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Dungeon Siege 3 Demo

I got a hold of Dungeon Siege 2 awhile back. I played it for a few hours and then shelved it. It just seemed to me like a bland Diablo clone with nothing interesting to offer. So I haven’t really been paying attention to any of the advertising for Dungeon Siege 3. There are other games I feel much more inclined to be looking forward to.

But then I noticed a free demo up on Steam. Free! Why not?

So I boot up the demo. First splash screen: Square-Enix. Huh. Square-Enix has been publishing a friggen lot of games recently, haven’t they?

Second splash screen: Obsidian. Huh, that’s not the same as Dungeon Si- wait. Obsidian? Like, Alpha Protocol/New Vegas Obsidian? Okay, color me intrigued.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Obsidian. Both of their games I’ve played were very fun and very disappointing, at the same time. I liked Fallout 3 a lot, and from what I’d heard about Fallout 1’s coherent story and setting I was getting really excited about New Vegas. One of the things that bothered me the most about Fallout 3 was the fact that so many things about it didn’t make any sense, and if New Vegas managed to be as fun as Fallout 3 while also making sense, I would have fucking loved it.

But it didn’t. Despite everything everyone said about the brilliant minds behind Black Isle/Obsidian, the game still ended up being an incoherent mess just like Fallout 3. It also felt much more linear than Fallout 3, since up until you reach Vegas virtually every direction other than the main path leads to either a wall or a swarm of unkillable monsters. And on top of that it actually ended up being more buggy than its predecessor, which must have required some real effort on Obsidian’s part.

There were things about New Vegas that I certainly liked more than Fallout 3. I liked the weapons more, I liked the setting more (western > “retro” in my book), and the story wasn’t as offensively stupid. And I did play through the game more than once. But all in all, it was a disappointment for me.

Alpha Protocol I had a better experience with. The gameplay was pretty messy and shoddy, but I absolutely loved the storytelling. It really captured that spy movie feel, and I loved how much you could control the personality of Mike Thorton. And it’s weird that I loved the whole spy movie vibe of the game so much, because I normally don’t really care for spy movies. I guess there’s a considerable difference between watching a spy and being a spy.

But that game had problems of its own. It had a fair share of bugs, and the boss battles were completely game-breaking, to the point where the stats you level up can make a boss fight either a cakewalk or an adventure in tedium and frustration. As I’ve said before I like stealth gameplay, but the stealth in Alpha Protocol didn’t really involve clever sneaking. It was more about activating abilities to make you invisible/silent so you could run around snapping guards’ necks.

From what I’ve heard about KOTOR 2 and Neverwinter Nights 2 it sounds like they’re pretty much the same way. A lot of good mixed with a lot of bad. So while I wouldn’t say Obsidian makes great games, they certainly do make interesting games. And it seems Dungeon Siege 3 is their latest opus. So let’s check it out.

Ooh, statue of a half-naked woman. Yeah, that’s definitely not the only half-naked woman you’ll see in this demo.

First thing I notice when I’m starting a new game is that you only get to choose between two characters. There’s no appearance customization, no choosing stats or abilities or skills, nothing like that. You just pick a sword-wielding dude or a fire-wielding chick and start the game off. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it is strange for an Obsidian game; correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure this if the first game ever developed by Obsidian that doesn’t let you customize your character from the outset.

I think this establishes an important precedent about the game as a whole, and I’ll get more into that later.

The story seems to be your standard contemporary fantasy affair. You’re one of the last remaining members of a social class called the Legionnaires, who used to be part of an empire called the Legion that got wiped out by some jerk named Jeyne Kassynder.

You know, I really loved what Yahtzee said in his Witcher 2 review, that “dark fantasy” now inevitably means that everyone is a racist asshole. Why is it that every fantasy story nowadays always, always revolves around racism and/or class war? It was fairly compelling the first few times, but I’m really getting sick of it.

Anyway, the combat is pretty interesting. It requires much more player skill and reflexes than I expected it to. It’s pretty easy in one-on-one fights, but against groups things get really tricky. I was dying a lot at first, but once I figured out how to block and dodge roll it started to get less overwhelming. I really like how your various “stat bars” or whatever work; your energy doesn’t replenish automatically as mana usually does. It goes up whenever you hit someone. Your health regenerates whenever you cast a certain ability that doesn’t cost energy, but that ability has its own recharge bar that goes up whenever you take damage or hit an enemy with an offensive ability, which will cost energy.

The result is that combat is a balancing act. You have to get into the right pattern of regular attacks, abilities and defensive abilities in order to keep everything from going in the red (particularly your health bar). And don’t forget to throw some dodges and blocks into that mix as well, or else some enemies are going to tear you apart.

