A few years back journos gathered at the Microsoft booth at E3 in LA waiting for the demo of a new RPG called Dungeon Siege, which was being created by Chris Taylor’s new project Gas Powered Games. The doors swung one and we pushed and shoved ourselves into the darkened room. When the screen sprung to life and Chris gave his demo you could hear the jaws hit to the floor, this looked like it was going to be something special. So here we are today, the game is complete and on retail shelves in the US. This is a game where as soon as you ripped open the box you had to wonder if it was going to live up to your expectations.
As you’d expect with any RPG the game features a rich world and story. Dungeon Siege is set in the Kingdom of Ehb which was created 300 years earlier after the 10th Legion fled the collapse of the Empire after the War of Legions. Ehb is now a relatively peaceful place with the different races living in harmony while keeping out the invaders from the surrounding plains. Evil is stirring once again and it’s up to a humble farmer, namely you, to get to the bottom of it.
The question on every RPG gamer’s lips will be, ‘what characters classes can yo play? Ok here’s where it gets tricky. In Dungeon Siege you don’t pick a character, you allow your character to evolve as the game progresses based on different skill types. In the game there are different types of skills to master, ranged combat, melee combat, combat magic and Nature’s magic. Even though these are the basics, what GPG have done is allow you to mix and match your skills based on your playing style. This has been an excellent decision allowing gamers to play they way they want and make character changing decisions as the game progresses. For example my main character is efficient in Combat magic but is also a useful melee fighter.
One of the huge plus points about this game is the ability to control multiple party members. Throughout the world of Ehb you come across NPCs for hire as well as other characters that will join your party to aid you in your quest should you help them in theirs. The good news is you are in full control, at any point you can select the character and control him/her or via hotkeys you can select all your characters at the same time.
Things get a little complex now, but with the use of the excellently designed game interface everything is painless. In the top left of the screen you can see your party member avatars and when selected they are surrounded by a green box. Next to the avatars are the spell and weapon slots. Each character can have 2 weapons and 2 spells added into the four boxes allowing you to switch between then via the 1-4 keys or mouse click. There is also a slide-out inventory for each character or if you prefer to move items between characters you can show all the character’s inventories on the screen. I have to admit the character selection sytem is brilliant and makes the game a joy to play, controlling multiple party members couldn’t be easier.
Ok that’s the character selection just about covered but there is a little more to it. On the bottom right of the screen there’s a box which controls the way your party behaves. Enter formations. When in combat it’s never a good idea to have yor ranged or spell attackers right in the enemy’s face so you can a*ign changes to the way your party moves and acts in combat. There are various preset formations but you can also place each member in a position of your choosing by holding down the Cntrl key with the right mouse button and positioning the green circle on the ground. The member selected will now move and stay in that postion. If that’s not enough you can also change the distance they stand apart on the fly by holding down the right mouse button and moving the mouse wheel. In this bottom right box you can also dispand part members and set the follow mode on or off. Players also have the abiltiy to set how the other characters will act in combat, for example target weakest enemy, target strongest, hold position etc. The whole control system is a real credit to the development team.
You may have seen screenshots of the game previously where there’s been a donkey wandering along behind the characters. The Pack Mule is your item carrying beast of burden. The Mule can be bought a little into the game and he becomes another member of your party. Again the character control and tactics are essential here, you always want the pack mule to stay out of combat, so you can set him to stand back and keep out of conflict.
While on the subject of the Pack Mule I’ll cover death, In Dungeon Siege you don’t die when your health hits 0, you become unconscious. Your characters will only die if they get repeatedly hit when they try to get back on their feet. This gives the player the chance to clear out an area and rescue their out of action party member. Of course should you die, get those magic casters to revive your dead party member and then you’ll be up and running again. The Pack Mule also becomes unconscious so you need to protect him, although I didn’t see him die throughout the whole game which is good news for item hoarders.
AI is always a tough one in games that have NPC characters but I’m pleased to say the AI in Dungeon Siege is very good. The NPC characters react well and stick to orders and even do what I would describe as intelligent spell casting. If a character has a spell selected he/she will auto cast it until the mana runs dry, choosing targets depending on your tactical preference. In the latter parts of the game there was evidence of the monsters standing around a bit waiting for your approach but it wasn’t too bad. Monsters will hide, ambush and run away should they be injured. Overall the AI gets the thumbs up from us.
If you have checked any of the screenshots on Loadedinc leading up to release you’ll already know that Dungeon Siege is visually impressive. I will stress though, shots do Dungeon Siege justice, this is one of the most visually stunning PC games on the market. Gas Powered Games have created an awesome game engine that really brings the land of Ehb to life. Your world is in full 3D and you can rotate your view 360 degrees, zoom right in on the action and change the top down viewing angle. If you prefer to play in a particular view all bases are covered.
As you move about the world and enter closed areas the roofs simply become transparent giving your adventure a real 3D world to explore. You can climb towers, move along rooftops and take lifts to other levels. I showed this game to a friend here who was blown away by the visuals and quite rightly so. When you are wandering though areas of the a game you can see creatures going about their business in the distance, fairies dancing between trees, Dungeon Siege has got it all.
The engine has allowed Gas Powered Games to do some clever tricks including the no-loading screen claim. Yes it’s true, as you move through the game and into different levels the transition is seamless, simple move your characters from a forest into a dungeon and you don’t even have to get up to make a cup of tea. This is an awesome achievement. Another very nice feature is the Mega-map giving you a top down view of the world as you move around. You can zoom in or right out and it shows the enemies as they approach for attack. The map proved more than usefull when navigating through some of the more mountainous areas. I will say for the record now, this is the best looking PC game I have seen for ages and it plays brilliantly even on a mediocre spec machine.
Probably the biggest and only let-down was the game’s sound. Environmental effects would chop in and out and although the music was very nice when it appeared it was always in weird places. The sound effects on weapons were pretty good but some of the spell l sounds were a little odd. The game is so much fun though this really won’t bother you in the slightest.
Before i wrap things up we better get down to the multiplayer. DS can be played either via LAN, TCP/IP connection or through ZoneMatch, the DS online match making facility. The Zonematch is a listing of open games which you can join and take part in the quests. Dungeon Siege allows you to play through the single player quests with others and GPG have cleverly spent the time creating special multiplayer quests so you get 2 lots for the price of one. The game plays pretty well but does get laggy at times which is probably down to playing with people with slow connections as with any game. Once you finish the single player you can import either your main character or any one of the other characters you finished the game with, handy if you want to keep leveling up the character,
To sum up, I have just had one of the most enjoyable weeks in gaming for a long time. Dungeon Siege is just a superb, great looking romp in an interesting and diverse RPG world. I have refrained from comparing the game to Diablo II in this review because, although this is an action RPG and there are stacks of items to discover, the games do play differently, but I have to say I found Dungeon Siege a richer gameplay experience. Also, with the Siege Editor on the way, gamers will be able to create their own quests and levels which is definite plus to keep you hooked. Hats off to Chris Taylor and the rest of the development team, this is one fantastic action RPG you just can’t be without.