By Andrew 'Interman'
A few years ago when Blizzard released the game Diablo 2 a lot of people ventured into the genre known as hack-and-slash role playing games. That genre is loved by a lot of people, and more or less hated by others. Loved because it involves a lot of action, butchering monsters and generally saving the day, perhaps even the universe once you're at it. Some hate hack-and-slash games because they feel the concept of a role playing game is to actually play a role, develop a personality, or multiple personalities if the game has a part of heroes. Regardless, the release date of Dungeon Siege is getting near and we were fortunate enough to get a copy of the "limited content build" from Microsoft, which has 20% of the finished product. Chris Taylor and the rest of Gas Powered Games have put a lot of work into this game, so let's check out what it's about!
Actually, I've been watching the development of Dungeon Siege over a long period of time, so my heart pounded more than usually when I pressed New Game in the game menu. In Dungeon Siege there is a war between the vicious and evil Krugs, versus the good guys, being humans, dwarves, elves etc.
Enter the role of a farmer, in a fantasyland filled with lush vegetation and kind people. You're busy minding your own business, working on your farm when you're notified that a gang of Krugs have attacked and set fire onto a house. A burned down house is bad for business, so you move out with a shovel, a spell-book and some basic items and set out to lay down a serious punishment. The initial encounter with the enemy is easy, and pop-up messages tell you hints throughout the first part of the game. As you slay naughty Krugs, bash in barrels etc you find new equipment, gold and health / mana potions. After five minutes I thought "this reminds me of my virgin trip through Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction, where I ended up making a level 97 Amazon." After the ten minutes I came to my first conclusion, my social life is in clear danger here.
As you can see from the screenshots, Gas Powered Games have done an outstanding job at making a beautifully crafted fantasy world, filled with elements that truly make this realistic. As you progress in your quests you move through thick forests, gigantic chasms, mysterious dungeons and lively villages. Not only do the land you venture across look great, the monsters (which there are a whole lot of) and the NPCs are vividly textured and realistically animated. One of the details that I'm sure Chris Taylor and the rest of Gas Powered Games are the most proud of is the actual graphic engine's ability to render the entire game without ANY loading, except the initial loading of course. It's a truly peculiar feeling to wander around aimlessly in dungeons, forests, cliffs etc without having the classic loading screen in your face every five minutes. Great job!
Also, level design wise you're in for a treat. Camps are logically connected with each other. Villages are nicely built and small features like the fact that trees are smaller up in the hillside makes Dungeon Siege an experience out of the ordinary. Even though this is merely a beta version of the final product I can say for sure that most gamers will by amazed.
The Sounds / Music:
Not only did the graphics in Dungeon Siege make a great first-impression, the orchestra music of great standard is really the icing of the cake and will make you even more motivated when fighting legions of strange creatures. I must admit that at some points it does get a bit repetitive, but I'm sure Microsoft and Gas Powered Games will include more diversity in the final product.
Sound wise Dungeon Siege is more than up to par with other games of the same genre, as in any other part of the game. So, you want examples. Well, arrows or metal object hitting skeletons now sound as they would in real life. The spells are audibly detailed, and for instance firing off a fireball with the volume turned up high is just fun in itself. You can look forward to a more than ever realistic sound and music environment than in most game alike.
You can expect the controls of Dungeon Siege to be somewhat different from other role-playing games. Even though there are heaps of pre-set hotkeys that you can customize on your own you will end up doing the most of the controlling via the mouse. In the game window you can select one or more team member, select between weapons like melee, ranged, combat spells and nature spells. Each type of weapon has a hotkey set to it (which you can change if you want.), so that if you want your male hero to use a melee weapon, a female hero to use a bow and a second female to use a combat spell you can set that to the key '1', and if you're feel crazy you can set the male to use a nature spell and the two female heroes to use melee weapons by pressing '2'. It's all up to you! One of the things that separate Dungeon Siege a lot from other games of the genre is that it doesn't use the classic "earn a bundle of experience and choose the skill you want". Rather, if you use a bow a whole lot your ranged attack skill will increase, along with mainly dexterity, but also strength and intelligence. The same goes for melee attacks, where strength is the important factor, and intelligence with combat and nature spells. The only problem I found was that if you want the melee skill level of a hero to increase after it having used ranged attacks a while I noticed that he was struggling a whole lot, so a hint in the start of the game is to balance the use of weapons to some extent, and later specialize them in either melee, ranged or spells.
Moving the party is done only via the mouse and you can rotate or pan the camera by moving the mouse to either the left or right portion of the screen or the top or bottom. However, if you have a middle mouse button or a scroll wheel you can just press and hold it, moving the camera the way you want. Using the scroll wheel approach can aid you a lot when in a huge battle, keep that in mind if you happen to have a mouse with only two buttons.
Seeing as how Dungeon Siege is a role-playing game with a party of heroes you can set their formation, like row, double row, wedge, circle etc. Each formation can give you an advantage depending on the situation. Secondly you can set each party member's behaviour, which is split into two three categories; move, attack and target. You can set offensive / defensive moving, for instance that a hero attacks the strongest monsters while another attacks the closest and finally the same rules for attacking, just with targeting.
The keys that I ended up mainly using while playing were 'h' for health potion, 'm' for mana potion and 'i' for opening the inventory. If you select multiple party members and open the inventory you can easily share items. Another small feature I feel is worth mentioning is that Dungeon Siege can auto-arrange your inventory so that you can easily get more room for more items.
Then, a friendly animal that is definitely worth mentioning is the pack-mule. By keeping him in the party you can store a huge load of items that you normally would've tossed away because of lack of storage, so you can basically just head out to a dungeon, butcher some monsters, grab their items, head back to town and sell them. Indeed a nice way to earn a buck or two. You would think an animal like a mule would be slaughtered relatively easy in dark monster-packed dungeons, but it actually gains experience along with you so it can actually defend itself!
I feel after you've become efficient in the controls of Dungeon Siege you can really have a lot of fun playing the game, but there is a certain learning curve in this game regarding the pretty much mouse only controls, but fear not!
Sadly, since this was only the beta version of the game there was no functioning multiplayer part of the game. I'm most certainly looking forward to put down creatures with human friends though. This will definitely be explained in the upcoming review of the full game.
Even though this was only the limited content build (or beta if you will.) I was greatly amazed at how far the game industry has come, and I'm convinced that this will be a genuine classic. In my book it will be an all-time favourite, a reference.