Dungeon Siege III - Hands-On Opening Acts

The venerable Dungeon Siege series is ready for a comeback, so we go hands-on to see how this latest incarnation stacks up against its past.

Since its initial release back in 2002, the Dungeon Siege series has always been about two things: exploring dungeons and collecting loot. It was a series revered for accessibility, addictive gameplay, and cooperative multiplayer. After getting our hands on Dungeon Siege III, we are excited to see that developer Obsidian isn't deviating from the elements that made this series great.

You see eight bandits; he sees eight piles of treasure.

Our demo began in the shoes of intrepid adventurer Lucas Mont Barron. As an orphan, Lucas has finally come of age and is ready to assist in rebuilding the Legion after its near destruction by the villainess Jeyne Kassendar. Right away, Obsidian's in-house-developed Onyx engine made the game's fantasy setting pop with color, lending a storybook feel to our surroundings. We set out across a mountain pass on the way to our birthright, the Mont Barron estate, to meet with the few remaining Legion members. Naturally, things went awry almost immediately. Cresting a rise in the pass, we spotted the estate--or what remained of it--engulfed in flames.

Horrified at this turn of events, we plunged into the inferno. A few stray barrels caught our eye, and we stopped just long enough to try out Dungeon Siege III's combat system on these wooden targets before facing the inevitable danger that lay ahead. Combat is conducted through stances, with different sets of abilities tied to each stance. By default, our character looked every part of the adventurous rogue, with a quick-hitting sword and sturdy shield in hand, as well as access to a shield-bash ability. As the name suggests, this maneuver let us smack an opponent upside the face, knocking him prone and occasionally stunning him.

The next stance substituted our current armaments for a massive, two-handed broadsword and a dash ability that was handy for nabbing pesky ranged units behind enemy lines. Finally, a defensive block stance allowed us to--you guessed it--block hostile attacks while conferring the ability to regenerate health. As the barrels crumpled beneath our blade, a few home invaders took notice and attacked. We quickly switched to the sword-and-shield stance, which excelled at cutting down individual foes, while the slower-hitting broadsword caught multiple enemies in its wide arc.

With flames licking our ankles, we cut through the smoke to find Martin Guisgard, a fellow Legionnaire. A dash of exposition later, and we were assigned to seek out Odo, the man in change of organizing this failed event, at the chapter house in the woodlands of Rukkenvahl. However, the path there was littered with bandits and other malcontents. But the one good thing about bandits is that they're always loaded with loot. As we hacked our way from one villain to the next, color-coded treasures spilled out at our feet--some in the form of currency, others as weapons and armor.

The acquisition of loot played a large role in our time with Dungeon Siege III. Every piece of armor we equipped changed the appearance of our hero, and a detailed equipment screen clearly displayed the statistical differences between the various pieces. And should you run out of inventory space, unwanted items can be broken down locally into cash rather than simply thrown away. Six pairs of boots, three chest pieces, and one flaming sword later, we located the chapter house and met with Odo.

An enemy's stamina is represented by the colored circle at his feet.

Without even giving us a chance to rest, Odo sent us in search of survivors who might have fled to the nearby village of Raven's Rill. By this time, we had done enough stabbing to reach the next level. Leveling up lets you unlock new abilities for your stances, modify the effects of those abilities, and upgrade your hero's stats. Our shield-bash ability, for instance, could be modified to do more knockdowns or have a higher stun chance. You may choose to advance through either of these ability trees--or both if you have enough skill points to spend--but you'll have a limited number of skill points throughout the game.

We arrived at the sleepy village of Raven's Rill, and after a stern word with the town's gatekeeper, we promptly got sidetracked by side quests. After aiding a merchant who had been robbed and helping a vengeful elderly woman, we were set upon by the mysterious Katarina who--despite her introduction--was anything but subtle. We interacted with her, as well as the other locals, using a dialogue wheel. After some questioning, she turned us on to a nearby cave where some Legion members were being held captive.

Inside, we finally located our brethren and their captor: Vera, a powerful witch who served as our first boss encounter. Versed in the arcane arts, Vera preferred to teleport around the arena and pepper our hero with some nasty offensive spells. She also sported a nasty aura designed to impede our movement. Ultimately, all it took was a liberal application of cold steel to fix it. Once she was defeated, we turned our attention to the prisoners.

Among those captured was our first would-be companion Anjali, a spellcasting ranged hero who is supposedly an Archon of legend. The way you talk to and interact with others can influence your companion's opinion of you, for better or worse, manifesting in small performance boosts for content cohorts. However, our demo ended there, so her power remained untapped. In the full release, you'll be able to manage a party of up to four heroes, either in a single-player game where you control all four characters, or with a group of three other people in co-op mode. Two players may share the screen locally, and you can bring in two more players online. The other players will serve as assistants to one main player, and no progress will be carried over to their game.

While our time with Dungeon Siege III was spent on a PC, we played it using a Xbox 360 gamepad. The controls were simple to understand, with movement tied to the sticks and stance-specific abilities tied to the face buttons. Combat flowed fast and frantic as enemies would charge us in large numbers with ranged attackers supporting them in the rear. Tapping the X button unleashed the broadsword's dash ability which proved invaluable by letting us quickly cut through the center and dispatch two, or even three, ranged attackers at once with the sword's wide reach. After that, a simple click of the shoulder button let us switch to our sword and shield stance. We had to keep moving to prevent our numerous foes from encircling us. And if one did start hitting our flank, the shield bash could incapacitate them long enough for us to regain the advantage. For the duration of our admittedly short play session, we had only these two offensive abilities at our disposal and no party members to command--but the game will have other skills you can learn and companions who can join you later.

Anjali may be more magically inclined, but she's not afraid to mix it up in melee.

To help curb potential living room fisticuffs, items and equipment you find during your travels are unique to the individual characters--meaning only one character may wear a particular pair of gloves or wield a specific staff. Inventory is also shared among the party members. Players may drop in and play and drop out when they're finished, with the computer retaking control of their discarded hero. In addition to co-op play, Obsidian is pouring a lot of effort into crafting a robust story. Creative writer Geroge Ziets, author of the moody Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer expansion, is penning this tale, with series' progenitor Chris Taylor serving as a project adviser. Be on the lookout for Dungeon Siege III this May.

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