Things have not gone well for the 10th Legion since we last saw them in Dungeon Siege II. Accused of murdering the king, they have been persecuted almost to the point of extinction. The three decades since the king’s death have seen a powerful leader arise to head the Azunite Church, a leader who was taken the Church to war against the Royalists, plunging the kingdom of Ehb into civil war.
A man named Odo, believed to be the last survivor of the Legion, has sent out a call to all those descendants of the Legion he can find to gather together, reform the Legion and restore peace to the kingdom. That is where you come in. You fight your way across Ehb as one of four characters. Each character has two different sets of attacks, or stances, which use different weapons and abilities.
First there is Lucas, disenfranchised son of the head of the 10th Legion who is your typical warrior, able to switch between a two-handed weapon or sword and shield. Anjali is a being with elemental control of fire. Her two stances are a human form where she fights using sweeping mêlée attacks with a spear and a fire form where she can hurl fireballs across the screen.
A descendant of Legion mages, Reinhart can use his Entrophic magic stance to attack groups of enemies at mid-range and his Dynamic magic against single targets at close range. Last, but not least, is Katarina a half-witch skilled in both magic- and gunpowder-fuelled combat. At long range she uses a rifle and switches to paired pistols or shotguns should her foe try and get too intimate.
In addition to the basic set of stats you expect for a game with RPG-like levelling, each character has nine abilities; two at the start of the game and another seven that can be bought with the ability points that you earn for reaching certain levels. Each ability is further customised through the two proficiencies which each character has.
The proficiencies themselves provide a small bonus to their parent ability per rank purchased. Five ranks of proficiencies can be purchased for each ability from either of the two available. While you could buy two ranks of one and three of another, as they tend to be either aggressive or defensive, you are more likely to buy five ranks of the one that suits your style of play the best.
The final tweak you will be applying to the character when levelling up is buying ranks in their talents. Talents may boost stats or damage, sometimes only under certain conditions or they may add a percentage of one stat to another. For example, Anjali’s Grace of Flame talent adds 5% of her Agility stat to her Block stat per rank of the talent purchased. Like proficiencies, you can buy up to five ranks in each talent.
The other key action you can perform in combat is blocking. Blocking is effectively a third stance common to all the characters which protects them from direct attacks. You can only block for a short while though as damage avoided while blocking consumes Focus, which is the pool that powers your abilities. Your focus pool is refilled when you attack or take damage. While blocking you can also dodge which moves you, often taking the form of a diving roll, a short distance in your chosen direction, keeping you invulnerable while you do so.
Anjali pictured during one of her less heated moments. Clearly she has yet to find Reinhart's "Pants of Rage".
Those interactions may be opening doors, initiating conversations with the world’s inhabitants or picking up loot. Like any RPG worth its salt, Dungeon Siege III is filled to the brim with items for you to pick up; whether they be dropped by enemies (why do giant spiders carry candelabras?) found in the treasure chests liberally scattered throughout the world or available for purchase in stores.
The vast majority of items are specific to particular characters, which helps avoid squabbling over who gets what among the players. Outside of what shops have for sale, the game tailors the items found to the character or characters in play. So, for example, Anjali and Katarina will not find themselves weighed down with swords. Instead, they will pick up more stamina-enhancing hair grips and armoured blouses.
The world that all those items and your characters inhabit is attractively rendered and possesses a subtle individuality that is just enough to differentiate it from the more generic fantasy offerings out there. It encompasses a wide range of very different environments too from wind-swept mountain tops to water-logged swamps and deeply-delved mines.
While the main story and side quests will see you traverse each environment a couple of times, you never spend so long in any one setting that it grows tiresome. The dynamic lighting deserves a mention to with the change in mood it can convey, when stepping into a torch-lit crypt from the bright sunlight for instance, adding a great deal to the atmosphere.
The sound helps in that respect too. In some fantasy games the sound effects can be somewhat overblown as they try to inflate the impact of on-screen events. In Dungeon Siege III, rather than being there solely to impress, they are very communicative. Given the limited window you have on the world, being able to precisely locate an off-screen enemy just from their position in the soundscape can give you an extra few seconds to switch stance or move the camera so that you are better prepared for the coming conflict.
