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[Quickie Nr. 002]: Jools and Dungeon Siege III
Review - posted by Jaesun on Wed 7 September 2011, 12:38:38Tags: Dungeon Siege III; Obsidian Entertainment
[Quickie Nr. 002]: Jools and Dungeon Siege III
I will be honest here, I was not a big fan of the first two games: I played both for a while, then quit because too redundant, repetitive, uninteresting. It's not like I am not a fan of the Hack&Slash genre, as I thoroughly enjoyed both Diablo games, and Titan quest, and Sacred, and a few other more or less obscure titles. But the Dungeon Siege franchise never did it for me, and in all honesty I am not sure I would be able to pin down the faults behind such failure: despite my preferences, the franchise seems to have a pretty hardcore fan base, and a discrete modding community (I remember fiddling around with the editor, and being pleasantly surprised by it: I might even go as far as to say that I have had more fun with the editor than I did with the actual game). That said, I made a point to give Dungeon Siege III a try, and, surprisingly, I actually finished it (yes, the whole 9 hours of it). The fact that the game has been published by Square Enix should have put me off, the fact that it has been developed by Obsidian too (first attempt at Hack&Slash from that studio), but no, the movies and screenies looked really nice so I gave the game a try.
So the game actually starts, and in a couple of minutes I am already raging at the camera and controls: W and S just make the character move forward and back, whereas A and D rotate the camera (but not the character). The character can be moved around via mouse and partially via keyboard: the overall result of this mix&match blend is that neither controller feels 100% adequate on its own, and the combination of the two is implemented in such a clunky way that it will not stop feeling awkward even after a few hours of gameplay: I'm not saying that the game is unplayable, but surely this control scheme put a serious dent in the "fun" department. On top of this,
You have a fixed overhead view that lets you see a whole 10 feet in front of you. I would rather be able to either zoom way out, or tilt the camera so I can see forward.
But no, we are stuck with the stupid controls and the sub-par camera, and it is not even romance-able.
As it is customary these days, the first part of the game acts as a tutorial and even as the actual intro to the game, to get the player familiar with the (poor) controls and the (simple) mechanics of the game. The game looks beautiful, and I think level designers, very slyly, actually put some extra effort in this part of the game: I was simply astonished at the graphics, the detail levels, even the scripted events. Everything looks really good, the textures have a nice resolution, effects looks perfectly blended with the environment, character animations are spot on. Nothing wrong with the game's looks. It even runs on middle-to-low-end machines, of course at the expense of some of the eye-cherries.
I also find out that the game is fully (or mostly, I can not really remember at this point, maybe some secondary, obscure character does not actually have the full voice-acted dialogues) voice-acted, as it seems to be one of the priorities of game-makers. The voice acting, though, sounds out of place and "weird", at times, as in, poorly acted, or poorly recorded. That said, the voice acting still actually elevates the tone of the writing, which is cheesy at best: a mixture between 90210 (the old, 90's series), the Twilight movies and Dragon Age 2.
Not that any better writing would have done much good to the game: the plot is, like the rest of the game, simplistic, if anything at all. An order of elite warriors fallen in disgrace (the Grey Wardens, or the 10th Legion, same shit), the only survivor trying to rebuild the order (rings a bell?), the few other survivors shunned and into hiding (rings more bells?), a world at the mercy of bandits, and some really evil final guy whose name is spoken by everyone in a movie-trailer dramatic voice. The plot also caters to a few totally predictable minor twists, and a handful of choices whose consequences are even more predictable (spare the evil person instead of killing and the person will turn up later as an ally, help out the poor faction for the greater good, bla bla bla). I mean, fantasy topoi are fine, they're all over the literature, movies, games, and sometimes they end up being used wisely and contribute to the feeling of immersion, but in DSIII's case they are just used blandly, in a cliche'ed way and conveyed through the poor writing, and the overall result is a shit-fest of predictability and plagiarism which makes the story even more useless than it should be, even annoying at point, making the player wish to just go on killing stuff instead of having to listen/read/watch this clumsy attempt at making the game's world make sense.
Now to the gameplay, the real gem of Dungeon Siege III. I do not even know where to start, really. This game takes the concept of "streamlining" to a whole new level. Even calling the levels "levels" is a bit overstatement, as they are merely more-or-less winding corridors, not even trying to convey any idea of complexity. On top of that, there is a magic "show me where to go" button, upon tapping which a glittering path will appear on the ground, helping the player finding its way through the extremely complicated linear maps (yes, that is an oxymoron). The purpose of this is to help the player through the overly complicated quests which will involve killing someone hiding somewhere in the puzzling linearity of the areas or retrieving something, also hidden in some complicatedly linear crypt, cave or place. At least the variety is sufficient, despite drawing heavily upon all sort of trite environments we've all been through many time before: caves, swamps, forests, countryside, crypts, prisons, a foundry, a town in the middle of a battle, and so on: still I appreciated the balanced variety.
