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PC Review - 'Dungeon Siege II'

by Chad on Aug. 20, 2005 @ 1:41 a.m. PDT

Dungeon Siege II casts players into a land deeply scarred by civil war, where they will lead an elite battle party against a vicious marauder hell-bent on bringing the world under his control, no matter the cost. Dungeon Siege II raises the bar for action-RPGs by introducing a deeper storyline, an extensive quest system and a new AI system creating more challenging and cunning foes.

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Gas Powered Games
Release Date: August 16, 2005


Dungeon Siege II is the heir to Gas Powered Games’ Dungeon Siege throne, a series known for its dungeon hacking and item collecting. DS II attempts to build off of the strengths of the original while addressing the issues that many gamers voiced, which included the game being too linear and not having enough of a story.

The opening cinematic of the game summarizes the story for newcomers: apowerful tyrant, Zaramoth, ruled over the land of Aranna with an iron fist. With the help of his dark wizards, Zaramoth controlled the flow of the river of souls, which allowed him to monopolize the land’s magic, cutting off all others from its source. As all great empires do, Zaramoth’s eventually fell to an alliance of the oppressed, led by Azunai. Unfortunately, the meeting of Zaramoth’s sword and Azunai’s shield caused a huge explosion, ripping the souls from the bodies of all of the soldiers present. However, Zaramoth was no more and the people of Aranna once again had access to magic, and it wasn’t long until Prince Valdis went seeking the power that Zaramoth held and he himself became corrupted.

Where do you fit into all of this? Well, your life as an adventurer eventually led you to become a mercenary under Valdis (because as dictatorial ruler of the world, one can afford to throw bodies at one’s enemy until they stop fighting back), as the story goes.

Before all of that exposition, though, you need to create your character. First up, you have to choose your race. Humans, as per RPG cliché #174-B, are the jack-of-all-trades, whose greed and curiosity aids them in finding magical items in their adventures. Elves are well suited for any kind of combat, be it magical, melee, or archery. Dryads are built like rangers, so they make good archers or nature mages. Half-Giants are your textbook bruisers: if some punk needs his head smashed in, they’re your go-to guys.

Dungeon Siege II doesn’t place you into a class at creation, instead leaving you to work it out yourself through how you play the game. The level system has a use-it-or-lose-it mentality: you need to decide almost immediately what gameplay style you want to use and level up in that area exclusively. If you try to hybridize, the game will punish you for it. So soldiers need to melee, archers should rain down death from above, combat mages throw fireballs and ice bolts, and nature mages buff and resurrect exclusively. It is more a matter of composing your team accordingly to have all your bases covered than trying to balance out your character.

You’ll have plenty of opportunities for that, after quick tutorial to get familiar with the basic controls and commands, the game throws hordes of enemies at you at a time. Combat quickly becomes a bloody hurricane that lasts for roughly 15- to 30-second spurts. Basically, if you can click on something and jam on the "H" key to drink health potions, you’ll make it out just fine, but the problem is, that’s all there is to it: hack up the bad guys, chug a few potions, collect the spoils of victory when it’s all over. If you do happen to die, your character will respawn in town, but without the armor & weapons you had equipped at that point. To regain your precious loot, you can either go talk to the Necromancer who restores you back to your before-death status, but it is costly, or you simply backtrack to the spot where you were slain, marked by a tombstone, and upon getting close enough, everything reverts back to you. Your party can eventually contain six members, and you can control any of them with a simple click. For the other five, you can change attack orders to suit the scenario you’re currently in: seek and destroy for annoyances, focus on a single tougher enemy, etc.

Something that is sure to put a crimp in your adventures is the spotty pathfinding. Sometimes (all too frequently, in my opinion), members of your party will just stop and smell the roses as you press on, solo, to a mob of monsters that is sure to be your impending doom.

One thing’s for sure, though: Dungeon Siege II isn’t a misnomer. You’ll be spelunking in dungeons from dusk until dawn, picking up all kinds of shiny trinkets and enchanted weapons as you go. There are side-quests that take you off the beaten path, but no matter how far you stray, but you always end up back on the beaten path, making the game is fairly linear.

One improvement from the previous installment is that one member of your party no longer has to be the item-carrying donkey, thanks to teleporters that dot the landscapes. Just teleport back to town, sell off your excess loot, and teleport back to the dungeon for more hacking and looting! If you do not wish to travel back and forth, you do have the option to purchase an actual packing mule, greatly expanding your inventory.

Dungeon Siege II looks pretty good, all things considered. Individual character models look decent, bland facial animation notwithstanding, as every new piece of armor you equip physically shows up on your avatar. Enemies animate well and according to…umm, "species" is the word, I suppose (zombies trudge, monkeys charge, etc.). The framerate is mercifully constant, keeping its stride even when the screen is clogged with party members and enemies.

Jeremy Soule provides the score for DS II, helping to set the mood with epic orchestral pieces for battles and pieces more on the mysterious and foreboding side when you’re simply pushing on. Sound effects are standard fare, with all of the sword clangs, death moans, and fireballs you’ve come to expect from the genre. Unfortunately, the voice work is pretty bad. It must be something about the way the dialog and delivery come together that makes it sound like a trip to your local renaissance festival. Heck, it's borderline campy, which makes me wonder why they didn’t just go all out.

The game sports a browser courtesy of GameSpy for multiplayer games. You’re essentially playing through the single player campaign with real people instead of AI, so not a lot has changed. The greedy part of your conscience may convince you that you can do the same thing offline and not have to split the loot with anybody, but hey, that’s your own personal battle. You can import your offline character into multiplayer, as all your settings get vaulted over at GameSpy, save games included, so you can continue your game from anywhere you like.

Dungeon Siege II will keep you busy for about 30-40 hours. After that, you can unlock two more difficulty levels and take your powered-up characters through the campaign again and again. The Veteran and Elite modes do not add any extra content, only harder AI and more enemies, adding roughly another 50-60 hours for the die-hard fans, but that’s about it.

If you were a fan of the original Dungeon Siege or Diablo-type games, then the decision is a no-brainer, Dungeon Siege II is right up your alley. For those who are used to Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, or other RPGs that are a little more story-centric, you might be better off trying the demo first and see if it's something you fancy.

Score: 8.2/10

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