Designer Chris Taylor is best known for his work on Total Annihilation, the award-winning 1997 strategy game. His new team, Gas Powered Games, is now hard at work finishing up Dungeon Siege, a colorful 3D role-playing game that lets you play as a humble farmer-turned-hero. And the game is open-ended enough to let you create a character who will eventually become a master warrior, a veteran marksman, or a powerful wizard. Over the course of the game, you can master close-combat fighting, ranged combat, and magic spells and also enlist a party of followers to aid you on your quest.
And judging from the recent build we've received, most of Dungeon Siege's most interesting features are already in and working. The single-player game lets you create a detailed custom 3D character from a male or female model and then choose his or her hairstyle, hair color, skin color, and clothing. (The multiplayer mode will also let you choose to play as a dwarf or, of all things, a skeleton.) Once you've created your character, you'll be ready to venture out into the world.
Dungeon Siege begins on your character's farm. You've been tending to your crops as usual when you suddenly hear the pained cries of a village elder. Apparently, he's been struck down by monsters and warns you to seek help against the coming invasion. Dungeon Siege's controls are easy to pick up, especially for players familiar with Blizzard's Diablo games, so we were able to quickly get into the game, arm ourselves with the farmer's pitchforks and rakes, which happened to be lying on the ground, and get moving by using the game's click-here-to-move-here control scheme, which also resembles Diablo's. Though the game's different areas, such as the farmer's field, the forests, the dungeons, and other locations, are all colorful, detailed, and full of ambient wildlife, each of them is clearly and intuitively laid out, and many outdoor areas have roads to help you find your way. But as you might expect, you can and should explore past the roads to uncover secret monster dens and treasure troves. Dungeon Siege also has a handy auto-map that you can bring up at any time, and since you can actually move your characters while looking directly at the auto-map screen, you're a lot less likely to miss the game's many secrets. The game also has some very nice lighting effects, including animated shadows and day-and-night cycles--and though Dungeon Siege's nights are dark, they'll never make you lose your way.
And since Dungeon Siege is a hack-and-slash RPG, you'll fight by day, by night, over hills, under dales, and pretty much everywhere and anywhere else. The game uses a highly streamlined system that lets you quickly choose your weapons. Each of your characters gets four slots--a melee weapon slot, a ranged-weapon slot (for bows and thrown weapons), and two magic spell slots--and you can switch your active weapon with a simple hotkey setup. Dungeon Siege will also let you set down general strategies for your stalwart band of adventurers to follow. For instance, you can arrange them in different marching formations, like in many real-time strategy games and also in recent RPGs such as Baldur's Gate II and Icewind Dale. The game will also let you set behavior patterns for your party members--you can set them to hold their ground, actively pursue monsters, attack the nearest or most dangerous enemy, or let them freelance.
And rather than force you to click repeatedly on your enemies until they die, Dungeon Siege has a fully functional auto-combat system--much like the auto-combat in online role-playing games such as EverQuest and Asheron's Call--that will automatically engage your characters with enemy monsters by using each character's currently equipped weapon or spells. Instead of spending all your time clicking around the screen to choose which specific enemy your adventurers will fight, you have the option to set your characters' formation, how defensive or aggressive you want them to be, and let them go at it. As a result, you can focus more on developing your characters' different abilities the way you want them to turn out.
The way your characters develop is especially important in Dungeon Siege, since the game doesn't have regular character levels. Instead, your characters will improve their abilities through repeated use--again, just like in many online RPGs. Your characters have three statistics--strength, dexterity, and intelligence-- and each of these is tied to using close-range weapons, missile weapons, and magic, respectively. If you use swords and clubs, your character's strength and melee skill will eventually increase with use. If you prefer bows and thrown weapons, your dexterity and ranged skills will increase. And if you prefer to use magic, your skill within the game's two schools of magic--combat magic, which includes fire bolts and acid sprays, and nature magic, which includes healing and protective spells--and your intelligence will increase. The more you use a particular skill, the better you get at it; it's a simple system that should let you design more or less exactly the character you want without having to worry about saving up character points or waiting to store up a certain number of experience points.
Dungeon Siege makes fighting simple to manage and simple to play out, but the game also has other features, like its inventory system. If you've been following Dungeon Siege's development at all, then you'll already be familiar with its most prominent new inventory feature: the pack mule. Yes, if you can afford to pay enough gold for it, you can have an actual mule in your party, and it'll follow you around like a regular party member and carry all of your stuff. That frees up more of your party's inventory for the game's many weapons, armor items, and potions. Like other hack-and-slash games, Dungeon Siege has blue mana potions and red healing potions that you can pick up in bulk, but since the game lets you take a sip of a potion (rather than consuming an entire potion every time), you'll be a lot less likely to run out of potions and have to drop what you're doing to head back to town for more. Dungeon Siege also has "group drink" hotkeys that will make all of your injured or fatigued party members quaff a potion. So even if one of your characters is severely wounded, you won't have to stop hacking or slashing to carefully select that character and then open your inventory--you can just have the entire group sip their potions and jump right back into the fray.
And as if that weren't enough, Dungeon Siege also has a magic spell that changes items on the ground into small amounts of gold (less than they'd normally be worth at a shop), so instead of lugging around inventories full of salable weapons and other items, you can turn all of it into cold, hard cash and be on your way. The game even has a "get all" hotkey that automatically commands your characters to pick up every single item in the vicinity so that you won't have to hunt and peck around the ground to pick up every last bit of loot.
It's clear that Dungeon Siege will not only look good, but will also have all the gameplay you'd expect from a hack-and-slash game--without all of the annoying details. How will the full game measure up? We'll find out when the game is released in April.