Dungeon Siege III (PC, Xbox360, PS3) Review

Click here to view the Dungeon Siege III (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3) Description page for screenshots and more information.

Quick Review

~Review by tankMage (December 2020)

Score: C+

Pros 

-Four playable characters with unique abilities

-Decent action RPG combat

-Great looking spell and ability effects

-Beautiful ambient sound

-Great controller compatibility 

Cons

-The gameplay mechanics are drastically different from the original Dungeon Siege games

-NPC models look like bad mannequins 

-Uncompelling cast

-Keyboard controls feel awkward, though they can be remapped 

-Camera mechanics are below the standards of this game’s time and the camera often behaves oddly

-Boring soundtrack

-Forced AI companion that is nearly useless

Full Review

The third time is NOT the charm.

How do you review a game as boring as Dungeon Siege III? Well, I’m not sure, but here goes… So Dungeon Siege III isn’t at all bad, it just lacks personality and, for want of a better term, heart. I’m not sure why Squareenix and Obsidian decided to pick this IP up back in 2011, especially when Obsidian must have been busy with Fallout: New Vegas. Regardless of Squeenix’s reasoning, placing their name behind the game (along with Obsidian) certainly sets a high bar. Unfortunately, they failed to deliver a compelling product and Dungeon Siege III fails to measure up to run of the mill hack ‘n slash RPGs like Champions of Norrath, let alone do its predecessors justice.

If you’re wondering what this game is about, it’s a fairly standard ARPG. Players control their hero in real time and gather gear as well as level up. You’ll also complete quests and talk to a lot of NPCs. The only thing that really separates this title from others of its kind is the focus system, which requires players to build up “focus” (which acts as MP) in order to use special attacks. It’s also worth noting that the open ended skill based character customization that defined the first two games was eschewed in favor of a more rigid leveling system. This alone was enough to disappoint fans of the series, but it’s best to focus on what the game is, rather than what it should have been, so let’s get down to the brass tacks.

Story 

Dungeon Siege III’s plot is actually cool. About two hundred years after the events of the first game, the 10th Legion (valiant defenders of the Kingdom of Ehb) were implicated in the assassination of the king. In response to his death, the king’s adopted daughter (Jayne Kassynder) lead a pogrom against the legion that resulted in its destruction. Afterwards, the country fell into civil war, with the church supporting Jayne as heir to the throne and the nobility backing the king’s biological daughter. Fast forward another thirty years and the game begins with one of four descendants of the legion traveling to an old mansion in order to meet with other legion survivors and heirs. 

The actual plot and story are pretty good, despite the fact that they don’t really feel appropriate for the series. There’s enough lore and mystery to make things interesting, plus your decisions actually have an impact on the ending. However, a good story is more than just a chain of events and execution is arguably just as important as the plot. This is where Obsidian failed spectacularly, because the story is told through a series of long, often dull dialog dumps that are made even more boring by the game’s mediocre cast.

Seriously, everyone in this game has the personality of a cardboard box with the exception of the spicy Lescanzi heroine, Katarina, and even her bad girl schtick gets old after a while. Most games have generic casts, but there are usually a few standouts in the crowd or some really well written lines that help move things along, but Dungeon Siege III has none of this and watching the heroes discuss the game’s events is like sitting through a calculus lecture. The four heroes, Lucas, Anjali, Katrina, and Reinhardt spend much of the game delivering their lines in a flat, robotic manner. Reinhardt and Katarina do have a few vaguely amusing one-liners, but it’s nowhere near enough to save the story.

Lucas and his friends are about as vapid as they look.

It also doesn’t help that the cutscenes are basically glorified PowerPoint presentations with interchangeable parts that reflect decisions made by the player. It was cool of Obsidian to give the player options that impact the outcome of the plot, but this form of presentation didn’t work. There’s something really anticlimactic about watching something that’s cobbled together out of prefabricated parts that are only loosely related to one another and a linear story that had some actual passion behind it would have been preferable to the monstrosity Obsidian came up with.

