Okay, we got our union-standard Uew Boll joke out of the way early, so now we can focus on the game, and nothing but the game. But we’re also kind of using this review as a test-case for a slightly new reviewing style, or at the least a new index of whether or not we really rate a game.
And it’s a simple one – we can see the goodness in Dungeon Siege III, but after a round of preview playing sessions, and now our review time... we’re just finding it really hard to stick to the game. So, right up front, that’s not a great indicator of game success right there. And it’s not as if we’re not into the basic click-kill-accessorise premise of the game, either. We played many long hours of the original Dungeon Siege (though not so many hours of II), and similar games, like the many Diablo clones, leave us with a sense of click-kill-accessorise joy.
So what’s the deal?
In the beginning...
I’ll say this for Dungeon Siege III – it has a great setting and artistic style to it. The world of Ehb has advanced to a gunpowder age since last we saw it, and one of the four playable characters has pistols and rifles as their main weapons. The clothing styles are more 17th century than medieval, too, and you get a rich sense of a vibrant, persistent world undergoing a steady march through history.
The sketch-style interstitial sequences, with accompanying gravelly-voiced narrator, do a good job of adding to the game’s setting and sense of pathos, too. However, it’s also here that the game starts to get a little too top-heavy – you’re lost almost instantly in a world of names and places that, unless you’re a really keen fan of the series, are more or less meaningless. Soon enough, though, it’s down to character selection and the meat of the game.
The characters on offer are probably the strongest part of the game, and a clear indicator of just how integral to the game co-op play is. You’ve got a melee specialist, a mixed melee ranged character, an area-of-effect mage, and a directly ranged character to round things out. All are somehow linked to the plot – a quest to defeat the evil (or, at least, very focused on results) Jeyne Kassynder and restore the power of the fabled 10th Legion – by being relatives or wards of powerful legionnaires.
The selection of characters is great, though limiting. Choose the swordsman Lucas, for instance, and you’re pretty much locked into only ever being a swordsman. Given the game continually drops weapons and loot for other characters, this might seem a little frustrating. Each character has two stances they can useand a number of powers available in each. For instance, Lucas has a stance designed to let him handle single, tougher enemies, and one for larger numbers of lesser badguys. These are based around different weapon combos, though we have to say, it’s like the DSIII devs have never actually thought about how swords work. Lucas uses a sword and shield on lone enemies, and a twohander for masses of enemies – surely the heavier hitting power of the twohander is more appropriate to big tough monsters, and the greater protection of a shield more appropriate to mobs.
But perhaps we’re bringing too much logic to a rather silly knife fight – this is a game with magic rifles that fire a spray of bullets, after all.
All of these powers work great when you lock them together with a second player, and since everyone has some form of healing ability there’s a high degree of tactical challenge on offer. However, DSIII does feel a little empty when you’re playing by yourself. There’s a great skill system to get to grips with, but this too is a little too top-heavy – there are skills, talents for skills and all manner of things to upgrade, level up and improve, in an array of pretty yet not that informative screens.
Keyboard, mofo, do you get it?
In fact, the number of screens you have to navigate to get around the game’s UI is one of our big issues. Just swapping out a sword for a newer Sword of Brevity +5 takes nearly a dozen clicks!
However, our biggest gripe – and we think this is why the game is so annoying to navigate – is just how poor the mouse and keyboard controls are. Seriously, it’s possibly the most annoying combination of character and camera control we’ve ever had to endure. You can plug in an Xbox controller, and it improves the experience, but to our minds... why release a game on PC that requires extra hardware?! It’s classic porting issue, and stark proof that the game was made first for console.
There’s a very solid and deep action RPG here, but you’ve got to be able to come at it the right way. It really is better with a friend, for one thing, and it’s certainly not a PC optimised experience. If you can get around these issues, you’ll love two-player co-op on a single PC with two controllers – it’s a mess of fun. But if you’re expecting a game that takes full advantage of the input power of a PC?