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Dungeon Siege III (PlayStation 3) artwork

Dungeon Siege III (PlayStation 3) review

"(...)That the animation and fighting stances are easy to to look at, as well as entertaining to play with helps as well. It is fun, it is interesting - and I'm buggered about it because it's so easy to have the deep group-dynamics that took weeks of perfection to accomplish - in other, more cumbersomely designed role-playing games."

Once upon a time, co-op play online was a difficult and arduous affair, fraught with terrible dangers such as disconnects, serial cables and lock-ups. As well as unbalanced and badly scaled encounters. Mismatched levels between players, and endless waits and equipment screen moments. And where is your friend now that you lay coughing in your own blood, after that unfortunate run-in with the Azure Dragon-kin? Off somewhere in the dungeon dimensions, making off with your loot, unique items and spell-books most likely.

But not this time. While Dungeon Siege 3 doesn't exactly march in to fill an empty rank in the adventure games lineup, it's difficult to not be impressed by the careful design that makes a combined drop-in online and couch co-op adventure game work so smoothly.

Press X to role-play!

Dungeon Siege 3 takes place in the former kingdom of Ehb, after the last king died in circumstances that left the 10th Legion under siege and without allies. And very quickly also no soldiers. 30 years later, the remnants of the 10th Legion gather again. And you play one of the four heroes that will help the Legion rise to power once more. But in what fashion, and whether it will be different from the fallen Legion - this is what you will decide throughout the game.

Do you treat your enemies with respect even in defeat, or do you punish their transgressions in cold righteousness and swift vengeance? Will you choose what is convenient for your goals, or will you favour principle and idealism? Will you forgive and look forward, or will you have your and the Legion's revenge?

Of course, it is a more or less linear path you follow in the game from start to finish. But the quality of the writing when it comes to the overall setting, as well as how the dialogue changes subtly in order to wrap the choices you make (or to mesh with the order of your dialogue picks), makes sure that the decisions feel important and a part of the story.

When the quests also happen to be connected to each other through the story's running themes of vengeance and reconciliation, it's very easy to start thinking that these choices will come back to you again later. And in some cases they actually do, and feature in the nothing but brilliant “moving parchment” episodes that accompany the start and finish of each act. Or else they cause references and small changes in encounters later on. At other times, it's only your reputation as a Legionnaire that is at stake.

So there are no “wrong” choices to make in terms of being able to play the game from start to finish, as you walk through the shortest routes in the various and uniquely drawn 3d areas. No matter what you do, the story will play out in largely the same way, and the acts will last about as long every time (give and take a few hour-long sidequests). But what you do will be placed in the game and wrapped in what will seem like an unbroken script - that tells the story of the 10th Legion's rise. Fully accompanied by an expertly made musical score (from the composer who made the music for Dead Space), and a well-directed narration.

Better yet, the relatively trivial ambiguity of the choices for the most part, and how the other players in the game can suggest dialogue choices (and get bonuses and trophies for agreeing as well as disagreeing with the host's pick) - and how the narrative eventually culminates in one or two substantial choices, this makes this game capture the pen and paper role-playing moments as well as any online role-playing game I've played.

Which is ironic, because the game plays like an action-adventure with some role-playing elements in it. Or a classic dungeon crawler, and not like an RPG at all. Still, you choose a preferred style for your characters. And there is quite a lot of strategy and depth involved when moving around in the fights, and in how you support your companions. The encounters at times will be all but impossible to beat unless you understand the need to have one of your companions block attacks while the other moves in for the kill.

Since all of the characters also have two stances that tend to be either wide-area or focused attacks, as well as abilities that play into the specialisations, the game tends to encourage a much deeper cooperation and strategy than in most games like this (which is typically: choosing which back should have two axes instead of just the one).

It's easy to end up in a situation where you save the group by a strategic area-attack with a status effect, or perhaps a well-placed staggering ability-attack, for example. On top of this, there are many buffs that could help maximize another character's ability attacks. Combos which will be easier and easier to accomplish as the game progresses.

