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Dungeon Siege 3 is a middling hack 'n' slash adventure that fails to create a believable world. With even the most basic of fantasy films spending the majority of their budget on the creation of their world, it's an odd misstep for Dungeon Siege. Even the strong co-operative element can't quite make up for this.
It's been five years since the last Dungeon Siege game, and my cynical side can't help but think Dungeon Siege 3's existence represents the current creative climate of clinging on to any and all established franchises. The story has precious few ties to previous entries, meaning it could easily have been a new series.
The best fantasy movies (and now TV shows, thanks to Game of Thrones) present worlds we can believe in. This is normally a culmination of small successes: actors who believe in their parts, locations that don't just look like stand-ins, props that are designed and crafted with the greatest of skill, and, most importantly, characters who talk to each other like characters rather than tour guides.
I never truly believed in the Land of Ehb. For instance, almost every journey I had to take was linear, making me feel like the world was made of small pathways. None of the characters really stood out as interesting, fleshed out people; they were just vessels to progress the story.
There's also a lack of fantastical locations - another stalwart of the genre. Fantasy movies and TV shows are loaded with magical places. These range from Hogwarts in Harry Potter, the Mines of Moria in Lord of the Rings, to The Wall and The Eyrie in Game of Thrones. There are no standout locations in Dungeon Siege 3: nothing grabbed my attention or made me feel a sense of wonder. There's a sequence where an entire mountain gets destroyed, but we are shown none of it.
The best fantasy movies present worlds we can believe in.
One of the many benefits (and indeed expectations) of a fantasy setting is the variety of locations created directly from the imagination. They help define the fantasy worlds, providing landmarks in our memories of the experience. Virtually every scene in the Lord of the Rings movies, for example, brings the world of Middle-earth further to life thanks to the attention to location. The absence of any memorable places left the world of Ehb feeling rather empty.
The story itself was also rather cliched. I immediately recognised the story from Dragon Age: Origins: your sacred order has been destroyed, and you must start to rebuild it and save the world from an evil force. But while Dragon Age immediately sucked me in, thanks to the huge numbers of side quests and detailed information about the setting, Dungeon Siege 3 feels small and empty. There are few side quests, and there is very little to the world beyond the linear path to the next objective.
There is also an addition of a conversation wheel, very similar to Mass Effect. This feature allows you to probe characters for information and, very occasionally, make decisions. It's implementation feels unfinished however. Whereas Mass Effect's conversations are often vast and branching, the conversations here feel a little like interviews. It doesn't help that the camera never moves, focusing only on the character you're talking to, rather than cinematically cutting to the different participants in a conversation as in Mass Effect. It certainly didn't help that I never found anyone interesting to talk to.
The game plays a little differently to previous entries in the franchise, making it more accessible on consoles. Rather than clicking on your target to attack them, or selecting special powers to use on them, here the game plays like more of an action game. Attacks and powers are mapped to the face buttons, with extra options available by changing stance or holding block. It's a fluid system that distills the complexities of RPG's and the associated learning of new skills into an accessible action game.
It was down to the co-op to keep me interested.
The two main draws of Dungeon Siege 3 for me were, firstly, a new fantasy world for me to become immersed in and, secondly, the option of playing the adventure co-operatively. Since the world was incredibly uninspiring, it was down to the co-op to keep me interested.
It was nice to be able to play co-operatively locally, rather than just online. The camera, which is very high up (not helping the feeling of disconnection and lack of immersion), sticks to player one, who has full control. This can be slightly disorienting for player two, but is fine as long as player one has half a brain.
Many abilities affect your friend as well as yourself, so there is fun to be had in finding the best combinations of attacks and abilities. There's a decent number of attacks and abilities to learn, but most of them aren't too interesting. Attacks that smash the ground, lash out with your shield, steal health or focus from and enemy or increase health regeneration are all genre standards: none of the abilities felt fresh or surprised me.
It fails to present a believable fantasy world like the best movies, because it doesn't take the time to.
The last few sections of the game may well be some of the most frustrating I've ever played. Just as I thought the final boss was beaten and the game was (finally) over, some plot contrivance meant I had to do it again. This happens at least four times, and it seriously begins to show up the limitations of the combat system. Until this point, the game was decent if uninspiring, and it's a shame my final feelings of the game were so negative.
Ultimately, Dungeon Siege 3 is just mediocre. It fails to present a believable fantasy world like the best movies, TV and games, because it doesn't take the time to. There are no characters with any complexity at all, the storyline is all pilfered from elsewhere, and we're only given the parts of the world we need for the storyline -- there's no sense that there's more to it than what we're seeing. The game loses out by focusing on action -- which is fun for a while, I must admit -- but fantasy in other media, such as The Lord of the Rings movies of Game of Thrones on television, understand that it's the characters that inhabit fantasy worlds that bring them to life.
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