I remember the days of Sprite based games and dodgy plots, flick screen adventures and games such as Bard's Tale and Eye of the Beholder, yes I'm that old. I remember with fondness such titles as Pool of Radiance from SSI and the many spawned games of that ilk. Now we're in an age of high-resolution graphics and EAX sound, polygons have replaced the old two-dimensional characters and we want more and more from a game than just good gameplay and fun.
Fantasy games have always been a bit of a hit and miss affair really, you have some great games like the Baldur's Gate series, and some truly dire ones that are shallow rip offs of those. The same goes for the Diablo series of games, with many imitators and many clones - Darkstone for instance, this was very Diabloesque and all in all not a bad game. For a start it gave us a 3d look at the world with polygons and non-sprite based graphics.
Now Chris Taylor and Gas Powered Games bring us Dungeon Siege, a powerful and action packed romp through a seamless wilderness and caverns in true, hack and slash, Conan the Barbarian style. The Siege Engine is really a nice bit of work and it handles the change from outside to inside locations with nary a flicker of trouble, once the game has loaded you'll never see another loading screen again. You can sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
So where does Dungeon Siege fit in between classics like Diablo and Baldur's Gate? Well it kind of slots in nicely, neither a true in-depth roleplayer or a random romp through endless tides of demons and undead...it fits as a hybrid of some of the better ideas to enter the PC RPG world. I'd say that it will immediately appeal to the fans of hack and slash games like Diablo, but it will fall short with a lot of the Baldur's Gate crowd because of the lack of true depth to the RPG elements of the game. There are no levels per se and there are no real numbers to mess with. But anyways you want to know about Dungeon Siege right; you came to a good place.
Set in the mythical Kingdom of Ehb the game revolves around the sudden invasion of a race known as the Krugg, who seem to have betrayed you all. You're a humble farmer toiling away in the fields when one of your friends is killed, so then is set the stage for your revenge. Setting out from your farm, armed only with a knife and your wits you must travel Ehb and set things to rights.
Chris Taylor's group has created a lush and rich world, graphically, it's all very detailed and all nicely put together. They've obviously taken the time and trouble to look at the various styles of architecture that would have been around in those olde days and pick up different key points. I must admit to wondering if they were somewhat inspired by Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie of the Tolkien classic when you look at some of the locations, indoors and outdoors. The texturing and lighting is nothing short of superb, and lends a gritty atmosphere to the game...you have to spend some time looking around at the lush foliage and dark stone walls of forgotten crypts just to see how magnificent it really is.
The models are all excellently created and animated, with lots of varied combat animations to go along with the fine texturing. I'm not going to spend hours talking about it though, let's just say that I've often spent a fair few minutes staring at the details and grinning like an idiot as a skeleton attacks and battle begins...top marks for the level of model, object and world detail. I can find no faults with it.
The particle effects, spell effects, and various effects in general are also of a suitably high quality...spells have that nice visual and audible candy that makes most of us go 'oooh' and 'ahhh' (I tend to do this a lot) With the later magics being more spectacular...
Enemy deaths and character deaths are not just one single animation, they actually crumple in varied ways and no enemy dies the same way twice. I also like the way that they've implemented the archers arrows flying through the air and sticking into the bodies of your hapless foes...although the blood and the arrows vanish after a short while, there's enough detail there to keep you watching the battles as they rage around you.
Sound effects and voices, some of the voices are a little cheesy and you kind of expect this in a RPG these days, overall however they're good and they lend another point to the atmosphere. Monster screams and spot sound effects are excellent, with the yells of battle, the screech of angry creatures and the whistle of arrows pumping from the speakers...Indoor and Outdoor sound effects are perfect, from the gentle rush of a waterfall to the ominous creak of the Dungeon around you hinting at untold dangers...it's all brought together nicely.
I'll go out on a limb and say that Dungeon Siege is one of the most graphically rich hack and slash RPG's I've seen in a long while and leave it at that.
