When Dungeon Siege was released in early 2002, it was termed by some to be a “Diablo Killer,” with the hope that it would knock Diablo II from the top of the action role-playing game heap. That didn’t happen. Dungeon Siege was a nice, polished game, but it was also so slight that it didn’t have much lasting appeal. I really liked the game at the time (I gave it a 90%), but my tastes have changed in the last few years, and I now prefer my role-playing games to have more depth and to require more in the way of tactics.
And so it was with some mixed emotions that I booted up my copy of Dungeon Siege II. I had already played a special press build of the game back in April, and so I knew that developer Gas Powered Games had made some changes that might make me happy. I knew that the companions in the game would actually talk and make their feelings known. I knew that characters were going to be more interesting, with dozens of skills and powers to choose from. And I knew that the world was going to be less linear. You’d actually be able to visit a town, do a quest, and then return to the town. Imagine that!
But upon playing the retail release of Dungeon Siege II, I found that not all that much had changed in the game. Instead of making Dungeon Siege IImore like Baldur’s Gate II, Gas Powered Games made it more like Diablo II. In fact, one could say that this game should be called Diablo III more than Dungeon Siege II, because it appears that every element of Diablo II that didn’t make it into Dungeon Siege is now in Dungeon Siege II. The teleportation system, the storage box, the equipment, the character skills -- all of these things are almost verbatim from how they were in Diablo II. So not only did the Dungeon Siege games not become Diablo killers, they lost the battle badly, as Diablo II seems to have invaded their territory and executed an effective sneak attack when nobody was looking.
But editorializing aside, is Dungeon Siege II a fun game to play? That depends on what sort of game you’re hoping for. Like its predecessor, Dungeon Siege II is a slick action role-playing game, but it isn’t big on meaningful conversations, memorable characters, or in giving you a reason for killing thousands upon thousands of enemies. There’s an evil prince named Valdis, and both he and you are hunting for the pieces of a magical shield, but mostly you’re just killing things to build up your character, and he’s just waiting for you at the end of the game. How little story is there? One of the bad guys is simply named “the archmage,” and you never learn anything about him. In other words, Dungeon Siege II was designed for fans of games like Diablo II and Sacred, where you enjoy killing things just to be killing things.
New in Dungeon Siege II is that there are more ways to customize your character. Some parts of character development are exactly the same; there are still four skill areas (melee, ranged, combat magic, and nature magic) that you build up in exactly the same way (by using skills during combat), but now you also get to select a race for your character, complete with bonuses and penalties, and you get to build up the level of your character. Each time a character gains a level, he or she also gains a skill point, and then the character gets to spend the point on one of 48 different skills, such as “dual wield,” “brilliance,” and “critical strike.” If the character has the right configuration of skills, then he or she might also gain a “power,” which is usually some sort of devastating attack.. For example, melee characters can learn the “brutal attack” power, which allows them to hit for up to 50 times their regular damage.
The companions in the game have also received a facelift. Instead of being mindless automatons that simply perform your bidding, they now actually talk during the campaign, and having them in your party can lead to some optional quests. However, while I had hoped that the companions would add more of a human (or elf or dryad...) aspect to the story, the companions are generally rude and unfriendly, their quests require an excessive amount of backtracking, and half of their conversations get broken off because they start talking right when a fight breaks out. Worse, the voice acting is definitely sub-par. I didn’t get a copy of the game’s manual, so I don’t know if the voice actors were listed in the credits, but I suspect that Gas Powered Games either used their development staff or a lot of friends and family to perform the lines. If they actually hired the voice actors through a talent agency, then they got thoroughly ripped off.
Combat is also a little different in Dungeon Siege II than in Dungeon Siege. In Dungeon Siege, characters were pretty good at fighting on their own, and all you had to do was direct traffic and possibly take manual control of your nature mages to make sure that they healed people in time. In Dungeon Siege II, you get more options. There are four stances that you can put your party in, including “mirror” where they do whatever you do, and “rampant” where they attack and move however seems best. For the character you control, the party stance doesn’t make any difference. You have to control that character directly, by left-clicking to move and right-clicking to attack. Oddly, to continue attacking, you either have to continue holding down the right mouse button or you have to repeatedly right-click on the enemy, and that can get tiresome, since combat is about 95% of the game. If you’re worried about what this might do to your mouse hand (it did a pretty good job of wearing me out by the end of the game), then there are also options where you can make your character behave more like a Dungeon Siege character, where it does more on its own.
Strangely, combat is where Dungeon Siege II has its problems. In Dungeon Siege, Gas Powered Games was good about keeping things fresh by frequently changing the enemies and the environments, but in Dungeon Siege II, the gameplay is much more monotonous. For starters, the campaign is about twice as long (the documentation I got said 40-60 hours, and I think I spent 50 hours playing) but there aren’t twice as many things to do. Secondly, and most importantly, the enemies aren’t very interesting. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but they all attack the same. A handful of bosses aside, nothing you face will cause you to change your tactics. Nothing in the game summons or has a special attack, and so all you have to do is right-click an enemy and then right-click another enemy, et cetera and so forth, and it doesn’t really matter in what order you right-click and kill them.
That lack of variety turns long stretches of the game into tedious drudgery, especially since most battles are pretty easy to win. Fortunately, the equipment you find is fun, and, unlike some games where finding the best equipment is a rare occurrence, in Dungeon Siege II, set items and unique items drop frequently. (I was working on an equipment database while I was playing the campaign, and I logged over 120 set and unique items during that time, and that doesn’t even include the numerous repeats I found. Dungeon Siege II isn’t a game where you’re going to need to go on-line -- or, worse, to e-bay -- to trade for equipment.) Also, there are over 60 quests in the game to break things up, and there are also some puzzles around where you’ll have to do some thinking. There’s even a cool sequence where you’ll have to help defend a castle from a dragon. It’s just that these cool moments only underscore how boring some of the other stretches of the game are, and it’s sort of surprising to me that Gas Powered Games wasn’t able to figure out a way to liven things up better.
But, overall, Dungeon Siege II is a nice enough game. It’s polished and well made, it has a long campaign, and there’s even some re-playability to it, both for starting a new character and playing the campaign again, and for upping the difficulty level and continuing the exploits of your first character. I enjoyed Dungeon Siege II even though it’s not the type of role-playing game that I usually hope for, and I expect fans of the genre will like it even better than that, assuming they’re not buying it for the multiplayer aspect, since multiplayer seems to be having problems at the moment (the couple times I tried joining games, I got errors). So it’s easy to recommend the game. It’s worth the $50 suggested retail price.