2011 has been called by some the “year of the shooter”, but it’s fair to say that if any genre is getting more than the lion’s share of attention this year, it’s the RPG. We’ve already seen Torchlight and Dragon Age 2 released to critical acclaim, and still to come are The Witcher 2, Diablo 3, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning… The list really does go on and on. Hoping to claim a piece of the pie by releasing mid-year, and thereby getting the jump on some of these approaching behemoths, is Dungeon Siege 3.
Developed by Obsidian, a house with more than enough pedigree in the RPG department, and published by Square Enix (no slouches themselves!), Dungeon Siege 3 is the first console outing for the kingdom of Ehb. Fans of the previously-PC-only series will be expecting more party-based action RPG hijinks, since the previous titles were competent combinations of Diablo’s kill-loot-level mechanic and Baldur’s Gate’s party management. This being a more console-friendly iteration, you can expect to see the party side of things streamlined, with most of the attention on your player character and the rest of his or her companions providing varying degrees of support.
Details are surprisingly thin on the ground given that Dungeon Siege 3 is scheduled for a May 27th release, but what I can report with certainty is that there are to be four selectable characters. Three have been revealed so far: Lucas the Warrior, Anjali the Archon (similar to a standard spell-slinger) and Katarina, a gun-toting half-witch. Quite how the co-op gameplay will work is, as yet, mostly a mystery, but it’s likely that whichever character you choose will be accompanied by the other three for most of the game.
Each character will have their own skill tree and switchable fighting styles, but it looks like there will be a level of tactics involved to elevate the combat above simple button-mashing. For example, when your character goes down one of the AI companions (or indeed, your mate sitting next to you if you’re playing co-op) will need to revive you. It’s safe to assume that certain skills will aid this process, bringing buffs to keep unintentional soloists alive while they drag their teammates out of the mud. In combat each character will have two fighting stances; Lucas, for example, will be able to switch between weapon-and-shield tanking and a more damaging two-handed weapon.
Drop-in, drop-out co-op is on the cards, with a new player assuming the role of whichever AI character is available at the time. Personally, I think this sounds restricting – especially given that the four classes are so divers that you’ll undoubtedly have a favourite. If two, three or four players want to bomb around as their own incarnations of Lucas, then they should be able to; forcing classes on co-op players seems like a bad move – one almost guaranteed to set the forums burning come summer.
On the plus side, it’s starting to look like a colourful, vibrant gameworld. Special attacks light up the screen, character animation is fluid enough if not groundbreaking and enemy types are many and varied. The locations look likely to appeal to most gamers as well, with enough periodic variety to keep the game feeling fresh – though it’s safe to expect the usual caverns, forests, icy tundras, and brickwork dungeons synonymous with the genre.
Although character progression is handled by increasing skills (special attacks / buffs, etc) and abilities (passive perks and benefits), it’s all made possible by good old XP. Collect enough and you’ll level up, giving you access to more powerful skills and gear. Although you can change the equipment of your character and the AI buddies at will, you’ll only ever be able to directly control your own avatar.
So far looking like a very arcadey, console-centric iteration of previous games, Dungeon Siege 3 still has the potential to surprise us all come May 27th. If the characters are compelling enough to keep us coming back, the rest of the game will fall into place. However, building a game around four-player co-op and then restricting certain vital options like character selection could prove to be a bone of contention for many gamers.
On the whole, as a fan of the series, I’m still excited about Dungeon Siege 3. Any dungeon-crawling lootathon is my cup of tea, and if DS3 can bring sufficient noise to be heard above the crowd of RPG giants this year, it could offer a more accessible, more action-heavy alternative to some of 2011’s big-hitters.