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PC Preview - 'Dungeon Siege II'

by Gordy Wheeler on May 9, 2005 @ 12:56 a.m. PDT

Dungeon Siege II is the sequel to Dungeon Siege, an action fantasy role-playing game featuring an immersive fully 3-D environment. The original Dungeon Siege plunges players into a 3-D fantasy world where players can build up a party and move seamlessly from one over-the-top battle to the next.

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Gas Powered Games
Release Date: August 1, 2005


Dungeon Siege 2. It's coming out soon and a lot of people are very excited about it. I didn't get involved in the fan base surrounding the first game and its expansion pack, but what I'd heard about it took two tones. One PoV said that you could essentially walk through the game, letting your character auto-attack and piling loot on your mule. The other claimed that the game could at the least challenge popular champion of the genre Diablo 2. Me, my attention to the game began and ended at the fact that you could get a pack mule or two following you around. That was cool sounding.

Well, Dungeon Siege 2 not only keeps the pack mule but adds in a larger variety of animal companions. It can't possibly be completed just by walking through it, and you still get an imperial buttload of loot and treasure to sell and equip. Comparisons to Diablo 2 are rather warranted. This isn't the kind of game you play because you want to get involved in the epic, sprawling story and develop a character through well crafted dialogue between NPCs and your party. This is the kind of game you play because you want to get out there and beat monsters into bloody chunks with a great big hammer. In that respect, Dungeon Siege 2 delivers.

It's not all about hammers, though. Like the original game, Dungeon Siege 2 gives you the option of using one of four methods to get out there and kill things. You can wield close-up, melee range weapons or long distance bows and throwing weapons. If slinging around bolts of colored light is more your thing, there are two schools of magic. Combat magic, as you'd expect, deals mostly with fireballs and other such destructive fun. Nature magic, meanwhile, makes some concessions. It includes a few healing spells and the like among the death-dealing.

The most important thing to know about the skill system is that it works quite nicely. Each of your stats (intelligence, strength, etc.) levels up independently of your character level, depending on what you're using most. Your abilities in each field of combat level independently of those other two as well, and each skill tree has a few forks to allow for individuality. Where one person can design a hit-point heavy, slow-moving, two-handed weapon-swinging combat monster by focusing on melee skill, another player can put a small, fast weapon in each hand and focus on agility and quick attacks. The best results seem to come from focusing on doing one thing very well, but there's enough room to play Jack (or Jill) Of All Trades, if you really feel like it. One very nice feature is the ability to cultivate healing potions and magic recovery potions from the plant life around you. Another fun addition is the enchantment system. Can't make the random item drops give you what you want? Get in there and make it yourself.

You don't have to do everything yourself, by the way. Like the previous game, you can assemble a party of up to six, be they hirelings or pets. The aforementioned pack mule makes a return, but it's been joined by a small legion of other types of pets. The fire elemental seems to be most popular among pre-players, adding big flaming damage and some fire resistance to your party, but also available to pick up are scorpion-esqe folk. Additional pets are unlockable via quest lines, one quest not working in this preview would add the mauling might of dire wolves to the list. One can only imagine the damage those could deal out at high level.

Hireling AI was initially pretty tame, as the people you paid to be your friends would simply stand there and watch you get the snot beat out of you by things far larger than yourself. (It was kind of like reliving high school.) Tinkering with the AI settings and dealing out orders to be more aggressive fixed that problem. The order set also allows for interesting things to be done with magic, such as telling each of your companions what spells you'd like them to cast and under what conditions. No longer will they ignore healing you in favor of blasting the ice-resistant with ice bolts.

The game may be straightforward about its emphasis on destruction and mass slaughter, but that doesn't mean it's ungraceful about it. There's ample incentive to go out and complete quests, either for the main storyline or side quests, and they even attempt to weave a story through inter-party conversation and cut scenes. The story and character interaction isn't up the level of even, say, Neverwinter Nights, but it gets the job done. It can feel very constricting if you're treating this as a role-playing game (quite often, you get one reply to anything people say, so going through a conversation is just a sequence of reading and clicking with no real interaction), but it frankly isn't trying to play on that level.

The other thing about Dungeon Siege 2 is that there's a good amount of game packed in. Hours of play, 10 of them more or less, didn't reach the end of the first act, which is divided into 10 subchapters. It's fair to say that this game will give you many hours of play when it's done, and that between different types of character build, a pile of "set" items and optional side quests, replay value will be a strong factor. Mix in multiplayer, and this is a title built to last a while.

What I'm saying here is that Dungeon Siege 2 has a strong potential level built up. It plays great for a game of this kind, and while I was at first skeptical, I have to admit it feels like it's pushing the genre forward several steps. It's clear from screenshots that the game looks great, and the flow of things is somewhat linear but delivers lots of monster whackin' action. Even if you completely ignored the first title, this is worth a look.

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