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Gas powered games is intent on taking a large portion of beardiness out of the RPG genre by simplifying just about everything it can feasibly get away with. There will be no staring at stats for hours in this action-based RPG - everything from character generation to character development has been simplified to keep players focused on combat and plot development. A rather ingenious form of character development raises magic and combat skills depending on how often players use them, and all characters have access to all the magic and weapons in the game, so when you find the ones you feel comfortable with, using them regularly will increase your skills in your favoured weapons and spells.
Increasing skills according to usage is not exacdy a first, but opening up all the items in the game to every class most certainly is. Also new to the genre is a 'zoning’ system, which takes you seamlessly from outdoor environments to indoor ones and vice versa. That loading screen which always got on your tits when you entered a new location will be a thing of the past, as will running back to a temple when your mage pops his clogs (characters go unconscious before they die and can be revived after battle, so it’s very difficult to lose them completely).
With strong character developmeil and an epic plot, Dungeon Siege could well prove to be the thinking man’s Diablo upon its release.
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Rarely have we been quite as tingly over an RPG
We’ll be straight with you. Dungeon Siege is an RPG in the grand fantasy tradition, replete with dwarves, leather jerkins and bubbling mugs of the finest mead - in other words all the things we regularly take the piss out of for being hopelessly overworked, and yet somehow we’re as excited as a bunch of breathless schoolgirls riding bareback for the very first time. You see, Dungeon Siege is one of those games that only come along once every few years. Games that take an axe to their given genre, merrily hacking away all the soft, useless flab that’s accumulated over the years of indolence and self-abuse, leaving only the barest bones of gameplay on which to build a leaner and faster gaming form.
We’re talking hardcore, real-time, guts-out action in a stunning 3D world, with no ridiculous stats, no combat turns, no useless cut-scenes. It’s not based on any archaic pen-and-paper RPG system patently not designed with computer gaming in mind, yet it’s as hardcore as you want to make it. And what’s more it’s being developed by the chaps who brought us the superb Total Annihilation. How can it possibly fail?
Bear one thing in mind from the outset, Dungeon Siege and the world it is set in was always designed for singleplayer gameplay, so any multiplayer additions were always going to be thrown in as an extra, as opposed to a separate gaming experience. This is evident as soon as you go to the Microsoft servers and discover people who all want to start in different parts of the gameworld and go off exploring on their own, instead of starting together in one place and working as a team. For this reason the whole thing is usually a confusing affair, and because people often start the game game in totally different locations, they end up not seeing each other most of the time.
The nature of Dungeon Siege's frenetic constant-action gameplay also dictates that people hardly talk to each other while they're playing, giving you the feeling you're on the server on your own, rather than having other real players in your party fighting alongside you. It's not a world-changing experience, needless to say, and most people lose interest very quickly and log off to go back to the single-player game. The only real advantage I can see to Dungeon Siege multiplayer is having the ability to start the game from scratch and play it co-operatively all the way through with people you already know. As a 'pick up and play' online experience, it's a shallow one and there are much better ways to spend your online gaming time.
The second of our exclusive RPG demos this month is Dungeon Siege, an epic hack 'n' slash through a beautifully rendered 3D world. The demo contains about ten per cent of the full game, which should keep you busy for a good few hours, especially if you try it on all three difficulty levels. It also contains multiplayer support.
You start the game as a farmer, your hoeing interrupted by the appearance of your friend Norick who has been fatally wounded during an uprising of the local orc-style krugs. His dying wish is for you to visit Gyorn in the town of Stonebridge and try and find out what's happening.
The first thing you need to do is forget that you're a farmer - don't bother picking up any of the farming tools you see lying around your fields. They take up a lot of space in your inventory and aren't as effective a weapon as the knife you're already holding. Work your way through your farmlands, taking out the krugs along the way. Make sure you pick up the fireshot spell that's directly across the bridge from where you start, as this is your first combat magic spell and it makes for a good ranged attack. About 50 per cent of barrels and chests around the place contain gold, potions or other items, so basically bash everything that can be bashed.
From there on in it's basically a case of battling your way through the fields and woods. The footpath is obvious, but it's always worth deviating a little because you can often find hidden caves and more things to kill. You'll find that the easy route to Stonebridge has been blocked, and instead you'll have to take the scenic route through the local crypts to reach the village. The crypts contain not only lots of loot and some tough little baddies, but also the second member of your party, Ulora.
Sit down a while and think about what you would really like to see in a computer role-playing title if you were designing your own game. Think about all the games you have played that made you think 'if only they had done it this way' and think about all the times you’ve cursed a user interface that appeared to be designed to hinder your progress in every way possible rather than making the game easier to play. Just about every new RPG that comes along supposedly having learned from the mistakes of its competition has flaws in character management, inventory handling, camera placement, you name it, they know how to break it.
