Review: Dungeon Siege III

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One of the most ignoble fates a game series can suffer is to become a pale imitation of itself. We’ve seen it happen with such venerable franchises as SimCity and Dead Space, taking what made those games great and twisting it into something that barely resembles it at all. Dungeon Siege III is a tragic end to its series and a prime example of this phenomenon, partially because it’s not a completely awful game on its own. It has a myriad of problems alongside several strengths, but it commits a grave sin in obliterating everything that made its predecessors so notable and worthwhile.

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If you’ll recall your Dungeon Siege lore, you’ll know that the 10th Legion escaped the collapse of the Empire of Stars to form a new kingdom in the distant land of Ehb. This is where the epic tales of Dungeon Siege I and II take place, under the watchful, somewhat decadent rule of the Legion. All that has changed with the rise of Jeyne Kassynder in the wake of the king’s death, rallying the church and the peasants against the Legion and all but wiping it from existence. Thirty years after the purge the survivors of the Legion hope to come together and strike back against Jeyne Kassynder, but Jeyne Kassynder is relentless in her pursuit and hides terrible secrets in her means.

I hope you like hearing about Jeyne Kassynder because for some reason the game throws her name out at every chance it gets. Never just Jeyne or Kassynder either, or even pronouns really. There’s quite a bit of Mass Effect-style dialogue with the folks you meet on your journey, all of whom are just itching to tell you about the great and terrible deeds of Jeyne Kassynder. The rest of the writing is actually quite good, and features that special flair for the unique and engaging that Obsidian is so well known for. The plot takes some interesting turns, characters will argue and surprise you, and those paying attention will find a huge amount of depth and detail to the lore.

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However, once you finish your chats you’re back to killing bandits and spiders for hours on end. Whatever good there is to find in the writing is sorely absent from the gameplay, and it’s here that Dungeon Siege III takes perhaps the biggest steps back from its lineage. The first game was mostly a linear journey but through some open spaces and the second broadened the world considerably, but this one is almost all completely straight corridors both inside and out. Maps are empty hallways with perhaps a tree stump or vase to break for loot, accented only in key spots with journals to read or little side passages ending with treasure. There’s a ton of backtracking to do to turn in quests and progress the plot, and somehow no fast travel options of any kind to ease the burden.

All you’re going to be doing in those corridors is fighting waves of enemies, and in the first four hours I’ve pretty much just seen bandits, skeletons, and spiders to whittle down. And I do mean whittle, because the loot you’ll find is just basic stat boosts (to poorly-explained stats like Resilience and Doom) and your class skills cannot be pressed beyond carefully-balanced levels of effectiveness. It doesn’t feel like this game has builds, so much as things to put points in as you level that keep you at parity with your foes. The characters differ quite a bit, each has two combat stances and you can get the characters you didn’t choose as companions to pick one from to aid you, so even here the game couldn’t muster the will to give you parties like the ones of old.

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It’s not awful. There’s enough to the story and writing to keep you slogging through the disappointing loot and combat, I suppose. But calling this a Dungeon Siege game feels like an awfully cynical thing to do. Dungeon Siege III has exactly none of I or II’s elements aside from story references, and runs to the far side of games like Van Helsing and Victor Vran for its gameplay. It barely registers as an ARPG except for the poor loot system and leveling, which almost feels like an afterthought layered over a bland third-person action game. Even the controls are shoddy, with ranged attacks failing to lock to enemies you’re very obviously pressing the stick towards. Fans of the originals should stay far, far away from this one, and newcomers should exhaust the more colorful options in the genre before resorting to this.

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