That the animation and fighting stances are easy to to look at, as well as entertaining to play with helps as well. It is fun, it's interesting - and I'm buggered about it because it's so easy to have the deep group-dynamics that took weeks of perfection to accomplish - in other, more cumbersomely designed role-playing games.

The Host Rules

Essentially, what Obsidian has made here is a way to piggyback on the host's game. You share the equipment, money and characters the host has, and advance through the game together, obeying the host's dialogue choices, and saving the level up configuration for the host's heroes. How this works is that at any time during a game, you can add another player - and then they follow the host around for as long as they like. Offline and online, it magically works in the same way.

Other neat design choices include the fact that the AI takes over if you are in the equipment screen, or in the text-chat. And that the loot is character specific, rather than universal. Meaning that gathering loot and finding better equipment benefits the group, rather than being a recipe for ruining friendships.

In a similar way the group always plays on the same screen-area (the view zooming out slightly when surrounding a boss, for example), and can't run off on their own. Which is of course a good thing, since the encounters and the boss-fights scale depending on how many players are in the game, and what the level of the host's character is. In other words, the game is structured in such a way that playing this game online with strangers (or even vicious little brothers) actually works. Not as in “works somewhat”, but as in “works effortlessly”.

The problem with this design, though, is that your adventure is lost if you played the game together with the host, and the host continued playing without you. Because there's no way to save the game as a companion, and then continue this particular game later. Still, when the game is designed for drop-in multiplayer (with neat functions in the menu saying such things as “take a break”, which is when the AI takes over). And the adventure is as episodic as it is, it's difficult to see this as a problem. After all, you will without a doubt want to play through the game on your own at least once, while someone else perhaps could help you with a difficult boss or area in parts of the game. In the same way, you could avoid overwriting the save ahead of your favourite parts of the story, and invite friends in a private game to play with you there.

Meanwhile the level-up mechanism is also so quick and relatively straight forward that it's not an issue that “your” character isn't saved. Of course it would have been fun to save some particularly neat loot - but min-maxing your character and duplicating the unique items into the same game grows old very quick. So for the piggy-back design, the light ability branching when you level up, along with balanced loot for the current level of the party was extremely successful. If we by successful mean that the game is effortless to set up and fun to play with friends, online or offline.

Obsidian (with a new self-made engine, and a new publisher) don't break any unbroken creative barriers with Dungeon Siege 3. The game is also relatively short (12 hours, if you rush through it - I spent about 20 on the first "normal" playthrough), and could qualify as one episode in a role-playing game made ten years ago (even if, of course, it's twice the length of other games made nowadays). But they do provide a solid, bug-free and carefully designed multiplayer experience through a well-written and well directed story. In other words, my only gripe with this game is that it is not a deeper role-playing experience with a more wholesome and customisable ruleset - and that it does not last, at the very least, three-four times as long.

(Also feel free to read my semi-technical walkthrough of the game's mechanics, along with some thoughts on scoring this game on my blog elsewhere on the site).


fleinn's avatar
Community review by fleinn (June 27, 2011)

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CoarseDragon posted June 28, 2011:

Pretty good review but your blog link is not working.

And it might just be me but I don't understand this sentence.

(With hardly any preparation, dungeon master plans and fingered outcomes of disputes in the groups needed at all!).
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SamildanachEmrys posted June 28, 2011:

Isn't that sentence just a reference to tabletop/pen & paper RPGs? I'm not sure what a 'fingered outcome' is, but that's probably my lack of roleplaying experience.

Anyway, I enjoyed the review. It's maybe a little gushing (the game must have some flaws) but not to excess, and it's nice to hear a positive opinion. The reviews elsewhere have basically said "it has this feature, and that's bad because I don't like that feature". The piggybacking co-op system, for instance; it was good to hear how that can be enjoyable if you look at it in the right way.
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fleinn posted June 29, 2011:

*rse... The link is actually valid. But the direct links in the review is bounced somehow by the site. Jason! :p

"it was good to hear how that can be enjoyable if you look at it in the right way."