It is in conflict that you will spend a great deal of your time. While there are obviously many similarities there are also some key differences to how the combat plays out whether you are running through the game alone, with a friend on you sofa or mixing it up online.
If playing by yourself, for most of the game you will have one of the three other characters along for company. Which one of the three is selectable, naturally dependent upon those you have met. It is here we meet the first curious limitation; there are only ever two of you. Given that when you go online all four can be there, fighting the good fight, it is strange that offline you are limited to two.
One incredibly annoying aspect of combat while playing alone is that the enemy AI will completely ignore your AI companion if you are in their line of sight. To have a bunch of Lescanzi mercenaries run straight past an AI Lucas to engage your Katarina who is trying to shoot from afar means almost all your single-player combat will take place at short range. You have no choice.
It also utterly changes the boss battles. Given the devastating amount of damage that some of the bosses can land upon you in a short period of time, a toe-to-toe fight is un-winnable. If you go down your companion will run over to revive you but that takes a crucial few seconds during which time they are the only target…
The raven-haired half-witch Katarina packs a fine pair of... pistols.
While dodging about the battlefield you will find that, while invulnerable while dodging, you also cannot roll ‘through’ any of the health pickups you may desperately need. You actually need to stop dodging and run in order to pick it up. At least the damage you take picking up the health tops up your focus pool that you are draining by blocking and dodging all the time.
While acquitting themselves reasonably well in combat, your companion AI is not great either. They will run around the battlefield during a lull in the action picking up any dropped gold but they leave any dropped items, which tend to be lying where the gold was, leaving you needing to run around anyway. Both companion and enemy AI also seem oblivious to area-effect damage, taking no steps to avoid it.
Most of those issues go away when you play local co-op. Again, there are only two characters but as both are real players, the enemy AI targets them both. The enemy AI is no more clever and that can still be exploited though the use of your own area-effect attacks.
You can take one or two local players online to join someone else’s game. You will be very aware it is someone else’s game too. You cannot take your local characters, you simply step into the empty shoes of one of the four companions in their game. This is the only way that all four companions can battle at once and the game steps up the number and strength of enemies appropriately, making the combat in four player online games much more intense than in any offline game.
- Fight across the kingdom to restore the Legion and end civil war.
- 1-2 players locally, 2-4 player online co-op.
- Available now on PC, PS3 & Xbox 360 (version reviewed)
In much the same way as you take nothing to the online game, you take nothing away except maybe a trophy/achievement or two. Your own game benefits from none of the gold, items or experience that you have just collected for someone else. Altruistic gamers only need apply.
Having completed your own game there is little to give you cause to play through it again, except for those desperate to fill out their trophy/achievement lists. They will be playing through it four times. There are a few occasions when decisions have an impact on the latter stages of the game but they are essentially ‘either or’ choices so even then you only need play through twice.
There is also no ‘New Game+’ equivalent or harder difficulty level to unlock. You cannot take your levelled up, super-powered characters through again, you must start from scratch. In short, replay-ability is severely limited.
- Engaging story.
- Good looking and varied environments.
- Local co-op.
- Simplistic AI.
- No compelling reason to play online other than altruism.
- Little incentive to play through it again.
There is a lot to like about Dungeon Siege III. For a single play-through you can expect up to eighteen or nineteen hours of gaming if you engage with the story and seek out the side quests. It has a good story which makes that engagement worthwhile and can be moderately influenced by player decisions. It is well-presented with a range of attractive environments that are not over-used. There is a good sense of character progression when you occasionally encounter enemies from earlier in the game and are now able to dispatch them without a second thought.
However, games in this genre are all about the combat and getting together with a group of friends online to beat seven bells out of the latest upstart tyrant trying to crush the kingdom underfoot. Dungeon Siege III’s combat is okay. Just okay. It does not do anything particularly well or particularly badly but the too simplistic AI lessens the experience.
What really lets it down is the overwhelming sense of just being a visitor in someone else’s game when you play online. There is no sense of bringing anything other than yourself to the game and you will not take anything away from it other than maybe a new trophy or achievement. If you intend to play through the game in local co-op with a friend or significant other on the couch beside you, you could add another point to the score as that is the best way, in my opinion, to experience the game. Otherwise it is hard to recommend to anyone but a fan of the genre and they can likely name games that do it better.