Dungeon Siege Review

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Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Gas Powered Games

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 333 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 1 GB HD space, 8 MB video card

A merciless slaughter by the Krug has transformed your bucolic village into a charnel house, with corpses littering the landscape. Forced to take up your simple farming implements as arms against the invaders, you and whatever like-minded souls you encounter must free the Kingdom of Ehb of the wretched minions of evil. Along the path to the seat of power at Castle Ehb, you will encounter the remnants of the 10th Legion and their fortifications, the mysterious indigenous Droog, breathtaking landscapes and dank crypts. Oh, you might have to kill a few things, as well.

Kyle Ackerman

In Dungeon Siege, an anonymous farmer from a pillaged home, an ancient evil, and a few other hackneyed fantasy plot elements meet one of the most gorgeous 3D fantasy settings ever to grace a computer screen. Dungeon Siege simply must be seen. The entire Kingdom of Ehb, everything from the trees to the cliffs to the rivers, is simply spectacular. The visuals are so impressive that passers-by will stop and watch, mouths agape, as your characters fight drakes and cross teetering bridges over vast outdoor gorges.

Unless you count the time spent Ooohing and Ahhhing at the scenery, Dungeon Siege consists of only two activities, killing things and managing inventory. The main quest of Dungeon Siege is to follow a path around the edge of a ring-shaped, continent-sized kingdom to save king and kingdom by killing nearly every living creature you encounter.

Battle does not require the ability to mercilessly mash mouse buttons or hotkeys, and the pause function means that you can play the game in an almost leisurely fashion. Your characters have a few customizable settings, instructing them how aggressive to be in their attacks, and which enemies to target first. These routines are sophisticated enough that your characters will usually fight well. The problem is that I simply never felt critical to the success of a battle I was fighting. More than once, I set two of my mages to use their group healing spells before a large battle, left the room for a bit, and returned to find my party standing, the ground covered in the gore of my fallen foes, and loot twinkling at my characters feet. That said, combat is spectacular to watch, with spell effects that turn the battlefield into foggy Technicolor mayhem and sounds that evoke a heated fray. As much fun as it is to watch, I wanted to feel a more critical part of the battle. It is possible to make your characters less likely to succeed, such as by using only a single warrior, but your character is merely more likely to die as she hacks down foe after foe. You don't need to be actively involved, except perhaps to force said lone fighter to drink the occasional potion.

Sometimes tactics are required, particularly late in the game, but this mostly comes down to choosing which enemies to focus upon (do I attack the strong one, or kill the weak ones off first?), and whether you should heal, drink potions or use damaging spells. Because the enemies have a limited "awareness" radius, it is possible to avoid many difficult combats entirely by selectively "pulling" foes (drawing one away from a larger group). This is, of course, prevented by ambushes throughout the game. Some of the surprises are clever – ice creatures burst from enormous icicles, certain spiders have abdomens that, unmoving, resemble nothing more than harmless stalagmites, and other enemies emerge from the sand. Unfortunately, these surprises take away your pre-combat tactical choices, and the surprise is less entertaining after the 50th repetition. Dungeon Siege removed the need to trigger every sword stroke with a button, but failed to replace that activity with something meaningful, such as tactical decision making.

Inventory management was also a disappointment. The graphics are brilliant – it's the actual items that are problematic. Many role-playing games have an element of the shopping simulation embedded in the game. Do I have the best stuff for my character? Does this helm really look cooler than the conical wizards cap? Dungeon Siege hits the appearance factor squarely on the mark. Every cloak, hat and weapon is carefully rendered, and is easily identifiable on a character as that character fights across the Kingdom of Ehb. This is particularly true for items such as the Black Widow Brigandine armor shown below, which gives your character a threatening, stylized spider on her chest and back. While items look good, you rarely have to make choices based on functionality.

Because there is often a clear winner in the competition between items, most of the time you spend with your inventory is hauling things to vendors in order to sell them for cash. This can result in difficult decisions – which is the most valuable item that could fill this space? It is possible to spend a lot of time in Dungeon Siege struggling over this question. Unfortunately, there turns out to be very little in the last three-quarters of the game upon which to spend your hard-won cash. If, by some chance, the vendor has an item slightly better than what you've already found, you will find something better momentarily. By the time I was approaching Castle Ehb, my party was carrying all the gold they could handle (just short of ten million gold pieces). The much vaunted mule is a nice touch, but mostly for atmosphere. In place of a human party member, you can purchase a mule, which will carry a significant load of items. The mule's burden visibly grows as you add treasure, and it runs away from combat, kicking out if cornered. Ultimately, though, there is no real need for a mule when you can transmute less valuable items directly into gold, or even just leave them on the ground.

Criticisms of combat and inventory aside, the world of Ehb is so beautiful that Dungeon Siege can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. The world is enormous, and rendered in great detail. You can venture through thick forests, desert cliffs, a castle, a gypsy camp, machinery-filled steampunk-style caverns, and crypts. All of these are entrancing to watch and filled with enough details (such as an archery target in a bandit camp or broken tableware in Castle Ehb) to make them seem lifelike (albeit a life shattered by violent minions of evil). Look at some of the screenshots. The environment is huge, three-dimensional and attractive. There are a number of monster types, including some very unusual types such as a multi-legged monstrosity that seemed to be all mouth (except for one huge eye-stalk). Best of all, the game ran flawlessly in a huge world that managed to eliminate loading time between regions. The entire adventure felt like a continuum of exploration.

On Multiplayer and Magic

Multiplayer in Dungeon Siege restricts you to a single character, but allows you to play with friends and strangers on a LAN or online. An entire second world is provided with the boxed game for multiplayer sessions, dramatically increasing the number of hours of entertainment. Multiplayer looks good (even with a laggy connection), allows for competitive and cooperative play in a gorgeous setting, and is filled with monsters to hack. While more exciting than the single-player campaign because of your connection to a single avatar, it is far more fun to play a fighter or archer than a mage.

In both multi- and single player games, fighters seem much more powerful than their magical counterparts. In the single-player game, with an 8 person party, every new fighter character I encountered was just slightly less powerful than the party, but every mage character was more than twice as powerful as my mages. While it was fun to hear Merik's (Grand Mage and Warden of Shadows of the 10th Legion) indignation when I abandoned him in a crypt in favor of a newcomer, this suggests either I was doing something dreadfully wrong or that the spellcasters need to be tweaked. Recovering Merik's staff in the single player campaign is one of the major quest objectives, and when my party finally arrived, Merik wasn't powerful enough to use his own staff! Also, I encountered spells that I had sufficient skill to use, but not enough mana to cast, probably due to my mage occasionally bothering to hit something on the head with a staff. In multiplayer, a mage is simply unable to keep up with more physical characters, rapidly reducing your spellcaster to a reserve healing role if you want to remain useful. In both types of play, the addition of more spell slots would make the characters more practical and entertaining.

One thing remains that can turn Dungeon Siege from a good game into a great game – the Siege Editor, due to be released any moment now. Dungeon Siege is an amazing framework for a game. It runs smoothly on a mid-level machine, is viscerally beautiful and easy to play. Hopefully the editor will allow modders to tweak the items, add their own plots and create their own worlds. A new item set could make inventory management much less of a chore and a novel plot would be a welcome addition. If any of these mods turn out well, this game could last a long time on your hard drive. If not, the game is well worth playing through to see the staggering visuals.





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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 9, 2002 10:36 PM.

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