DSIII: The Loot Crawler Evolved?
Dungeon Siege III is an odd game, a Frankenstein's monster with the stitches still showing, if you'll pardon the metaphor. It is not a conventional dungeon crawler, but neither is it much of a traditional CRPG either as might be expected from Obsidian. Rather what they've done is taken the emphasis on equipment progression typical of the loot crawler and transplanted it into a linear, narratively structured action game. The writing resembles that of a CRPG, with hints of choice and consequence, but the RPG elements are outweighed by the emphasis on action mechanics. Although it provides the best combat in its particular genre in terms of action, this is at the expense of replayability and customisability.
Why I view Dungeon Siege III as primarily an action game is its prioritisation of player skill over character build and long-term planning. The customisation options for each character are extremely simple. All abilities are eventually gained, the player only controls the order in which they are unlocked. Although each preset character can be customised further by choosing from proficiencies for each ability and character-specific talents, or perks, the options are rather binary and not particularly consequential. The equipment a character has is more important, as each item can have a large impact on the character's stats. Even then, this boils down to "which offensive stance do I use more based on the stats that I have?" As they are only two offensive stances for each character, this does little to add to the complexity. Although on hardcore it may be necessary to absolutely maximise complementary builds, it is otherwise nearly impossible to make a worthless and unviable build. In short, the character customisation and varying playstyles that are such an important part of the traditional loot crawler have been marginalised in favour of pre-made characters with their own identity and skill sets.
However, the action mechanics in Dungeon Siege III are markedly improved. To Obsidian's credit, they recognised that most loot crawlers have trivial and tedious combat. The action consists of nothing more than clicking and quaffing potions as yet another wave of trash mobs are thrown to the meat grinder. DSIII, while not a phenomenal 3rd-person action game, adds blocking, dodging, two different kinds of offensive stances that can be changed at will as well as a defensive stance and abilities specific to all three stances. This results in rather more complex combat that feels rewarding and engaging. It presents a decent challenge as even normal enemy encounters can potentially be fatal; they mob the player and deal out significant damage quickly, and there is no recourse to healing potions or spammable special attacks. Rather, the game relies on a risk-reward structure where attacking nets you focus (required for ability use) and power orbs (required for using the self-heal or powered-up versions of abilities). Like Borderlands, DSIII combines the enjoyability of amassing loot with the immediacy and challenge of an action game.
Writing is another area of marked improvement. Although I hesitate to call the story good, or even gripping, it provides a context that is often lacking in the genre. The quests and objectives tie into the story, which centres around the renewal of the Legion, as you are one of the few scattered survivors. Although the Legion was once the guardian of the people of Ehb, they were branded kingslayers and slaughtered virtually to a man by Jeyne Kassynder and her Azunite followers. The story has some degree of player input, as they can choose to be vengeful, seeking retribution for the wrongs committed against the Legion, or merciful and just. The voice work can be annoying, however, and although the story is not bad it is also somewhat unfinished. It is frustrating that only one of the characters feels wholly integrated into the story, whereas the other three hardly say anything and have no story involvement beyond the very start of the game. Given that the game sacrifices so much for the sake of its story it is more than a little disappointing.
Dungeon Siege III has some significant failings, which is a shame because at its core it's a fun, polished and, amazingly given Obsidian's spotty releases in the past, a bugfree game (at least it seemed very stable for what I played). It lacks replayability because it is centred around a relatively short single-player campaign and the multiplayer is poorly integrated as well. A significant oversight is that inventory is shared between players and only the host gains progress in the campaign. The joining player cannot use one of their own characters and the camera forces all players to stick closely together even when they're not playing on the same machine. This is taken to such an extreme that you cannot stray from another player even when they're unconscious! That players can become caught in the scenery thanks to the camera is simply unforgivable. The camera and controls are mostly acceptable in singleplayer with a gamepad (there were no options for keybindings at time of release and camera control with the mouse sucks). However, its multiplayer is simply crippled at this point.
In summary, DSIII is a fairly enjoyable singleplayer hack and slash with enough loot to satiate loot lust, even if it doesn't wholly succeed at integrating the action RPG aspects. Obsidian made some smart design decisions that evolve the action RPG genre for the better but in doing so they also get some very basic things wrong. Although the question of whether a game is worth full price is dependent on the money you have, if you were hoping for substantial value for money and dozens of hours of play, it would be best to avoid Dungeon Siege III. If you like loot crawlers and can put to one side the significant caveats I recommend it. This doesn't match up to Obsidian's best work, but the new engine is fantastic and perhaps we can hope to see a proper party-based CRPG utilising its capabilities.
[Time played: 23 hours. Game was completed on normal difficulty in singleplayer and multiplayer.]