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August 3, 2011
Dungeon Siege 3 - PS3 Review
Release Distributer Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
16/6/2011Namco BandaiSquare-EnixObsidian1-22-4
Media HDD Space Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Dungeon Siege III is out now on PS3.
I have to say I love nothing more than when an RPG lands on my desk. Sure, I enjoy other games, but RPGs are where it's at for me. It's especially exciting when an RPG I know nothing about turns up; with no idea of what to expect you can play the game with an entirely open mind. Dungeon Siege 3 is the name of the game this time, and I gladly wandered into its dungeons. Were they filled with disappointment and despair or a pot of gold? Read on…

The story goes that the Legion used to be the strong and proud defenders of Ehb and its king. However when the king died unexpectedly, rumours began that the Legion were responsible. A rebellion, led by the games villain Jeyne Kassynder, forms and sets about destroying the Legion. The rebellion is almost wholly successful with Kassynder wiping out all but one lucky member of the Legion. The royal family never supported the rebellion and thirty years later the battle continues; with Kassynder still trying to take control of Ehb and overthrow the monarchy, while the Queen struggles against her. Odo, the Legion's one surviving member,has decided to re-form the Legion and tilt the balance of power back in the Queen's favour. It is at this point the game begins in earnest.

Once the game starts you have to choose one of four characters for yourself, all of whom are proficient in melee and ranged attacks. Your choices are; Lucas who wields sword and shield and longsword with equal aplomb, an archon named Anjali who has the ability to turn herself into a fire spirit and hurl fireballs about the place, Katarina who prefers dual pistols and a rifle, or Reinhard who uses unique weapons I can't begin to explain. You don't get the choice to create or name your own character, but between the four you're presented with you should be able to find someone who suits your play-style.

Each character has two attack stances; one better suited to long-range attack, and the other for clearing crowds of enemies. Swapping between the two is as easy as hitting L1, and even in the heat of battle your character swaps with ease. Anjali swaps between her human and fire spirit forms as quickly as the others swap weapons.

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Visual effects are fairly decent.
The controller is kept busy throughout; Square, Triangle and Circle each have abilities mapped to them – different abilities depending on your stance, and holding L2 brings up three more. L2 also blocks if you're standing still, and lets you roll out of harm's way in combination with the right-analog stick. You don't take any damage while rolling or blocking, but your focus, which is also used for magic and abilities, is drained every time you take a hit. Somewhat surprisingly the X button, not R1, is used for attacks. This means you can't aim the camera at the same time you attack which takes a bit of getting used to. The game auto-targets the nearest enemy in the direction you're facing, and for the most part it works well. R1 is used to interact with objects and people.

When you level up you periodically learn new abilities, as well as earning proficiency and talent points at every level up. Frequent use of your abilities will eventually unlock an empowered version of the ability, which, as the name suggest, is far more powerful. Ordinary abilities require focus points, which are earned by inflicting or taking damage to and from enemies. Empowered abilities, and the abilities mapped to L2 use a different source of power, known as power spheres. Unlike focus, where the bar is always one-hundred points long, you only earn power spheres at certain moments in the game. You start out with one power sphere, and don't earn your third until you are about three-quarters of the way through the game. You'll finish the game with four, but having so few throughout the game means you can't spam your healing spells or empowered abilities.

As mentioned, at every level up you earn proficiency points. Every ability you learn can be specialized in one of two ways, for example by increasing the damage or restoring small amounts of health to you every time you use that ability. You can invest up to five proficiency points in each ability, allowing you to choose the way the ability develops. You also gain talent points at every level up. Talent points give your character passive skill improvements, such as a small bonus to your health every time you are healed, improved agility, higher chance of critical attacks, less chance of taking damage if your health falls below 25% and so on.

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Much of the game takes place in near darkness.
The surrounding screenshots should show you that Dungeon Siege 3 has the classic dungeon crawler look. You run through castles, swamps, forests and caves destroying all in your path and picking up as much loot as you can carry. For most of the game you will have a companion with you, usually one of the main four characters you're not using, and it can be handy to carry good gear for them too, so your inventory can fill up fast. If it ever fills up entirely you have the option to ‘transmute' items into gold, but the amount of gold you get for this is significantly less than you'd get at a store.

There are Easy, Normal and Hardcore modes to choose from, though Normal is actually quite easy. The step up to Hardcore is significant and death will come often. The blurb for Hardcore says it is not for people prone to throwing controllers, which is funny if not exactly true. Hardcore is definitely unforgiving, but with a little patience and effort you'll learn from your mistakes.

Companion AI works well on the lower difficulty settings, as they use abilities, dodge attacks, and most importantly, revive you quickly when you fall in battle. On Hardcore the cracks begin to show. They don't use the right spells and abilities, nor choose the appropriate weapon in certain situations. For example in one fight a boss has a burning aura around them, so anytime you step into close range you take significant burning damage. Given I was controlling Lucas, who has no long-range attacks, I relied heavily on my companion to use their long-range weapon to take him out. It didn't happen. Worse than that, the companion simply waded into the aura, taking massive damage and dying in seconds. The only solution was to look for an online player to help out, or pick up a second controller and take charge of the companion myself.