Yeah, it’s pretty tough.

From what I can tell, the abilities you get to choose between when you level up don’t seem to have much of an effect on the actual gameplay. They do add a degree of customization, I suppose, but not really enough to be a game-changer. The game will feel very different depending on which character you choose, but that’s a very limited decision. In the demo it’s binary, though I’ve read that in the full game there will be four characters.

On the whole, this feels like a hack & slasher with a dash of RPG elements, which makes it seem pretty much like the medieval fantasy equivalent of Mass Effect 2. They’ve very much put the emphasis on player skill over character skill, and I’m sure some people don’t like that, but I do. I’ve always sort of felt that that’s the way things should be. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some RPG elements in games, but I get really pissed off when the reason I failed isn’t because I wasn’t good enough, but because my character wasn’t good enough.

Another thing that sets this apart from other Obsidian games is that I managed to play through the whole demo 3 times without running into a single bug. This surprised me quite a bit. However, there are a lot of other problems I had with the game, and they mainly have to do with the interface. There are some very obvious features that this game really should have but doesn’t, for some reason. Let me just give you an example.

Okay, so I just got a sidequest. Wow, this demo has sidequests? That’s awesome! Much better than that brief little excuse for a Dragon Age 2 demo we were given before.

So this isn’t a Diablo clone, but it might be a WoW clone?

So how can I tell where I’m supposed to go for the quest? Let me just check the map…

I click M. Nothing happens. Hm. Maybe the hotkey will be in the options?

I check the options. There is no option to reconfigure the controls, and there isn’t even a list of hotkeys.

Um… Okay… Wait, when was the last time we had a computer RPG that didn’t let you customize controls, anyway? Okay, fine, I’ll look in the help page.

The help page has a huge list of sub-pages. I scroll through and find one that says minimap. It says you press tab to look at the minimap.

Uh… Yeah, I already have the minimap open… Isn’t there a real map? No. There’s no real map.

Okay, seriously? Fine. There’s got to be some way of seeing where to go for a quest. Maybe the quests help page can direct me?

There’s one page about the quest log, and one page about “Active Quest.” When you press R, the game will point you to the target location for the active quest. And to set your active quest, you need to go to the Quest Log, which is a subpanel in the character screen.

Okay… Where’s the character screen? No subpage in the help menu for that.

Well then it’s time for a guessing game. I start pressing every button on the keyboard, and I eventually find that C is the character screen button. There’s no button to go straight to the quest log, which seems very restrictive for a game where a lot of the buttons don’t even do anything.

Finally, I can figure out where I’m going. By pressing R constantly so the game can point me in the proper direction.

How Fable 2 of you.

This is a failure on multiple levels. There should be a map screen. There should be an easy way to find the proper buttons. There should be a way to look at all the hotkeys, and to reconfigure them to whatever you desire. These are things we’ve taken for granted for years, Obsidian. Where did they go?

Also, the boss of the demo is stupidly hard. I died at least 5 times against her, and since you can’t save in the demo, when you die you spring instantly back to life with full health and energy while the enemies don’t regenerate one bit. I can’t imagine what facing this boss would be like in the full game when I can’t even die once without reverting back to my last save.

I feel the need to note that this is on medium difficulty, and this is the first boss in the entire game. Don’t say that this is because I lack a brain stem and can’t figure out how to strategize, because like I said earlier, this is more of an action game than a strategy game. This boss isn’t Baldur’s Gate hard, she’s Ninja Gaiden hard.

Of course, this is an Obsidian game, so I’m obliged to talk about the dialogue as well. It works very similarly to Mass Effect, in that you choose between a few brief options on a little dialogue wheel and each option is a mere summary of what your character will actually say.

Look familiar, anyone?

I played the demo once as the female character and once as the male character, and it was nice to see that NPCs talk to you differently depending on which character you are. For example, this one sexy lady flirted with me a bit more when I was the man:

… Wait, what were we talking about?

Oh yeah, I mentioned half-naked women earlier and that picture just reminded me: there are two ladies you’re obliged to encounter in this demo, and they both dress like strippers. And as luck would have it, they’re twins.

What the hell is she wearing, anyway?

Blatant pandering? Maybe. The sisters constantly make suggestive comments and flirt with you. If this were a Bioware game I’d assume that this was the game’s way of telling me I get to sex them up later on, but since this is Obsidian I’m willing to bet there’s a bit more sophistication than that. Maybe they’re trying to seduce you in order to manipulate you. Maybe they’re going to stab your back once your guard is down. This is all speculation, of course.

