Developer: Gas Powered Games
Release Date: August 1, 2006
Try to imagine this odd scenario: You purchase a book that you’ve been looking forward to for some time. You get it home, and dive right in. It’s all you ever hoped it would be, it’s so good you don’t want it to end. As you’re feverishly turning pages, you start to subliminally realize that there doesn’t seem like the story is quite ready to wrap up, but there’s less and less actual paper left before the novel is done. Still you forge on, only to discover that the last chapter of the book hasn’t been included with this printing. There is a ‘tune in next time as’ post-script on the final page, but the author has decided that you must wait until he’s good and ready to publish the conclusion. Would you not feel a significant sense of frustration? I know I would. I also know I feel that way when a game developer does it, and they do seem to invoke this exact situation with maddening regularity. The subject of today’s critique, an expansion to the critically-acclaimed Dungeon Siege II called Broken World, perfectly typifies what I’ve just described above. I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked, Diablo 2 did the same thing with Lord of Destruction, and the Dungeon Siege franchise has essentially aped Blizzards (ex) flagship action-RPG from the beginning. Why change that formula now?
Now, I apologize if I come across as vitriolic; it is not my intention to flippantly dismiss Chris Taylor’s vision. Broken World just had the misfortune of being the latest example of a design trend that annoys me. That you are forced to purchase it to see the entirety of Dungeon Siege II is bad enough, but the fact that it’s also a less-then-satisfying package overall is just salt on the paper-cut. There I go again; sounding like I loathe it when in reality it’s not bad. It’s just a shade too slim on the features. What it does offer, aside from closure to the story, is a new race (dwarf), two new classes (Fist of Stone and Blood Assassin), two new pets (Pack Ram and Kohl Beast), and a new way to obtain unique items, called Reagent Recipes.
I’m going to level with you here; I didn’t actually finish Dungeon Siege II, and so not only could I not use my character, I actually can’t even tell how efficiently the story picks up from where it left off. I suppose some might view my opinions on the expansion as skewed, but I like to think that my most concrete judgements are all in areas that don’t rely on completion of the first game. I at least got about halfway through; long enough to get a solid idea of what the mechanics are like. Now that I’ve provided that little disclaimer, let’s continue.
As I just somewhat explained, you need to have completed Dungeon Siege II in order to use your avatar in the expansion. If you’re only about halfway through, then you’ll need to use one of the pre-fabricated characters offered at the ‘new game’ screen of Broken World. There is one of each class, all set at level 39 and equipped with solid magical equipment. No yellow or purple items, but enough to set you to your task. Strangely though, you don’t get any chants. I was surprised at this oversight; all other aspects of a pre-made character have been tended to except this one. Anyways, after you have cleared all this up you are thrust into the game, tasked with re-building your party in order to go chasing after a mage gone wild.
Naturally, you’ll want to see what exciting new things the Fist of Stone and Blood Assassin have to offer. Upon first reading of these however, I was immediately struck with the inconsistent logic of them. You see, when you begin playing Dungeon Siege II, you are repeatedly reminded of the need to choose a class and stick with it, because if you don’t you’ll wind up with a weak character. However, both of these new playable options are multi-class: the Blood Assassin is a combination of Ranged and Combat Magic, and the Fist of Stone is a mix of Melee and Nature Magic. From a role-playing perspective they’re great ideas, but seeing as how long-time players have had it drilled into their heads that mixed classes are a bad thing, the tactical appeal is limited. Factor in that the experience you generate is split 70-30 between the primary and secondary power sets and you also see a slower developmental curve as well.