Right. And I write about that in the blog-post (which you can reach by appropriate use of hardcore arcane magic, which keeps the casuals away). The problem with this game is that it achieves the friendly adventuring setting from a successful role-playing session -- with the wrong mechanics.

I mean, what it is, is a really really good scenario and a good story. Of the kind that a game-master would sit on for years, and perfect and change subtly to suit the players. Obviously you don't have that much freedom when you make a game. But on the other hand, you have more time to perfect the writing and the dialogue, and the pacing and the encounters. As well as the mechanics, and so on. So what you have here is a way for complete noobs to have a really good time running around in a legendary dungeon master's adventure -- without knowing what a d5 is, or a token, or who Wizards of the Coast is.

Other than that.. the ps3 version looks good. It has minimal framerate issues (in 1080p or 720p). When there are hordes of skeletons, four players, or just one -- there are no framerate issues. Whether all companion wear animated gear with flame-effects.. no issues. The AI is reasonably clever, and does unpredictable things. Your companion AI vary their attacks. There are no pathfinding issues. There are no broken quests, there's no loading issues (and no loading screens), there are no "get stuck in the scenery", there are no unbeatable bosses with impossibly cheap moves, there are no broken scaling, there's no suddenly impossible to hit angles, there are no bosses that can't be affected by status-attacks. You have lighting effects in the scene used to very good effect, even if it's sparse compared to, say, inFamous 1. But.. of course, everything looks like shit compared to the lighting model in I1. The scenes are drawn as the full 2d scenes in Icewind Dale, for example, so it really gives you the impression that the world is larger.

On top of that the encounters are interesting when they happen, they're set up well and scaled well (even if you jump in with a third player an instant before the encounter begins) - and the bosses are really good. As in, they are strong, but not unbeatable. And don't actually have too many artificially strong attacks. I.e., they can summon spells in the same way that you do, and use attacks in the same way (apart from regeneration).. *shrug*

Point is, it's simple and structured, and as just a single-player game it wouldn't have been a very high score. But it's designed as a multiplayer game, and that's where you see the purpose of the limitations come up.

So why shouldn't I give the review a high score? It would be because it makes RPG-gaming on the one hand, or the dungeon crawlers on the other, look silly. I don't like how it manages to do away with throwing dice (figuratively speaking.. I hate dice, actually... always just used them for show when I game-mastered). Others dislike the fact that you can't change between bow and sword. But is that enough to diss the game?

Like someone said: this isn't going to be game of the year. "But on the other hand, it's a really fun game to play".

And now I haven't even started to touch on the way the story and the characters are very deep and interesting, and how the game inserts them. One example. You meet Guiscard at the beginning of the game. You don't know much about him, but apparently he fought in the war of Legions after the Legion fell. Something doesn't fit here - he should either have been with the Royalists, or with Jane Kassynder's Azunites. And he has no particular liking for the Royals. It seems he has a lot of knowledge about the fanatics that make up the current ranks with the Azunites as well. Mannerisms and so on also suggest that he may have been fighting for the Azunites at some point.

So the game doesn't actually explain whether he does. But when it's time to decide what to do with one of the fanatics you defeat, it's Guiscard who is the idealist, and the one who insists on showing mercy.

Meaning that in terms of story-telling, you have a setting here where you can doubt the idealism of a former Azunite. Maybe he's just seeing himself in that situation, and don't have the will to do what's necessary. Maybe you agree with him because you both see how fanatical they are, and how you would rout their demonized views of the Legion by sending them back alive. Or maybe you follow the old Legion way. Or maybe you want to make the new Legion different? Maybe you're just not in the mood for any discussion at all - she murdered your kin and half the village near the Legion Chapterhouse just to get to you, etc...

