Dungeon Siege III Hands-On Preview: Swords, Sorcery… and Star Wars?

The PC gaming world last saw an entry in the Dungeon Siege series back in 2005 when Dungeon Siege II was released. Since then, the rights to the franchise have bounced from publisher to publisher, finally landing on Square Enix’s doorstep. The Japanese megapublisher enlisted Obsidian Entertainment to developer Dungeon Siege III and made their mission for the game very clear: to introduce the series to a console audience while crafting an awesome action RPG experience.

Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: June 21, 2011
ESRB Rating: Teen

Dungeon Siege III is a good old fashioned “hack and slash” RPG, but it’s storyline seems to have been influenced not by Tolkien and Diablo, but a galaxy far, far away. Yes, the game’s tale seems to mirror that of Star Wars almost exactly. The 10th Legion is a grand gathering of warriors that has protected the nation of Ehb for centuries. Until one day when a powerful dark wizard with monstrous powers wiped them out. Only a wizened old man, Odo, and the children of several Legion members remained, including a young boy named Lucas (there’s no way that’s just a coincidence) and his missing sister. Thirty years later, Odo has emerged from hiding to take on the powerful dark wizard with the help of Lucas and a rebellion.

After this bit of exposition, the demo opens by dropping players on the outskirts of Ehb and teaching them the ropes. Attacks are performed with the A button while special attacks are mapped to X, Y and B. Each of these attacks can be “Empowered” by holding down the Right Trigger for more damage or magical effects. Blocking with a shield and dodging can be done with the Left Trigger.

Players can also change their battle stance with the Left Bumper. In the demo, Lucas unsheathes his longsword with a two-handed stance while Anjali, the other playable character who is a legendary creature known as an archon, transforms into her Fire Form allowing her to throw fireballs.

When Square Enix said they wanted to introduce the Dungeon Siege to console players, they were speaking directly to me. I had never played any of the games in the series before, but I’ve definitely done my share of hacking and slashing in games like Secret of Mana and the Legend of Zelda series. And on that count, Dungeon Siege III feels very similar to other action RPGs. I also liked that hacking and slashing away at a large group of enemies will just result in death. Dungeon Siege III rewards players who fight strategically and the game’s control scheme is a dream when it comes to managing all of the different attacks and weapons at the player’s disposal.

However, maneuvering around the world of Ehb is a bit harder than fighting in it mostly because Lucas and Anjali feel like their feet are stuck in quicksand. I’m sure both characters will move quicker as they find items with a better Agility rating, but the slowness really sucks the energy out of the demo. This is combined with both character’s having issues walking around the scenery. They’ll often catch the edge of a boulder or a barrel, making the non-hack and slash parts a bit of a slog.

For loot fans, Dungeon Siege III doesn’t disappoint. By the end of the demo I was carrying somewhere around 20 swords, 10 shields, a wide variety of other medieval garb and enough gold to make Mr. T and Flavor Flav blush. The game is never slow to offer up new weaponry or armor upgrades and keeping up with all the enemy drops is a ton of fun.

As is natural in an RPG, defeated enemies will also dole out experience points and after leveling up, Lucas/Anjali can distribute points to a variety of different upgrades and skill trees. These include Abilities, the special attacks mapped to the face buttons; Proficiencies, statistical upgrades to Abilities; and Talents, statistical upgrades to normal attacks. It’s hard to get a sense of what the skill trees will look like in such a short demo, but it appears to be possible to mold your character into a roided-up fighter, a turtling defensive specialist or something in between with ease.

The graphics are impressive, if a little generic high fantasy. The action moves at a good clip and there are rolling forests, dank caves and sprawling manor houses to give players that feeling of an age when kings ruled the world and wizards could do magic. However, I did wish for a little more detail in the various mercenaries and witches I fought in the demo. Most carried swords and I could easily make out the yard of steel in their hands. But some fought with guns or bows, and I was unprepared to fight against enemies with ranged weapons because I couldn’t actually see that they were holding guns or bows until they shot me from a distance.

The voice acting is top notch (though Lucas and Anjali don’t speak in the more colorful turns of phrase that the NPCs do) and the score has that strong fantasy epic feel to it. For all of the story’s similarities to Star Wars, I want to learn exactly how evil Jeyne Kassynder is (Odo sounds so pissed when speaking her name) and I’m interested in where the story goes. Though I’d bet good money that Katarina will be revealed as Lucas’ sister sometime in third act.

As someone who mostly gave up PC gaming in the late 90s, I’m not sure I’ll ever really know what made the Dungeon Siege series so special. But if Square Enix is looking to reintroduce the franchise to a new generation of console players, they’ve done a good job putting together a quality hack and slash. If you’re on the lookout for an action RPG, Dungeon Siege III might be for you when it releases on June 21st.

This entry was posted in PC, Previews, PS3, Top Story, Xbox 360 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
John Scalzo is Warp Zoned's Editor-In-Chief and resident retro gaming expert. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at john AT warpzoned DOT com.

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