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Dungeon Siege III Review

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On 01/28/2012 at 12:00 PM by Julian Titus

It's all about the co-op, baby!

If you have a buddy to play with online (or, even better, in person) this is a fun ride. Going it alone is not recommended.

Remember couch co-op? There was something special about having a buddy over, ordering a pizza, and flopping on the couch to marathon through a great game. That intimate kind of cooperative game play has kind of fallen by the wayside in recent years, thanks to the proliferation of stable online matchmaking. As remarkable an achievement as that is, nothing will replace the fun and energy of having a partner sitting right next to you as you triumph over a challenging game. The folks over at Obsidian haven’t forgotten about couch co-op; it’s the focal point for Dungeon Siege III, a game that is at its best when shared.

Dungeon Siege III is the decidedly console-friendly sequel to the popular series of PC RPGs. At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is an action/RPG along the lines of Champions of Norrath or Sacred 2. But this game has much more in common with the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series, both in style and execution. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but when it comes to isometric action/RPGs, DS III is very streamlined and simple.

You’ll choose from four pre-made characters, each with their own defined personality and backstory. The only customization comes with the way you spec your character’s abilities. Combat is extremely simple; you have one main attack, with the remaining three face buttons mapped to special abilities. Each character has two attack modes: for example, the melee-focused Lucas can switch between a two-handed weapon and a sword/shield combo. Anjali the archon can get in close with her spear, or change into a ranged fire-spirit form. Each form has three abilities, with an additional three defensive skills, for a total of 9 easily toggled techniques. It all works very well with a controller, even if things tend to feel a little bland.

The reason for that bland feeling comes directly from the difficulty of the game. I grabbed a good friend of mine for the entirety of this review, and between the two of us we were rarely tested. The only skill that Obsidian employs to make the journey challenging is to throw tons of enemies at the player. With a smart application of your abilities and exploiting the quickly regenerating “magic” system (you have 100 points of Focus that replenish as you attack), most encounters are a breeze. The only time we ran into trouble was at an odd difficulty spike right at the end of the game. The boss encounters are poorly-designed affairs where the boss hides behind scores of henchmen. Even though we had a tough time in these final battles, in the end we resorted to the same strategy we had used for the entire game: hammer on the attack button, dodge, and heal.

Now, you might be thinking that I’m really down on this game, and if I had played this one by myself that may have been the case. But as the saying goes, everything is better with co-op. Playing with a friend was a lot of fun, and that ho-hum combat becomes kind of addicting when you have a partner. The game adds enemies dynamically based on the size of the group, and it seems like better loot drops with multiple players. Design decisions like these prove to me that this is a game meant to be played as a duo or a group.

Take the inventory, for example. All of the gear is character specific, with the exception of accessories. When gear drops it’s very easy to see which character the item is meant for, as well as the item’s rank. This eliminates any wasted time trading things back and forth, and really streamlines the experience when playing with multiple people, letting you get back to the task at hand. It’s a shame that only one player can access the inventory screen at a time, but everything is laid out in a very easy to read and intuitive way, so downtime is minimal.

Obviously, the strength of Dungeon Siege III is in its local co-op, but you can hop online and get a group of four, if you like. Again, the design of the game facilitates this aspect extremely well. While you can only play a two-player game on the same machine, you can get online together and find two other players (the second player doesn't need an online profile). You can look for players at your level, or not; the game doesn’t restrict play behind a level restriction. However, if you’re going to play online you’re better off trying to find someone on your friends list that owns the game, as the number of random people online tends to be rather low.

If I had to level a complaint against the co-op, it’s the fact that you can only get so far away from your partner, and if one of you dies, the camera won’t snap to the living character. This leads to poor camera angles while the remaining player tries to raise the fallen one.

For an RPG, the story is surprisingly lackluster. The dialogue is laughable at times, featuring NPC conversations that seem to repeat information ad nauseum. There were plenty of moments where we would shake our heads in consternation as my character would ask questions that had already been answered in the previous line of dialogue. The voice acting is downright awful, reminding me of games from the early PS2 days.