The game wraps your choices like that all the way through the game, and then display them in the moving parchment episodes, and in the dialogue afterwards..
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honestgamer posted June 29, 2011:

You have to include a valid link (including the standard 'http://' part) when linking to content in reviews. Otherwise, the site's base href is automatically added in and you get a bogus URL.
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fleinn posted June 29, 2011: I changed the "s to 's, and now it works.. Seems the links from earlier reviews still work. So - the parser doesn't like "s? :)

Oh, and one more thing on the interface - they actually let you sort random games by latency. That's right. You can randomly pick people who are close to you, so you can get the best flowing game possible. Not bad for a console-game. ...practically unique, in fact.. :D
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SamildanachEmrys posted June 29, 2011:

There's a character called Guiscard? As a historian of Norman Sicily/southern Italy, that's an amusing choice of name to me. (There was a Norman count called Robert Guiscard, often translated as Robert the Weasel.)
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fleinn posted June 29, 2011:

..yeah. "He'll make a good grandmaster one day". Weasel, or maybe fox would fit the guy in this story. :) What's the story about the other Guiscard?
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CoarseDragon posted June 29, 2011:

Isn't that sentence just a reference to tabletop/pen & paper RPGs? I'm not sure what a 'fingered outcome' is, but that's probably my lack of roleplaying experience.

"fingered outcome" is not a term I have heard in my many years of D&D. Perhaps around other tables and really that is what threw me about that comment.

fleinn, you played this on the PS3 so I guess you know even though I may have missed it and you mentioned this somewhere. Can one person (or more) pick up a controller and jump right in on an existing PS3 on the same system?
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fleinn posted June 29, 2011:

Yes. You can play up to two-player on one ps3 (same on xbox) in exactly the same way as you would online. Not sure how it works on the PC version, just saw it played co-op online. It seems to work to have two player local and two other players on one more ps3 as well. If you're in .. same continent, basically.. 200ms lag.. there are no issues when playing other than maybe some archery animations being a bit too fast, that kind of thing. But launched effects and melee is handled really well, so you don't get any breakage because of the lag that way.

So.. you basically just run around on the same screen. If you run the opposite way, you're stuck :D the way. Odo and Bohemund also are characters in the game. They're related to Guiscard in some way, aren't they..?
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SamildanachEmrys posted June 29, 2011:

Good grief, really? Odo could be one of several people; my guess would be Bishop Odo of Bayeux. Bohemond was one of Guiscard's relatives (nephew maybe; I forget) who went stomping around the Holy Land.

Whoever came up with the character names in Dungeon Siege 3 was a fan of medieval Italy and Normandy. It's a hilarious discovery for me because I'm accustomed to my field being a very obscure niche.

Watch out for characters called Roger or Tancred. If there's a character called Maio, I will eat my own head in delight.
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fleinn posted June 29, 2011:

:D this Odo is "Odo the Wise", apparently. He used to be a " 'scout'", as Guiscard says.

Can't remember anyone called Maio... But yeah.. the entire breach between the church and the "royals", and the way the crusaders.. I mean, the Legion, falls - that story seems familiar somehow.. least if you take away the Archons, the causeways, magic, witches, and so on..
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CoarseDragon posted June 30, 2011:

Thanks fleinn that is what I wanted to know. I am going to get this one now.
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fleinn posted June 30, 2011:

..forgot about the "fingered outcome" thing.. Is that even an expression..? What I mean is to conspire with half the group about choosing something specific on beforehand. And then conspire with the other half to do something else - without telling the first group. So they expect a situation, and the other expects what the first group is going to do, but they don't know about each other. So we're going to have a prepared outcome without the games-master having to improvise too much to get things to make a reasonable amount of sense.

I'm sure there's a better way to say that..
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CoarseDragon posted July 01, 2011:

(With hardly any preparation, dungeon master plans and fingered outcomes of disputes in the groups needed at all!).

How about this:

With hardly any preparation the dungeon master predetermines the outcome of disputes within the group.
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fleinn posted July 02, 2011:

Guess I need to work a bit on that.

"Without any need for game-boards, hours with character builds, and scenario-writing between the groups needed at all".

Doesn't sound as exciting, does it?

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