Probably the best part of Broken World is the writing. You’ll see evidence of this pretty much as soon as you load into the game. As with many other aspects of this expansion, this is just carrying on the standards set by the basic release. Each NPC you talk to is written convincingly (with only one exception that I found), and each quest or task is compellingly worded. I personally have a hard time with fantasy fiction just because of how awful it usually is, and it leads me to wonder why there aren’t more novels out there penned by the designers of the Dungeon Siege franchise. I’d sooner read a book by these story developers than I would a Robert Jordan fable. As a post-script to this point, I’d like to mention the in-game advertising. This wasn’t anywhere near as ham-fisted as I was expecting, but it is certainly disruptive to the sense of immersion when a merchant starts trying to pawn off game codes on you for the PSP version of Dungeon Siege. This is a good example of real-world merchandising placed exactly where it shouldn’t be at all.
Moving along, let’s see what else we have on offer. Broken World is essentially a content upgrade only, so the graphics are exactly as they are in Dungeon Siege II. That is to say, excellent textures and particle effects pasted overtop of terribly blocky low-polygon models. Just don’t zoom in too close to the action and you probably won’t notice all that much. There also hasn’t been any work done on the atrociously blurry menu screen though, and this makes looking at the multiplayer server browser an unpleasant experience. Not to worry though, there doesn’t seem to be all that many people that actually play this game online anyways. I was able to find a grand total of four games running, however it’s worth noting that my gaming time is usually done in the small hours of the AM and it’s possible that the action online picks up during prime time.
The action is fast and furious, and you should be too busy clicking and managing your party to notice little things like character models with chunks of wood for hands. Speaking of action, while it is quite frantic in its pacing, it does lean towards the repetitious, if only because of the AI, which is terrible. This is as much an indictment of Dungeon Siege 2 as it is Broken World, but there it is. Enemies stand around (or sometimes run around aimlessly) until you come within their sphere of aggression, at which point they blindly attack. There is no sense of morale, no sense of tactics, and no sense of reasoned thought. Just rush in for the kill. Occasionally there are “gotcha!”-style ambushes that consist of a script-point triggering several mobs to pop out of nowhere, but even that fails to replicate the feeling of a strategic offensive. These scripts just happen, regardless of extenuating circumstances. This doesn’t lead one to believe the enemies waited until they had the upper hand. I suppose one can look at it as the ‘action’ segment of ‘action-RPG’. Excellent writing aside, Dungeon Siege is hardly the thinking-mans franchise.
One of the more subtle additions to the play experience that Broken World offers is an increase in the number of teleport stones. Instead of lying around roughly five miles apart, now they’re one or two miles apart, which means it’s easier to play for 15 or 20 minutes and actually hit a checkpoint that will allow you to pick up where you left off instead of repeating the same areas over and over. It’s still a less-than-perfect answer to the illogical save system, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth here.
Speaking of gift horses, the two new pets are alright if you’re the kind of player who actually uses them. (I don’t personally; I prefer a full group of humanoid adventurers.) The Pack Ram looks like a pig with mutated horns and the Kohl Beast resembles an armour-plated turkey. All things considered, they are far from the coolest pets you can have in your party, but if you’re a collector then by all means spend the four and five thousand gold they cost.
I quite like the idea of the Reagent Recipe items, although I didn’t actually find enough of the core components in my travels to actually make any of these unique treasures. Regardless, these are a nice little flourish that are somewhat reminiscent of the chants. You pick up the recipes scattered about and from there look through your Lore book to read up on what items you need to make the object of power. It’s a cute feature, but seems almost like it’s too little too late. The potential for this is something that really should have been around from the beginning.
By my way of thinking, at least so far as expansions are concerned, if they don’t completely enhance the basic experience of the game they are connected to then they aren’t really worth a whole separate purchase. Much as I hate using Blizzard as an example yet again (I almost make the company sound infallible), their add-ons for both Starcraft and Diablo 2 essentially re-worked the games into a whole new experience. In the case of Broken World, whether you have it installed or not makes no difference whatsoever to Dungeon Siege II, aside from giving you the end of the story. (Which should have been included from the beginning anyways.) Microsoft has released a version of this game together with the expansion, and that makes a decent value, but as a stand alone release Broken World doesn’t merit anything more than a bargain-bin purchase.
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