Dungeon Siege

Last weekend, I really felt like getting a new video game. There are a lot of games that are 6 months old or older that I would like to play, which means that their prices have probably dropped into the $20 range. I picked up Dungeon Siege, which is rated pretty well on all of the regular game sites, and was supposed to be very similar to one of my favorites: Diablo II. I've been playing it for the past week, and it is fun, but at the same time, I'm a little disappointed. The game graphics are incredible. I was hoping that Blizzard would come out with a truly 3-D version of Diablo at some point, and Dungeon Siege is just that. The characters are incredibly detailed, with their appearance changing depending upon what you are using. The environments are well done, with rolling hills, snowfall, dark dungeons and so on.

My disappointment comes in the story. There isn't one. Seriously! Even in the reviews of the game, it seems that the creators set out to create a really incredible game engine, but were not concerned with the plot. This is really taking away from the game. In Diablo, there is a story that goes with the game, and while it does boil down to a lot of furious clicking to kill hordes of enemies, at least your quests seemed to serve some purpose that helped you in the game. In Dungeon Siege, you are given quests, but you are not required to complete them. In addition, if you are given a quest, there is no need to return to the person who gave you the quest for a reward. This really takes away from the "mission" element of the game. The game starts out with your character standing in a burned out field. Evidently you are a farmer, and some local hoodlums have torched your farm. You decide, "Hey, I'm angry. I'm going to go rough up some hoodlums". From there, you follow a path and kill everything in sight. That's all there is to the story. Along the way, you find some books that provide a little bit more background on some of the characters you meet, and the quests you get, but not much more.

Another sore point with me is that the enemies don't respawn. In Diablo, if you quit the game and restart, all of the enemies respawn. This gives you a chance to build up your character levels before you take on a particularly tough enemy. In Dungeon Siege, once the enemy is dead, it stays dead, even if you restart. I'm not even sure that I can play through the campaign again with the same character, if I restart the game. Another big plus of Diablo is that the maps are generated at runtime. So if you play through the campaign and want to do it again, you can play the same character, and the maps will be completely different the next time around. The quests are all the same, but at least the way to get there is different.

One element of the gameplay in Dungeon Siege that still has me confused is the area of character development. As you fight, your character improves based on the weapon type they are using. This can be Melee (swords, axes, knives), Ranged (bows & arrows), Nature Magic (healing, lightning), or Combat Magic (fireballs). So far, I haven't found much point in using anything but Melee. You can have up to eight characters playing at once under your control, and I forced one of them to use nature magic all the time so that he could heal the other party members, but other than that there was no reason to use anything but the best melee weapon. If you try using ranged weapons, the enemies just rush you as soon as they are hit. So it ends up as a melee brawl anyway. Magic, both nature and combat, is way too slow to cast, and much more difficult to build up levels in than the melee and ranged. I'm not even clear on how these levels get achieved. It doesn't have to do with how many enemies you kill, but with how often you use the skill. So I could sit there and use the heal spell for an hour and go up a level. That would be really boring... but it would work. So far, I haven't run into anything that I can't throw my party into melee mode and thwart fairly handily. Occassionally I get caught by surprise and I don't get the healing potions / magic turned on in time, but that is getting increasingly rare.

My final beef with the game has to do with the control, although I've read a couple of things on the web which may help. Ideally, the game could be played with one hand (my left) on the keyboard and the other on the mouse. The mouse could be used for navigation and selecting battles, and the keyboard for changing attack modes, instructing characters to use potions, or to check inventory. Instead, critical commands such as heal (H), mana (M), and inventory (I) are controlled by the right side of the keyboard. The only solution I had was to pause the game with the space bar and then do those keystrokes. This gives the game a sort of stutter as you do something for a while, pause, change stuff, un-pause, and continue playing. Fortunatley, I just read a website that had some tips on how to do some short cuts for changing spells and attack modes.

I'm still going to enjoy playing through the rest of the game, but I'm beginning to feel some apathy. The story isn't motivating me to want to continue playing, and these little nit-picky issues are starting to really aggravate me. I'm enough of a game fanatic that I'll play it through. I haven't played the on-line / multiplayer element yet, so hopefullly that will give it some oomph. However, I think that this little things are going to keep this game from topping Diablo on my favority games list.


Jade Mason