Going through my notes from my hands-on preview session with Dungeon Siege III, I found a few stand-out points, namely that (and these are written as I added them) “Katarina is hot” and that the game will offer “four-player online and offline co-op”. Oh, and that “Chris Taylor is involved” and that the game-engine, dubbed “Onyx” is “entirely new”.
All of the above bodes well for the third entry in the Dungeon Siege franchise, especially given it’s being helmed by Obsidian whose writing and mission/quest-development skills are amazing, but technical prowess is still somewhat questionable. And yep, the Katarina character really is hot (and so is her sister).
I played my demo on a PC, but did so with an Xbox 360 controller, as was the set-up out at Ubisoft in Sydney. This wasn’t a bad thing though, and actually felt pretty comfortable. Everything I needed was mapped in easy-to-manage places on the face of the controller, and the engine allows for a reasonably straight-forward gameplay experience. This is equally good because it turns out the game is also console-bound, but don’t go thinking this is just a port of a console game on PC, like so many other games are suffering these days - everyone involved here knows this game’s heritage, and on the rig I was playing it on, it looked fantastic (didn’t find out the PC’s specs though).
The first thing to note here is that this is a story-heavy top-down RPG/dungeon-crawler. There are plenty of branching paths, but by and large, the game itself is fairly directed with an overarching story for you to follow. There are, however, quite a few new additions to the fray this time; probably most notable from the outset though is the inclusion of a very Mass Effect-inspired conversation wheel. It’s not really revealed just how deep the conversation system is going to be, and in the 90-odd minutes I had with the game it was hard to explore this component, but it seems like the wheel itself is in place as more of a tool to flesh out the back-story, other characters and maybe find the odd hidden treasure or room here and there. Still, it’s a welcome addition and is equally great to see a story-specific developer looking at a tool that clearly works
for proper integration.
Action, exploration and story are all evenly paced here, and I never felt more bogged down in one than in another. If Fallout: New Vegas taught us one thing about Obsidian, it’s that they know how to stretch a tale out and keep you interested on the side for a bit of side-tracking fun. Obviously Dungeon Siege itself is an entirely different beast than Fallout, but it’s great to see the team expanding their horizons, and the Onyx engine they’re working with looks fantastic.
The whole fantasy setting here is absolute, with sporadically placed villages, forests, marshland, narrow ridge-lines over-looking valleys below from up on high and those all-important dungeons. My escapade took me through a few desolate villages and encampments before coming across a massive, derelict mansion. The mansion itself was unassuming, but being the exploratory gamer I am, I found a mass of hidden goodies and rooms, and a locked door that required a key... oh how it had me chomping at the bit for that key. But I was pressed into a more main-story oriented direction by my Ubisoft guide to get the most out of the demo, but damn if I don’t want to get back and find that key.
For the RPG elements, it looks like everything has been reasonably streamlined, with a standard item/equip system, along with an Abilities menu where you spend accrued points each time you level up on new skills. There’s no skill-tree as such, but you do have three stances available to you, each of which can have with it a special move, which comes back to the Abilities system.
Stances come in the form of one-handed weapon handling to two, and then defence. Initially your defence special is just a shield knock-down, but focusing on upping this baby can make it all the more powerful so it’s not even a back-line move anymore; moving up to the front row as part of your initial encounter arsenal. You also have magic, which is metered by an atypical Mana Bar, and you can set specific spells to help you on-the-fly (such as a healing spell). I didn’t get a huge amount of time with all of this, mainly because it seems in the early throws of the game it’s all a bit easy to digest, with a hint of depth to come in the later parts.
What I did spend a lot of my time doing though, was looting, and Dungeon Siege III has this in spades (which you can also loot, presumably). No more than 15-minutes into the game I was managing my equipment like a pro, thanks to the easily navigable menu in place that basically lets you know what, in your manifest, is strongest against what. It’s all percentage-based, and everything obviously comes with its own benefits, making character load-outs reasonably important right from the outset.
In terms of story, the game takes place in the Kingdom of Ebh and centres around the 10th Legion, of which you’re a part (in equal part due to your family lineage); who are being hunted down by mercenaries and the like throughout. Obviously one of your main goals is to avoid capture, but there appears to be a pretty big emphasis on changing popular opinion about the Legion in the game-world, again however, this wasn’t something I had much of a chance to fully explore.
For only having a short time with the game, I certainly walked away pretty happy. And taking this baby along the console highway is a good move; rekindling fond memories of the days of four-player gauntlet, only now with a proper action/RPG game as the prize. Of course, it’s no shortfall on PC and will sate those still wondering if Torchlight actually has the goods, or simply can’t wait for Diablo III’s eventual release. The engine is super solid, the visuals are very nice and the game’s narrative and game-world story are very, very rich. On top of this, action and character management are all really easy to get your head around, and everything, controller or mouse and keyboard, is within an easy to use and understand place in the UI department.
Unfortunately there are no other details regarding release other than “2011”, so you’ll have to stay tuned for more details from Square-Enix and Obsidian when we have them.