Dungeon Siege III tries to throw some weighty decisions into the story, but I was so detached from the narrative that I really didn’t care, and would usually just move the plot forward. There’s plenty of lore to be found as well, but both the lengthy conversations and wordy text are in direct contradiction to the focus on multiplayer. I do have to give some respect for the ending, which pulls in all of your major decisions into account. Sadly, we got a pretty bittersweet ending, as our apathy for the story left a lot of good people in a bad situation by the time the credits rolled.

For the most part, Dungeon Siege III is a pretty nice-looking game. The environments feature a lot of detail and some of the areas were pretty enough to cause both myself and my partner to stop and stare. This is a very colorful game, and that was a welcome change of pace from the drab greys and browns seen in so many Western RPGs in recent years. Things get a little ugly whenever the game zooms in on an NPC for conversations, however. The character models are decidedly lacking in detail, and the facial animations are almost nonexistent. Similarly, the different armor you collect during the course of the game tends to all look the same for a majority of the adventure. It wasn’t until the final couple of areas that we found ourselves sporting some really nice-looking gear.

Games like this are an endangered species. With people being content to just play online, there are fewer and fewer options for couples or siblings to play in the same room together. Dungeon Siege III scratches an itch that I didn’t know I had, and it does so in a fairly satisfying way. The game is rough around the edges in almost every area, but the game is a lot of fun with the right partner, and for a game like this, that is a win. So grab a friend, order a pizza, and go show Jeyne Kassynder what for. Trust me, after hearing her name repeated for the 100th time, you’re going to want her head on a pike.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

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01/30/2012 at 01:40 PM

Could have shot the bitch early, but nooooo. Someone had to be diplomatic. ^^


01/30/2012 at 03:09 PM

Bad story, odd difficulty spikes, streamlined RPG action, laughable dialogue, fabulous co-op, and time spent on the couch with a buddy gaming away. To me it sounds like my experience with Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows back on the Xbox in 2005. I loved that game and experience of Gauntlet. It sucked playing it alone, but when my buddy came over we would power through Gauntlet it about 4 hours and even though it was so short and so mediocre, it was unforgettable and a lot of fun. We liked it enough to play through it at least twice. Dungeon Siege III sounds like a similar kind of game and I think that's pretty cool. There's nothing like a nice co-op experience. It can take a mediocre game with lots of flaws and make it transcend expectations. In fact I still have my copy of Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows to this day.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/30/2012 at 07:33 PM

Yeah, I had a ton of fun playing Champions of Norrath with the same friend on the PS2. I'd love a sequel to it for PS3, and it's the main reason that I want to try Lord of the Rings: War in the North.


01/30/2012 at 07:50 PM

@Julian A sequel to Champions would be awesome. My 360 went down before I got through War in the North but for the several hours I put into the game it was nice even on single player. I bet it would be much better in co-op. War in the North's skill trees and the dynamics of the three characters work similar to how a Gauntlet would work. From what I played it's not as deep as a Baldurs Gate Dark Alliance or Champions because I don't think you can create custom armor or weapons in War in the North. The skill trees and combat works by letting you gain and add multiple levels into offensive and defensive abilities. Like with the ranger you can add points to increase arrow capacity, bow abilities that would be activated like left trigger + B. I was saying to Jesse in his review of the game that I thought that all the skill trees were pretty well done. When I level up a character and I'm looking through the tree for something to invest in I often have a difficult time prioritzing and picking the upgrade I want the most. They are all usefull and there's no filler or useless skills.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/30/2012 at 09:09 PM

Aw man, I didn't know your 360 died. Sadface.

I'll definitely have to check it out. I'm not big on the LotR aesthetics, simply because they are so simple when compared to modern fantasy, which is why it will be an impulse buy when it gets cheap enough. But if it had been a Norrath game or even a unique fantasy setting I probably would have snapped it up right away, just on the Snowblind name.


01/31/2012 at 01:24 AM

Sad face indeed. I wrote a blog about it last week and what games I'm playing in the meantime and put it up here at the site.

Yea the LotR aesthetics aren't anything special but the eagles look superb, I love the eagles in the game they blow me away. Your main buddy eagle that helps you out in combat is awesome, I just want to cuddle up to him lol.

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