Dungeon Siege III Review (Xbox 360)

Game Review: Dungeon Siege III
Release: 6/21/2011
Genre: RPG (Action)
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T

The Dungeon Siege series, a popular loot-focused action RPG, makes its console debut with Dungeon Siege III, and the timing couldn’t be better.  With rumors of Diablo 3 getting console support, and the increase of popularity in dungeon crawling action RPGs like Torchlight (not to mention the pending Witcher 2), Dungeon Siege III serves to scratch an itch that is growing among the gaming community.  Blending a mindless hack-and-slash loot-fest with character customization and a good storyline, Dungeon Siege III offers something somewhat unique to players looking to grind out some levels in a fantasy landscape.

Players can take on the role of one of four characters from the start, including your basic warrior and ranged attacker, as well as two characters who are something of a hybrid mage/warrior.  Each character has a unique personality, and you will hear their dialog options throughout the game.  While speaking about these characters, you will meet up and be able to party with the 3 characters you do not choose during your adventure.  While you can only have one in your party at a time, it does give you an opportunity to see what skills, abilities and talents each character has while playing through the first time, which will prepare you nicely for your second playthrough (and you will want to play this at least twice).

The game interface is easy to navigate, which makes managing your inventory (which will get pretty robust when collecting items for four characters) a breeze.  Quests and equipment screens are mapped to the d-pad, allowing for quick access to the most important parts of the navigation menu (a true blessing, as it greatly reduces the amount of time playing in the menus).  You can view other attributes like proficiencies, abilities, talents and character stats, as well as access a glossary of terms (useful for several obscure item attributes you will encounter) and a deeds list (which are character bonuses that are given based on your in-game actions).

Every character has 9 abilities that the player will unlock through the course of the adventure (by level 21 you should have them all unlocked).  Your character customization comes in what proficiencies you choose (each ability can be boosted up to 5 times by one of two proficiencies [for example, the warrior’s Blade Dash can be boosted to do additional damage, or increase the chance of a critical hit]), as well as what talents (character boosts, like increased damage or boosted stats) you focus on.  You will not have enough points to get everything, so some planning might be necessary to ensure you build the character you want.

The gameplay itself is presented via 3/4 top-down perspective, with some limited freedom on camera movement (side-to-side is fine, but you can’t drop the camera down too much).  Progress through the game is fairly straightforward; you will generally complete the sidequests given to you while working on the main quest, though some may require a little backtracking.  Attacks are relegated to a single button for basic attacks, and then 3 abilities mapped to the other 3 face buttons.  You can swap between two attack styles, each of which have their own abilities.  You will also be able to cast defensive abilities, so there is quite a bit of utility with the button layout, without having to put the burden of mapping onto the player.  The story itself is told mostly through in-game dialog, with some storyboard style cut-scenes during major plot points.

Dungeon Siege III gets a lot of the little things right in an action RPG.  The pacing of the action is just right, and with no load screens in the game, you will often have a hard time finding a good time to take a break from the action.  Saving the game is also very quick, which again helps keep things moving.   The button layout as a whole is quite good; while I initially thought just 9 abilities would be limiting, I found that I was able to deliver all the carnage I wanted using what I had, and it was very simple to execute the moves and manage my points.  I also found the quest breadcrumbing system to be perfectly executed; rather than have an arrow constantly pointing you in the direction of where to go, or a glowing trail up at all times, you can bring up breadcrumbs at anytime but hitting a button on the d-pad, and a trail will appear that will point you in the right direction for a few seconds.  This really allowed me to focus on my surroundings (and find secret areas), rather than just follow a trail blindly (like I often found myself doing in games like Fable).  A final thumbs up goes to the dialog options provided to the player.  While the dialog itself is serviceable at best, the choices that you will have to make will have serious consequences on how things play out over the course of the game.  These aren’t the good / evil choices either; almost every choice involves a scenario in which you are deciding on “gray area” matters, and how you handle them will impact things significantly.  These kinds of moments really made the game stand out to me, and helped make me feel like my actions had an impact on the game world.

Unfortunately, those choices were made in what is a lackluster dialog system on a whole.  The voicework seems out of place; like everyone is speaking in a large closet, and most of the characters have no personality at all (the irony is not lost on me that the first spark of genuine character came from robots about 3/4 of the way through the game). The dialog also exposes another of the game’s setbacks – the graphics.  While the spell effects are nice, the graphics overall seem to look like they are just slightly out of focus.  The envrionments are nice, but you’ll be limited in how you view them by another crippling element – the camera.  You just cannot bring the camera down low enough to see that far ahead of you.  Playing a ranged character, I lost most of the benefits of my guns because I could not see creatures until they were close to my character.  Melee characters probably won’t have as much of an issue, but it still feels claustrophobic at times.  Some other nitpicks: The nicely detailed towns are filled with people, yet still feel lifeless.  Your defensive abilities are tied to the same button that enables block.  While that makes sense, it also means that when you’re running from a creature, and want to turn on your healing spell, you will often activate your rolling ability (block + direction), which means you may roll yourself right into a worse situation, and still be unable to cast the spell.  Targeting enemies is a lesson in futility; fortunately you will rarely encounter fights that you can’t blast your way through.  Some minor bugs pop up too: enemies will disappear from time to time in mid-battle, only to reappear a few moments later completely healed.  Save points are sometimes located in places that, when you load, will have enemies all around you, forcing you to react quickly or die.  Finally, the camera will sometimes zoom in too much while you’re fighting, getting stuck in the environment and making it impossible to see what you’re doing.

vttym’s take: Dungeon Siege III nails so many of the little things, that it makes it easy to look past some of the glaring faults.  You can tell this game was well playtested, as the action is fluid and the menu interaction is setup to be minimally invasive.  Throw in the replayability factor of four different characters, online co-op, and critical dialog choices that change plot points, and you have a game that easily fills a few weeks of your time.  This game can be a little rough around the edges if you dig deep, and you may even think it starts dragging in the swamps, but the story (and more importantly, the characters) pick up at just the right time to get you re-energized to see it through to the end.  And make you want to do it again.

+ Great button mapping keeps game moving

+ Impactful dialog choices that are not just “good / evil” options

+ Good replayability

– Camera angle limits ranged weapon usefulness

– Nearly impossible to target the creature you want

– Weak overall dialog (though the story itself holds up well)

Final Score: 8/10

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