Review: Dungeon Siege II
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Dungeon Siege didn’t spawn many imitators in the party-based ARPG realm, but then again it didn’t really need to because it gave rise to Dungeon Siege II. Ideal sequels are the ones that take their precursor, address all its weaknesses, and add new features that build on its strengths. Dungeon Siege II does just that, transposing the grand journeys and party melees into a richer, more dangerous world rife with secrets, stories, and treasures. It’s absolutely a better game all-around except on the technical side, where the Steam-specific re-release has introduced a number of unfortunate problems to be aware of.
You may have settled accounts with the evil that threatened the land of Ehb before, but there’s always another cataclysmic threat to rise to the challenge. In this case it’s Valdis, a would-be conqueror with an army of demons and an insidious plot to obtain ultimate power. You actually start as a mercenary in his employ, raiding a temple protected by dryads, but like all good villains he cuts you down for a job well done. Betrayed and imprisoned by the dryads, you’ve got to turn over a new leaf as a hero, turn against Valdis’ legions for revenge, and follow the trail of a fallen friend to the powers that can save the world.
Right away, Dungeon Siege II starts in a much more engaging place than the first did and is all the better for it. You’re not some peasant farmer taking up a pitchfork, you’re a trained mercenary assaulting a place of power. The introductory quest teaches you all you need to know about the game in an action-packed way, and then deposits you in a quest-hub-style town (suspended in the treetops, no less!) to begin your adventure proper. It’s a faster-paced, more gripping start that pairs well with the higher-impact combat and shorter quests here.
That’s the big takeaway for Dungeon Siege II, everything is just tuned and designed way better. Right from the start you can take on new party members, find rare and epic equipment, and complete side quests and secret dungeons. Your skills and attributes level up faster, which helps you work through the new skill trees for each discipline quicker and get better bonuses. There’s also a number of gameplay additions that improve massively on the original, like the AI presets for focusing down single enemies or turning your party loose on groups, the auto-casting of support spells, the new battle chants that provide useful buffs, and even a crafting system for making your own item upgrades. And this is to say nothing of the loads of quests to find in each town, sending you all over the open maps in search of new treasures and dangers.
It’s a fantastically solid ARPG in just about every area, only held back by the age of the graphics and the general clunkiness of old interfaces. But this particular version of Dungeon Siege II has additional flaws that anyone should be aware of before diving into this spot of retro gaming. I had a terrible time getting the game to run at all, suffering lockups every time I launched it until I edited the options file to start the game in windowed mode. There’s also no expansion included in this version, and multiplayer has been entirely disabled, LAN included. You can find an extensive patch that addresses all these issues in the Steam community but that’s absolutely not something anyone should have to do to get their game working or feature-complete.
Regardless of the technical issues, Dungeon Siege II deserves to be held as a classic of the genre. It’s a perfect refinement of its predecessor, streamlining the sprawling dungeons and glacial progression into a taut adventure across a vibrant world. Everything just feels better in this one, from landing a savage blow on a boss to unsealing a secret passage. The graphics are still dated but plenty detailed, and the sound design remains excellent except for some decidedly second-rate voice acting. If you can deal with the struggle of just getting it running right you’ll find a grand adventure full of loot and surprises awaiting you, one that can rival even modern titles.