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Title: Dungeon Siege 3 review supplemental.
Posted: June 27, 2011 (04:35 PM)

Since I've been trying very hard to cut down the length of the reviews lately, I tend to not get the opportunity to explain everything that might be interesting about the game. So this is the other part of the review. Graphically, the game is presented in a top-down perspective. Save for when breezing through the dialogues, when the perspective is centered squarely on the Lescanzi witch's chest from the front, over your hero's shoulder. The characters speak a little bit, look back and forth with their eyes, make some gestures. And nod their heads back and forth depending on who is talking. This isn't film-direction - but it's still enough to give off the impression that there's a conversation going on, rather than a speech. The voice-acting also is reasonably good in that sense - even if, as always, Obsidian ended up choosing the comment that didn't sound smoothest (and in the same mixing bout), but the one that had the best performance, as if someone was talking to another person. Personally I love this, and it's something that will make you try to exhaust every dialogue choice as the game moves on. Goblins with personality that adress you directly, rather than just speak? This isn't something you see every time in games, simple as that.

Between the acts, the game has story-telling segments where Odo, one of the characters in the game, keep narrating what can best be described as moving parchment slides. It's basically very slightly moving ink-blots on parchment with some overlay effects. An open book with pictures, basically, except it's a bit more flowing. These are relatively short, and depending on your choices and which character you are playing, end up being slightly different. These then tie into the situation straight after, allowing the game to skip some transport stages.

This happens during the quests as well - you are transported back and forth so there is minimal extra walking involved. You always traverse the levels completely so you are allowed to take a good look at how neatly they are made. But there's no backtracking, and always an escape-switch at the end of the dungeon. Since, as mentioned, the levels are designed as full areas, rather than slotted together from generic tiles - this gives off the impression that you're walking somewhere. And it also helps you find your way without a large overhead map. Of course, if you get lost, there's still the “breadcrumbs” that highlight the direction to the next quest.

But most of all it makes you walk through an area, advancing through the forest, etc. This is reminiscent of for example Icewind Dale, or Planescape Torment, in that the level-design actually is made as a whole plane, rather than just the bits and pieces where you are supposed to go through.

Other things that remind you of Icewind Dale is the overlay effects. Several of the spells in Icewind Dale 2, for example, had hand-painted 2d effects on top of the screen-area, adding to the effect happening in the scene. This isn't completely uncommon, with for example bite-marks on the screen, or some cross snapping down on top of a damaged character, etc. But here it's part of the fighting animation for some of the characters, which bridges very neatly with the “moving parchment” art-style direction.

The 3d models otherwise are completely passable. Nothing breathtaking, except for some of the details on the costumes of the heroes. But it's pretty and expressive enough thanks to the lighting effects and the armor, clothing and hair-modeling. Which all tends to be less detailed than you see in the concept-art, of course - but the fact that it's not artificial overlays on top of motion captures treats this game very well, adopting that brushed painting look.

What isn't so good is the fact that the camera-angles tend to hide the detail as well as the scenery sometimes. You see why it's done that way when you play the game. But I'm sure it would have been possible to do more with the camera once in a while to show off the pretty models from more different angles.

Animation otherwise is neatly done. It's not as neatly strung together as, say, inFamous or Uncharted. But the combos have resting animations that transition as you hit the next button, rather than right away. And blocking animation is slightly dependent on the direction of the hit - just as impacts hit with force on the enemies. Hit particularly hard, and you cause a knock-down. Skeletons fall satisfyingly down stairs if you kill them near the top. And a particularly good hit will send people flying over edges, etc, while their limbs flail out. If you shoot someone upwards a hill, Katarina's weapon will rotate and end up pointing at the target, rather than the ensorcelled bullet moving out of the gun sideways. Lots of details like this that are very well done.

Stances in a similar way switch between walk and run with minimal amounts of transition in between. Switching between dual-wielding and one-handed weapons also of course is instant. But the actual combat animation is still strung together in a consistent animation cycle. This is true even if you mix it up between the third and fourth combo-stance and a power-attack right after, for example. And there's a very carefully made grace-pause between triggering an ability and being able to block again. So you always look at what the character does to choose what to do next (rather than just hammer button-presses).

