The Wheel of Dubious RPGs Episode 006: Dungeon Siege III

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ArbitraryWater

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Edited By ArbitraryWater

Yo, before we start, just a quick update on the whole Dragon Age II thing: It’s still coming, but I’ve accidentally gotten sucked into Origins and now want to play through the entire thing without a captive audience watching me the entire time. So… because of this, the Dragon Age and Dragon Age II retrospective is now going to be its own separate deal. I’ll stream more when I feel like it, and I’m not planning on playing Inquisition, but this has become a big enough thing to become separate from the wheel. You can expect my thoughts on Origins… eventually. It’s a long game.

Dungeon Siege III

Yeah I chose to play as the fire lady whose traditional video game
Yeah I chose to play as the fire lady whose traditional video game "butt pose" is only lightly obscured by the smoke of this box art

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment

Release Date: June 17, 2011

Time Played: Around 2 ½ hours

Dubiosity: 2 out of 5

Special Distinction: The first game to make me quit during a stream

Would I play it again? Eh.

Dungeon Siege III continues the trend of my tolerance for middling and questionable RPGs halting somewhere around middling and questionable action-RPGs in the vein of Diablo. Not everything can be Nox, I guess. Now, to be fair, there’s nothing particularly offensive about Dungeon Siege III, and indeed it seems like the kind of thing that could be a moderate amount of fun… on a console. With a controller. And probably other people along for the ride. There’s no beating around this one: This is a console-ass PC port, one that somehow managed to miss the train on decent gamepad support despite being a game that was clearly designed for a gamepad in mind. I mean, it works, in the sense that the buttons do things when you push them, but not in the sense of replacing button prompts or having anywhere near a reasonable default button layout. I feel like most games were starting to figure this out by 2011. Not this one!

I picked this one over its predecessors for a few reasons: The first is that Obsidian made it, a company I’d argue is probably responsible for some of the better and more interesting western-developed RPGs of the last 16 years. The second is that, quite frankly, there doesn’t seem to be anything remotely remarkable about Dungeon Siege 1 or 2 beyond their technical accomplishments and Jeremy Soule OSTs. I’m sorry if you were a big fan of either of those games, but this is definitely one of those cases where I’m slightly baffled a franchise got to three installments (four if you count Space Siege), a comic book, and multiple terrible Uwe Boll movies with no real outward “hook” other than being technically competent Diablo-likes with no loading past the initial startup.

Not pictured: Me, somewhat bored
Not pictured: Me, somewhat bored

Now if my general whinging about the quality of gamepad support and series lineage isn’t particularly exciting, then I have great news: Neither are the opening hours of Dungeon Siege III. It’s fine. Well, that’s not to say that there aren’t ideas. Instead of starting from scratch with a classless hero, you pick between four different set characters, all of whom have two different “stances” they can switch between at a time (I went with the fire lady, who can switch between smacking things with a spear up close and blasting them afar as a fire spirit). Progression and character building is streamlined down to the essentials, with each character having a grand total of nine abilities (three per stance, plus three defensive abilities you can use while blocking) and a couple ways of enhancing those abilities between two binary choices (do you want your sick advancing kick to have a chance of stunning enemies or setting them on fire?) It’s also much more action-oriented, with blocking and dodging very much feeling like a meaningful part of your arsenal. The AI companions who you bring along? Not quite as useful.

In some ways, I can get behind this, and if I wasn’t fumbling around with a keyboard (see, this is what brings it all together) I’d probably be more into the relatively simple, decidedly consolized approach to ARPGs this game has going for it. In a world where these sorts of games are all about the endless treadmill, there’s something… almost novel about one that clearly is a bit more hand-crafted and suited for one or two playthroughs. It’s cute, like a throwback to Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, rather than playing in the same pool as the big kids or indeed even mustering up to the post-Diablo III console port world we now find ourselves in. The only problem is that I need a bigger hook than mechanical competence to draw me in with this sort of loot game in particular. Diablo II manages it through raw nostalgia, while Destiny did it with best-in-class shooting on a console. If I had friends to play with (and, to be quite honest, I didn’t have a repetitive stress injury that makes the particular brand of clicky click actively painful) I’d probably have more love for this style of game, but I could barely get my friends to play Diablo II with me when I was a teenager, and you’d better believe I can’t do it now that we’re all adults. I’m focusing most of my social capital on making people show up for remote D&D games, in any case.

