Summary: Chris Taylor and Gas Powered Games make their debut with their 3D action-RPG, Dungeon Siege. How does this game stack up? Find out in our review!
Dungeon Siege official home page: http://www.microsoft.com/games/DungeonSiege/
It’s always fun to see a big name developer leave a well-established company, one he or she usually founded, to start a new company. Some of them make big aspirations, while the smart ones don’t say a damn thing and just make games. Some try to “make you their bitch,” but end up falling flat on their ass.
Chris Taylor is the latest game developer to walk this gauntlet. After founding and making Cavedog quite successful with the Total Annihilation franchise, he up and left to start Gas Powered Games. There are probably a million reasons why he left, but most gamers don’t really care (besides the fact that a few very promising games will never see the light of day with Cavedog gone). Dungeon Siege is a different direction than Total Annihilation - can Chris Taylor and his new team at Gas Powered Games pull it off their first time out of the chute?
One of the big pitches to Dungeon Siege was the ability to play the game with stopping to load levels. Now, you do wait through a load screen the first time you boot up the engine, but you never see it after that. You can literally play from the beginning of the game to the end with no load screens. After you beat the last boss you can even walk all the way back to your farm (I think, I don’t remember any paths closing, but I haven’t tried this). Personally, I don’t think this is such a big deal. Loading screens are a fact of life in gaming. Unless they’re really long, like 30 seconds (which is a lifetime when you’re waiting to play a game), I completely gloss over load screens. No load screens definitely doesn’t take away from the game, but I don’t think it ads a whole lot either.
The story doesn’t just take a back seat to the action, it’s in the back of the double-wide being towed by the action. The gist of it is that you’re a simple farmer who will end up saving the world from the ultimate evil – nothing new. I appreciate the effort in lightly dusting the game with a hint of story, since even the best games need a bit of purpose. The few cut scenes move things along, complete with a melodramatic narration.
333 MHz CPU
128MB of RAM
1 GB Hard Disk space
8MB Video card
1 GHz+ CPU
512MB of RAM
2GB Hard Disk space (for scratch)
GeForce2 or better
Cable/DSL for online play
Animations in Dungeon Siege put the engine over the top. There’s not one thing that I noticed with a poor animation. Every creature moved like Gas Powered genetically engineered them to life and put them through motion capture. The attack animations are all very smooth, my favorite is from one of the wraith creatures – it’s a floating skeleton wearing a horned helmet. He whips off his head and whacks you with it in one fell swoop. The best animations are on the magical weapons. They don’t just glimmer and shine, some actually rain sparks down like an arc welder, while others have flowing parabolas reaching up towards the tip of the blades. Very cool.
One thing that’s always bugged me in past RPGs is the lack of models/skins for equipment. I like to see my character’s appearance change whenever I change anything they’re using. If they go from a wooden shield to a metal buckler, I want to see an obvious difference. There should be a different model for rapiers and scimitars. In Dungeon Siege I have nothing to complain about. All equipment has its own model and skin, and it’s very obvious when you change equipment since you can zoom in and see it. Even if an item is the same shape as another, they have different skins. This relatively minor graphical enhancement makes the game even more enjoyable than it already is.
Not only does Dungeon Siege’s engine look good, it also has a good interface. The point and click interface is just as good as in Diablo II, and the camera controls are precise and easy to learn. Hotkeys make a big impact in this game – you can set configurations for your entire party with them. For example, my “1” was bound to have three melee, two ranged, and two magic attackers; “2” was bound to three melee, 1 ranged, and 3 healers. So you see you can customize your party for whatever situation you’re in, and switch on the fly if it starts hitting the fan. The interface windows are also entirely configurable, with the player able to move them anywhere around the screen or have them on or off at all times. Other useful functions include being able to pick up all dropped treasure on screen (no more hunting around for that tiny ring), and drinking partial potions.
The first few seconds of the game really set the tone. You start with weapon in hand, fighting for your life. Swarms of enemies are attacking your farm and there’s nowhere to run. You pick up whatever equipment they drop and head for civilization. After 30 minutes of fighting, you find a friend and drag yourselves to a town. You talk to a few people, stock up on weapons and items, and set out for the next dungeon and town.
The AI is good and bad. There’s not much to the enemy AI since 99.9% of the enemies only have one type of attack. When your characters are in range they’ll get as close as they need to and attack until they die (a few try to run if they’re low on health, but not many). The characters in your party have issues. Everything is based on the orders you set – attack freely, attack closest, move anywhere, etc. The problem is that they don’t help each other. If your combat mage is being attacked by a skeleton, but the skeleton isn’t in range of your other party members, they’ll leave your mage to die. It seems obvious to me that your party should automatically cover each other, but they don’t. There’s also a problem with getting into position to attack. Ranged (arrows or magic) characters sometimes run through a group of monsters to attack something right next to them. Melee fighters will run to an enemy far away, even when set to “attack closest”. Most of the time you can catch these mistakes yourself by hitting the pause key, but pausing takes away from the frantic pace of this game.
