Dungeon Siege 2 Review

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Graphics: 8.0
Sound : 8.5
Gameplay : 8.0
Multiplayer : 8.5
Overall : 8.2
Review by Andreas Misund Berntsen
It’s a shame that so few hack’n’slash RPGs are made these days. (MMORPGs are, of course, to blame, but that subject deserves its own article.) It’s easy to compare Dungeon Siege 2 to games like World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 in terms of graphics, quests, storylines, and more, but almost immediately after starting you’ll realize that this is a much more ‘oldschool’ game—and it’s a nice change.

The storyline takes place in Aranna, a fictional world, filled with turmoil, war, monsters, and everything else you need in a proper RPG universe. You play as a quiet hero, a mercenary of sorts, selling your service to a mysterious man, whose motives you aren’t certain of. You see, some time ago an age was ended when two legendary weapons met in battle—a sword and a shield. This meeting between good and evil resulted in the shield breaking, and the sword losing its power. However, “Mr. Super Villain” somehow managed to acquire the sword, and to eliminate any risk, he’s doing his best to locate the lost pieces of the shield so that any risk of defeat is avoided. Unless someone interferes, Aranna will face the end of another age and the start of a considerably more twisted and painful one.

As the hero, you’ll traverse the many jungles, dungeons, towns, temples and more. There’s a lot to do in Dungeon Siege 2—it’s just a shame you do pretty much the same thing from beginning to end. This is the anticipated sequel to Gas Powered Games’ 2002 hit, and fans should be happy to note that most of the core mechanics are left untouched, but the more annoying bits have been fixed, some neat features have been added, and the presentation has been upped a notch.

You start the game as a group of two soldiers—the character you define at the very beginning, and a good friend of yours. Each person in your party should specialize in a certain class, be it melee, ranged, combat magic, or nature magic. One could of course go for versatility and train in multiple classes, but it’d weaken the party substantially. Throughout the game, you’re given primary and secondary quests. Secondary quests are useful because they give you extra funds and typically some good items. During the first hours, you’ll want all the money you can find, because health and mana potions are incredibly important. Most quests involve going from point A to point B, killing one or more extra strong monsters, perhaps picking up an item or two, and maybe bringing it to an NPC. There are more than just “FedEx” missions, however; and some of the exceptions are a lot of fun.

In the days of MMORPGs, it’s easy to compare any game to the likes of World of Warcraft and Everquest 2. These two giants have done many things the right way, and while DS2 does borrow a few things, such as using “!” and “?” to point out quest NPCs, the game itself feels much more like Diablo 2, only with a full party to keep track of. To simplify this, the developers have added some pretty decent AI and excellent path finding from back in the days with the original Dungeon Siege. Party AI has been made different this time because now you have to take a more active role during combat. This is nice because earlier your main role was pressing the mana/health potion buttons. With a well-made party, you’ll have very little downtime, so once you sit down and start playing you’ll probably be glued for hours on end if you enjoy this specific genre. Make no mistake. This isn’t a very complicated RPG. As long as you manage your party, pick up and sell whatever you see, and keep your heroes stocked with potions, you shouldn’t have too many problems during most of the single-player campaign. There are a few snags and problems, but you learn to accept and overcome these quite fast.

Formations are handled quite easily. By pressing a hotkey, you can have your group focus on a single target or spread out in certain ways. It can be annoying when they refuse to automatically defend themselves because it’s not always easy to spot the smaller creatures that attack you, but again—you learn to get by.

As you level up, you’ll distribute skill points into a branching ladder system that lets you specialize within a class. A ranged fighter may specialize in bows and crossbows, or maybe throwing weapons if that sounds more appealing. Each character also has a series of special powers—usually up to three—that require a certain amount of skill points. These powers are typically very damaging. Sometimes their range is a small circle; other times it’s a larger area. Using these powers, you can often turn the tide in an otherwise tough fight or when you just want to ‘remove’ a group of pests.

The storyline consists of three acts, each with something around seven to nine chapters. These vary in length, and normally end with a particularly important and enjoyable fight. Secondary quests are great if you just want to explore more of the game, but it can be hard to figure out where it is you’re supposed to go. The quest descriptions are decent, and you’ll sometimes have an arrow on your mini-map to help you out, but if you’re used to sites like thottbot.com giving you quest coordinates you’ll be in for a wake-up call.

Next up are the items and monsters you’ll encounter. In DS2, the drop-rate is far more random than it was the last time, and the sheer amount of loot has been improved enormously. There are set items, uniques, “rares” of various kinds, enchantable items, and of course the normal magical items. The enchantable items can be brought to an enchanter, who brings up a menu. Here you place the item, and put charm-like items to define the magical properties. You only have a limited number of slots, so most items won’t be incredible, but it can be an alternative if, for instance, you haven’t found a very good spell book for a caster.

The monsters are certainly plentiful and come in many shapes and forms, but they lack the charm of those found in Blizzard’s games. This is actually the biggest fault of the presentation—it just doesn’t look all that interesting. For instance, the environments are quite detailed and heavily populated, characters are more detailed, and there are numerous cool shader effects, but they don’t make you smile the way you might when seeing a beautiful vista in Guild Wars or exploring a city for the first time in World of Warcraft or Everquest 2. For the most part, the game looks quite okay though, and the sounds are definitely good as well. Hours of NPC dialogue have been recorded, and the voice talents did pretty well. Jeremy Soule, who every RPG gamer should know of, put together a great musical score that works extremely well with the environment you’re in. Also, the sound effects leave little to be wanted, but the monsters should’ve been much more vocal—something Diablo 2 did much, much better.

Another very interesting part of the game is the ability to play co-op over the Internet. You can play with several of your friends, yell at them for looting something you need, and just have a good time. The difficulty is changed according to the number of players, making the game just about as challenging as it should be. Additionally, since there are three difficulty settings in the single-player campaign you can replay the game in order to get even more powerful, acquire ‘phatter’ loot, and fight increasingly devious monsters. There are three modes that define the number of players and how many characters they may import from a party (two players with two characters, four players with one character, and so on). I don’t know if it’ll turn out to be as popular as Diablo 2, but I hope people give it a fair try.

Dungeon Siege 2 does what sequels should do—fix the things that didn’t work, improve the things that did, and add the content that fans of the first will enjoy. This time there’s less downtime, pathing problems have, for the most part, been fixed, things are prettier and sound better, and there’s a lot more to do—though it’s usually the same thing in various forms.

Those who didn’t like the first one will probably want to avoid this one as well, but those who spent hours grinding away or doing countless “magic-find runs” in Diablo 2 will probably have fun with this game. You will of course not find many of the awesome things that a MMORPG can offer, but if you’re looking for a change—something not very complicated and a little different—then look up this game.