It's cute how this game briefly pretends that it's a Mass Effect sometimes
It's cute how this game briefly pretends that it's a Mass Effect sometimes

Now that’s where the narrative elements come in to fill the gap. Well, at least that’s what I was hoping, at least. It has more of it than the average game of this type, to be fair, and there are a decent number of dialogue interactions between all the murdering. However, other than the fun of recognizing how many NPC voices were done by the same handful of (prominent) voice actors (I counted at least three NPCs voiced by Liam O’Brien, two by Laura Bailey, and three by Robin Atkin Downes in the short time I played,) the best I can say about Dungeon Siege III’s writing is that there was clearly some effort involved. I’m just not sure it was necessary. It was directed by George Ziets, who is probably best known among RPG circles as being the lead writer on Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, which depending on the week might secretly be my favorite Obsidian story. Apparently Zeits wrote a 100 page “lore bible” to help flesh out the world of Dungeon Siege, which I can definitely see from the raw number of proper nouns and backstory being thrown out by every character with little context. What’s a Jeyne Kassinder anyway? Apparently not a very good thing, that’s for sure. I can’t speak to how this game’s development went, or what problems it encountered, so I’ll just leave it at the writing not being compelling enough on its own merits, even if it’s probably better than 90% of the games of this type by sheer value of mildly giving a shit.

So yeah, that’s Dungeon Siege III. It seems, uh, fine, but I think I’m done playing this particular kind of game on my dubious RPG wheel. Also, from this point onward, I’m going to reiterate that I’m not particularly interested in recording and archiving my streams at the moment. That means if you want to watch me fumble around and talk about RPGs with the handful of people in my chat, the best way to do so is live or watch the archives on my twitch page within 14 days. At some point this could change, but for now just keep that in mind. I REALLY recommend you take a look at the archives for my Wizards and Warriors stream, because a lot of what I'm going to talk about in regards to that game needs to be seen for yourself.

PreviousCurrent State of the WheelNext
Nox

Games Added: Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir, Septerra Core: Legacy of the Creator, Betrayal in Antara.

Games Removed: Nox, Dungeon Siege III, Anachronox

Wizards and Warriors
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PeezMachine

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#1  Edited By PeezMachine

I don't know why, but the thought I had when playing Dungeon Siege III was "this is the Azurik: Rise of Perathia of ARPGs."

Now That's What I Call Dubious!

Edit: Wait, nope, that was Dungeon Siege 2.

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Efesell

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Should have spiced it up with a “Jeyne Kassynder!” drinking game.

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fisk0

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#3  Edited By fisk0  Moderator

To be fair to Dungeon Siege 1, it did a decent job of adding verticality to the Diablo-likes back when most of them were still 2D and even the polygonal ones tended to be flat.

It did that Torchlight and Diablo III thing of you walking above a combat arena you'd be visiting later, and could see the hordes of enemies below.

But also, the entire world was absolutely covered in these weird "natural" arches. There were almost more of them than enemies and even at the time I found it totally absurd.

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BlackLagoon

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I actually had quite a good time with this game, moreso than the modern endless grindfests. Though I did actually play it on a console with a friend tagging along.

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sparky_buzzsaw

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Dungeon Siege has always been the sodium free Saltine of the RPG world. It's technically fine and falls within the definition of exactly what it is supposed to be, but there is zero flavor to any of it. Every moment of Diablo 3, I thought it felt more like a Dungeon Siege game than something Blizzard should be putting out.

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Onemanarmyy

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#6  Edited By Onemanarmyy

Wooo. Septerra Core is on the wheel! I played that demo like 5 times, and liked how diverse your party members were and the whole 'shell-layering of the world. There is a robot dog that shoots colorful lasers!

Not entirely sure if it was a good game (seemed pretty grindy to get access to new weapons) but i do like the whole vibe of that game.

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Efesell

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I really hated Storm of Zehir at the time. Mask of the Betrayer was so good that it frustrated me to no end to devolve the series back into a more aimless campaign.

It was trying to hearken back to Icewind Dale though which I always found to be the weakest link of the Infinity Engine (except for the music).

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BladeOfCreation

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I played this on the 360 in co-op, and my feelings are largely the same. It's not really offensively bad in any way, but it's not good, either. It was definitely buggier than most console games can get away with, and that's coming from someone who believes Obsidian games are not nearly as broken as most people make them out to be.

Also, it's been a while, but I seem to remember there being something weird with co-op where the second player's abilities didn't save. It was a simple matter of having the second player just redo their skills when logging back in, but it was annoying.

The setting and story definitely tried to do interesting things, and there were a handful of binary choices you could make to side with certain people.

I never beat it, or even got far in it. It's the type of game that is way more fun with friends who can make fun of it with you.

