DUNGEON SIEGE III throws the series into new hands as Obsidian Entertainment grabs the developing reigns and Square Enix takes publishing duties. Both companies have a strong history in the RPG market, but can they deliver the goods with an adopted franchise? Read on to find out.
Imagine baking a cake. You follow a tried and tested recipe, but decide some things are wrong. You start by removing the sugar. Then you remove the layer of jam and butterscotch, before deciding that the hundreds of thousands on top are not really needed either. You are left with a piece of sponge. It still resembles a cake, but anybody who bites into it will be bitterly disappointed. Enjoy your meal of Dungeon Siege III.
That dragged-out analogy, of which Nigella would be proud, is not just my fancy-pants way of slating Dungeon Siege III, it’s actually pretty accurate. This is a game that does nothing that’s really technically wrong – it’s polished, it’s functional and it follows a very recognisable hack-and-slash RPG formula. Yet underneath this shiny coat the game is tedious at every turn. The first few hours were painful, and by the sixth or seventh I had long given up any hope that it was ever going to improve.
First we have a bloated, dialogue-heavy story that offers up no interest at all. Even side-quest-givers ramble on in a monotone voice that is barely distinguishable from the other same-gendered characters. I dislike skipping cutscenes and dialogue, but Dungeon Siege III wore me down and gave my sanity no other option. Call me a philistine for making liberal use of the skip button, but you are a very patient person if you manage to genuinely listen to every mundane piece of information that Dungeon Siege III contains.
Saving the day? Not so much
Its pace is slowed down further by the save points. Continually stopping to save ruins the immersion, and if you get fed up of doing so (and I’m fairly certain most people will at least once) then sod’s law will punish you by brutally slaughtering you in an unforeseeable assault, leaving you with two hours of your life wasted and having to trudge through the same levels and quests all over again.
Levelling up, too, is a chore. The usually satisfying “ding” did not signify how awesome I was, but instead it simply reminded me that the tedious process of assigning my level points had come.
You get three types of points: ability points, talent points, and proficiencies. The problem with these is that it barely feels like they are making any difference at all. The abilities are the only noticeable aspect that alter how you play, but even these are limited to nine per character (three per stance), and you rarely need to break habit from cycling between the same few abilities anyway.
Proficiencies upgrade the abilities by adding extra effects to them – each ability has five proficiency slots, and these must be shared between two possible upgrades for each ability. It sounds like a novel way of making the same character play differently depending on your preferences, but in reality you’ll barely notice the effects. And it’s the same story again for the talent tree.
Even acquiring new and shiny loot, which most dungeon-crawlers sell themselves on, is a thankless task. You can equip loot to all members of your party, but they can all only wear certain items so there is no requirement to plan who gets what – this means whenever a new arbitrarily named item with better stats than your previous one comes along, “Cold Sharp Sword of Frosty Sharpness” for example, you just don’t care and equip it without really thinking. There is no sense of individuality that comes with items, and as such they hold no power of attachment over you.
Too long; didn’t play
If you hate the thought of grinding through an RPG, though, it’s not all bad news. Dungeon Siege III’s strange approach to multiplayer means you can skip as much as you like and get started straight away with your higher-level peers. You can enter any public game, but you won’t gain any experience or loot from the multiplayer and do not even have to use the same character as in the singleplayer campaign.
Skipping straight to the end so that you have all the abilities sounds a bit like cheating, but it’s where the game becomes most fun, if a little messy on the visual front. Running around on your own or with dull AI companions does not compare to running around with three other players all frantically blasting spells at varying enemies. Still, while this is a dazzling display, it means characters and enemies become a little lost among the haze of light – I even struggled to track where my own character was at times, leading to confusion and frustration.
But that’s nothing compared to the core issue. Dungeon Siege III is toast without butter, beer without alcohol, and Bruce Wayne without his Batman alter-ego: it’s entirely functional, but entirely uninspiring at the same time. It just feels like a Friday afternoon at work, where the clock has become trapped in a time vortex that leaves you longing for an end that never comes. Let’s make this clear: aside from the save points, there is nothing outstandingly wrong with Dungeon Siege III, and from the outset it looks like a polished, accomplished game. Sadly, the lack of any excitement means wandering through the fantasy Kingdom of Ehb is a trudge from which you’ll want to escape.
Dungeon Siege III is a competent game, but it lacks any sense of excitement, and doesn’t adequately reward you for your efforts. It might be well-made, but frankly it’s a bit boring.
Dungeon Siege III was released by Square Enix and Obsidian Entertainment on June 17th 2011, for PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Xbox 360 and PC.