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Dungeon Siege

Publisher: Microsoft Developer: Gas Powered Games
Reviewer: Brian Cavner Released: 04/04/02
Gameplay: 92% Control: 96%
Graphics: 97% Sound/Music: 95%
Story: 78% Overall: 91%


The Kingdom of Ehb is home to a wide diversity of geography and culture. It is a country wedged between its celebrated and rich history and even greater future. But, as is the case with any city-state on the verge of great breakthrough, the ever-growing danger from a sudden, bleak turn of events is always looming.

Meanwhile, deep in the underworld, the lord of darkness is plotting his sinister ways. Commanded by great and evil power, the armies of the underworld are set in motion, puppets in the hand of the evil emperor.

The Army of Hell parades across the land, destroying all that dares stand in their way until they arrive at their fated destination. You quietly complete the day's chores, oblivious to the certain doom that so rapidly approaches. In an instant, the hordes are upon you. In what some like innate actions, you swing your axe into many a demon and dodge their blows with astounding precision possessed by only the most skilled of warriors. Intent on their cause, they stride past you and seek your home and farm for some unknown object. Obviously disappointed, and in a fit of rage, they set fire to and destroy everything in sight and disappear into the woods as quickly as they came.

With the thrill of the fight still living, and the stench of blood still fresh in the air, you determine that you must put an end to this evil. But who knows what will await you. Creatures in your path, with intentions unknown, may decide to aid your cause, or ultimately attempt to end it. The time is ripe and the rage still boils. 'Tis time for your Dungeon Siege.

A rough amongst the diamonds

Your role in Dungeon Siege is incredibly simple. You are a simple farmer boy possessing fifteen years of age and with a destiny unknown. Along the way, you will gather allies as the plot to save the kingdom unfolds itself.

While extremely shallow upon examination, Dungeon Siege has a bit to offer in terms of story. It has been said, and I will not argue, that the plot of this game is quite lacking in comparison to the other more epic RPGs currently on the market. Though this statement is true, I find that I must disagree somewhat. Yes, the plot is pretty shallow. The only real motivation for your character is the vengeance that he feels from the attack on his town and farm at the beginning of the game. From there, the story becomes what you chose it to be. Based on your actions, you may find a totally different game than you would have if you had chosen differently. This allows for a very custom play through, and does enhance the replay value quite a bit. But again, regardless of your path, the storyline of Dungeon Siege will still be fairly hollow.

Story progression basically takes the form of conversations with NPCs throughout the game, and from books that provide background information on you and the world around you. Thus, the game ends up being quite linear. Those looking for an expansive and ever-unfolding world full of epic lore will probably be disappointed with what they find here. However, even though I often rank story as being the second most important aspect of any RPG (with gameplay taking a very close first), the lacking story does not really detract from Dungeon Siege. It is by no means unbearable, and may be quite sufficient for the casual gamer.

What use does a good book have if it is not fun to read?

Character Creation/Advancement

Many will be surprised to find that the typical PC-RPG method of character creation and advancement is shed in Dungeon Siege. Here, we have no character classes, races, or stat points to deal with. Instead, your character is developed and customized automatically based on your style of play. If you constantly utilize your sword to deliver quick death to your foes, you will begin to mold into a staunch fighter. Likewise, if you opt to fling magical energies to dispatch your opponents, you will begin to form yourself into a sorcerer. This method guarantees that you won't have skills that you never use, as the only things you really become good at are the things that you are actually doing. All the behind-the-scenes stat calculation and skill advancement allows you, the player, to concentrate on intuitive, seamless fun.

This method of advancement is probably most important to spell casters, as many spells will require the user to have attained a specific level in the corresponding discipline before casting is allowed. And, of course, warriors will need continuous practice with their weapons in order to keep swinging strong and fast.

While I would have liked to see more diversity in the way this system was carried out, for example, giving each weapon its specific skill so that your ability with an axe will only improve after fighting with an axe, not a sword. All in all, however, I enjoy this method quite a bit, and it is quite a welcome change from the constant need for stat and skill moderation required of many other games. It is quite nice to see not only a new system, but one that also works well.

Combat

Managing combat is generally quite simple. Access to formations and behavior controls are at a fingertip and allow you to set up your comrades to fight exactly the way you want them to. In addition to these methods of auto-engagement, you can also choose to micromanage each of your companions if you prefer. Though a little more labor intensive, this method allows for greater control of the battle, a quite a bit more immersion into the overall system.

There are four separate classes of combat skills that are available to you: Melee, ranged, combat magic, and nature magic. As the main character, you can choose whichever area, or areas, you would prefer to use and engage your foes via that method. Advancement, as has been covered earlier, is also based on these four areas.

The only difficulty I have found in combat is that, at times, the friendly AI seems to be a bit lacking. More than once a situation occurred where a specific party member came under fire, and the other team members did nothing but stand and watch until I ordered each one specifically to engage the enemies. While this did not particularly irritate me, as I opted to assign commands to my team as opposed to letting them auto-fight, I can see how this would be extremely frustrating when trying to do multiple things at once and relying on your team to protect you from oncoming opponents.

Inventory Management

In addition to the many innovative systems in Dungeon Siege, there is an interesting feature that will make inventory management much easier and more convenient. In lieu of taking an extra party member, you can opt to bring along a pack mule. While the beast has no real combat abilities (but will defend itself if attacked) it can carry twice the amount a standard character usually can. Adventurers who often find themselves on long romps through forests and caves, unable to bring their treasure into town to sell will find this option quite appealing. While the loss of an extra comrade may be a loss, the advantage of being able to haul many more items is quite an appealing one.

