The reason why Gas Powered Games isn’t a company that for instance every 13-year old wannabe Counter-strike player have heard of is because Chris Taylor and his gang in Gas Powered Games are thorough, very thorough. Chris Taylor, being the designer and Cavedog Entertainment had enormous success with Total Annihilation back in 1997, and his huge project in his own company was released just recently. The hack-and-slash genre hasn’t had a lot of noteworthy games in the past years. Diablo 2 (along with the addon Lord of Destruction) for the PC and the newer Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance for the Playstation 2 have been the most popular, but to those who still play those games I’m sad to say; you’re going to move on to another game now.
The story takes place in the kingdom of Ehb. Only 300 years old, the kingdom of Ehb is a trading post / military protectorate. Geographically the province is very diverse, filled with tall snow clad mountains, thick forests and filthy swamps. There are a lot of cultures throughout the province, but most of them worship a god named Azunai. Humans, dwarves and even sorcerers live together in peace. Lately the province has been struck with bad luck and monsters are now scattered in every possible barrel and bush. The Krug are a race of villains who doesn’t particularly like others and have started causing problems for especially humans.
In the beginning of the game you are told by an injured friend of yours that the viscous Krug have attacked your farm and that they are trying to burn it down, without your permission. After finding a basic weapon and readying your spellbook you set out to rescue your home, stop the Krug and follow whatever lies ahead.
The first impression I got from this game was rare; this is not your ordinary bargain-bin game. Later in the game you visit towns and locations that moves the main quest forward. Some of you might know that I’m a sucker for a good story, something that takes me from the boring “real-life” to an adventurous environment filled with characters that I can “care” for. After having played through the majority of this game I feel that the story is too short. The sequences where the narrator talks about the story are great and all, but in my opinion dear Chris Taylor has focused too much on pure action and atmosphere.
What made the first-impression of this game as good as I previously mentioned is mainly the awesome engine that powers this game. Graphically it is superior pretty much any 3rd person game I’ve tried, because of its ability to create an atmosphere as genuinely looking as it does. Some of capabilities are for instance to dish out great lighting effects, particle effects, extremely detailed textures that you can zoom in on very far with very little performance loss. It’s not that being completely zoomed in on your characters is particularly useful, but it’s undeniably fun to watch your grand mage throw a soul-lance at a villain that is twice its since, reducing it to pieces of meat scattered around the forest you just entered. When adventuring throughout the province it surely doesn’t feel like you’re moving across a 1999’ish unanimated surface. Rather you’ll notice trees swaying in the wind, streams and for small parties of deer eating grass and minding their own business. The character animations are also great, and can be viewed from nearly any angle you feel like. The camera from which you view does have some limitations though, so in some situations it’s impossible to see if there are villains on top of a hill because the camera simply won’t move in that angle.
The geographically diverse locations I mentioned earlier are actually diverse, and not just some fancy features you could read off of a game box. Each of the locations are very different from each other and merge into each other slowly, making the transition look real.
Even though other games than Dungeon Siege also cater to the graphically hungry audience they are lacking one very useful feature; an engine without in-game loading. You see, it’s actually possible for the very hardcore gamer to finish the game going from beginning to end without a single loading screen, disregarding the initial loading. This is a feature so nice that it will probably make me more annoyed when I’m playing future role-playing-games that doesn’t have this feature, hehe.
Sound and Music
Jeremy and Julian Soule composed the music in Dungeon Siege, and my hat flies off to both of them. Their awesome work made the perfect background music for Dungeon Siege, orchestra music that never gets annoying! This game would be a whole lot more “flat” if they left out music, so with music that is of a quality as high as the visuals you are truly in for a treat.
Professional voice-overs don’t exactly ruin the image of a great action RPG either. The most noteworthy in my opinion is the awesome ultra-Scottish voice of your dwarf party member. In fact, it made me laugh every single time he spoke. Besides him the other voices sound as if they actually came from the in-game characters.
Another important part of a successful action RPG is the sound-effects. Swords cling, skulls are bashed and fireballs are thrown and goblins scream. It sounds just right.
Since this is a party-based action RPG you will need to control this game differently than a game like Diablo 2. I was a bit disappointed at how you can’t have direct control over when the character(s) when they’re attacking. Instead, with up to eight party members you merely click a villain in a group and they will remove them all. Every party member earns experience in four categories; melee fighting, ranged fighting, combat spells and nature spells. When you’re using a specific weapon such as an axe you will earn experience in melee fighting, whereas using a crossbow will do the same in ranged fighting. This way you become more skilled in the way you would in real-life; swing a sword and you will get better at it. The combat and nature spells all require a specific skill-level in combat / nature, so there is no such thing as learning a new spell from a menu like in other games in the same genre.
Also, as you use melee weapons, ranged weapons or spells your strength, dexterity and intelligence increases. Almost every item has a requirement in one or more of these, and they can also affect the damage dealt with a weapon.
I found that in the beginning of the game the best strategy was to make hybrid characters, that could master melee, ranged and combat spells, disregarding nature spells completely. When you’ve spent some hours you should have several party members and those should then only be trained in one area. Secondly, since there is no “town portal” you usually leave towns for good and it is VERY important that you stock up on health potions. Almost every time I ventured outside of a town to do some serious travelling I ended up running short of potions, and it doesn’t really help that finding health potions in the game is harder than I thought. Luckily, every character slowly regenerates health and mana, so if you’re running very low you can just stand still and wait until you make the next move, but be sure to have removed the villains first...
The party can also be assigned to formations, like lines, double lines, circles etc. Anyone with a sense of strategy will know that a formation can have a good deal to say about the outcome in a battle. Secondly, each character can set how he or she will behave against enemies; for instance attack on will or just stand still.
Controlling your party is done simply by left clicking, be it on the ground, on a barrel or the unlucky villain who happens to be in your way. Moving the camera is most easily done by holding in the middle mouse button, or the scroll wheel in my case. Everything is extremely fluid and makes the gameplay easy and not frustrating at all.
You know, the one thing that made me completely addicted to Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction was the items you could obtain. What could be more fun than to brag to my friends about the amazing unique item I stumbled across? You can do the same in Dungeon Siege as well, but the item drop algorithm is very different and it is by far not as random as I hoped it would be. Regardless, there are tons of items around, many of which with different good and bad attributes. I tip is to try to look for hidden areas, places that doesn’t seem like the natural place to go. Many of the levels have barrels and such hidden away, but be sure to check them out because I found several of my best items there.
Playing against your human friends and foes is very easy, and you have can choose between playing on a LAN, across ZoneMatch (Microsoft’s free gaming service) or by connecting to an IP over the Internet. I know people who have complained about being unable to join games, so if you’re using NAT (Network Address Translation) with a broadband connection you might want to be on the lookout for a patch that fixes the situation. For me, being on a modem, joining and creating games was no problem at all. Naturally you can play on a team or in a deathmatch. The fun-potential is high.
The wait is over, Chris Taylor and the rest of Gas Powered Games have delivered, most definitely. This is a game with a superb atmosphere, lots of action, tons of items to collect and interesting quests to finish. If there is one thing this game has tons of then it is atmosphere. In (very) short, a fan of the genre must have this game.