It’s worth mentioning that various NPCs and snippets of information found in the land of Ehb often call back to the series’ lore. Heroes like The Farmer and Rusk are frequently mentioned, so fans of the original games will probably get a good dose of nostalgia while exploring. In many ways, Obsidian actually did a good job of preserving and expanding the Dungeon Siege universe, howbeit in a somewhat awkward manner thanks to the aforementioned political intrigue plot.

Graphics 

I play games that were made last century and praise their graphics (if they deserve it), so I can’t rag on Dungeon Siege III’s graphics too much. However, I really didn’t like the art style and many of the game’s assets seem half rendered. Not much can be done about the art style (still, a lot of the armor in this game looks stupid) and it mostly boils down to taste, but the rendering issue could have been fixed pretty easily. See, much of the game takes place from a bird’s-eye-view and the devs likely didn’t put a lot of detail into the NPCs, backgrounds, etc, because players would not see them up close. This makes sense since it saves money and puts less strain on processors, but it only works if you don’t zoom in on the shitty looking NPCs. Guess what this game does? Yup, it zooms in on shitty NPC models when you initiate conversations with quest givers and the like. The fact that Obsidian took the time to make the playable characters and important NPCs look nice only aggravates the problem, since you’ll have a highly detailed hero talking to an NPC that looks like a cheap mannequin whenever you take a quest.

Get ready to sit through a lot of these crappy cutscenes.

I have to say that the ability effects look really nice and add a lot of much needed oomph to the game. Just about every skill has a cool explosion or glow effect and even normal weapon attacks tend to be dramatic. A lot of the weapons also look good, though they’re hard to see, because of the perspective, ironically. Enchanted weapons have a cool after image effect that I really liked as well, so Obsidian got something right.

Music and Sound

Well, I think there’s music in this game, but it’s so bland and soulless that it just fades into the background. Maybe that’s the point, since this game is full of voice acting and we can’t have music getting in the way of the VOs now can we? Speaking of voice acting, there’s plenty of narrated dialogue to sit through, which is good if you don’t like to read, I suppose. The actors were at least competent, though they weren’t given much to work with. The sound effects are at least praiseworthy, despite the fact that some of them were recycled from older Dungeon Siege games. I have to say that I did really enjoy the ambient sounds and they added a sense of atmosphere to the game.

User Interface 

Obsidian did an excellent job with the UI. The PC version (which I played) allows for both keyboard/mouse and controller interface, which is really nice. Personally, I didn’t like the way this game plays with a keyboard and mouse, but it’s possible to remap keys. Even better, the game works great with an Xbox One or 360 controller. That said, the controls can be a bit fiddly, because there are so many abilities, but it doesn’t take long to learn them. On a side note, the camera sometimes freaks out by zooming in way too much in certain places. While not common, this phenomenon is annoying in the heat of battle and not something one would expect from a game made after 2007.

Gameplay 

If you’re wondering how this game managed to get even a mediocre score after I’ve spent most of this review complaining about it, look no further: Dungeon Siege III’s core gameplay saves it from being a disaster. That’s not to say it’s the pinnacle of ARPGs, as I said before: Obsidian’s changes to the series’ mechanics were largely detrimental. Players will run around, smacking things with swords, staves, or magic depending on the character they are using just like in any other Action RPG. Quest giving NPCs and the occasional boss round the action out. You’ll also find plenty of equipment and even hidden treasures.

Despite being a stock hack and slash in many ways, this title brings a few of its own ideas to the table… for better or worse. The most notable feature of this game is its Focus system, which governs how often a player can use his character’s special abilities. Most of us are used to using MP or Stamina to cast spells and execute special abilities in RPGs. Of course, MP usually regenerates over time and can often be replenished with potions. Obsidian decided that this tried and true system wasn’t for their game, so they implemented a Focus system that requires players to use regular attacks before they can unleash their more powerful abilities. In the end, players will often fall into a pattern of using standard weapon attacks, then unloading on the enemy with special abilities until they are out of Focus. 

Being able to dunk on enemies with a glowy sword is one of the game’s few redeeming features.