It might look good, and sound good but is it playable? This is the question that I'm glad I can answer with a big 'Yes' and sit back knowing that somewhere out there, someone's going to disagree with me and do I care? Not really...this is what I think of the game, and opinions differ. Dungeon Siege has many features that I wish were in most RPGs, there's an auto-loot feature which means a click of a key or on the excellent GUI will send the selected member(s) scurrying around the battle field picking everything up...can't find that pile of gold amongst the tatters...just hit auto-loot and watch as everything is collected. If the party has a Pack Mule with them they'll load the Mule up first before they fill their own inventory.
You can have up to 8 members of a party in Dungeon Siege and some of them will join your cause willingly, others can be hired for that all important gold...Pack Mules or so I'm told came from Chris' frustration with RPG games leaving vast amounts of loot in a Dungeon and your party unable to pick most of it up because Armour often weighs a tonne or takes up too much space. The Mule can bite and kick and acts like a party member...becoming tougher as you do. Of course it tends to run away from most fights and will only fight back when engaged and unable to flee.
Talking of AI for a moment, I do like the AI in Dungeon Siege, while not the most amazing AI I've seen it does a good job of actually helping out in a battle, and the path finding - both monsters and players, is outstandingly good. I've not yet had a character stuck in the game and I'm pretty far into it. There's a nice little orders menu that can be used to change the way that individual members act in a battle, you can have them stay put, fight when attacked or chase the enemy for miles across the map. Once again, Chris' got this element right and it's a key tool to survival in the game...adding a nice tactical element that's not always in the best RPGs. Party members can play follow the leader or you can select them all into a number of formations, useful for defending against the hordes of monsters in the game, with a click of a button and a flick of a mouse-wheel you can change the spacing between the members or their facing. It's all very easy to pick up, and there's even a Guard function that allows you to keep a couple of characters guarding the Mule or a Mage.
And this leads me nicely onto my next part of the review, the character generation system and the actual way you advance in the game.
Character generation is simple, you just pick the look for your character, male or female, skin type and a few other things and away you go. When you're playing the game you'll see that you have a few things to keep track of, three main stats for each character and several skills...these are as follows.
Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence for the stats
Melee, Ranged, Combat Magic and Nature Magic for the skills.
As you play the game these will rise depending on what you do, if you want to create a mage then make sure you use magic as much as possible, only switching to a melee weapon if you need to add a point of strength. You want a fighter, then you use melee weapons all the time and watch that strength climb up and up and up. Magic items and various things you can find will change the stats and skills...it's all very simple and works surprisingly well.
Each character can have up to four weapons that you can switch between using the GUI or keys, one melee weapon, one ranged and two set spells. Spells go into Spell books and you can carry a number of Spell books you can fit into your inventory. So it's possible to create offensive mages, defensive, or combinations.
But Dungeon Siege does not end there...no...it's just beginning, you can take on the massive Single player Quest with friends over the net or a LAN, or take on the specially designed Co-Operative Quest. So you get two good Quests to play Multiplayer with, rather than just the one. And I've LAN'ed this game up and it's sweet I can tell you...I'm very impressed with how it plays, there are a few minor niggles and no town portal spells...but they're compensated for in other ways and I'm not going to spoil that surprise for you all because we really did enjoy it.
With the coming of the Siege Engine editing tools in May or late May, this will give us all the opportunity to alter the way the game plays, already there are mods out there that have improved the player/monster AI, tweaked certain elements of game play and added new things. New levels, campaigns and models/monsters will be at our fingertips and ready to challenge our creative minds. Some of the projects are ambitious and some are simple, but rest assured Dungeon Siege will be around for a long time to come thanks to the flexibility of the game's engine and the creative minds that lurk on and offline. To all those people out there who make mods for games and alter the experience for us all, you help keep the industry alive as much as the paying customers provide needed funds for the development teams. I salute you, and hope that you'll keep interest in this fine, fine game...So that's it, go out and buy it and have a blast, don't look for the next Baldur's Gate and you'll be fine.