Item usage is also made a lot easier by the addition of quite a helpful button. Two icons are available for you two click, one will give the order to all your team members to consume a potion to restore their hit points. The other will order them to recover their mana. Players who find themselves unable to heal their teammates when in the heat of battle will find this option of incredible aid, as it allows you to tend to the healing needs of your entire party instantly and without a hitch. Conservationists will also be pleased to know that individual members will not use a potion unless their hit points are below 50%, and will never use more of a potion than necessary. If there is still remaining liquid in the potion bottle, the character will automatically combine two partially empty bottles in order to conserve the item and free inventory space. This is quite a nifty addition and has been a godsend on more than one occasion.

Magic

I have always been a fan of intricate magic systems. It seems logical that such a difficult and little mastered art will take an immense amount of thinking and forethought in order to be used correctly. But there is a point at which keeping track of all the little talismans, orbs, and spellbooks become too much of a hassle. After all, I do not want to have to be constantly rearranging my spells and tending to them in order to be able to cast only mildly helpful magic. So you can imagine the system found in Dungeon Siege was quite a welcome relief from the complicated systems that have proliferated across the world of PC-RPGs.

Any character, from the bashing fighter to the witty sorcerer, can equip a spellbook which contains a certain amount of slots. You then purchase scrolls to put in your book. And so as not to require hours of forethought, scrolls can be removed, rearranged, and added at will so that you can never make a mistake in spellbook management. After having affixed these scrolls, the ability to cast the spell is dependant on the character's proficiency in either of the two fields of magic, combat or nature. While simple on the surface, there is plenty to explore and enjoy for even those who demand an overly-complex system of magic.

The gameplay found in Dungeon Siege is probably its strongest aspect. It makes the game incredibly deep, diverse, and fun. What is lacked in story is made up for with good, solid game mechanics. A rich and epic story is nothing if the game is not enjoyable. And Dungeon Siege proves that even a game with a slightly under-par story can shine given good elements of play.

Beauty in the eye of all

The graphical presence of Dungeon Siege is simply breathtaking. From area to area, you will find yourself amazing with the wonderfully designed landscapes and the subtle scenery touches like swaying trees and rustling bushes that pull you into the beautiful atmosphere. In addition, characters are highly detailed and become gorgeous with the addition of incredibly well-designed equipment that changes the appearance of your character as you don it.

Lighting effects combine wonderfully with the attractive world and enhance it immensely. The colored lighting occasionally used in dungeons only served to perfect that already striking ambience. Spell effects in particular are wonderfully done. On many occasions you will find it a worthwhile sacrifice to cast an over-kill spell simply to see the effects dance across your screen in all their majesty.

Even in the area that I often criticize even in games with excellent graphics Dungeon Siege performs. The major complaint I have with PC-RPGs is their overuse of a few core colors in a simple palette. All too often, a game is designed using only basic, washed-out earth tones which often sap the life from a game. Here, however, the scenery is designed using quite a diverse palette full of rich colors and vibrant designs that bring the world to life and suck you in. Dungeon Siege is colorful without being cartoony; an addition that only heightens the beauty of an already magnificent graphical presentation.

Deep and rich for the audiophile in us all

In addition to the very symphonic music, Dungeon Siege does an excellent job with ambient sound effects. In addition to what you would expect to hear in evil swamps, dark caves, ominous forests, and foreboding catacombs certain to frighten away even the stoutest of heart, the heroic clashes of steel on steel and the energy-filled surges of magic enhance any area of the game in wonderful ways. There was nary a hitch in the audio presence of the game, and I found myself pulled tightly into a particular area simply due to the sound that seemed to emanate from the location itself.

While many other games have to been tinkered with before a fair balance of music to sound effects in achieved, Dungeon Siege comes perfectly balanced. While such a minor aspect seems incredibly insignificant, one would be surprised how much more immersion a game has when music and sound combine in an almost orchestrated brilliance to create the audio world. Dungeon Siege does not sound like several wavs that are played over a continuously looping MIDI that plays in the background. Instead, it brings the sounds to life and immerses you in the world so that you feel that the metallic clashes come from swords and the ghastly cries from an unseen foe, rather than both merely being projected at you from your speakers.

Your appendages: One mouse and one keyboard

The controls are so intuitive that you will find that you have mastered them far before the game requires fast clicks and precise commands. Flinging spells in a full-party, real-time simulation atmosphere may, at times, be difficult. But with the ability to hotkey a wizard's most used spells, as well as to quickly select tactics and weapon layouts, you will find yourself moving seamlessly through battles. Controls are fluid and intuitive, and allow the game to become an extension of you.

Movement and interaction is achieved through the basic point-click interface. The mouse will also let you rotate and scroll the camera as needed. It is incredibly helpful to be able to zoom and angle the screen perfectly to coordinate with your battle plans and helps to streamline the interface and make it work with you rather than against you. I do not like the AI to be able to tell me what I should be looking at; I prefer to figure that out by myself. And with Dungeon Siege giving you the ability to set up the camera any way you prefer, you can do so without any fear of missing something.

It will not change your life, but it will make it better

The bottom line is this: If you are the kind of player that demands a story so epic that it will invade your dreams at night. If you must have a game with an ending so profound that it makes you want to live your life a different way. If you lust for a story that not only awakes a dormant part of you, but enhances that part to be the dominant force in your being, then Dungeon Siege may not be the game for you.

But if you can look past a comparatively mediocre story and see the game for what truly makes it great, superb graphics and sound, awesome gameplay, and flawless controls, Dungeon Siege will likely become a game that you can boast owning. It is certainly one of the better games available at this time and would be an excellent addition, or starting point, to any gamer's collection.

Brian Cavner

Combined with stellar graphics, the colorful palette makes Dungeon Siege quite beautiful.

Spell effects and creature textures create quite an immersive world.







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