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Just standing around...
There is support for both local and online multiplayer, though the way online multiplayer works is somewhat unique. At any time during your game you can go into the menu and make your game public (or private), thus allowing anyone to join in. This drop-in, drop-out style isn't unique, but the fact that only the host earns experience, money and loot from the multiplayer game is (at least in games I've played). This certainly discourages multiplayer games – what's in it for the rest of the group? You could say that in effect it is like local multiplayer, for example if you go to a friend's house and play the game there you don't retain any experience, money or loot, and while that's true I'm not convinced it's the best way to handle online multiplayer.

On the flip-side you do get to join in on anyone's game, so the very first time you play the game you could help someone defeat the game's last boss. You do earn trophies via multiplayer, so trophy hoarders will appreciate that too. Another quirk during multiplayer is that anyone can sell or buy whatever gear they like at stores. Everyone joining the game has to share the inventory of the host, so if you haven't kept handy gear for each of the four main characters you may find your money gets spent in spades at the first store you come across.

Aside from the strange choice to give online players nothing for their time, there are a couple of minor issues with multiplayer games. The first is that everyone must stay on the same screen, as dictated by the host player. It's a decision that makes sense, but also causes trouble in boss fights where you run into an invisible wall and cannot attack enemies, nor get out of the way of some of their attacks. The screen also gets very busy with multiple players casting spells, using abilities, and having the same thrown at them by enemies. It can make it extremely hard to see yourself, let alone the host player, making it hard to work as a team.

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The game is often a little too dark.
Other issues include it being too short, particularly if you skip over much of the talking, and could be finished in around ten hours. It's also extremely linear. The entire journey through the game follows one long path, and while it's not as limiting as Final Fantasy XIII's corridor, there really isn't a lot to explore. If there's a branch in the path you know there's a treasure chest there, and side-quests have you backtracking over paths you've already been down.

Smaller issues include the absence of a new game+ that lets you carry loot or money over to a new game, the inability to create your own character, or shape any of the characters in your own way (e.g. Lucas will never be good at magic). These are elements I love in RPGs and when they're not available they are sorely missed.

Graphically the game is a step above neat and functional, but never quite beautiful. All of the environments look as the should – woods have just enough trees to provide cover for enemies, and enough open space for you to see what's going on. Dungeons are dark and moody, with the occasional body of water providing a welcome change of scenery. Snowfall, glittering caves that shine, haunted castles, and the bustling town of Stonebridge all look good, but again they never blow you away.

The high point of the graphics may just be the various gear the four characters can wear. Like any good RPG your character's appearance will change with each piece of gear you equip. Some of the costumes you end up with are quite cool, and while this won't exactly send you hunting the best-looking gear, it's still good to see in the game. During conversations you get close-ups of the main characters, and these are well-animated – Katarina in particular looks great, as do the goblins of Stonebridge.

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Another Dungeon Siege III screenshot.
The music is standard RPG fare – it suits the game well, but you forget it as soon as you stop playing. It rises in urgency during fights, with drum beats thumping in time with the action. There is eery choral singing in haunted locations, which may be clichéd but still works. The sound effects are solid – the crossing of blades, the sound of the forest, the echo of the caves, the scuttling of spiders and other enemy effects are all believable.

Voice acting is a somewhat mixed affair. Few of the characters really invest in their lines, so it's hard to care too much about the characters. The two Legion members who guide you through the story, Odo and Marten Guiscard, are both quite dull, and don't even get animated when discussing the death of all their comrades. Lucas and Katarina are much better - Lucas delivers his lines in a believable and energetic manner, while Katarina's accent makes her more interesting to listen to than the rest of the cast.

Dungeon Siege 3 is a largely routine dungeon crawler that has some strong elements. Combat is entertaining, and the option to supercharge your abilities through constant use adds variety. On Hardcore difficulty the game is challenging, and will keep you coming back for more. The drop-in, drop-out online multiplayer isn't rewarding to anyone but the host but it is technically solid. For all that, the story, characters and loot aren't very interesting and the game is short for a dungeon crawler (roughly thirteen hours). If you enjoy this type of RPG then you are sure to find some enjoyment here as Dungeon Siege 3 does everything competently, but nothing brilliantly. For fans only I would suggest.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSVery neat and occasionally pretty, but never stunning. It can be cluttered during multiplayer, but overall it's decent enough.
SOUNDThe music is decent and the sound effects have their desired effect. The voice acting is mixed.
GAMEPLAYIt's solid across the board, but never outstanding. If you like dungeon crawlers and can live with the multiplayer implementation you'll find plenty to enjoy.
VALUEIt's short, so unless you plan to replay the game with different characters, or try different difficulties, the fun will be short-lived.
OVERALLDungeon Siege 3 epitomises a solid yet unspectacular game. If you like dungeon crawlers it's well worth checking out, but it won't convert anyone else.

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