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Relkin

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I had forgotten just how long it takes to unlock abilities in that game; I remember having fun summoning pillars of fire and doing some FF Dragoon-esque Jumps around the battlefield as Anjali, but I guess that doesn't happen for quite a while. Just a lot of kicking people.

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SethMode

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I have almost nothing to say about Dungeon Siege 3, because I found it aggressively forgettable every time I would try it.

As for your next game, I'm very curious about it because one of the first NES games I had was that dumpster fire of a fucking game with the same name and I beat the fucking thing because of the whole "hey I'm young and won't be getting another game for a long time, so I guess I'll just play *this* thing over and over."

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frytup

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I definitely finished the first Dungeon Siege when it released, but the only thing I can remember about it is I liked the classless use-based skill system. Pretty unusual for the time.

DS III is the only Obsidian game I've never touched. Don't think I ever will.

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ArbitraryWater

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@efesell said:

I really hated Storm of Zehir at the time. Mask of the Betrayer was so good that it frustrated me to no end to devolve the series back into a more aimless campaign.

It was trying to hearken back to Icewind Dale though which I always found to be the weakest link of the Infinity Engine (except for the music).

I've never gotten very far in Storm of Zehir precisely because it's trying to be something in the vein of Icewind Dale, but with NWN2's terrible-ass camera and questionable AI scripting. I can appreciate the intent to make a more "traditional" sandbox RPG after something as narrative-focused as Mask of the Betrayer, but I also remember finding it frustrating. Look forward to that inevitably popping up on stream, I guess.

For what it's worth, I definitely also think Icewind Dale is the weakest part of the Infinity Engine lineup. I still like it, mind you, but the hyper-focused dungeon crawler setup makes some of the fault lines around the way that engine handles things like traps and pathfinding more blatant than they are in something like Baldur's Gate.

I played this on the 360 in co-op, and my feelings are largely the same. It's not really offensively bad in any way, but it's not good, either. It was definitely buggier than most console games can get away with, and that's coming from someone who believes Obsidian games are not nearly as broken as most people make them out to be.

Also, it's been a while, but I seem to remember there being something weird with co-op where the second player's abilities didn't save. It was a simple matter of having the second player just redo their skills when logging back in, but it was annoying.

The setting and story definitely tried to do interesting things, and there were a handful of binary choices you could make to side with certain people.

I never beat it, or even got far in it. It's the type of game that is way more fun with friends who can make fun of it with you.

There's something weird with the co-op, where I guess you're technically using the host player's character progression and not your own? It's bizarre, and reading some of the choices and limitations they imposed made me slightly confused.

In any case, yeah, the narrative elements are definitely more ambitious than other games of this type, so I'm not going to throw that much shade in their direction. But compared to some of the other Obsidian games that came out a year earlier (New Vegas, Alpha Protocol) it's a bit harder of a sell.

@sethmode said:

I have almost nothing to say about Dungeon Siege 3, because I found it aggressively forgettable every time I would try it.

As for your next game, I'm very curious about it because one of the first NES games I had was that dumpster fire of a fucking game with the same name and I beat the fucking thing because of the whole "hey I'm young and won't be getting another game for a long time, so I guess I'll just play *this* thing over and over."

Ohohohoho. What if I told you the 2000 Heuristic Park RPG called "Wizards and Warriors" has nothing to do with the infamous Rareware NES platformer of the same name? Now what if I told you this game was obscure enough to: A. Not have any screenshots in the Giant Bomb wiki, B. Not come up as one of the immediate game options when I was looking for it on Twitch, and C. Was notoriously difficult to get running on OSes newer than Windows 2000 until the GOG release a few years ago. It's, uh, something. Something I actually kinda like, but I'm not going to pretend it compares entirely positively to the Might and Magic or Wizardry games that it's most closely related to.

Wooo. Septerra Core is on the wheel! I played that demo like 5 times, and liked how diverse your party members were and the whole 'shell-layering of the world. There is a robot dog that shoots colorful lasers!

Not entirely sure if it was a good game (seemed pretty grindy to get access to new weapons) but i do like the whole vibe of that game.

Septerra Core is on here precisely because it's a great example of the brief trend of western developers trying to catch that hot hot Final Fantasy VII fire by making their own JRPG-style games. I've heard enough positive things about Anachronox that I've decided to slot in Septerra Core instead, for the time being.

@fisk0 said:

To be fair to Dungeon Siege 1, it did a decent job of adding verticality to the Diablo-likes back when most of them were still 2D and even the polygonal ones tended to be flat.

