Your two hands are full of weaponry ... and you have two more hands' worth of weaponry. In front of you is a bunch of enemies (and their treasure). You kill them, take their treasure, and use it to kill them or to buy things to kill them. Throw in side-quests, and you have what may be the most archetypal role-playing action possible. It's been done over and over again by what seems like a majority of the video game developers. If there's a better design for popcorn entertainment that can be easily varied in depth and detail, it hasn't been discovered yet.
In this long, storied company of games, Dungeon Siege is little more than a series of fine examples. It's not the greatest, but it's decent, fast-paced and fun, and the multiplayer is solid. Dungeon Siege III doesn't rock the boat; it provides enemy-smashing fun, gets every essential right and comfortably avoids a lot of risks.
Dungeon Siege III was developed for PCs and consoles. While the controls are customizable, the game uses a forward-tilt camera that is clearly meant to be controlled with a second analog input, and few hotkeys are provided for special functions. It's not that the game needs many hotkeys, since it simplifies each character into three groups of three special actions each. PC players may find this stifling, but the simplicity can work out — at the expense of game depth. Fortunately, this simple control scheme is contextualized for PC, with a default that is wondrously intuitive: WASD movement, mouse aiming and firing (with aim assist), keys 1-3 for special moves, Q to switch between your two weapon sets, and the space bar to block and use your defensive move set. Few players will find it tough to get into this scheme. There's still no avoiding save points, the DLC menu linked right up front, and the lack of detailed controls for your (singular) cohort.
The game's storytelling is a direct clone of the Mass Effect methodology, right down to the radial menus. The critical difference is one large, rarely branched path of a world, which allows for no options for rapidly jumping around the world (other than the rare Door to Before), which can mean long treks back and forth. You'd best hope you don't get turned around, though that's difficult when there is no wide-view map outside of the strategy guide. The only way this works is if you have the guide and intend to play in half-hour bursts — long enough to get to a target town to turn in a quest, for example.
Fortunately, Dungeon Siege III doesn't skimp on one thing during these long backtracks: encounters. You may be frustrated by the long hike back, but you certainly won't be bored. Even if you encounter the same spiders and bandits, the basic play of hacking, slashing, shooting, fireballing or beating them to death never really gets old. Obsidian Entertainment got this aspect right; character animations are quick, fluid and synced up nicely to mouse movements, maintaining the speed that separates single-player action-RPGs from the MMO market. Downtime between encounters is just long enough to be punchy, keeping the highly frequent combat from growing tiresome, which heightens the effect.
Another thing the game gets right is the art style. Environments, while not always unique, are consistently well designed, rarely repetitive (this helps with the map issues) and almost never fall below "pretty," regardless of your system settings. The camera does its job, other than perhaps overzealous use of zooming in when adjacent to a wall, which can get in the way. Environments have a reasonable variety to them, including effective use of environmental contrasts to keep things from being too repetitive. This also extends to characters; models are stylized and varied, even for the generic NPCs in town.
The game's length is also pretty reasonable. With four characters, each with his or her distinct variations on the story, there are plenty of quests to undergo as you take on the numerous creatures in the world. For some players, once will be enough, though, particularly since the world map has no variations from session to session. There's a prominent, but empty, "Downloadable Content" button that promises a future expansion of the game.
As mentioned, the graphics have a nice style that keeps things attractive even on low settings. The sound is where things really start to work. The voice acting is surprisingly impressive, with relatively scant in-play vocals to get repetitive, but strong voice acting in conversations. Weapon effects sound right across the board. In particular, I found the gunplay sound effects to be vivid, and the ambient sounds help make the game's art style. The music is not particularly memorable but excusable in the wake of the rest of the game's soundscape.
Ultimately, Dungeon Siege III is an easy-to-play popcorn journey into the classic action-RPG genre, hitting every checkbox. There is little innovation here, but it offers plenty of examples of how good design and development practices can make a derivative game enjoyable — and how a pretty severely console-designed game can be adjusted to feel largely right on a PC. Full Steamworks integration certainly doesn't hurt, though some may find $50 too steep of a price for 30 hours of gaming popcorn. Regardless of your gaming preferences, you could certainly do a lot worse than Dungeon Siege III, but when it hits a Steam sale, it'll be worth picking up.
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