While the Focus system breaks up the action a bit and is fun early on, it wears thin after an hour or so. There are two problems with this system that make it tedious. First off, special abilities are expensive to use, which often means the player can only use a skill two to four times before having to build Focus again. On top of that, there’s no way to increase maximum Focus. However, several characters have skills that allow the player to replenish Focus rapidly, though these skills are unlocked later in the game. Clever players can even figure how to turn some of the four heroes in Focus batteries, which renders the entire system pointless, so I’m really not sure why Obsidian bothered to do away with good old fashioned MP in the first place.

Next, we come to the playable heroes. There are four heroes in total, a paltry roster compared to the first two games, though all of them have their own unique abilities. While this certainly distinguished one playable character from another, it also robbed the game of the joy of experimentation that was present in the other games, which allowed players to teach their heroes whatever skills and abilities they wished. Obsidian must have been aware of this issue, so they allowed players to customize each hero’s skills by granting them certain properties to choose from, but this usually boils down to increasing an ability’s damage or making it do things like restore Focus on a kill, which does little to make a character feel special. Additionally, there’s a lot of overlap between skill sets. Every character has some single target damage, healing, and area of effect abilities, which makes them feel sort of like reskins of the same character. To be fair, I’m exaggerating a bit, but the fact that the heroes share a lot in common really does make them feel less unique.

Despite all of the issues with the game’s mechanics, blowing away enemies with flashy AoE attacks and overpowered single target skills was fun. Some of the skills were also really original, like Reinhardt’s Mirror Leap, which makes him teleport far away while simultaneously spawning a clone that attacks his enemies. Anjali was also cool, because she could transform into a fire being that could hurl fireballs or fight with a powerful staff in human form. Even Lucas, the generic knight, and the gun toting Katarina have some fun abilities that make them stand out, so there was at least some creativity behind the character designs.

The various areas and bosses also helped move things along. Every part of the game had its own unique enemies and setting, which made an otherwise bland adventure a bit more exciting. The bosses also topped off each part of the game nicely and some of them (like Ranjali) are notoriously tough on Hardcore Difficulty. Also, there was one area called  Gunderic Mansion that really stood out. Though found  early in the game, it was filled with some tough enemies and a climatic boss battle. Gunderic mansion also features a lot of hidden goodies and a story that’s told more through fragments of text found in the building, rather than long bouts of dialogue. The DLC was also fairly good and had the same style of the mansion more or less, so it’s almost worth playing the game just for these two areas.

Finally, I have to talk about the multiplayer and AI companion elements. Multiplayer is completely dead even though I’m fairly certain Steam supports the online functionality as of the writing of this review, so I can’t comment much on it. However, Obsidian was kind enough to include AI controlled allies that follow the player around whether they like it or not, which kind of simulates online multiplayer…if your teammate is brain dead and completely useless. Any damage dealt by your computer controlled partner seems cut in half for regular enemies and bosses seem completely unphased by their attacks (at least on Hardcore Mode) so the AI partner is just there for show. They also seem to use abilities at random and the game forces you to spend all of your points at level up, which means you can’t even rely on your partner using a helpful buff or heal. Once again, I’m not sure why Obsidian decided to foist another shitty game mechanic upon their audience, but it would have been really nice if they allowed us to turn the damn AI companion off or issue it commands.

Final Thoughts

Ok, I was really hard on this game, but when an RPG fan sees the names Dungeon Siege, Squareenix, and Obsidian converge in one place, expectations soar. I’ll go out on a limb and say Obsidian wasn’t sure how to approach this game and the devs probably didn’t understand the spirit of the series, because it seems like there was at least some effort put into the final product. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to resurrect the series and instead relegated it to the dustbin of history. Still, Dungeon Siege III is an interesting specimen for retro game types and those who can’t get enough of the series. Even so, I can’t help but wonder what someone who understood the series better could have accomplished if given a chance to steer this project in the right direction.

Recommendations

There are dozens of ARPGs of varying stripes out there and it’s hard to suggest this game to anyone. That said, maybe you’ve played the best as ARPGs go and you want to play the rest. If that’s the case, Dungeon Siege III isn’t a terrible place to start.

This review is property of RetroMaggedon.com ©2020

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