What is it about shiny new loot that makes action role-playing games so enthralling? There's something perpetually rewarding about seeing a heroic warrior graduate from lowly rags and a rusty sword to gleaming gold armor and a katana so sharp you can lop a cyclops' head with it in a single swipe. Dungeon Siege III has that same hook, so if opening treasure chests and breaking open urns is your addiction, this straightforward RPG will fuel it. Whether or not the game fulfills your other RPG needs is another matter. Dungeon Siege III marks a departure from the series in a number of ways. Most obviously, this is the first time the series has appeared on consoles (discounting 2006's PSP spin-off), and PC players in particular will at once feel the sting of multiplatform development. Control and interface elements that feel fine on console don't necessarily translate well to a keyboard and mouse; considering the series' famous focus on usability, this is an unusual turn of events. That's not the only turn for the worse in Dungeon Siege III, though that isn't to say that this game isn't entertaining in its own right. There's something oh-so-satisfying about carving up giant spiders and armored soldiers and pilfering stuff from their corpses. But so much has been stripped away in this sequel that if it didn't take place in the land of Ehb, you wouldn't even take it for a Dungeon Siege game.
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Previous Dungeon Siege games didn't spend much time trying to weave an intricate story. Dungeon Siege III bucks tradition in this regard. You spend a good amount of time conversing with other characters, learning about primary villain Jeyne Kassynder and the kingdom's festering political conflicts. The plot is simple enough: you must defeat this wayward woman and restore power to the legion. Where Dungeon Siege III tries to excel is in the element of choice. As is the fashion in modern RPGs, your choices in dialogue trees can steer certain elements of the story, including the fates of primary and secondary characters alike. At predetermined intervals, and at the conclusion, the game wraps up the results in Fallout-esque summaries accompanied by attractive, sepia-and-gold-toned still images. These chronicles are recounted with great gravitas by a throaty narrator, as if this were a tale for the ages to be passed down from one generation to the next.
If only the tale were worth such solemnity. You play as one of four different characters, each of which has a different relationship to the Legion and different ties to Ehb's past. Dialogue and other story elements differ based on these elements as well as on your dialogue choices, and it's easy to appreciate how the story machine flips all the right switches as you move along. But mechanical intricacies don't necessarily make for an engaging story. Dungeon Siege III doesn't have enough character to give these decisions weight. You spend a lot of time hearing about Jeyne Kassynder's thirst for vengeance, but rarely witnessing it. There is a lot of familial reminiscing, but you aren't given any emotional hook to draw you in--no flashback scene, no signature music, no moment of quiet repose. Had Dungeon Siege III spent more time developing its forgettable cast of characters, these branching story paths may have succeeded. But while Dungeon Siege II stretched beyond 40 hours--more than enough time to weave an involving yarn--you could easily wrap this adventure up in a dozen hours or so.
The Dewey Decimal System isn't the only horror lurking in this library. They also have a card catalog.
If you're a Dungeon Siege fan, you probably wouldn't come to this sequel for involved storytelling anyway. In fact, you might be surprised by just how hard the game tries to frame all your mouse-clicking with meaningful choices. Rather, you probably came for the action and the loot, and on this basic level, Dungeon Siege III succeeds. If you prefer getting up close and personal, Lucas' swords allow you to wade right in. If you like keeping your distance, go with Katarina and her high-powered rifle. Among the four available characters, you'll probably find one to your liking, though series fans might miss the creative freedom of choosing and naming a character as they see fit. And then you crawl through crypts and scour forests, destroying skeletons and spiders and all the beasts you expect to find in fantasy games of this sort. The action culminates in a number of boss fights against teleporting mages, warmongering warlocks, and tentacled terrors. These are entertaining battles--tough enough to require some adept use of your powers, but rarely difficult enough to frustrate.
You eventually earn six offensive powers: three for each combat stance. Each stance lets you take a different role--usually long-range versus short-range--and three of those powers can be performed within that stance. You also earn defensive powers, and as you level up, you sink points into passive bonuses for individual skills, as well as for overall benefit. That sounds more complex than it really is. In practice, you hammer off standard attacks and tumble or block, while occasionally switching stances and firing off powers to clear the crowd, heal yourself, or send a fiery jackal to do your dirty work. It feels fluid enough on consoles; on the PC, it doesn't feel as smooth as you'd have hoped for a Dungeon Siege game. In most such RPGs, including prior Dungeon Siege games, you click on the target you wish to attack; in Dungeon Siege III, the autotargeting is not associated with your mouse pointer, so you must face your target first. You'd think you could just click on loot to gather it, or click on treasure chests to open them; here, you have to move in close and press a key. While tumbling and blocking feel natural enough with a controller, the way they function on the PC feels fiddly and out of place. And if you don't like some of the awkward key mappings, oh well: you can't change them.