The inventory is the generic RPG system. Characters have slots for melee and ranged weapons, shields, rings, amulets, and armor. They also have a “backpack” to hold whatever else they pick up. One great innovation is the pack mule. The pack mule is a donkey that travels as a member of your party (it even takes up a party member slot). I like it because it has a huge inventory capacity – you can pick up lots of items to sell when you reach a merchant, or store items you can’t use yet. With the pack mule you’ll always have plenty of potions. It also has good AI; when you get into a fight the mule will distance itself from your party. If it’s attacked it will defend itself. There were very few times when I had to protect my ass, and it only happened in confined spaces and when an enemy popped up behind my party.
The long green mile
The maps are incredibly linear. Or should I say, the game is one long, straight level. The game is designed to get your from point A (start) to point B (the end), while killing enough monsters to get your main hero to level 50 or so. There’s not much deviation from this since there are no random or respawning monsters. I’ve always argued that linearity isn’t a bad thing in games – it’s hard to tell a story if the game doesn’t control where the player goes.
The best aspect of multiplayer is that there is a second world you can play on, the Utrean Peninsula. This world has new towns, people, and quests. They use the same look and feel as the Kingdom of Ehb, but it’s not the same map. The single player map is available, but it doesn’t have the Utrean Bascilicus, a teleportation device that allows you to jump between the towns in the Utrean Peninsula. This is handy since the early parts of the map are too easy for high level characters. The two maps are about the same size – huge. This is much better than Diablo II, where there was only one world in the multi and single player.
There are several modes you can play in multiplayer. Besides the standard co-op, you can also play a team game where the teams race for the highest number of kills. PvP is also available, if you’re the masochistic type. The vast majority of games I’ve joined were focused on leveling character stats. This is one of the few RPGs that allow you max out all available classes. With time and effort you could be level 50+ in melee, ranged, nature magic, and combat magic. Let’s face it; everyone loves power-leveling in RPGs.
They really need to fix a few things in multiplayer games. Your connection quality or ping to a game isn’t listed in the games list, so you have to join a game to check how good your connection is. Even after you connect to a game which looks like you have a good connection to other players, it can still be very laggy. Passworded games are also not marked as such. The most annoying problem however, is that the game pauses as people connect to the game. So if you’re in the middle of a battle and someone tries to connect, you can end up sitting there for a few minutes. If they made a new lobby and these problems were fixed the multiplayer would be stellar, but right now it’s just good.
Sound and Music
The sound effects are handled very well. Every monster has its own set of sound effects, including a very functional “alert” sound. When a creature spots your party it will make a noise as it prepares to attack, alerting you of their presence. This comes in handy when they pop up behind the camera or out of some bushes. Since the sounds are unique, you can also tell what type of monster is headed your way.
Not much story:
Dungeon Siege is everything an Action-RPG should be. There’s a metric assload and a half of fighting, starting in the first five seconds of the game. The monsters are original and fun to cut down. The character classes are easy to understand and leveling makes sense. There are no obscure rules you need to know before playing. And best of all, there are a lot of cool weapons and items to find. Toss this all in with a fabulous engine, spread it out over 100 hours of gameplay (single and multi), and what more could you ask for?
Who would I recommend Dungeon Siege to? If you liked Diablo II (and several million people do), you’ll really like Dungeon Siege. I think it’s better than Diablo II by a long shot. The action is better since you can travel with eight characters. The fighting is more tactical since your characters have so many attack options. The pack mule really helps you manage your money and equipment. The graphics are truly 3D with a fantastic art style. If you’re an RTS/Tactical gamer, you’ll probably like Dungeon Siege as well. There’s a huge tactical element in fighting with a group of eight. Even if you’re not into RPGs, Dungeon Siege is a good place to start. This is a game I’d give to a friend that’s never tried PC gaming before; it’s that good.
On another note, I’m very impressed with Gas Powered Games. For their very first game, Gas Powered rolled out a very impressive work. I hope to see many more quality games from these guys, including a sequel to Dungeon Siege.
Warning! There are many spoilers in the screenshots. They go all the way to the end of the single player game, so don’t look if you want to be surprised.
SIDEBAR: What do you think of Dungeon Siege? Sound off in our comments section
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