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There is no secret mule level. While the first two Dungeon
Siege games were Diablo clone click-fests that even gave you a mule to haul
your loot, the new game in the series takes this franchise in a whole new
direction. It’s still an action RPG, but it’s now a streamlined affair
with vastly upgraded graphics and combat, courtesy of a new developer,
publisher and engine.
Taking over the reins this time is the gang at Obsidian. Obsidian are frequently behind Action RPG sequels, like Neverwinter Nights 2, KOTOR 2, and Fallout New Vegas. They’ve done a great job of making Dungeon Siege into a modern game, suitable for consoles, despite its PC exclusive origins. It has all the features you’d expect from the genre, like loot, stats, swarms of enemies, plus hacking AND slashing.
You won’t be able to create a customized character, rather you have to choose from one of four pre-rolled archetypes who’s name, backstory and appearance are set without any input from you. They are Lucas Montbarron, an armored knight who serves as the tank and melee fighter. Reinhart the standard mage, and Katarina a sexy gun-toting ranged attacker. Then there’s Anjali, who has a mixture of melee and ranged magic.
I chose to focus on Anjali, a supernatural woman with fire powers. She’s a literal hot chick. You’ll have a different story and NPC interactions depending on which character you play as, so the limitations on character customization are countered by the fact that each of the four characters gets individualized treatment in the story. Despite that, none of the NPC’s seemed to notice that I was on fire. One NPC told me that he’d heard of “A warrior maid who fights with a spear”. True, I did have a spear, but I was also on fire, not to mention flying, and naked. You’d think more of the NPC conversations would start with “Holy crap this girl’s head is on fire! Call 911, call 911!”.
Aside from this matter, the story and character interactions are well done. There’s nothing groundbreaking here- Evil forces have usurped the kingdom and your character is among the chosen few who can band together to free the land from mystical darkness, but it’s certainly interesting to participate in the events and explore this very well-developed world (It’s drawing on all of the backstory built up in the previous two games).
You have multiple dialog options to express your character’s personality. There’s no alignment system, but your dialog choices do affect how well you get along with your companions, so players are rewarded for paying attention to the dialog and making the right choices. Unfortunately, you rarely have the option of affecting the outcome of events through NPC dialog; it just affects how your companion feels about you, and how long it takes for you to unlock special bonuses for them.
The quests you’re sent upon are really there to provide interesting excuses to go bust some skulls anyhow, and you usually have the chance to just blow off the yakkity-yak and just get right to cramming some fireballs down the bad guy’s throats. Still, the NPC’s generally do have a good reason to send you off a mission, and you aren’t going to be told to go kill six whatevers over and over again.
In terms of game play, all four characters are very distinct. Sword guy is different from gun-girl, and all four characters have two "Stances" that you can switch between them on the fly, so in the case of Katarina the gunner, you can use a rifle for fighting at a distance before switching to two-pistols to fight at close range. No matter which character you use, you’ll eventually get the chance to team up with the others in the single-player campaign.
But of course, this sort of game is really meant to be played as a multi-player experience. You can make your game a "Public Game" at any time, which allows random players to join up as you poke along through your campaign. Or you can actively seek out an existing game where you can play with up to three other players. You also have the option to invite pals to a private game. Aside from online, there's local co-op with two players.
There are a couple of big drawbacks that kept me from enjoying this game more thoroughly. First, in multiplayer, you don’t get to keep the loot and XP you gain when playing in someone else’s campaign. This is a big problem, since there really isn’t any intrinsic motivation for joining someone else’s game. Secondly, there are save points. Yes, save points; big glowy things that you have to click on every few minutes. There's no checkpoint system, either, so if you don't save your game frequently, you won't just respawn near where you died, you'll have to go back replay a potentially long chunk of the game. I couldn't get in the habit of using the save points; I just expect a decent respawn and auto-save feature in my games, so this threw me off repeatedly.
Aside from these two issues, Dungeon Siege III is a very enjoyable action RPG and readily accessible to people who did not play the first two games. The characters are interesting, and it offers a fun multiplayer adventure held back only by the lack of a persistent character when joining someone else’s game.