Friday, 5 July 2013

Now Playing: Dungeon Siege

I recently picked up the Dungeon Siege bundle in a sale on Steam. The only game I’d played in the series was the original, back on release in 2002, so it seemed like a good place to start. Dungeon Siege is essentially a fantasy action-RPG. You assume the role of a male or female ‘farmer’ who embarks on a quest from his or her humble beginnings to save the Kingdom of Ehb and become a great hero. You do this by clicking on things repeatedly until they fall over.

You can pause the action and issue specific orders. This is one area of the game I really liked - setting party formations and specific character responses (defend, move freely, target closest etc) which becomes all the more important on higher difficulties and introduces a welcome tactical element to battles.

You can play solo, if you want, although I don’t think I hate myself enough to try it. You can recruit up to seven companions on your quest, and classes are comprised of the typical melee, ranged or magic users. You can also add a pack mule to your team to carry all the crap you pick up, which is still a nice little touch and rather irritating when the bloody animal gets killed and drops everything. If you’re anything like me, a big part of games like these is fiddling with the inventories until everything fits. I leave no loot behind.

There’s a fair variety of locations and environments in the game, which still look decent enough today, although the character models are rather dated. There are some cool magic effects and animations here and there, but overall, combat is all a little basic and largely just revolves around guzzling potions and hitting stuff until it dies.

Which wouldn’t be so terrible if I had a reason to care, but unfortunately, Dungeons Siege’s story is rather dull and not very engaging. There’s no real quests in the game as such, mostly it’s just a case of travelling from point A to point B and killing everything in between. Occasionally you get a side quest to deviate off the main path and kill something else. But there’s not really a lot else going on from a story or character perspective.

Traversing the world is a bit of a pain. I really don’t know how anyone gets about in the world of Dungeon Siege given that bad things want to kill you pretty much every couple of feet. This isn’t such an issue early on in the game, but it becomes increasingly tedious as the game progresses. Many areas just boil down to long, winding paths which are required to reach the next ‘quest’ point and just feel like filler sections to pad out the game and slow the player’s progress. Occasionally you may find the odd secret lair or mini-boss if you explore the area, but the rewards aren’t often worth the time or trouble it takes to backtrack.

There are also some sections which just feel rather pointless because they play no role in the progression of the story, or they’re just designed in a way to slow the player as much as possible. In particular, I really hated the swamp level, which felt like a ridiculously long trek just to reach the next destination. And following that – the goblin lair. Whoever designed this level is a cruel, cruel individual, as it frequently throws lots of heavy ranged damage types at you, often bunched together in small environments with little room to manoeuvre.

I don’t mind a challenge, but there comes a point when it just starts getting rather frustrating. I eventually bulldozed my way through it, but it’s an annoying trick the game plays again towards the very end, as it forces you through an incredibly long and tedious grind of enemies which almost seems endless. Honestly, approaching twenty hours into Dungeon Siege this time around, I was getting rather sick of it. There was little to encourage me to continue forward from the story side of things, and although the gameplay was okay, it grew so repetitive and tiresome as the game wore on that I pretty much lost all interest.

Fortunately, not all of the levels feel like filler and some are very well designed. There’s a nice sense of progression as you level up, plus the expected gear upgrades. There’s little in the way of player feedback in terms of damage dealt or received which is something I missed from playing more recent, similar games such as Torchlight. The map system is crap, it has to be said, but the game does have a great soundtrack. Enemy variety is okay, although as I said, it throws them at you so much they too, get repetitive. And sadly, the ending is rather lame and anticlimactic.

Overall, Dungeon Siege wasn’t quite as enjoyable as I remembered. It’s still a solid enough action-RPG, and for those of you who appreciate a challenge, that’s something Dungeon Siege can certainly offer. But it’s a game with a lot of padding and a lot of repetition. You need patience to see yourself through it, and if you don’t like the sound of spending 3-4 hours slowly grinding your way through the same seven enemy types in the same dungeon, then this probably isn’t the game for you.


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