The last time we had a hands-on with Dungeon Siege III, we had a go at using main character Lucas Mont Barron and teamed up with spear-wielding fire-weaver Anjali. We take another trip through the same stages from the last preview with the trigger-happy Katarina and, for a brief moment, magician Reinhart on the Xbox 360 build of the upcoming sequel.
For starters, we couldn't apply the melee approach with Katarina because, frankly, she isn't exactly good when it comes to getting up close and personal with spiders and highwaymen. Instead, we had to rely on combating them from afar by switching between her rifle stance and her dual-pistol stance. The former lets the gunsmith shoot at enemies from a great distance at the cost of a lower rate of fire, while the latter is useful when the enemies get a little too close thanks to the pistol's wide attack radius. As soon as we managed to snag an AI partner halfway in the early parts of the game--in this case, Anjali--our tactics were made clear: let Anjali take down enemies head-on while Katarina peppers the opposition from a good distance.
Katarina's default abilities help accentuate her ranged game. Heartseeking Shot lets loose a critical hit attack, while Caress of Suffering stuns an enemy for 13 seconds. Other abilities were up for unlocking as we leveled her up: Chosen Prey weakens an enemy to the point that it will always receive critical damage from hits. Furthermore, any enemy that dies while being afflicted with Chosen Prey will let out a damaging radius blast that harms nearby foes. Our personal favorite was Warding Ritual, where she lays down a purple field that knocks back anything touching it.
Switching between stances lets you mix up different abilities on the fly. For instance, after casting Warding Ritual while in dual-wielding stance, Katarina can switch back to her rifle stance to pick off enemies with hard-hitting shots while under the knockback protection of the purple ward. This combination proved useful in a particular quest set in the ephemeral forest known as Mournweald, as swarms of fishlike vodyai were prone to ganging up on the pair of adventurers. The AI-controlled Anjali was great at drawing attention with her fiery melee attacks, while Katarina proceeded to stand back behind said ward and shoot to her heart's content.
Leveling up also lets you allocate more points into boosting up current abilities to give additional properties via the Proficiency tab and activating Talents. We dabbled with the Proficiency tab and had a choice to tweak Heartseeking Shot: either we allocate a point on the Rapid Fire proficiency, which makes every kill from the shot give back six focus points per rank, or we put one on Magic Bullet, which makes every shot have a 5 percent chance per rank of ricocheting and hitting an additional target. Katarina's other abilities are up for modding: her Caress of Suffering spell can either reduce an enemy's defense and offense power or act as a mark that makes her leech life and focus points from a slaughtered enemy.
Talents beef up your characters passively. Each character gets 10 talents to choose from, with each talent being upgradable up to five ranks. In Katarina's case, we focused on Steady Aim (gets an additional 4 percent agility per rank), Thrill of the Hunt (buffs her power stat for each critical hit inflicted), and a few others that make her normal shots ricochet and hit additional targets and make her dodge roll damaging to those within the roll's path.
We didn't extensively check out the mage Reinhart like we did Katarina, but there are still some points to share. Like with Katarina, his abilities are better off used from a good distance, although his default Dynamic Magic stance lets him melee enemies with lightning-charged fists. The magic user has a few useful talents like Numismatics, which lets you pick up an additional 20 percent gold per rank from gold drops, and Dynamic Mastery, which "charges" up enemies for an additional 3 percent damage per talent rank provided that Reinhart hits them with Dynamic attacks.
While it's too soon to tell whether or not the rest of the adventure in Dungeon Siege III will mix up the "kill first, ask questions and loot later" formula, or whether the load times for menus and area transitions will be drastically fixed (bringing up menus takes a few seconds), the action seems decent, and the customization options for each of the four heroes warrant multiple play sessions. With the addition of two-player same-screen drop-in-and-drop-out co-op mode and four-player co-op mode, gamers can look forward to setting up their character and deciding their loot-hunting play styles when the game is released in June.