Gamespot was definitely too harsh on this one - it is the best hack'n'slash on the PSP up to date.
Dungeon Siege : Throne of Agony takes its name from the succesful Diablo-like PC game series. This installment, however, has found its home on the PSP, which is a compliment to this system's technical prowess. The game is a rather typical example of hack'n'slash, but good execution and attention to detail make it interesting title and a worthy addition to PSP's library of games.
The story (loosely related to its PC predecessors) is more or less typical "evil-lurking-in-faraway-lands" variant. Still, it is nicely told and the story development is not overly simplistic. Endangered town, destroyed village, dark forests and abandoned ruins - all the classical elements are there (plus the prophecy of the great danger, of course). Progress is rather linear in terms of storyline, with a few optional side quests.
Three characters that a player can choose from try to avoid getting fit in the usual fighter/mage/rogue scheme, but nevertheless they do fall in that categories. The Warlord is a big hulking brute, elven Shadow Stalker (love that name) is something between swift lightweight warrior and amazon archer and the Battle Mage is obviously a spellcaster with a little bit of fighting skill.
Our hero can develop in many ways. There are statistics to tweak, there are lots of armor and weapon combinations to use, there are skills that the character can advance in. So far nothing out of ordinary, even though the whole system has been pulled out nicely and it actually feels that the choices of a player do influence the behaviour of their hero.
What is new, however, is the concept of classes and pets. The first idea reminds me of a PC strategy game, Disciples. When our hero advances to the thirtyth level (and trust me, it does take some time), they will face the choice between two hero classes. Each of them will yield different abilities and bonuses when gaining a level. For example, the Shadow Stalker can become either Ranger, thus specialising in range weapons, or Blademaster, skilled in the blade weapons. When all the levels of the chosen hero class are completed, the choice legendary class becomes available (different two for each hero class, so the total of four). Aforementioned Shadow Stalker, having chosen Ranger hero class, would then be presented with the choice of becoming either Sniper or Huntress. Had the player chosen Blademaster,however, they would now have to chose from Ninja and Blood Assasin. This idea adds a lot to the replayability of the game.
The pets system basically allows you to make a choice between two sidekicks to assist the hero in his endavours. In case of each character class the choice is different and the pets complement the abilities of the hero - for example the battlemage will have to chose between a big stone golem and a fire elemental. As the game develops there might be other companions to join us (nature mage, for example), but only one can follow us at a time. Although this sounds simple (and in fact it really is), the system adds some depth to the gameplay, as some of our pets might be better for one or other style of playing and it is actually fun to experiment with it.
Graphics The animated cut-scenes are nice, but nothing extraordinary. They are cartoons rather than prerendered sequences but, strangely, their style does not stand out from the rest of the game. They serve their purpose (telling the story) and that's more or less it. How the things look while player slays the monsters, however, is where the game really shines. The levels (both indoor and outdoor) have a very different feel to them, they do not seem repetitive and some of them manage to be both impressive and memorable. Misty forests, snowy mountain ridges, underground caves, ruined catacombs, evil temples, majestic towers, descrated shrines - there is plenty of places to battle evil. Great attention to the detail can be observed in many subtle little touches, such as the rays of light shining through the trees in the forest, tapestries on the walls of the haunted abbey, mushrooms growing in the caves or flocks of birds flying in the distance. Additional flavour is added by the day and night cycle in the outdoor locations. The characters are nicely animated, both our protagonist and the enemy hordes. There is a lot of evil beasts (some of them really huge) and cultists to slay and although there is a little bit of model reuse, they are generally well varied and have distinctive look to them. Special effects of spells and enemy attacks shine in the air, fires burn, waters flow and dust fills the air. All in all there is plenty of eye candy, and since the camera is close to the action, all the details don't go unnoticed.
Background music is good and conveys well the atmosphere of fantasy world. Some tunes bear resemblance to Morrowind, some to Lord of the Rings and some are more forgettable, but all in all they enhance well the ambience of the game. Voiceovers are nice, although they are only present during the cutscenes and as one or two phrases of our interlocutors in-game (the rest of the text is written). This makes me wonder why it is so - after all there is plenty of space left on the UMD and hiring a few voice actors should not be that much of an expense, taking into account how much it costs to produce a game.
