When verifiable gaming god Chris Taylor first showed Gas Powered Games' Dungeon Siege to the world in 2000, critics and fans took notice. Here was one of the great RTS designers turning his sights on the hack-and-slash dungeon crawler genre. When the game appeared in 2002, it wasn't a total grand slam, but it did bring bleeding-edge graphics and a new party-based tactical complexity to the table. Dungeon Siege II was essentially more of the same.
For this third time around the block, Obsidian and publisher Square Enix lists Taylor as an adviser in bringing the series to consoles and back to the venerable PC. Whatever genre-busting ambition the franchise started with, Dungeon Siege III contents itself with being an entirely competent, innovation-free action-RPG with decent visuals and all the bling anyone would care to collect.
For players used to building an RPG avatar from the boots up, Dungeon Siege III offers only four stock archetypes, any of which are obviously viable characters with whom to live for the game's fifteen or so hours of play. Beyond the disappointing lack of initial customization, there are a wealth of power-ups, spells, skills, abilities and weapon upgrades, and plenty of opportunities for player choice.
Closely linked to character customization and evolution are how the weapons and spells are wielded in battle, and overall, the action is where Dungeon Siege III shines. Each character has a choice of two primary battle stances (i.e. magic-infused or conventional weapons), and each stance has a plethora of variable attacks and effects. Like most action-RPGs, it's still a click-fest, but at least there are usually a fair number of ways to dispatch an enemy. In general, the spells and combat look great and are interesting and satisfying to use.
Overall, the graphics and visual design are colorful and detailed, though a bit overdone on the dark and moody meter. An amalgam of stock RPG elements and medieval-looking towns mixed with 19th century technology, the setting allows for some interesting juxtapositions—like a battle between magic spells and cannon fire. Although star composer Jeremy Soule is no longer on board, the music is nicely done; the voice acting, however, comes from that Southern-California surfer dude school that screams “we saved some money on the voice talent.” It's all in the service of a fairly bare-bones tale: the franchise has never trafficked in richly layered storytelling. Jump in a kill a catalog of human enemies and supernatural creatures. Collect loot. Repeat.
There is, in fact, a huge amount of stuff to pick up. There seems to be an unlocked treasure chest, weapon rack, or barrel full of gold around every corner, and of course every enemy encounter yields at least a handful of coin. (I've always wondered about two things: 1) If it was required by law that RPGs include some sort of oversized arachnid; and 2) what the hell giant spiders needed with money or why the larvae horde gold). Loot management is, unfortunately, not the quickest or most elegant aspect of the game and it becomes a real chore sorting, cataloging, and equipping gear.
The first two games in the series allowed for parties of up to six characters and demanded more than a little bit of tactical finesse. In Dungeon Siege III, you have one, relatively competent, computer-controlled companion throughout your journey. However, you can blast through the game via two-player co-op or go online with three others.
While we won't be seeing Dungeon Siege III on anyone's “Best of the Year” lists, it's still a well-made hack-and-slash game, and one of the better examples of the genre on this generation of consoles. Good visual design, evocative lighting, as well as satisfying combat and action are brought down a bit by an overabundance of hard-to-manage loot, some tepid voice work, and rather restricted level design. Dungeon Siege III is not the Next Big Thing in action-RPGs, but it does the Old Thing pretty well.
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