All of this is about to change. Dungeon Siege is a classic example of how to make a game which helps the player at every turn instead of making the most simple things frustratingly difficult. It is no exaggeration to say the user interface is a masterpiece of design in itself. Picture the scene: you have a party of four characters who spend their time exploring a new land and killing things in the face as they go along (in time-honoured RPG tradition), and of course, looting the corpses of everything they kill. As always, before you know it you have more stuff than you know what to do with. You want to know what all this stuff is, you want to know what it does and which members of your party can use it, and you want to know now. Dungeon Siege addresses the problem thus: select your party members with a hotkey, and press 'i’. Each party member’s inventory screen appears showing everything they have in their possession, and their base statistics. Highlight an item and you can see immediately who can use it and who can’t, and how much damage it does, and which skills you need to improve before your characters can use it. Exchanging items between characters is as simple as dragging them from one inventory window to another. Even looting all the corpses after a battle is a simple matter of pressing the 'z’ key at which point your party members will automatically loot all the gold and items in the immediate area without you having to painstakingly pick up every item and find a character with enough space to hold it. It’s a work of art I tell you, and you can be pretty damned sure that every RPG that comes along after this one will be judged, in terms of interface design at least, by the awesome standards set by Dungeon Siege. This is all the more convenient since Dungeon Siege is all about one thing and one thing only: non-stop action.
The Fun Never Stops
It’s worth pointing out right now that Dungeon Siege is by no stretch of the imagination a ponderous, relaxed RPG like many of you will no doubt be accustomed to. Combat is relentless, even at the beginning when you start with just one character in your party the enemies never stop coming. They are all over the place. You start the game in farmland and can't even move outside without tons of things trying to make a huge dent in your health bar. This is a little daunting at first, as you can't so much as take in your surroundings without being leapt upon by creatures of all types and sizes, but once you get used to the pace of the game, combat is fairly easy to get through, and later in the game when you have a full party of characters you can prepare for any eventuality with the use of effective formations, and by assigning your characters to specific roles during battle. However, combat could have been nigh on impossible to deal with if it were not for the excellent 3D camera which lets you control the action from literally any angle you choose. Moving your mouse left and right or up and down rotates and tilts the camera view so you can always see what’s going on very easily. Along with the excellent interface, the 3D camera is another innovation which will set standards that we expect will be difficult to beat, and we can confidently say it’s the first game of this type that we’ve seen which uses a 3D camera that helps players instead of confusing them. You constantly get the feeling that Gas Powered Games has taken a long hard look at the competition thus far and thrown all previous examples of 3D in-game technology in the bin and instead designed their own engine from the ground up, and it’s as impressive to observe as it is effective in combat. A zoom feature enables you to get a close-up view of the action at any time, and while this won't particularly help you in battle, you will find yourself using it often just to get a better look at some of the most detailed and impressive character and monster designs ever seen in a game of this type. The visuals in Dungeon Siege are breathtaking in places, and always impressive no matter where you are in the game, be it inside a new town or traversing a new dungeon or outdoor area, the level of detail is staggering. It has to be said though, that standing about taking in the beautiful surroundings can often prove disastrous, with countless hordes intent on ending your virtual existence. You can. however, make life a lot easier for yourself in the face of such overwhelming opposition, through another of Dungeon Siege’s innovative features: flexible character development.
Wizards, Warriors... Who Needs ’em?
Dungeon Siege does not feature standard RPG class types such as wizards, rogues etc, instead it encourages you to develop your characters in any way you see fit. Each character has four skills available to them: melee, ranged combat, and two schools of magic - combat and nature. The more you use a skill, the more experience you gain in this particular skill, and repeated use of the same skill will bring your characters up in level. For example, a character that always uses melee weapons will go up in melee skill and his levels will be raised accordingly in this type of combat. You can switch between the skills at any time, so it’s possible to have a character who’s mediocre in all four skills and doesn’t excel in any one department, but it makes a lot more sense to focus your character’s skills on one area. Using a party of four, we developed two very strong melee types to stand up front and take a beating, with a combat mage at the back raining down a heavy area of effect spells, and another character skilled in range combat striking from a distance and doubling up as a healer through the use of nature magic. Formations help a lot in these situations (it's always wise to keep your healer and magic user at the back) and you can choose from one of many formations simply by right clicking the mouse and moving it till you find the shape you want your party to stand in. This emphasises the constant attention to user friendliness which is prevalent throughout the game. Another advantage of this method of character development is that all the spells and weapons and items are available to all your characters providing they meet the base requirement for the spell or item in question. For example, it’s not possible to wear certain armour types unless your strength rating is high enough, and many spells cannot be cast unless your combat or nature magic rating is sufficient, but you can 'train- any character in another skillset very quickly if you wish to change their role in the party.