The game features three characters, and they are pre-made, with a name and a story and all of that, and no customization options whatsoever, looks-wise. This is something I like, and reminds me of Diablo, again: each character matches a typical CRPG "class", two in fact, since every character can alternate between two stances, each of which involves different skills, powers, and gameplay style. I went for Anjali, some kind of monk who fights with a staff/spear, whose alternate stance is a fire demon form, in which she turns into a blue-skinned, naked, flame-haired demon (/fire-elemental, or planetouched, or djinn, something like that...) hovering over the ground and bringing destruction all around in the form of fireballs and fire spells. She looks really hot in this form (turbopun!), and is much more fun to play than the melee monk. Another character is the generic melee dude, whose stances are 1-handed-sword+shield and 2-hander, which need no more comments. The third character is some steampunk mage whose purpose I did not quite get, but whose spells looked really nice and powerful. Last, a ranged hot piratey-looking lady, armed with guns and whose alternate stance is just a rifle: despite looking really good (convenient!) and having a funny accent, she turned out to be the stereotypical ranged type. However, after trying all the three classes for some time, I went for the hot demon of fire destruction, and never reverted back to her human form, in fact (apart from when the in-game dialogues and cut-scenes forcibly returned me to it, which I found really annoying, too).
Anyway, the three characters the player doesn't choose, will be available as companions in the game. Only one companion can follow the player at any time, and companions can be switched almost at any time. A shame that companions, despite being fully customizable skills-wise, are not controllable and provide no way to change their behavior (eg, having them use one stance rather than another, in order to better match the player's one). Apart from killing stuff for the PC, companions will also revive the PC whenever he/she falls into battle. In fact, the game only needs reloading a save-game whenever both the PC and their companion fall in battle at the same time, and this happens very rarely, at least at normal difficulty (I think it happened, like, twice, on a particularly tricky boss): this makes the game (feel) a lot easier than it should, in my opinion.
Despite every "class" having two subclasses (the stances), and each coming with its own specific skills and spells, it was horrible to find out how they are all sort of copy-pasted from one class to another and from one skill-tree to another. Meaning, the skill associated to a specific button will do more or less the same despite the character and the skill-tree chosen, regenerate stamina or push-back, or heal, or something. Again the skills and talents offer some interesting "customization" ideas, as some skills can be further customized in two different ways (eg, do more damage or consume less stamina/mana, or a balanced combination of the two, it's up to the player), but in the end they suffer from an extreme lack of variety. Every stance has about 3 "powers": the normal attack, the special attack, and the self-healing stuff. Even though I appreciated the lack of potions in the game (there are no potions at all in the game, an interesting choice, I daresay), the fact that life/mana/stamina instantly regenerate after each encounter (thanks to convenient health and mana orbs "dropped" by dead enemies) , and the fact that the healing skill can be more or less spammed freely, and will also be spammed by the AI-controlled companion, all contribute to making the game even easier. The dullness comes in when one realizes that it is not even worth the bother to "block" (yes, there is an active block/parry option) or to resort to alternate/special attacks (yes, the whole two of them): the game can easily be completed just by spamming the left mouse button and the associated basic attack.
Last bits and bobs, now. The AI is, well, non-relevant, which is ok in this kind of game. Average encounters (again, the classics: spiders, slugs, bandits, skeletons, etc) will be easily dispatched of, whereas bosses, for one, occasionally display some thin strands of originality, as far as game design goes. Nothing revolutionary, mind you: they are "original" within this game and in comparison to similar titles out there. The economy is not even bad, it is just futile: in the whole game I never once found myself having to buy an item from any merchant, nor the need to sell mine. All the cool stuff drops from mobs and chests, and the drops are PC-related, so if the PC is the melee guy, they will get melee drops, and so each character will get class-related drops. Convenient! Too bad the characters' appearance will only "upgrade" at certain levels and upon equipping some of the items: most items will not have any effect on the visual appearance of the character. Again, a Diablo comeback. The "campaign", as mentioned, is really short: 10 hours, and that's taking things slowly and doing every of the (few) possible side-quests.
Overall, barely a mediocre game, saved by its shortness and by its looks. As tradition, I will not give a numerical score to the game, but can only find a few, sparse categories of people whom the game might be appealing to: hardcore fan of the series, hardcore fans of the genre, or extremely bored people. To anyone who expects a pleasant, entertaining, fun gaming experience, let alone something close to an RPG, I would strongly recommend to stay off this game.