Monday, August 01, 2011

Dungeon Siege III final review

On the surface Dungeon Siege III appears to come from the same stable as Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Norrath, Elder Scrolls, and Sacred, however after playing it through a better comparison can be made with Mass Effect 2. Sure the stories and settings are different, but at their heart they both share traits.

In terms of structure they both have a main story-line with various dead-end side-quests hanging off it. In terms of character progression they both have attributes that the player needs to chose from for both their main character and their team; and in both the main character is a fixed member with only a limited number of places allowed for the squad. They do have their differences too of course.

The skills and abilities in Dungeon Siege 3 are poorly explained in comparison, and leave no room for error with all decisions being final. The fixed overhead camera is an anachronism that should only feature in 'retro' games of the Dead Nation type. With it's penchant for suddenly zooming in and out when venturing too close to walls, or having some ceiling structure obscure the action as it only slowly fades out it just doesn't work and intrudes upon immersion.

Another difference is in the control of the team, or to be precise the lack of such. No commands are available to command the one and only other member of the team to use a special ability or to target a particular enemy. That said their AI has to be applauded. They never got stuck, never ran off after enemies and tended to attack the strongest enemy they could reach while at the same time not ignoring the lesser enemies crowding them and would move to heal me should I fall. They still lacked tactics which aims this towards a multi-player game; and with the ability to play with someone else offline.

In other respects Dungeon Siege 3 surpasses Mass Effect 2. Team members can be swapped in and out at any time outside of combat as can weaponry. The use of different stances with their tied abilities makes combat fluid and easy, but this is marred by the lack of feedback. Although enemies have a coloured coded bar or targeting circle to indicate the state of their health and damage taken is also indicated theirs little sense of hitting anyone. There are certain status effects that show up, but beyond the obvious 'stunned' and 'slowed' none appear to do anything even though behind the scenes they obviously are as enemies can suddenly keel over and die without being hit again.

This lack of feedback extends through to the dialogue choices that can be made. Sadly like Mass Effect 2 only a sliver of dialogue informs of the choice to be made and with the same annoying consequences of choosing something that appears, say, sympathetic or amusing, only for it to read out as an attack or by being snarky.

Both of these levels of remove left me uncaring as to the character I was playing and to the fate of the world in which they progressed. as despite all the statistical choices that can be made this is largely a non-thinking game. Simply pick the most expensive items to equip, go with the default options in the dialogue choices and pick the talents and attributes that you think would cause the most damage and along with hammering the attack button and prodigious use of dodge no-one should have any trouble finishing this game at the normal level of difficulty. Skip all the dialogue, ignore the "Lore" that can be collected; and just follow the breadcrumb trail and this game can be finished without even knowing why you're doing what you are doing.

There is some depth in there for those who want to puzzle out exactly how the mechanics behave, but there really is little point for anyone else.

For those who enjoyed Baldur's Gate et al this may seem too linear. For those coming from the Mass Effect 2 direction this may seem too complicated, but that said it could be used as a reasonable introduction to the wider world of the Role Playing Game genre.

Final verdict - Not bad, but not great.