When the AI actually is very good in the game - as in reasonably unpredictable, without being unfair - this means the fights play out very smoothly, as mentioned in the review. In fact, you can work up some serious skill at playing the game by predicting the moves, and forcing the enemy to stagger at the right time, etc. So this is a fighting system that is deceptively deep, and very involved. Moreso than I thought it would be after playing the demo.

Nevertheless - even though I like this game a lot. And even if I have already been playing through the game approximately twice (and I'm on my “hardcore” playthrough right now) - I can't bring myself to give a relatively simplistic and linear action-game with rpg elements the grade the game might actually deserve, if it had been made in a vacuum. The truth is that Neverwinter Nights 2 reminds me of this game a lot. But that game had real spell and skill-progression, threaded quests, etc. And this game is a console-game that is simpler and shorter, with easier controls, easier abilities and simpler design.

But can I really fault Obsidian for that? I mean, they've made a game here that takes jrpg-action and breaks it casually in two with a pair of fingers. It has, like I lament in the review, the setup of a good role-playing session set up for newbies. Can I really be annoyed that Obsidian made a game like that? It seems so petty - but I can't deny that if a HD remaster of NWN2 turned up for consoles, it certainly would be a hard sell. And then again - why can't that happen? Placing down the direction of a firewall with the move-controller, or a flick of the thumbstick? Isn't this something that might be possible to do without making the game a hardcore only title? What about the fifteen layer deep conversations?

In other words, if I give this game a better grade, it would in my head be the same as saying I would like to see /this game/ instead of a real role-playing game with much higher ambition. Of the kind that I know Obsidian can make.

Even if, of course, Dungeon Siege 3 in it's own right is without a doubt the deepest, best polished, and most interesting co-op game for consoles and PC that has turned up so far.

One final word on the number after the title - please note that when people say it's trying to follow up on the Dungeon Siege franchise, that's a truth with modifications. In reality the game is completely separate, and barely connected at all to the lore in the other two games. The location the game takes place in is barely mentioned with a word in the originals, for example. And the game happens in a completely different age. In the same way, the fighting system in Dungeon Siege never really was very good. It tried to make some sort of compromise between Diablo and Baldur's Gate, and just ended in clicking on things until they died. If anyone remotely honest was to compare this with DS3, they would just give up and not protest, simply because this is an action-based control scheme that fits perfectly to /this game/. And doesn't try to be anything else.

What's also funny is that compared to for example Dragon Age 2, DS3 is so much more involving without actually being more difficult to control - that no one would probably dare to compare them, after the series of unbelievable and undeserved praise heaped on that title when it launched.

So when I rate this game an 9, it's because it's a good game on it's own. It sets out to do something and succeeds in creating a unique mesh of story-telling and light-hearted gameplay. On top of this the co-op drop-in is intrinsic to the game, designed into it from the beginning. Other technical bits in terms of shadows, lighting treatment and limited physics is very successful. So is the sound production and foley, as well as the surround reproduction - from everything from fighting sounds and monster noise to drips and ambient sound. Note also that the game has relatively low system requirements. A dual core laptop with a dx9 card will very likely be able to run the game at low settings. And the ps3 has 1080p mode support for it, probably owing to the fact that it's not extremely graphics intensive.

But on the scoring... Obviously it's always the problem that ten years ago, I could never have justified spending money on a short game like this, when I could have bought NWN.. and then spent a couple of weeks writing dungeon scenarios to play with friends on, etc. But if you're looking for a good co-op action game, then this is undeniably a very good game. Which is set up to be played effortlessly, and still be a fairly deep experience. It pains me to admit it, but that makes it a good game.

And excuse me, because now I'm going to play the game some more.

fleinnUser: fleinn
Title: Re: Dungeon Siege 3 review supplemental.
Posted: June 29, 2011 (02:01 AM)

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