Dungeon Siege II

Developer:  Gas Powered Games
Publisher:  Microsoft
Year Released:  2005

Review by Clint Mullins (October, 2005)
Dungeon Siege II Screenshot The less than imaginatively titled Dungeon Siege II is a highly polished sequel. The game is a third person, party based action RPG. As well as an extensive single player campaign, it includes multiplayer capabilities.

I reviewed the original Dungeon Siege when it first came out and, although I have fond memories of the game, it did seem to get repetitive after extended playing sessions. Some of the same criticisms apply here, including the fact that at times you can feel like a spectator rather than commander, but the strategic elements and other facets have been improved to the point that these criticisms feel like nit picking. Dungeon Siege II is extremely attractive and addictive. I enjoyed it immensely.

Looking and Sounding Good
It looks gorgeous on a current high powered system. I am using a 7800GTX card and this enables me to put all settings to maximum. It is also installed on my second computer which uses a card that is currently two generations behind, and it still looks good and is eminently playable. There are some beautiful graphic flourishes such as finding lush grottos where the sun breaks through in a dark dungeon, excellent creature animations and pleasing weather effects. The environment is imaginatively designed so that exploration is a pleasure.

The sound is impressive as well, and at times battles sound like a fireworks display. As usual the voice acting is somewhat uneven, but there is a lot of speech in Dungeon Siege II and most of it is good. Occasional conversations between party members help establish a sense of identity, and well directed cut scenes flesh out the story and enhance the atmosphere.

The interface is easy to use and intuitive, but I haven't found a way to make the onscreen information settings larger at higher resolutions. Path finding is generally good with the occasional lost party member easy to find and recover. The camera allows for full rotation and zooming and only occasionally presents problems in dungeons. Battles can become confusing at times with so much occurring on screen so you will probably spend most of this game with the camera zoomed out.

Feedback in the game is excellent. Everything you click on in the interface and game world 'feels' right. This is important as you will be doing a lot of clicking.

As in the original the only time loading appears to be happening is after your party's demise or when teleporting to a different area.

RPG elements
Dungeon Siege II Screenshot Your characters will level up in the skills you use therefore basically becoming a warrior, archer or spell caster. He or she will also level up as a character enabling you to choose special skills from the skill tree such as critical strike or extra healing powers. This may not present as much choice as first appears as many skills are only available when you reach a certain level.

You may take control of any character at any time. Hitting the space bar pauses the game enabling you to adjust your strategies. Hitting the 'H' key allows party members to drink health potions and the 'M' key does the same for mana.

Finding and wearing different gear results in changes in the onscreen characters' appearance. Magical weapons glow and there is a wide variety of armour. There is no real choice between good and evil actions but you do not have to do all the side quests. There are rewarding puzzles in the game but most can be solved through trial and error.

Comparisons to Diablo II are inevitable. Action RPGs are not usually my favourites of the genre but both of these games do what they intend to do well, and there is always a 'one more quest' feel. As in Diablo II you quest in the hope of finding special items slightly better than the ones you are currently using. As Dungeon Siege II progresses this becomes even more rewarding.

Combat is fairly simplistic but very satisfying. Strategy does play an actual part and the use of special powers is particularly important for tough battles. I tend to use healing magic, fighters and an archer but other formations would be equally successful.

The storyline is adequate but I found the side quests to be slightly better than usual, both in the writing and execution. Dungeon Siege II is separated into three acts with a good number of side quests in each one. Quests are well reported in the journal with a checklist of what you need to do next. Quest goals are also highlighted on the effective automap which also shows monsters as you approach.

Every time I thought, 'wouldn't it be handy if you could...' I discovered I could. There are so many little touches in the game that make it a delight to play. For example, the inventory screen is a pleasure to use with autoarrange and multiple select functions. If you are carrying too much you may use a pack mule or store things in the chest conveniently positioned next to the central teleporters.

The save game system saves your current characteristics but not your position in a dungeon. This would be annoying if the game punished death harshly, but it usually doesn't. You can use the local necromancer to restore all your equipment at a cost of a percentage of your gold. This is particularly useful early on if you don't have any gold. I did find myself using the age old tactic of running away quite often as, if you can keep one party member alive, the others will usually recover from unconsciousness. At first I found this a bit annoying but soon enjoyed the strategy of luring monsters away whilst the rest of my party 'got better'.

A teleport spell is available straight away and judicial use of this can prevent a lot of long journeys. Monsters do respawn but if you kill enough you will find fewer of them during the next visit.

As in my favourite RPGs it's a lot of fun when you meet a creature that previously caused you problems, but now you have levelled up so much you can destroy it with one blow.

Dungeon Siege II Screenshot I found Dungeon Siege II very addictive as did my thirteen year old son. I did find a slight 'flat spot' about two hours in because I seem to have developed an aversion to reading the manual as I've grown older. I actually forgot about regaining my items easily by using the necromancer and the game became a grind for a while. This was due to my own lack of attention rather than a shortcoming in the game itself.

There is initially no choice of difficulty level for Dungeon Siege II but if you beat it you can play at harder levels. This may be annoying for the diehard gamer and I'm not convinced I'd want to play it again just to have things tougher. You can, however, use a larger party on the harder settings. At the default level you can have four members in your party. You can create the original character but the others are hired and fired. You can also buy a favourite pet to help decimate the opposition.

Some diehard players will be disappointed they have to start on the easier setting and would rather choose more of a challenge. Most players will find the difficulty setting about right.

I need to lay my cards on the table here. Multiplayer games rarely hold my interest and I much prefer the 'scripted' action of a single player game. However here it is possible to play the single player scenario over a LAN with a friend, each controlling two party members. You can import members from your single player campaign but you do have to start from the beginning of the game. You can also play via the internet using Gamespy but neither my son nor I had much success with this. Most servers appeared to only have one player on and we had lots of trouble with the password system.

Final Thoughts
Dungeon Siege II is an excellent game. Every aspect has been well polished making it a pleasure to play. The game becomes more addictive as you progress. If you are not a fan of the 'action RPG' or Diabloesque games then you probably won't enjoy it but I found it to be the most enjoyable game in this genre since Diablo II. rating:  

Copyright © Clint Mullins 2005. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Win XP SP1 or newer, PC with 1.0 GHz equivalent or higher processor, 256 MB RAM, 4 GB available hard disk space, Quad speed or faster CD-ROM drive, ATI Radeon series 7000 or better/Nvidia Geforce series/Intel Extreme Graphics 82845, 82865, 82915, Sound card, speakers or headphones required for audio, Mouse, Broadband Internet access or LAN for online play.