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Dungeon Siege III

(Square Enix; US: 21 Jun 2011)

With Dungeon Siege III, the popular hack-and-slash RPG series comes to consoles for the first time and makes a fairly successful transition. The flaws that ultimately bring it down have nothing to do with the PC-to-console transition; bad design is just bad design.


A token amount of plot: you play as one of four characters, each somehow related to the 10th Legion, an independent army that’s also sort of a nation, whose members somehow share a blood relation. It’s never clearly explained what the 10th Legion is or what people mean when they ask, “Do you have Legion blood,” but the point is that they were all killed and now it falls on you to rebuild the Legion by allying with old friends and enemies.


Each character has a distinct personality, and in a nice twist, the people that you don’t choose as your hero still appear throughout the story; they don’t cease to exist just because they’re not the protagonist. It’s always interesting to see how each character is incorporated into the story when they’re not the central hero/heroine.


Each character also has a different set of abilities that determine how you approach combat: Lucas is a fighter best used on the frontlines, Katarina’s guns make her dangerous from afar but weak up close, Reinhart is a good supporter but bad by himself, and Anjai’s split between magic and staves make her a good all around choice. But while each demands a different approach to combat, once you find that right approach, you never have to change. I played as Katarina and spent the entire game sniping at enemies then dodging away when they got too close. That simple tactic even worked on the final boss. As such, the combat quickly gets repetitive. You just press A over and over again, with the occasional healing move or special attack thrown in as necessary.


It is worth mentioning that ranged attacks are handled well. Normally they’re problematic in this type of game since you aim with the same control stick used for movement, so between every attack your character takes a few steps towards the enemies, thus negating the point of using a ranged attack. Thankfully, in Dungeon Siege III, your character stays in place as long as you keep mashing the attack button.


When not in combat, you’ll be exploring the world and doing quests, but the world is surprisingly linear and the quests never take you off the main path. The world feels small and disconnected. I spent a lot of time traveling through portals, and I don’t know how the final area is connected to the first area. This is not a cohesive world but a series of independent mazes. In fact, later areas are so labyrinthine that they’d be impossible without the game’s breadcrumb trail. Hitting up on the D-pad displays a dotted path that leads to your active quest’s destination—no exploration required. It’s both a hindrance and a necessity; it encourages you to stay on a straight and narrow path, but without it, you’d be lost. It’s a band-aid to remedy confusing level design.


Throughout the game, you’ll get to make decisions that change how the story plays out. The changes are never drastic, and your ultimate reward is a different cut scene during the epilogue, but this small amount of choice succeeds in giving your actions consequences. You’ll want to stop and think about your options. However, the conversations in which you have to make these decisions are terribly boring. The camera is locked on whoever you’re talking to and never moves, so you never actually see your character talking. Not only does it feel cheap, like the animators just didn’t want to lip sync the hero characters, but it disconnects me from my avatar. It’s hard to care about a character that I never see, not even on the menu screen.


For a game that focuses on collecting loot, it’s odd that there’s no way to see my character decked out in customized armor. During normal play, I can see that my avatar changes with each new piece of armor I equip, but the camera is pulled back too far for me to get a good look. A loot-driven game like this should evoke a compulsive urge to destroy every crate I see, just in case there’s a rare item in it, but the inability to show off my gear dampens that urge to collect.


Of course, there’s little reason to show off your loot when there’s no one to show it to. Dungeon Siege III has online co-op, but you don’t get to play as your character from the single-player story. Instead, when you join another player’s game, you’re given a hero who has been automatically upgraded with appropriate abilities and weapons and armor. This ensures that you can’t jump into someone’s game with an overpowered hero, but it also means you lose all the experience and loot you collect during co-op. For an RPG, a genre built around the idea of character progression, to take that progression away in co-op mode is to take away the very reason that we play.


Co-op has other problems as well. The edge of the camera acts as an invisible wall, keeping everyone trapped in a very small space. As a result, the camera constantly spasms about as it tries to keep all four characters on screen at once. The flashy visual effects of multiple special abilities being used at once overwhelm the screen and hide your character. It’s easy to lose track of who’s who in the carnage. In single-player the camera is pulled back too far, but in co-op, it’s not pulled back far enough.


Dungeon Siege III is essentially a single-player game since its co-op is so half-hearted. As a single-player game, there’s a lot of content and high replay value but only if you can put up with the repetitive combat (though it’s also oddly relaxing since it’s so predictable and doesn’t require a lot of concentration), the confusing world, and no way to see the loot on your character. To its credit, the story gets more interesting the further that you go.While I didn’t care about the Legion’s fate at first, by the end I was heavily invested in the outcome, due largely to the choices that I made throughout the journey.


It’s hard to recommend Dungeon Siege III since Torchlight, a downloadable hack-and-slash RPG, is available on all the same platforms and offers much of the same experience with better execution and at a quarter of the price.  Dungeon Siege III is not a bad game since there’s enough to keep you playing until the end, but it’s not good enough to keep you playing past that.

Rating:

Nick Dinicola made it through college with a degree in English, and now applies all his critical thinking skills to video games instead of literature. He reviews games and writes a weekly post for the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters, and can be heard on the weekly Moving Pixels podcast. More of his reviews, previews, and general thoughts on gaming can be found at www.gamehounds.net.


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