Our video games coverage continues as Olivia Cottrell assesses the newly rebooted RPG series. If you missed it, be sure to check out her podcast discussion with Caleb on sci-fi and fantasy in video games!
Coming to legacy games late is always something of a tricky proposition. You don’t get the in-jokes, the lore can be boring without a vested interest, and without a strong dose of nostalgia to temper the game’s flaws, the experience can often leave you wondering what exactly got the game’s fans so excited in the first place. So it is with Dungeon Siege 3, the latest offering from Obsidian Entertainment.
Promoted as a reboot of the Dungeon Siege franchise, Dungeon Siege 3 is set many years after the ending of the second game (released in 2006). The land of Ehb is in peril again and the player, taking on the role of one of four descendants of the Tenth Legion (a kind of medieval Torchwood), has to stop it. Along the way they have to deal with the usual waves of bandits, ghosts and witches alongside some less conventional foes. My particular favourites were the four-armed giant blue naked women who peeped over the edge of the scenery before they clambered up to fight you. This kind of interesting enemy design and variation allowed for some fun tactical gameplay and encouraged me to experiment with the different skills of my character, complementing the solid combat system.
However, the waves of enemies soon become tiring and the game’s habit of making boss battles challenging simply by presenting them in multiple stages (the final boss fight is a particularly vile offender) became very wearing. This was exacerbated by the fact that the ‘couch co-op’ system, allowing me to play the game while my brother barked orders at me, often meant that the camera was zoomed out too far to do either of us any good. Furthermore, levelling was made extremely frustrating by an overly complex system that required you to go through three different menus every time you gained a level.
The world of Ehb itself, while based on a kind of pseudo-Russian sensibility that’s refreshing to a gamer raised on standard medieval fantasy, felt very lacklustre and hardly worth saving at all. This was not helped by the low quality of the facial animation that seemed to belong to a previous generation of games. Many times it felt as if the character’s eyes or mouths were too small, and their acting was wooden even by video game standards. The soft-focus effect of the graphics, too, did little to lessen the unreal feeling. However, both my brother and I really liked the steampunk city of Stonebridge and found their automaton police force’s helpful advice, such as ‘refrain from defecating in the alleyways’, hilarious. It is telling, however, that the graphics were better suited to rendering pretty buildings than showing real human emotion.
The wooden graphics did compliment the somewhat tedious story perfectly, however. As in many other games, you must go to place x to recruit team y to your cause, usually by killing a lot of people. There were attempts at depth, but these were too often relegated to long conversations between other people while my character stood and watched. I ended up being very bored, and though the game tried to implement a choice system á la Mass Effect, the implications of my decisions were only explored in a cutscene at the end, stopping me from really feeling the impact of the path I had chosen.
Ultimately, playing Dungeon Siege 3 feels a little like playing a bargain basement version of the most popular RPG games of the last few years. It has Bioware’s dialogue wheel and Dragon Age-style influence system (though what, if any, bonus you get from gaining influence with your party members is never explained), Diablo’s single party member tagging along, and Oblivion’s faux-religious storyline. Despite this, it is a decent game, and great fun to play if you have a friend or family member that you can persuade to try it with you.
Dungeon Siege 3 was released on June 21, 2011 by Obsidian Entertainment and Square Enix for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows. It retails for around £39.99