Dungeon Siege III ReviewMatt Wadleigh
Dungeon Siege III started off rough. The opening cutscene lacked narration, which wouldn't be odd if several of a similar nature and art style weren't narrated later in the game. The player is then thrust into the world of Ehb, a land torn apart after a ruthless mercenary seized power three decades before. You're cast as one of four heroes or heroines of your choosing, my choice being Katarina, the bastard daughter of the head of the Legion. Katarina's father was defeated by Jeyne Kassynder and decades later, it's up to Katarina and the tattered remains of the Legion to avenge his death and reunite Ehb.
The story has been told before in other forms. Change some nouns and I've essentially described the basic gist of half of the games in the genre. The clumsy introduction certainly didn't ensnare me in what Dungeon Seige III had to offer, and neither did the early gameplay. Katarina is a witch who fires rifles and duel-wields shotguns, and I found combat through the first hour to be uninspired. Enemies attacked in waves and simply backing up and firing was more than enough to take them out. I completed several quests without a scratch, rarely using any special abilities. Inevitably, a number of the quests led to battles against named encounters, none of which proved all that threatening.
Then I came upon a boss, an archon named Rajani - a demigod, essentially. Rajani had multiple attack styles, balanced between close and long range. We fought in a compact space and after finishing off her first health bar, she made the battlefield even smaller and fully heals herself. It's here where Dungeon Siege III's mechanics shine - and fall apart. In the tighter, more confined space, with no distance to use to my advantage, I had to effectively use Dungeon Siege's dodging-oriented combat. Successfully winning the fight against Rakani became about timing - Strike, Strike Dodge. Adjust Camera. Strike, Strike, Dodge.
Despite the style of combat, Dungeon Siege III's lack of a lock-on camera function is a significant oversight. In and out of combat, the camera will win few fans. In combat, it's all too easy to lose sight of your enemy, particularly when using ranged weapons. It also makes it difficult to target one specific threat out of the bunch. Out of combat, I felt like I spent most of my time looking at the rocks, dirt and snow that covered the path we followed instead of any grand vistas or cities. You can't manipulate the camera to get a view of the landscape or get your bearings in the environment. Compounding this is a weak map system that makes it difficult to get a knowledge of the area you're exploring or of the greater Ehb.
Players move from city to city, defeating Jayne Kassynder's allies and recruiting some of their own. A broader world map would have helped players get a stronger sense of the game world, but none exists. There's very little to connect towns together and at times, it feels like you're simply following a trail of breadcrumbs. Each city generally offers a new caveat to the main quest and then several side quests, all of which can easily be completed without going too far out of your way thanks to small dungeons. There are very few side paths, so inevitably each leads to a quest location. With side content so easily completed, there's very little reason to go back to the game once you finish it. With a limited loot system and weak side content, perhaps Obsidian thought some replay value could be gained from player decisions that occasionally crop up during the game. Players can choose to execute Rajani or allow her to live. Though these decisions are interesting and do yield different results, they are infrequent and make little impact.
Each character offers their own skill tree and abilities for players to unlock and hone, but you'll have to start multiple games in order to experience them all. I found that there were enough skills on the tree to keep me compelled to kill as many enemies as possible to unlock new abilities. Better still, enemies are varied enough to require multiple combat styles to be employed and the skill tree offers enough choices to let you customize your character as you see fit. In some battles, you'll have to change your tactics multiple times, which adds depth to the combat and makes it all the more engaging. In a sea of mistakes, the combat systems employed shine through. When you get to later portions of the game and ramp up the difficulty level, these stressful, dynamic fights can really get your heart pumping.
Dungeon crawlers are defined by multiplayer, and Dungeon Siege III offers a variety of multiplayer options. In what is perhaps the most important area that Obsidian needed to nail down in order to keep Dungeon Siege III a justifiable purchase for genre fans, significant errors were made. The first is the lack of integration between singleplayer and multiplayer characters. I would have liked to have seen the success of my singleplayer character translated into my multiplayer character, instead of having to play two separate characters. Many other games in the genre employ tricks to keep the gameplay balanced (reducing the effects of higher level equipment when squaring off against lower level enemies, for instance) that could have been employed to make this possible. Second, and perhaps least excusable, is that your multiplayer game will automatically end if the host disconnects. It really stinks to lose your progress simply because the host wanted to go get something to eat.
Dungeon Siege III's combat is a diamond in the rough. While the game certainly had potential, the plot is fairly typical, the camera is unwieldy, the loot is unsatisfactory, the multiplayer has significant shortfalls and there's very little replay value. Dungeon Siege III's biggest crime is that it failed to live up to its own potential. In a genre that has seen all too few strong releases this generation, Dungeon Siege III could have potentially been a big hit had it not been so half-hearted. Almost every pro is outweighed by a con, the scale only slightly tipped in its favor thanks to the engaging combat. I'd definitely give a Dungeon Siege IV a shot in the future, but it's safe to say that Dungeon Siege III can be ignored by anyone but the most loyal genre fans.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.