It did that Torchlight and Diablo III thing of you walking above a combat arena you'd be visiting later, and could see the hordes of enemies below.

But also, the entire world was absolutely covered in these weird "natural" arches. There were almost more of them than enemies and even at the time I found it totally absurd

I felt the need to mention Dungeon Siege's one distinguishing factor being its technical accomplishments. Like, I'm sure that game was very impressive in 2002. It's more just the part where, outside of that context, it doesn't really do anything special for me eighteen years later. Definitely have to imagine those arches existed in the same way modern AAA video games love to have characters squeeze under rocks or through cracks to disguise loading.

Dungeon Siege has always been the sodium free Saltine of the RPG world. It's technically fine and falls within the definition of exactly what it is supposed to be, but there is zero flavor to any of it. Every moment of Diablo 3, I thought it felt more like a Dungeon Siege game than something Blizzard should be putting out.

Not gonna lie, my first immediate impression of Dungeon Siege III was that it felt like a worse version of Diablo III (admittedly coming out a year prior) which is a game I'm already pretty borderline on.

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SethMode

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@arbitrarywater: It was genuinely not all that easy to track down what that game even looked like without knowing what exactly to type, because I just kept getting the NES game until I went to GOG. I really had zero idea it existed, nor did I know it was by one of the people that worked on a few Wizardry games (although those were never really my personal cup of tea anyway).

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ArbitraryWater

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#14  Edited By ArbitraryWater

@sethmode said:

@arbitrarywater: It was genuinely not all that easy to track down what that game even looked like without knowing what exactly to type, because I just kept getting the NES game until I went to GOG. I really had zero idea it existed, nor did I know it was by one of the people that worked on a few Wizardry games (although those were never really my personal cup of tea anyway).

I'll put it this way: among the games I think people would mention as part of the late 90s/early 00s CRPG "Golden Era" I don't think Wizards and Warriors would even crack the top 20. It wasn't particularly well-received when it came out, and never developed the same level of cult following that a lot of other games from that era obtained. I have to imagine half of that was the aforementioned "hard to run on an operating system newer than Win 2000." However, to be frank it's also not a looker and not easy to recommend to people who aren't lunatics like me who have at least messed with most of the other games from that time period.

It's easily one of the most obscure games on that wheel right now, alongside Thunderscape and Betrayal in Antara. The only thing liable to beat it are the *extremely choice* Russian RPGs in the vein of Baldur's Gate, should I endeavor to pick those up.

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#15  Edited By soimadeanaccount

I remember there was a long quick look of this. and that actually drove me to give this game a try.

All of the middling feelings this game brings are all true. The trying to be Mass effect/Dragon Age with dialog was a decent effort but amount to nothing major one way or another. There are some two layers deep branching in the ending, like if you have A + B you get C, but if you have A + D you get E kind of deal. However you are actually incentivize to lean towards one choice over another base on what character you are playing because of the stat boosts major decisions give.

With a controller I found the gameplay to be exceptionally good. You have exactly everything you need at your finger tips, all 9 skills are always no more than 2 buttons/modifier presses away, no need to fumble around with numerous hotkeys and clicks, and the gameplay also design around what the game has access to rather than trying to do things differently just for the heck of it.

The combat resource management also works seamlessly. I think it was regular attacks charge focus, spend focus to use skills, and skill usage charges your defensive skills resource which can buff/heals, so you have to be mindful of everything you have in your arsenal, keep a rotation going, maybe even a little combo-ing. I found even today's game are doing that worse.

The inventory in the game is a shitshow if I recall. It also kind of ran into character build being too samey issue. Since you have to use both attacks and skills in tandem specialization doesn't really pays off.

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shivermetimbers

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#16  Edited By shivermetimbers

I think these types of games live or die by their social aspect because there's no point in playing them solo unless you need to take your mind off something, but even then I'd argue there are better video games (and activities in general) to do so.

Like I tried Diablo 3, a game that's soloable and there's no hiding that the loop doesn't change. I understand that part of game design is hiding their naturally repetitive nature (I'm talking all game genres here) and you just see you're on a treadmill.

I see the appeal of doing simple, repetitive, non complicated tasks for rewards. It's just that most ARPGs feel incredibly narrow because if you don't have the best gear or build for a certain difficulty, you're just gonna die and if you are too powerful, you're just gonna steamroll.

I haven't played Dungeon Siege 3, but I don't think a good narrative (just hypothetically saying it had a good narrative) will necessarily save the game/genre because mechanically, it's a narrow pathway forward with small illusions of choice, which is pretty much video game design, but the man behind the curtain is definitely showing himself.