Contrary to the other Obsidian games I’ve played, this one doesn’t seem to offer you any freedom. At the end of the demo the game pretends to let you choose whether or not to accept the second woman’s quest, but if you say no, she’ll give you the quest anyway in case you “change your mind” and the game doesn’t give you any other sense of direction, so that seemed like the game’s way of saying “For God’s sake, just go do the quest, that’s where the next plot hook is!” Kind of lame, really.

Holy crap, this post got long. Anyway, seems like par for the course for Obsidian. Interesting, but not without some blatant flaws. I’m interested to see how this game will be received by old-school CRPG fans. I’m willing to bet most of them will get pissed off, and they have every right to. Luckily I’m not an old-school CRPG fan, and I found the demo fun. I won’t buy the game for $50, but I’ll probably keep my eye out for a Steam sale somewhere down the road.

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19 responses

  1. Jarenth

    Interesting experience you’ve had with this demo. See, I’m what you could call an ‘old-school CRPG fan’: I played both previous Dungeon Sieges and really enjoyed them (admittedly, Dungeon Siege 2 took some… getting into).

    I bring this up because I absolutely despised this demo. Dungeon Siege 3 is to Dungeon Sieges 1 and 2 what getting punched in the head is to getting free ice cream.

    That section where you were angry about not having a map? That’s not an individual problem. The game as a whole has been designed incredibly console-centric; and while that in and by itself doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it is when the player (‘me’) goes in expecting the game to be — as it calls itself ‘Dungeon Siege’. The incredibly contrived controls — hold right mouse button towards an enemy to target them? Really? –, the fact that you can’t remap the controls, the in my eyes pointless dialogue wheel, the lack of a map

    Ok, now I’m ranting. Point is: I went into this game hoping for a game that would be like the previous Dungeon Sieges, and it’s completely not. This has obviously influenced my enjoyment of it significantly. I’m glad for Obsidian that there’s still a market for this game — you kind of enjoyed it, at least — but I think a lot of old-school Dungeon Siege fans are going to hate this game to bits, simply because it calls itself ‘Dungeon Siege’ while simultaneously tossing aside all the elements that defined previous Dungeon Siege games.

    June 11, 2011 at 7:07 AM

    • I don’t see what having a map or not has to do with being console centric. There’s a little game you might have heard, called Grand Theft Auto 3. It came out 10 years ago on playstation 2, had an awesome map. I saw a similar complaint about Oblivion having a crappy map and it was somehow blamed on it being on consoles. I also thought Oblivion had a shitty map… compared to other games I played on consoles. So shitty or nonexistent maps has nothing at all to do with being on consoles, since they’ve had good maps for a decade, and crappy maps even longer.

      Non customizable controls, may be console centric, but frankly any game on console or PC that doesn’t let you remap keys is bad game design. Several games on consoles do let you remap the buttons, so there’s no excuse except laziness.

      What was the other problem, pointless dialogue wheel? Really can’t see how this one is related to it being console centric. Dialogue wheel in Mass effect was really popular, so they copycat it.

      So basically I haven’t seen anything that suggests that it is console centric, unless any game design failure is automatically equated to trying to please the console crowd, even if it doesn’t make any sense. As if people on consoles enjoy getting lost, and wandering around without a map.

      June 11, 2011 at 5:27 PM

      • Jarenth

        Fair enough, let me rephrase. The game feels incredibly console-centric to me. Especially the strange mouse controls: I can totally see how the same idea (‘push towards enemy to target’) could work on a dual-analog-stick setup.

        The rest of my points are just things that I see more often in console games than in PC games. The dialogue wheel, for example, comes across to me as an invention that mostly serves to justify reducing the amount of dialogue options available; and to make those options easier selectable with an analog stick.

        June 17, 2011 at 5:31 PM

        • Sumanai

          And they are easier to select with an analog stick than with a mouse. The hit-box for the mouse is just that little bit too small for comfort. Also it’s easier to play with a gamepad than a mouse+keyboard -combo. In fact it feels like they expect you to use a 360 controller on the PC.

          Reading from the forums they have (or will) add a possibility to redefine keys. Can’t try it, since it’s full version only update apparently, and the demo didn’t sell this to me.

          July 18, 2011 at 10:25 AM

  2. kanodin

    I recall briefly playing Dungeon Siege 1, and it was just a slog for me, with dungeons that were far too big with far too many enemies. I suspect these are the kinds of things old school crpg fans like about it though, so I just assumed the games weren’t for me. It’s strange being on the other end of a game being radically changed in a sequel to catch a new audience, but I will confess it’s worked and I’m intrigued by this game now.

