Obsidian Entertainment are at the helms here, and once again they’re making a sequel to a game from another studio. This approach seems to suit them well though, as Fallout: New Vegas, Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights were certainly no disappointment in the eyes of many fans and critics.
The first two Dungeon Siege titles were developed by Gas Powered Games, creators of Supreme Commander and Demigod, but this time they’ve let Obsidian have a pop. To ensure the game doesn’t go too far off the handle with spaceships, nuclear weapons or giant mechs though, Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games has been hanging around Obsidian’s office and advising. Square Enix have taken the publisher’s role here with their first go at releasing a western RPG.
It’s looking classic so far in its setting, story and visual style. It seems what was once a fantastic and mighty kingdom known as Ehb, has divided itself into quibbling factions, and as member of a now-dishonored and discredited army, the 10th Legion, our character must restore balance and trust within the people of the kingdom. What needs to be done here is some good old-fashioned monster slaying. That should convince the people that the 10th Legion are good folk.
As you might expect, there are a lot of dungeons here, and here at E3 we see the Guardian and melee class character Lucas having a bash at a load of nasty-looking spiders. The game takes on a top-down view when in single-player, with a change in perspective when a second player jumps in to something slightly more isometric.
The visuals are packed full of particle effects, both in combat and when exploring the atmospherically-lit caves. The subtle lighting, detail in scenery, depth of field effects and the carefully chosen color palette all help add to a quite deliberate and successful ambience. The quality of the feel when exploring here seems to have had some particular attention paid to it. It’s all in the little details.
Apparently there’ll be no loading sequence throughout, the game’s HUD and UIs are purposefully minimal, which should help add to the level of immersion and also mean that very little gets in the way of some good ol’ action-RPGing. A quick look at the menus shows Obsidian have made the effort to create something both easy on both the mind and eye. The combat and leveling systems are easy to use and again are meant not to get too much in the way of having some choppy, slashy, magical fun.
The Guardian character does have a number of specials but it’s really his melee with which he excels. There are a number of different weapons, both single and double-handed, and flicking between these is much of where your tactical play will be based when using this class. It’s worth noting here that each of the classes have their own set of weapons and accessories, with only a few rings being usable across the board.
As we watch Obsidian’s man play through we see him gain a companion, a female Archon mage whose primary method of combat is a classic flame spell. Gaining this friend demonstrates the conversation mechanics, which is represented with quite literally a conversation tree. In bringing this to the Dungeon Siege series Obsidian have added an element not yet seen here before, as the games have always been heavily about hacking, slashing and magicking through, with a much less thought given to the conversation, storyline and character nuances.
Companions appear to behave quite well, with no sign of being confused by the kind of simple tasks AI buddies often are (THERE’S A WALL THERE YOU IDIOT, WALK AROUND IT). We very quickly have the jump-in co-op mechanic demonstrated now though as a second player takes hold of a controller and gains control of the recently-added second character. We’re told by Obsidian that the co-op element is a huge part of the game; every last bit has been designed to work just as well with one or two players. Though we don’t yet know if there’s to be online co-op it seems likely as all the cool kids have been doing it for what’s now actually quite a long time.
"We want the game to be about multiplayer, and we want it to be as easy as possible," lead designer Nathaniel Chapman explains, before telling us about how his girlfriend used to watch Mass Effect 2 from the sofa with a keen eye on the story, but constantly wanting to jump in and play Tali.
A great idea Obsidian have included, which is sure to set the bar for a lot of games, is bringing an element of democracy to conversation options in co-op. "Multiplayer and single-player are not two separate games. They're totally integrated. That was a very important point for us," we’re told.
There’s an element of guidance with DS3’s classes though there’s still an amount of freedom. Though there’s customization the game has been designed from the bottom up to support certain types of fighter. Each and every enemy has certain weakness or strengths meant to match, challenge or succumb to the powers of the different classes of player. Certain combinations of players of particular classes allow tag-team style combos meant to cripple enemies by putting them into certain states in which they’ll struggle to defend themselves. This looks like it’ll be a lot of fun to execute and will most certainly help to bring about some of that whooping on the sofa comradery found in any good co-op game.
Our two heroes at this point have to battle a giant skeleton boss in one of those “I may be huge and have certain silly weaknesses but I’ve got a ton of minions at my beck and call to distract you while I do over-the-top special moves” battles. Always fun, and even more so in co-op as once one person dies it isn’t necessarily the end. Obsidian tell us that they were inspired by the “stand by your friend and hold down a button” technique for buddy resurrection previously seen in Left 4 Dead. Of course, once defeated the players are treated to some lovely, lovely loot, and seems as the items are mainly class-specific there’ll be little squabbling over who gets what.
What we’re seeing here is something much more linear than say, Knights of the Old Republic or Obsidian’s upcoming Fallout: New Vegas, it’s aimed more at the casual action RPG player. "We've made really big, complicated RPGs," Urquhart tell us. "One of the other games that we're doing right now is 60,000 lines of dialogue... I don't want to say it's ponderous, that's the wrong word. But it's a different flavor. For Dungeon Siege, it's meant to be fun, with fun boss battles with lots of effects going on and all this crazy loot."
"Dungeon Siege is a fun, pick-up-and-play game and Obsidian makes deep, story-driven RPGs, and we really look at Dungeon Siege III as a hybrid of those two styles of game," Chapman interjects. "You're still going to get a story, you're still going to get your companions and have dialogue with all of them - and you're still going to be playing an action-RPG."
Shaping your game’s storyline to become something you feel is more your own is certainly a factor but it isn’t the game’s main focus at all. "The idea is to have some very specific points in the story where you make these decisions, so you feel like it's your story and not just the story we're forcing down your throat."
Dungeon Siege III is a very carefully balanced mix of a game, meant to engage gamers from both ends of the RPG playing spectrum. There’s an element of freedom within the storyline and character customization not seen in many pick-up and play games that will perhaps bring something not yet experienced to those who’ve previously been reluctant to join in on the fantasy RPG tip.