currently being used. Experience, loot, and progress are all tied to the host game, so joining a friend’s game will not help one in their own game. Considering multiplayer and the ability to keep your character throughout different games is such a strong aspect of this genre it is surprising that Obsidian got it so very, very wrong.
If Dungeon Siege III were called something else the flaws might be more easily overlooked, it wouldn’t necessarily make it a better game but it would allow it to work on its own merits outside of the Dungeon Siege legacy. That legacy was built on the PC and the utter disregard shown for the platform in the game is tragic. Worse still original series developer Gas Powered Games oversaw Obsidian’s development of the project making it an even harder slap in the face. That said Dungeon Siege III has some fun in it and if one has burned through all the other recently available dungeon crawlers then it might be worth a go.
3 out of 5.