Post Game Analysis: Dungeon Siege 3

Well, I finished Dungeon Siege 3 last night. My review for the game is here, formed after about four hours of game play. The main plot takes about twelve to thirteen hours to complete, and my views haven’t changed since getting through to the end. It’s left me wondering how a company could have wholly missed the feel of the first two games in the series.

Don’t get me wrong — Consoles aren’t PCs, so the gaming experience has to be different on each platform. Managing inventory, for example, can’t possibly port over to the console simply because using the controller as a mouse to Tetris-pack items is counter-intuitive.*

So the questions that should come up, given my review and gripping on Twitter:

1) What the hell was I expecting?

2) Why the hell did I keep playing the game?

We talked about expectations before — I wasn’t expecting anything plot heavy, and even though I did stumble on some poorly presented context regarding an heir to the Kingdom of Ehb, the matter worked itself down to a mere quibble. Nothing by which I can condemn a book or a game by itself. Hell, the first Dungeon Siege game didn’t have much of a plot either: You, a mere farmer, get jumped by a bunch of primitive Kurg. After beating them off with farming tools, you run to civilization to get help only to find things going bat-shit bananas everywhere else. Along the way you find other characters you can bring into your group, and you and your three allies go off to save the Kingdom. By comparison, the sequel has a bit of a deeper more complex plot that ends in a world shattering cataclysm.

And that event is completely ignored in the third game. Yes, it takes place 150 years after the first one, but… earth shattering kaboom! How could you miss that? I think I was expecting a story line that continued off the second game — building from the ashes of a broken world. Didn’t get that at all. Even if the plot was decent, it wasn’t what I thought it would be.

But really, I went into this looking to kick ass and take names with a four person party who got good at what they did by doing it. That’s how the first two games worked. Want to be good at melee? Hit things with a sword. Want to be good at blowing things up with magic? Here’s a spell, go to town. Your characters grew organically as a result. All items, save for healing and mana potions, had prerequisites that could be met if your character worked his or her way up to it.

Not so in the third game. You basically picked one character crammed into a class/level/XP system. Arguably a fair mechanic, but not what I was looking for in a Dungeon Siege game. Also, while described your group as a party, you were really working as a pair — you plus one of the three you didn’t pick as a friendly NPC. And while you have absolute control of the character’s growth of abilities in the game, you can’t control the character in the game itself. I couldn’t understand why you couldn’t do that — Dragon Age could. So could Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. On the other hand, Mass Effect didn’t let you leap between party members, but you could issue orders to your squad.

There was also this “influence” system that depended on your dialogue choices during conversation scenes. It gave little benefit for it to be something for me to care about, but more importantly, it felt like it was trying to play off games that had similar mechanics (both Dragon Age games and Mass Effect 2) without making the commitment that made that aspect of the game important. In DA, loyalty could lead to romance, and it affected the NPC’s performance. In ME2, lack of loyalty could get an NPC killed in the “suicide mission” at the end.

Oh, and save points, because… really, Square Enix?

In many aspects, the game just felt dated, like it was released several years to late.

So why keep playing? One reason is the general principle brought by expense. I paid $60 for the game, so I needed to see the plot through just once. On top of that, the best I could get by returning the game is a portion of the original price in store credit.

The other is that despite my griping the game wasn’t terrible — but it wasn’t awesome. There were times I was having some fun with it, talking smack on my digital enemies as I hacked into them with a big-ass sword that had the sweetest, most sinister red glowing flame about it. I skipped my way through a lot of the dialogues, skimming the subtitles and clicking my choices. Dungeon Siege was always about the action, and I wasn’t there to jaw with Talky Man.

My criteria for accepting or tossing games is nothing like what I use for books — obvious given the difference in mediums — but a game has to truly suck if I’m going to return it to the store without playing it through.

Only one game has ever prompted that: Blood Bowl, the console adaptation of the miniatures game by Games Workshop. If you’re not familiar with it the concept is NFL football with Elves, Orcs, Undead and the like, using a football with spiky bits and the potential for team-mates to have a career ending death.

When I got the XBox version of this game, I was expecting something that played sort of like Madden only with comedic bloodshed. What I got was something with crappy graphics, shitty camera views and boring turn by turn game play that even emulated rolling dice. It went back to the store the same day.

I think if Dungeon Siege 3 played more like its predecessors and less like a typical CRPG, I would have not responded to it the way I did. Instead I feel let down, even wondering if ye olden days of CRPGs (be they console or computer) as set forth by first Pool of Radiance and then Baldur’s Gate are done and gone.

But that’s a topic for another day…

*A XBox game that tries using the controller as a mouse is never going to work well for me. Any more I’m lucky I can shoot straight in an FPS, but that’s a topic for another day.

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