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Dungeon Siege - Review

The Next Step in Dungeon Crawling

By: Paul Koehler


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 6
   Plot 5
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Varies
   Time to Complete

35-45 hours (Single Player Campaign)

 
Overall
8
Criteria

Dungeon Siege
 

   In the vast world of PC RPGs, developers have taken advantage of powerful technology to bring a new light to venerable concepts in gaming. Released this past Spring, Dungeon Siege represents a new step in this evolution - it is a classic PC roleplaying game with a level of control similar to games like Baldur's Gate, but it retains an amount of hack-and-slash action similar to the Diablo series. With fine looking graphics, a clean interface, and a large multiplayer domain to supplement the single-player campaign, Dungeon Siege is well worth the cost and the time.

   The game centers on the story of a farmer whose fields are ransacked by the malevolent Krug. He starts out his quest by running to the nearest town for help, not knowing the epic quest he would be involved in. Dungeon Siege's story is plausible enough - but its purpose is to provide the background for the environment that the main character and his party will adventure through. NPCs provide a background role at best, however, their purpose is to keep everyone on their path.

   This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Traveling through the world of the game is one of its most rewarding aspects, and RPGamers are treated to some of the largest and most detailed backgrounds in a PC game to date. Dungeon Siege's development team, spearheaded by Total Annihliation veteran Chris Taylor, was very insightful in creating a graphics engine that would provide for an impressive amount of detail that would work with a large amount of PCs, yet still be able to milk every ounce of performance out of some higher-end boxes. In-game resolution maxes out at 1024*768, and this is further enhanced with impressive shadowing and lighting effects - not to mention the occasional rainstorm that may blow through the party's way. Players with less-then-stellar machines can turn down the graphic settings as well, while losing little of the experience.


Vast scenery to gape at while battles rage on.
Vast scenery to gape at while battles rage on.  

   The boxes that are able to run Dungeon Siege should have little trouble hearing the sound - as environmental effects are handled beautifully in the game. Monsters can be heard stalking the party from all directions, and powerful spells are augmented with an overkill amount of bass. Voice acting is memorable too - it's not that bad. Especially compared to some older console RPG dubs, the NPCs and party members that do speak are tolerable to listen to. Music falls in the same category as the voice acting, although some of the themes seem a little out of place in the trek - but this is a minor complaint, as it is background music, allowing the players to focus on the gameplay.

   Dungeon Siege has the impressive feature of 'seamless' gameplay - load time between towns, castles, dungeons, and caves is almost non-existent. That being said, the interface remains unchanged throughout the entire game, and it is surprisingly easy to use while controlling up to six PCs. Inventory management is an easier task thanks to the introduction of packmules to the party. Two packmules can travel with the party - and all they do is haul equipment. Veterans of hack-and-slash titles will love this development, as RPGamers accustomed to games like Diablo know the problems of inventory management. Packmules and the use of the Transmute spell (which converts items into gold) help the party manage a large amount of spells, weapons, armor, and items.

   Many of these items have specific prerequisites that must be met in order for a character to use or equip them, and the way characters level in Dungeon Siege is thoroughly connected to this. All of the PCs have four types of combat and/or magic to use - Melee Weapons, Ranged Weapons, Combat Magic, and Nature Magic. Proficiency in each category is determined by the amount of times a character uses an appropriate weapon or spell, and these also increase on of three attributes - Strength, Dexterity, or Intelligence. This system works well, as individual characters can develop powerful skills and abilities with in a specific class, but also have the option to branch out into other classes as well.

   It is no surprise then that the enemies are designed to counter the abilities of the party. Combat can be difficult in Dungeon Siege, though the game has the useful "Pause" feature - which allows players to equip weapons and armor, pick battle strategies and formations, and target specific enemies. Retreat is a wise tactic while venturing through some dungeons - brave and reckless charges into unknown territory often result in the party's quick demise. Nevertheless, with time and patience - most areas can be conquered.


Swords vs. Mechs: You pick the winner.
Swords vs. Mechs: You pick the winner.  

   Like many great PC games, Dungeon Siege has multiplayer network code built-in, and RPGamers can meet through LAN games, over the Internet through IP addresses, or through the "ZoneMatch" service that Microsoft offers for multiplayer campaigns. Up to 8 players can trudge through the Kingdom of Ehb (the scenario for the single-player game), or adventure through custom-made maps. One month after the game's release in North America, a "Siege Editor" was released for the game, enabling RPGamers to make their own scenarios for use in multiplayer matches.

Backed by a solid gaming engine and tried-but-true gameplay, Dungeon Siege has proved to be worth the wait, and has emerged as a solid PC title for 2002. Much of its appeal lies in the fact that it remains a successful cross between frenetic hack-and-slash action and old-school RPG gameplay, and the possibilities of multiplayer gameplay are impressive. Even novices to the genre will be pleased to know that there are three different difficulty modes to choose when playing the single-player campaign, while veterans can bask in the difficulty of engaging the dragon Scorch with the help of friends. Hopefully more PC developers will have done what Dungeon Siege has successfully pulled off - combining the favorite methods of old with the technology of the present-day.




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