Slashing through the armies of darkness is the meat of the game (pun not intended) and fortunately it is fun. There is wide range of weapons to use, there is a lot of spells and tricks to experiment with, and since there is always something new around the corner, player should be looking forward to some more. Plenty of fighting action will be going on for most of the times and Dungeon Siege manages to keep the balance right : not too easy, but not overwhelmingly difficult either. The core of the game may get a little bit repetitive after some hours, but nice visuals, music and sufficiently varied enviroments should keep player from getting bored. An average player, I mean, because the devotees of hack'n'slash will be on the cloud nine all the time.
There is a chance of getting lost sometimes, but in fact no walktrough is really needed for Dungeon Siege. Usually if enemies become unsurmountable at some location, it is a hint that this is not the right place to go yet - the right time will probably come a few character levels later. Player should then open very convenient quest log, read more carefully where to go and in most cases it is enough to give some clue as to where to go. There are one or two situations, where the player will not have any indications in their quest log yet - the most deceiving one being the moment when Dark Druid is defeated. In such case they should just wonder around until "Quest log updated" message pops up, and if enemies suddenly become very tough it basically means the hero is going the wrong way.
Important question from the users of PSP (a portable device after all) would be : how does it play in short bursts? The answer is : so-so. Theoretically, you could jump right into the middle of happy monster slaughter, but in practice there are two things that prevent the player from doing so. Firstly, the loading times are rather long - although not the worst of the PSP library, but this is definitely not Daxter. The second thing is that each time player load a savegame, they will find themselves at the beginning of a dungeon or area, as the game does not save the player's position inside the dungeon. These two issues do not disqualify the game in general, but make it less convenient to play in small portions.
The enemy AI is not too bright. Some baddies will attack in packs and some will try to run away from our attacks and attack from the distance, but generally if there is a group of enemies standing by and one of them is attacked from distance, it will rise to fight back, but the others won't budge. The enemies are quite varied, but they all fit into a close range fighter / long range shooter scheme. "Diablo" was a classic because it managed to have some very characteristic enemies (well, not only that, but it was one of the reasons) - some would be invisible and only reveal themselves while attacking, some would charge at the hero, some would teleport. Dungeon Siege could do more to differentiate not only the looks of the enemies, but also their behaviour. Unfortunately, I didn't have anyone around to test the multiplayer, so I cannot write anything about it. Although there are a couple of PSP owners around among my friends, there was only one copy of Dungeon Siege and the game is not yet available in Europe.
DUNGEON LEGENDS VS. UNTOLD SIEGE
I couldn't help but to compare Dungeon Siege to Untold Legends : Brotherhood of the Blade, the first hack'n'slash on the PSP. Although the latter was acclaimed in rather critical way, I used to have quite a good time with it. However, if these two titles are put next to each other, the scales will tip in favour of Dungeon Siege. Graphics are more detailed and varied, which is much more noticeable since camera is significantly closer to the protagonist (ok, I know there were two camera settings in Untold Legends, but one was too far and the other one too close). The number of skills, quests and character development variants is much larger. The amount of items is also larger and they have more distinctive look to them (especially the armour parts visible on the main character). Same applies to the enemies - there are lots of different beasts and although some models appear more than once, the overall impression is less repetitive in Dungeon Siege. The music is more or less on par in both games. This is not meant to say that Untold Legend is a bad game (I actually enjoyed its gothic atmosphere), but the PSP developers definitvely made progress since it was published, and therefore by comparison it looks a little pale now.
What actually drives the player to continue just a little bit further into this kind of game is the curiosity of what the new battle skill / spell / equipment can be obtained, how the new gear will work in battles and what will happen next in the story. Although the story here is rather generic (but, as mentioned earlier, interesting enough to go on and well told), the other two elements coupled with really brilliant presentation make the player involved enough to get this 'just one more level" feeling. All in all, Dungeon Siege : Throne of Agony is not a revolutionary game, but rather a very enjoyable by-the-book hack'n'slash with excellent production values. There are some little flaws (the most annoying one being the loading times), yet the overall result is climatic and atmospheric experience with lots of blood and sparks. I especially recommend it to all fans of sword and sorcery with inclination towards some action as well as to those who enjoy button mashing with just a little bit of RPG tone in it. For hack'n'slash lovers out there, this is obligatory.