The Wheel of Dubious RPGs Episode 006: Dungeon Siege III

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.

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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