Dungeon Siege is a beautiful-looking, fast-paced action game with RPG trimmings. It does not have complicated character development or an elaborate story but I have had a load of fun with it.
Gas Powered Games have developed a wonderful isometric engine that can create a seamless gameworld. There are no loading screens except for loading save games. Enter a dungeon door and the dungeon immediately appears before you. A construction kit will be available for fans to create their own modules and the game can be played as single or multiplayer on a LAN or over the Internet.
You start the game as a simple farmer. You design your appearance (male or female) but not skills or class. Soon you will be called upon to save the kingdom and during the battles that ensue what you choose to do decides the upgrade path your character will take. For example, if you choose to use melee weapons your character will become a strong fighter. The other choices are ranged weapons and two schools of magic.
You can pick up party members along the way and again choose which areas they will excel in. Some characters agree to join you whilst others can be hired for a once off fee. You can have up to eight members in a party but I found reserving one space for a pack mule to be a wise decision or you will be throwing a lot of gear away.
The world is beautiful; I enjoyed exploring and sight seeing as each area was unique and imaginative. The game arrived during a computer upgrade so I installed it on my children's more modest system. I was able to play the game at 800 resolution and 16 bit colour. It ran happily with these settings but I only played the first chapter on this computer so was only controlling a small party. Slowdowns would likely occur when your party is full and you are in a big battle.
When my own computer arrived back the game looked even more stunning. I was able to play at the highest resolution (1028) with 32 bit colour and all details turned on. Higher resolutions are available by editing the game's shortcut but these are not officially supported. There are some amazing water, flame and fog effects. I found myself zooming in a lot more often than usual just to admire the creatures that were attacking. Every item you wear or wield appears on the on-screen character. This is great fun when you get a flaming staff or glowing sword.
Combat consists of clicking on the enemy once rather than the continuous clicking of Diablo. The action takes place in real time but the game can be paused any time to issue commands. The real key to combat is how you set your characters up prior to the battle as you can choose your characters default actions before you start. This means that there is more strategy involved than some people have suggested, as your poorly protected magic users will just wander into battle if you don't set up their actions with some thought. However once set up correctly for an area there is not a lot of input needed from the player. The game can be saved any time including during combat.
Combat is relentless. Eventually many players may find it repetitive, especially in some of the huge maps that appear later in the game. There are not many real puzzles and the ones that exist usually consist of lever pulling in the correct order.
I used my usual approach which is to take a couple of well armoured 'tank characters' supplemented by magic users whose main purpose was to heal and shield. The only real variation I used was summoning. Each magic user can summon one creature at a time. I also used one well-trained archer.
Player feedback is excellent. Everything clicks into place in your inventory and you know when you have scored a hit in combat. Sound effects are of a high quality and I enjoyed the in-game musical score.
Dungeon Siege can be played just by using the mouse. The camera can be panned by moving to the edge of the screen but I preferred to rotate using the arrow keys. Hot keys can be assigned but clicking on icons does the same job.
Occasionally some of the hot keys and quick commands did not work (for me anyway) and my characters sometimes seemed a little disobedient but generally I found the interface easy to use and practical. Inventory management is relatively painless and there is an auto-arrange tool.
The variety of weapons, armour and special items available is pleasing but as far as I could tell they are not generated randomly. Each area seems to generate items that are just slightly better than the ones before and the creatures are also one notch tougher. Every item you equip appears on your in-game model including magically glowing weapons.
There are two schools of magic and both schools cover your needs in different ways. Spell effects are impressive and the screen can get quite crowded with the results of your mages efforts.
The quests you are given appear in your on-screen notebook. As the game is divided into chapters I found it a little confusing that the quests appear under a chapter heading but are not necessarily completed in that chapter.
NPCs happily give you quests and advice. There are the ubiquitous shopkeepers and Inn customers as well as individuals who help to drive the main story along.
Unfortunately I didn't have as much fun with the multiplayer game. The in-game management system will generate a list of current games on the Internet but unless the host mentions it in the title you need to join the game to discover the location. Passwords may be required by the host and again this is only discovered when you attempt to join.
As I only have a 56k connection my greatest enemy was lag. I did manage to find one game where this wasn't too much of an issue but generally the games I joined were unplayable. However with a fast connection the multiplayer games could be a lot of fun. The maps are huge and you may import your characters from the single player game. You can of course host a game yourself but unless you allow others to join you are limited to one character except for your summoned creature.
Dungeon Siege is an excellent game but if you are expecting a genuine CRPG you might be disappointed. If you enjoy combat-driven games such as Diablo then you may well enjoy Dungeon Siege.
Screenshots courtesy of the Official Dungeon Siege website.
Copyright © Clint Mullins 2002.
All rights reserved.
Windows 98/ME/2000/XP; 333 Mhz or higher processor; 128MB of RAM; 1GB hard disk space; quad speed or higher CD-ROM; MS Mouse or compatible pointing device; 3D Video Card with 8MB RAM.