Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dungeon Siege III Review

While DS3 isn't really a true RPG, here's my 12 hour review (according to Steam I've spent that long playing DS III).

To give credit where credit is due, while the visuals in this game are not groundbreaking in any way, they are very pretty. There is no lack of eye candy as you toodle aimlessly along following little glowing balls of light. Oh and cleavage. Lots of cleavage. Where's the Hot Coffee Mod when you need it?

The game uses an over-the-shoulder parallax view similar to that in other games, like Neverwinter Nights or World of Warcraft. This is the only option available, and while it gives you the choice between zooming in and out, you are still locked into one camera angle, limiting your ability to see or interact with things that aren't directly in front of you.

This viewpoint also inhibits you. When your character is running along a narrow mountain path or a dungeon corridor, for example, you may spend a great deal of time looking in your character's ear as the camera can't pass through solid objects like mountain walls. This can make tight quarters combat extremely frustrating as you waste time trying to finagle the camera around to a point where you can at least see who's killing you.

Getting around is a pain. You have two ways of moving your character; AWSD keys (where W is forward or ahead of your character's front facing) or by right-clicking and holding a spot on the screen. There is no run or jump, so you are basically trotting along at the same speed throughout the game. Yawn...

Additionally, there is no macro-map that will allow you to traverse large areas which you have already explored or cleared. Instead there are Causeways; inter-dimensional gates that allow you to travel between two set locations and - as far as I can tell - only at specific times.

There is a mini-map, which I find nearly useless for navigation. It's tiny, it toggles between two miniscule zoom modes, and is populated only with a few symbols for your character, companion and the nearest save point.

The combat in this game is pretty off. It was definitely crafted with console systems in mind. you can't select anything on the screen with the mouse, you have to somehow magically get your character to "notice" a particular enemy (a compass displays beneath the model's feet) and hope that it doesn't back out of range before you get an attack off.

And the enemies do just that. They will jump in and then back out while your character whacks away at the empty air. On top of this the characters' combat moves are scripted, so you are sometimes stuck executing the same two moves even though you haven't hit the key twice (or so it seems to me).

Some of these monsters can outrun you as well. This kind of monster is particularly dangerous as they can not only "steal" your attacks and move out of range, they serve as distraction units so that your wasted attacks can't be directed to nearby enemies. 

There's another problem with monsters; some of the leaders can heal themselves. I've gone round and round with Palefang and even at 9th level I was unable to kill it: whack whack whack, run away and heal, then run back in and whack whack for over an hour while it's life total replenished itself. I am sorry, but this is stupid. This is a design flaw that effectively breaks the game for me. Infinitely recurring healing is a poor feature to put into a game villain.

Remember Deus Ex 2? Remember those long conversations that you couldn't break out of until you arrived at the end of the tedious dialog tree? Well if that's your cup of tea then you're in luck. The game cuts jarringly from it's over-the-shoulder perspective to a face-to-face perspective, usually with some bad-CGI female with an impossibly huge rack.

There appear to be some camera problems with this interface too, as there are the occassional bizarre angles where you seem to be peering at the conversation through someone's armpit, or a secret camera.

At this point you proceed down the well-worn path of picking frequently useless dialog options (rarely you are presented with a response that will garner you greater influence with whomever your companion of the moment might be) which all lead to the same place: another sub-quest.

I don't get the impression at all that my selections of dialog have any influence on the course of the game, except for the fact that winning influence with a companion lets them blab on about how difficult and complicated their lives are. There's nothing pivotal here, just another mini-game within the game that adds more lines to your list of chores.

Oh and you really are locked into these dialogs. You can't escape out of them or break away until whomever you were talking to exits your field of vision and you are kicked back out to the bird's eye view, whereupon whomever you were talking to... has mysteriously disappeared! "Gee Martha, who was that masked man?"

"A friend, Clyde, just a friend..."

Character Building and Leveling
DSIII has an unusal leveling process. After a combat in which your character leveled up you are taken - after an inexplicably long pause during which you will run around waiting for the character screen to open - to a series of windows where you select from a variety of abilities and traits.

These abilities and traits grow slowly, and it's not always easy to see what impact they have on your character. Since I purchased DSIII through Steam I didn't get the manual that (I hope) comes with the boxed game.

If you've played previous versions of Dungeon Siege, you know that this game is all about chaotic mob combats and dropped loot! It's what makes life good! That hasn't changed here; you will continue to run around mopping up little piles of gold coins and more magic items than you ever dreamed existed. 

Some of them you can even use. 

The Verdict
Overall I'm not very impressed with Dungeon Siege 3. It doesn't compare favorably to it's predecessors. In fact I had more fun playing Dungeon Siege 1 in the run-up to this review than I did playing it's shinier, brand new cousin.

In a nutshell, this game gave me the impression that it was developed by 3 or 4 different groups of programmers without any form of contact between them. "OK we'll work on the console combat controls, group B will work on the leveling mechanics, group C will work on movement, and that guy in the back will handle dialog and story."

What I mean by this is there seems to be no correlation between the different elements of the game. While the whole thing works, it's far from seamless, and in RPGs the devil is always in the details. So the whole thing gives the impression at first of a series of mini-games all strung together.

There are too many problems with the game; it's jarring jumps from dialog to combat, it's inexplicable array of skills, abilities, traits and features which lack documentation, and it's fatally clumsy combat all serve to either limit your options or to make them incomprehensible. If the intention of Square Enix and Obsidian were to hit this one out of the park, they must have tried it using the directionless combat mechanic that hobbles gameplay in DS III.

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