Game: Dungeon Siege
Review Dated: 19th, September 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 44
Average Score: 5.50
Microsoft’s Dungeon Siege isn’t really a roleplaying game. It’s a lot of fun though.
Why isn’t Dungeon Siege a roleplaying game? You don’t really do any roleplaying. Sure, you play the role of a character – but you do that in any computer game. Then there are plenty of generic game play features that you’d expect from a CRPG. You collect a party. You talk to people. You level up and place things in your inventory. If you want to define these traits as all that’s required in order to claim the title of CRPG then I suppose Dungeon Siege gets away with it. I’d rather call Dungeon Siege a “real time melee strategy game” though. RTM? It’s all about the combat. It’s all about really tough encounters at times. The instruction manual goes as far as to offer combat tips – the most important of these is to retreat when you run away. If you move forward you’ll just trigger the next horde of powerful foes, you’ll be caught in the middle and re-starting the game a short time later.
Dungeon Siege is a pretty game. The camera sweeps around seamlessly and this can give some great visual effects as the monstrous minions charge forward to meet you. You’re only very occasionally left looking at a close up of your hero’s boots or the back of his head. Your character and the NPCs change in appearance as you equip them with armour and better weapons. This detail has been industry standard for a while but comes into new life when you can zoom in or out at will. In addition magical weapons often give of trails of sparks or glow. I think these sparkling weapons look rather too airy-fairy on the close up – there’s nothing like girly tinkles to take the scary factor out of a great big battle axe! On the other hand, there’s something super cool about firing flaming arrows that actually light the way into the darkness. The exception to the title “pretty game” comes with the uninspired opening scene. If you’re used to breathtaking animation as per Final Fantasy then you’ll wonder whether you’ve missed something when Dungeon Siege starts up.
The trump cards that Dungeon Siege brings to the table are how user friendly it is. It is user friendly, given that it concentrates solely on hacking your way through lots of monsters with some by-the-way plot as the reason why the complexities of social structure can be done away with. The designers made a point of letting you know that the inventories re-organise themselves automatically so you can pack as much loot in as possible. They also liked the fact that your character only ever drinks as much of the magic healing potion as needed. It’s true that this means you have something less to worry about. You no longer have to take the dangerous gamble of crawling along at half health because you don’t want to waste your last potion when it could restore your health to full from virtually nothing. On the other hand, reducing the game to “magic potions” is falling straight into the classical high-fantasy cheese trap. Reducing roleplaying to killing things and taking the loot is just as bad. Dungeon Siege makes it fun though.
You can build up a large group of co-battlers in Dungeon Siege. There’s a limit of six or, if you want, five and a donkey pulled wagon. I think the wagon (so you can pack even more loot) is supposed to be yet another Dungeon Siege trump but I could never see the point in it. I’d rather have the sixth hero as a big strong fighter who could carry nearly as much and certainly kill very many more things. Helpful NPCs cost money. Everyone’s a mercenary and I suppose this suits the slay’n’loot game world. The game prides itself on automating much in the way of annoying nuances but strip your NPCs of helpful magic items and spells as you fire them. If you’re going to remove one NPC from your party to upgrade to someone you’ve found later then you have to strip every item from them by hand, find somewhere to put it, hire the new guy, stock him up and deal with any mismatches. It would have been so much better if this process had been automated. You can tell your party to pick up everything they see on the ground though and this is very helpful if someone’s died on you and spilt their stuff everywhere.
Resurrection magic becomes easily available about a third of the way through the game. It makes the combat crawls less of a bother since you don’t have to start over if some you like dies. The auto “pick everything up” command can be applied to the newly resurrected character by himself and he’ll make a good job of re-equipping himself. This process isn’t perfect though. NPCs will use the first weapon they find rather than the best weapon and shield combination. You have to be especially careful that wizards are using their most up to date and powerful spellbook and not one left over from yesterday.
There’s magic in Dungeon Siege and it works through the usual combination of discover the spell (find the scroll), stick it in your spellbook and then spend the mana points to cast it. The spellbook system works straight into the quickslot idea as this is nice; you’re also able to reorder spells on the fly without getting into the main spellbook menu. Magic can be a little frustrating if you’re playing with six characters rather than five and a donkey because you’re sharing your group experience points over more characters, so your average character level is lower and you’ll find more powerful spells that exceed your caster’s abilities than you would otherwise. There are two types of magic – one of the rare details of Dungeon Siege. Battle Magic lives up to it’s name and presents various forms of dealing damage. Nature Magic is more about healing and keeping things alive. You can deal damage with Nature Magic and heal with Battle Magic but you have to wait for higher levels to achieve weaker effects. There are some other generic spells outside the combat remit but they’re in the minority.
The game play is slick. It’s point and click and yet you don’t have to batter the mouse button to represent each sword thrust. There is enough interaction in combat to keep you entertained. The plot is far from engaging but it doesn’t really matter, you’ll interact with NPCs who aren’t trying to kill you to either start quests or buy things. Quests are always in the form of “go there – kill this – bring this back”. It’s a tough game at times. Combat keeps your attention because if you slip up you’ll probably die.
One of the benefits of the game’s producers being Microsoft is that it’s nice and stable. Not because Microsoft produce stable products (far from it) but that they know the secrets of their operating system. You can mutli-task with Dungeon Siege. If you want to pause the action and check your email without shutting down the game then you can do so without risk of something going badly wrong. However, given the do-or-die nature of the gameplay I would still recommend frequent saves.
The multiplayer capabilities of Dungeon Siege are on the ball. Microsoft as no shortage of servers and so there’s never a queue for a game. Or, if you’d rather, you can host a multi-player game yourself on your own machine. The multiplayer suite of functions is limited to importing and exporting your character, killing each other and hosting games. That’s all that’s really required to bring the Dungeon Siege experience online. It’s not really the game for co-operative storytelling. My main concern is that the quality of chat in the servers’ lobby is enough to drive you insane. That’s not the fault of the game though.
Dungeon Siege is pure escapism. If you want to turn off your brain and sort out the pressures of “real life” by slaying a host of pesky goblins and as long as you don’t mind the goblins equipping themselves with flame-throwers and gattling-guns, then this game should be a serious contender for your next purchase. I’m not a hack and slash fan. I’d much rather roleplay. If I have to hack and slash then I’ll do it in a Dungeon Siege.
On a final ironic note: you never actually besiege a dungeon. You’ll dungeon crawl through a few but you’ll never camp outside one and expect the inhabitants to give up.
512 MB Ram.]