Dungeon Siege III Hands-On Preview - Four's a Crowd

We get an exclusive hands-on look at the full cast of playable characters in our latest preview of Dungeon Siege III.

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With Dungeon Siege III, developer Obsidian Entertainment (creator of Fallout: New Vegas) has been tasked with rebooting a classic PC hack-and-slash dungeon-crawler series for the modern age. The original Dungeon Siege, which was released back in 2002 by developer Gas Powered Games, was beloved for its accessibility and addictive gameplay. However, Obsidian isn't afraid to make a few controversial changes to the formula, such as removing the ability to create your own custom characters in favor of offering a selection of four premade heroes. The aim is to bring the developer's storytelling prowess to a genre infamous for putting plot on the back burner.

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In Dungeon Siege III, you command one of four heroes in service to a dying order. In days long past, the knights of the 10th Legion protected the lands of Ehb throughout a bloody conflict known as the War of Legions. After the war's conclusion, the Legion established the independent kingdom of Ehb and served as its guardian and protector. Together the two groups flourished for many years until Ehb's king was tragically murdered. Despite all the good it had done, the 10th Legion ended up taking the blame and was systematically hunted and destroyed by the outraged population led by the villainess Jayne Kassynder. Today, the kingdom of Ehb has fractured and is slowly falling under Kassynder's sway. In this dark hour, the last remnants of the 10th Legion are gathering to rebuild and retake their land.

In order to do that, we had a lot of battles to fight. Combat was all about switching among our character's three stances on the fly. The first two were offensive stances and changed what attacks and abilities our character could access. The third was a defensive stance that allowed us to block, dodge roll, and heal ourselves. Switching among the three was instantaneous and as simple as pressing a button. The effects of each varied wildly depending on whom we were playing as and what his or her role was in the battle. Our old standby, Lucas Montbarron, was a front-line brawler whose stances offered different variants on melee combat. The long-range riflewoman Katarina was the complete opposite, with techniques that favored dealing high damage to targets at a distance.

The other two heroes, Reinhart Manx and Anjali, weren't as narrowly defined in their roles and combined both range and melee tactics. Because we hadn't seen much of Reinhart previously, we spent more time with the aging sorcerer than with the others. Compared to the rest of the cast, this character felt the most complex, given his affinity for indirect tactics. His first stance, dynamic, let him pummel foes with an electrified gauntlet while blasting others with the homing lightning strike ability. His second stance, entropy, wasn't as direct. His basic attack was now a projectile in the form of a sweeping energy wave that appeared at a set distance away from him. Lining up this attack in the heat of battle was tricky until we got acclimated to the gap between the attack and the attacker. It also took some time getting used to this stance's first ability, clockwork trap. After a brief casting time, Reinhart would lay a magical trap that would damage enemies who tripped it.

All of your heroes level up evenly, so you don't have to worry about anyone falling behind.
All of your heroes level up evenly, so you don't have to worry about anyone falling behind.

We also played around with Anjali. Her play style felt similar to Reinhart's in that she could switch between close and ranged combat. But while the mage favored traps and trickery, Anjali was all about laying on the hurt as quickly as possible. In her human-form stance, she could use various staves and maces to clock enemies over the head before striking all those before her with the spinning-kick ability. Her second form brought about a fiery transformation that morphed her into an archon--a mythical creature of immense elemental power. Now, she could pelt her enemies with an unlimited supply of fireballs and lay down the aura of immolation which injured enemies who stepped within it.

As we completed quests and cut our way through innumerable bandits, our heroes would rack up experience and advance in level. This awarded us with ability, proficiency, and talent points to spend on customizing our characters. Ability points weren't awarded at every level, but when they were, they let us purchase new abilities to use in combat (by level 9, we had three ability points to spend). Proficiency points were used to customize those abilities. Each ability had two proficiencies and five slots. Each time we purchased a rank in either proficiency, it occupied one of those slots and altered the effects of that ability. For example, with Reinhart's clockwork trap, we could alter it to do more damage or temporally stun victims with every rank.

Finally, there were the talents. Talents were similar to proficiencies, though they weren't tied to any one ability and instead helped our character as a whole. Each talent was broken into five ranks and could be used to beef up a character's critical hit chance or increase the amount of gold he or she found. The other way we could customize our character was through the collection of loot. Every time we slew a bandit or opened a treasure chest a pile of riches would spill out at our feet. From the randomized assortments of odds and ends, we could collect swords, shields, staves, and suits of armor that were each unique to a specific character. This meant that Lucas couldn't wield Katarina's venomous hand cannon and Reinhart couldn't wear Anjali's form-fitting breastplate.

Reinhart's clockwork trap is great for snaring large groups of enemies at once.
Reinhart's clockwork trap is great for snaring large groups of enemies at once.

Having items that only certain characters can use helped alleviate some of the "finder's keepers" mentality when playing in multiplayer with friends. While local cooperative play only supports up to one other person, you can play with an entire group of four online. However, players who aren't the host for that session will be playing pro bono, meaning they won't be gaining any loot or experience for the characters in their game. On the whole, playing Dungeon Siege III didn't feel far removed from our time with the first-person shooter/role-playing-game hybrid Borderlands. All the simple pleasure of collecting loot and completing quests with your friends were there, and we're excited to see how Obsidian fleshes out these characters in the final release. You can get your hands on Dungeon Siege III this June on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. And, if you're hungry for more information, be sure to check out our daily demo of the game here.

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