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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.