Following on from January’s hands-on with Dungeon Siege III’s single player, we took a trip to Square Enix’s offices to see how the game handles local multiplayer co-op.
Local multiplayer modes are becoming increasingly scarce nowadays; first-person shooters, RPGs and even racing games tending to opt for the ‘online-only’ path into multiplayer. Dungeon Siege III supports both online and local co-operative play. Local co-op (the focus of this ‘ere preview) supports two players via the fashionable ‘drop-in/drop-out’ mechanic whereas online always for up to four to get their quest on.
If you’ve already read our hands-on with the single player (if you haven’t go read it) then you’ll already be familiar with the basic mechanics of combat and levelling up etc. so, I won’t bore you with them again here, I’ll instead focus on the juicy new bits and bobs that we saw for the first time.
Taking placed roughly an hour beyond the events of our first preview, this quest took place in Gunderic Manor, a beautifully lit, grandiose environment housing some rather nasty enemies. Perhaps the most startling thing about our playthrough this time around was just how far the graphics have come from the alpha build we played back in January. The textures, the animations, the amount of action on screen and, most impressively, the lighting effects now combine to create a wonderfully immersive environment that begs to be explored.
Whereas last time we played as warrior-type Lucas, our trek through Gunderic Manor was experienced through the eyes of Anjali; a rather striking female mage-like character. Anjali has two forms, a ‘regular’ one in which she sports a large lance/spear which is effective at close range (although not as effective as Lucas) and a second which sees her burst into flames, float a foot or so above the ground and acquiring the ability to launch volleys of fire balls from afar. There’s no limit on how long you stay in ‘fire mode’ for so, if you so desire, you stay in it throughout the whole game. 
Our co-op partner played as Lucas, giving us a nice balance between brutish ‘up-close-and-personal’ melee attacks and the more refined approach of ranged combat. When a player decides to ‘drop-in’ they simply take the place of what was your A.I. companion; complete with their stats, abilities and equipment. Any new skills earned during co-op play are retained when you decide you’ve had enough and want to return control to the A.I.
It’s a more sophisticated system than the hired goon set-up we often see whereby the second player is merely there to add a bit of muscle but fails to provide any kind of lasting value. Here it seems completely feasible for two players to play through the entire campaign together, as equals, each feeling suitably involved.
Thanks to a difficulty level that automatically scales itself depending on whether or not you’re playing with a human companion, Gunderic Manor is a rather more difficult proposition than the game’s opening moments that we’d played prior to this. The ‘manor’ is essentially a glorified dungeon complete with winding corridors, multiple floors (the newly implemented ‘mini-map’ is very handy for navigation) and a near constant stream of enemies; including skeleton knights, oversized bats, spell-casting mages and a couple of boss fights.
Team work and making best use of your character’s unique abilities is paramount to progression, both in terms of combat and keeping one another alive. Anjali can heal herself if she has enough ‘will’ (read: mana) at her disposal and, when in ‘fire form’, she can set the ground around her alight – healing friendly characters while inflicting damage upon any enemies caught in its blast radius.
If one of you does succumb to the onslaught, you’ll fall to the ground and have to wait until your partner comes over to ‘revive’ you.   There’s no limit to how many times you can be revived but if you both die then it’s game over and time to the reload your previous save. Save points were liberally distributed throughout the dungeon so, as long as you save regularly, death doesn’t present too much of a time sink.
Any loot such as health/will orbs and money are acquired by both characters no matter who actually picks them up, meaning only one of you need scramble around during battles in a desperate attempt to keep those HP bars at a reasonable level. Any equipment pick-ups (weapons, armour, accessories etc) are completely unique to each character – meaning World of Warcraft-esque loot distribution politics shouldn’t rear their ugly head here.
Our adventure through Gunderic Manor climaxed in two successive boss fights, both of which offered a fairly substantial challenge and makes me wonder just how difficult things are going to get once we get deeper into the game. The first of these encounters pit our plucky duo against the Mire Hulk Horror and his posse of mages.  
While the ‘Hulk Horror’ was tough to bring down (largely thanks to a generous quota of hit-points), it was the mages that presented the biggest problem. Between them they fired so many spells our way that it started to feel more like a top-down shooter than a dungeon-crawling RPG. Still, we managed to find success by sticking to the tried and tested strategy of getting Lucas in close while Anjali stayed back and shot as many fire balls into the fray as she could muster (there’s no way of inflicting friendly damage so precise aiming and timing are not something you need worry about).
Mages down, Hulk Horror dispatched, key to final boss’ room acquired it was time to tackle Lord Gunderic himself;  a hefty fellow kitted out in imposing heavy red armour. ‘Ol Gundy (that’s my pet name for him) has a couple more tricks up his sleeve then the lumbering idiot that was the Hulk Horror. While his lackeys (in this case skeleton knights) weren’t as threatening as the mages, he more than makes up for it with his attack strength and magic attacks.
This battle required much more switching between forms, tactical positioning and generally forced you to make more intelligent use of the tools at your disposal. While it might be daunting to think about how difficult the game may become throughout its later stages, it’s nice to see that Dungeon Siege III is not just another hack ‘em up trying to pass itself off as a fully-fledged RPG.
Dungeon Siege III has come on quite a way since I saw it last; my time spent playing it on this occasion was certainly more enjoyable than the last – largely because it looks so much nicer but also because it was a lot more fun playing alongside a human companion.
Obsidian strikes again with IP that isn’t their own? Could be, could be…
Like RPGs? Check out our Dragon Age II review here.

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