    June 11, 2011 at 5:41 PM

  3. Bubble181

    A) I’m one of those people who absolutely hate a game being more about player skill than character skill. If I create a super-awesome wizard, the mightiest magician the world has ever seen, he shouldn’t be dieing to a Dire Rat, just because I’m a clumsy idiot who can’t point his mouse straight. There are games about puzzle-solving, there are games about hand-eye coordination, there are games about reflexes, there are games about story and character, there are games about intelligent choices, strategy, tactics. I have no problems with games from different genres going different directions, as long as I know ahead of time which one I’m getting, and can thus avoid those that don’t interest me. This can lead to lots of frustration on the part of players who pick up part 2 or 3 or whatever of a series, only to find it’s suddenly switched game type. See: Mass Effect 2; Dungeon Siege 3 (apparently); a whole host of others.

    B) I know Dungeo nSiege 2 felt like a bad Diablo clone to me too, at the start, but it’s…well, Diablo II with a much better and more fleshed out story, but worse game play. It’s not bad, if a bit overlong for my tastes. I liked it, started it a couple of times, never finished it because other games came along.

    C) maxff: a lot of those choices *are* made with console users in mind. The logic is: a gamer who plays on console instead of PC doesn’t want too much of a hassle; they don’t want to be bothered with hardware problems, installation woes, etc etc. So it’s all made smoother and “easier” to get into. In the same logic, you do’nt supply a way of remapping controls, because it isn’t needed – players’ll pick up what to do and how to do it, giving too many options is just bothering them. And so on.
    Same for the map: a lot of problems with, for example, Oblivion’s map, came from it having to be readable on a non-HD monitor. Which made it look ridiculous on a PC screen with a resolution three times that. Good design would mean it’d scale with the resolution; bad design means it’s set in one way and no matter where you look at it, it’ll look the same – which is OK on an old TV, stupid on a HD TV, and utterly stupid on a 23″ LCD monitor 10 inches from your face. A lot of the “console” complaints can be done properly on a console as well, but are things that require extra work or a different way of approaching things with a minimal return on a console, but that make a big difference on a PC.

    D) Perhaps the lack of customisability and such are because it’s a demo?

    June 13, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    • These posts are all pretty interesting, but this blog is no fun without some conversation in the comments, so I’ll try to keep this going if I can.

      “which is OK on an old TV, stupid on a HD TV, and utterly stupid on a 23″ ”

      Or in other words, if you have a certain TV the map will be okay, but if you have a different TV the map will look shitty, like it did when I played. They certainly didn’t favor console players by giving them a shitty map if they had the wrong TV. There are ways to make a proper map, that people have been doing for years. It seems that increasing the range of zooming in and out would have been a pretty okay solution, that shouldn’t have been to difficult, and would have made the map better for everyone. As I said before it was just general laziness, that made the experience worse for almost everyone who played it, not just PC gamers.

      “a gamer who plays on console instead of PC doesn’t want too much of a hassle; they don’t want to be bothered with hardware problems, installation woes, etc etc. So it’s all made smoother and “easier” to get into. In the same logic, you do’nt supply a way of remapping controls, because it isn’t needed – players’ll pick up what to do and how to do it, giving too many options is just bothering them. And so on.”

      Okay I sort of see the logic behind that, but I hardly consider shitty controls to be easier to get into. Sometimes I’ve really screwed up in games because they have bad controls, and no way to change it means the game is gone. Many console gamers really want games to have customizable controls, which could be why it is becoming slightly more common, and there isn’t any logical reason for a trend in the opposite direction except laziness. If they don’t want to hassle with changing the controls they can leave the default configuration, no harm done.

      Maybe Obsidian was console centric in its design decisions but I don’t think it really improved the game for consoles, and clearly made it worse for PCs. Having a map, having customizable controls etc is just good game design in general, and there will be people on consoles who appreciate these things. Especially the map, what is this, the dark ages?

      June 13, 2011 at 3:44 PM

      • JPH

        Some developers think that removing the map actually makes the game more intuitive. Before Fable 2 was released, Peter Molyneux made a big deal about how the game was not going to have a map and would instead force you to follow a glitter trail to get to your destination. In fact, that seems to be what Dungeon Siege 3’s active quest system is based on.

        When other developers are taking influence from the Fable series, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

        June 13, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    • JPH

      In response to D, the demo’s job is to make me want to buy the full game, so if they left something as obvious as button reconfiguration (or at the very least a list of hotkeys) out of the demo then this game is not worth my time.

