The original Dungeon Siege is an RPG series that PC gamers remember quite well. Developed by Chris Taylor and his team at Gas Powered Games, it was a dungeon-crawling action RPG with an emphasis on loot collection and epic battles. The first two games did quite well, with the second one adding in online co-op play. While the PC community liked the game, the console community, aside from PSP players (Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony), had little to no knowledge about it simply because it was a series that no one had ported over.
Years after the second game's release, a few things have changed. Square Enix, the heralded publisher and developer of many classic RPGs, bought the rights to the series and, with consultation from Chris Taylor himself, contracted Obsidian Entertainment to develop Dungeon Siege III with PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in mind. At E3, the team brought along a very early demo to show off the progress, and from what we saw in the brief hands-off presentation, the series may have landed in the right hands.
In the demo, the developers were quick to point out some of the elements they had carried over from the old games. The idea of major loot drops is still there, and the basic combat system in this early stage still plays like the original did. The combat has been tweaked, though, as the idea of stances is now thrown in. Different stances dictate what kind of attack you'll be able to unleash, so you'll be constantly switching depending on if you wanted to get in some crowd control with more quick, wider hits or if you wanted to focus on killing quickly with slower, more powerful hits. The class system also makes a return, though the demo only showed off the Guardian and Archon classes. The developers have also promised that each class will have unique attacks and equipment unique to their class but, again, we didn't see much of this in the E3 demo.
There are also a few new things added to the world. The game now features a drop-in/drop-out co-op system that is active at any time. The second player can always come in as any character class he wishes, but depending on when they jump into the story, the option to play as an important NPC also opens up. The loot inventory is shared among the whole party no matter who picks up the item, and while it will always be up to an actual player character to pick up items, CPU players can pick up any gold pieces once combat is over. The demo also showed off a dialogue tree that had a few response choices added to it. While the demo didn't show off much about the dialogue tree, the developers informed us that, like most current RPGs, the tree response choices would dictate other characters' standings with you and whether or not they would give you access to certain quests or join you later down the line.
The technology the developers wanted us to pay attention to the most was the lack of loading and the sense of scale. Throughout the short demo, the player went from a covered forest to a cave to a boss fight in a dungeon — all without a hint of loading. Along with the smooth transition between environments came the lighting effects, which also transitioned smoothly from the bright forests to dimly lit caves without a hint of lighting mismatch.
The sense of scale was better conveyed not with a camera zoom but with the environments themselves. In the forest environment, the player looked over a cliff and not only saw the town he had just visited but the roads that led up to the mountain forest as well. In the cave, the player looked over a ledge and saw a landing with treasure chests that had not been opened yet. In both cases, a blur filter was used to convey that these objects were far away, and it certainly made things believable. All of this is coupled with the liberal use of PhysX in the world to make this early build a technically sound piece of work, despite some obvious animation jumps. Hopefully, the title will stay that way through the rest of the development cycle.
There's still plenty of time before the expected release of Dungeon Siege III early next year, but it looks like it could be a game to watch. The simplified inventory screen is easier to manage, and shared inventory is nice because it makes cooperative play less competitive. The drop-in/drop-out co-op is another nice touch that few games implement, and the variable camera zoom is a great feature. The real triumph, however, is the sense of scale and lack of load times, and it would be an impressive feat if the game never loads after gameplay begins. Look for more details on Dungeon Siege III in the upcoming months, including whether or not some of the old series trademarks, like the pack mule, are coming back.
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