      I can completely empathize with you on the topic of changing gameplay styles midway through a series. And I’m surprised you didn’t mention Fallout 3, because that’s probably the most egregious example out there (although I enjoyed Fallout 3 more than Fallout 1).

      I still can’t decide whether or not I like Mass Effect 2 more than 1. The combat of ME2 was definitely better, and it felt like a more refined game in general, but they also added in that atrocious planet-scanning busywork.

      June 13, 2011 at 3:57 PM

      • Sumanai

        Button reconfiguration wasn’t in the original full version either (just in case I didn’t make it clear above) according to the DS3 forums.

        One other strange omission is multiplayer. MP is pretty big thing for “Action RPGs” (games like Diablo for example) and I’m still not clear on exactly how MP works in Dungeon Siege 3, despite spending some time on the forums.

        July 18, 2011 at 10:41 AM

  4. Bubble181

    I never played much of any of the Fallouts, despite being an RPG fan :-P I’m not a huge fan of the post-apocalyptic setting; though I guess I ought to go and try FNV sometime…

    @maxff: I’m not saying it isn’t pure laziness and sloppy/bad design; far from it. Just that this general type of shoddiness is usually “explained” by the sort of thinking that makes it obvious the designer wasn’t thinking about people playing it on a PC. Or, in some cases, on a decent console.
    Note that the opposite exists as well, and is equally annoying – pc games ported to a console, with a minimum resolution bigger than that of a non-HD TV so that part of the screen is missing; letters so small they’re illegible; long and arduous “installation” and “configuration” or “detecting hardware settings” that shouldn’t be there on a console, control schemes that need 101 keys and, instead of using clever solutions, just map every possible little thing to a combination of buttons (top left shoulder + X = sneak ; bottom left shoulder + Y = barter ; both lower shoulders + down on a joystick + A = auto-level up ; I’ve seen such horrors…)

    June 14, 2011 at 1:03 AM

    • Well I guess we’re basically in agreement, which isn’t very interesting, so I’ll be on the lookout for anything else I disagree with. Finding people online that you can disagree with and not have it turn to trolling is pretty rare, so I often try to turn things into polite arguments if I can. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen, but its pretty clear that in this case there’s no argument to be had.

      That bit at the end about using multiple buttons is spot on. I think it was resident evil 4, in one of its awful quick time events, that had you press X and square at the same time. Except both those buttons are pressed by your left thumb, so wtf?

      Although on the flip side games like Assassin’s creed know how to use shoulder buttons right. by activating high profile mode, so normally circle would be a gentle push in high profile it knocks a person down. Pretty much the only effective way to use multiple button combinations is to change to a different state, so that all the other buttons only slightly change their functions. If you try to map random functions to random button combinations it doesn’t work.

      @ JPH If you are still looking for a catchphrase, this might be it.

      “When other developers are taking influence from the Fable series, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.”

      June 14, 2011 at 11:46 AM

      • In the resident evil part meant right thumb, and there’s no way to edit.

        June 14, 2011 at 11:47 AM

        • JPH

          No way to edit? Huh. I’ll have to go search through the settings then, sorry about that.

          June 14, 2011 at 2:44 PM

          • Jarenth

            Also, while we’re on the subject: is there a way to make reply pyramids more visible in your theme? The current indentation can be measured in millimeters, or rather in millimeter.

            June 17, 2011 at 5:34 PM

  5. Bubble181

    Hmm, ok, we need more heated argument….Err…..
    The PC is the only way to play games, a console is just stupid and for those who can’t concentrate enough to sit in front of a screen! Lazy bums who want to sit in a couch!

    …No? Damn :-P

    June 15, 2011 at 6:15 AM

  6. Pingback: Not Having A Map Is Intuitive? « MaxFF's Blog

  7. GiantRaven

    From the few seconds my girlfriend showed me of the game, I lost interest when I had to use the mouse to move and the WASD/arrow keys (can’t remember which one) to control the camera.

    That’s so counter intuitive it breaks my mind.

    June 16, 2011 at 3:57 PM

  8. I activated the game last night, and I was certainly pissed off for the first hour or so of my usual trying over from the beginning every time the character died. Right mouse to move, left to attack? Has any game ever used that control scheme? We’re back to Diablo I in having to click for every single attack. And, yes, you must press E for every thing you wish to pick up, but only after you’ve manouvred your character into the tiny radius that allows the E promt to appear. The interface is death by a thousand paper cuts.

    It is a pretty game, however, and by hour 3 my brain had accomodated to the idiotic interface, and I’ve been enjoying it, much to my surprise.

    June 22, 2011 at 12:48 PM

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