Stats? You Can Keep Them Too...
Dungeon Siege's unique method of character improvement negates the need for the myriad of statistics you will see in most role-playing games. There is no need for a long list of statistics going into meticulous detail for each ctiaracter, since you can see very clearly at a glance where your strengths and weaknesses are for each party member and improve them accordingly if necessary. This may alienate those of you who like nothing better than to sit for hours staring at long reams of statistics and trying to work out what the hell they all mean and what benefit you will get by tweaking them (or what you will cock up if it all goes horribly wrong), but spend a little time experimenting with different combinations of skillsets and you will soon see that all the tools you need to fine-tune your characters are right there at your fingertips.
It all makes for a very fast-paced. no-nonsense, no-holds barred action-packed RPG. This was the goal of Gas Powered Games when it set out to make Dungeon Siege, and it has certainly achieved it. But for all its innovation and superb presentation, when all is said and done it’s just another RPG, albeit a very polished one, and for this reason it’s not Classic material. Dungeon Siege's remarkable innovations all relate to game interface and design as opposed to the gameplay itself which doesn't stray far from standard RPG action-based shenanigans. This in itself is nothing to scoff at, if you’ve ever dreamed of playing Diablo II in full 3D with vastly improved graphics and presentation, you will find Dungeon Siege an absolute joy to play. You will want to get to the end of the game just for the immense satisfaction of exploring the beautiful gameworld and discovering new spells and items as you go, both of which are plentiful and varied. In summary then. Dungeon Siege is a technological triumph and one of the most enjoyable games we have played in a long time, and if you like your RPGs to place more emphasis on action and combat than stats, there is currently no better choice on the market.
Yes, You Can Have It All
A Donkey’s Life Is Never Easy
You surely must have played many role-playing titles where you had to leave behind most of the good loot you find in dungeons because your party simply couldn’t carry it all. Dungeon Siege introduces the concept of pack mules to get around this problem. Buy one of these handy beasts and you can store everything you find on your travels and then sell it when you get to the next town or merchant. You are advised to buy one of these creatures as soon as you can.
While decent armour and most items can be found through killing things and taking what they drop, higher level spells, and new party members can not. You will meet new characters as you progress through the game who will join your party, but their services are by no means cheap, so don’t leave home without your pack mule or you’ll find the money you get from what you sell at each town will not cover your costs by a long shot.
The Way Forward For Rpg Spell Systems
Dungeon Siege employs a magic system which is as clever and easy to use as the rest of the games’ impressive interface features. There are two schools of magic: combat and nature, and you can find spells by killing enemies or buying them at shops throughout the game. The real beauty of the magic system is you can equip any spell you find, even if you can’t use it, and freely distribute spells between any character, or even sell them if you find you no longer have a use for them.
This is another one of Dungeon Siege’s 'why didn’t anyone else think of that?’ features which makes the game such a joy to play. No more wading through spell books cluttered with spells you don’t want or need, you equip only the spells you want to use, and similarly, get rid of the ones you no longer need. This is a great idea in theory, and even better in practice. If any developers out there are in the midst of designing a new RPG, they would do well to take note of this feature.
You're on your way to Stonebridge, though not by choice. After krug raiders killed your neighbors and set fire to your farm, however, it seems to be the only option left to you. All those years of wielding a pitchfork have paid off, though, as a pile of krug corpses can testify to. Along with a book of magic, an old peasant short bow, and the few scraps of armor you've been able to glean off defeated enemies, you're actually starting to get some battle skills. And you'll need them, too. The tapestry of rumors you've heard from those you've met in your travels paints a grim picture: Krug and Goblin hordes are overrunning farms and small villages. Legions of undead spill out from their burial grounds and unnamable creatures destroy both people and property. There are even rumors of dragons. It's hard to make heads or tails of what's true and what is simply rumor, but one thing's for certain; the kingdom of Ehb is in serious trouble.
And that's just the beginning.
Dungeon Siege is the latest RPG to hit the market from Microsoft and Gas Powered Games. An immersive dungeon crawl with extensive online abilities, along with superb graphics, audio, and user interface, Dungeon Siege is easily this year's most exciting title.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Dungeon Siege plays in many aspects like your typical dungeon crawl'choose your fighting style, kill the monsters, pick up the swag, get better equipment in town, etc. While this is true on the surface, Dungeon Siege also adds other innovative aspects to the tried and true crawl style to make something truly unique. Every level of Dungeon Siege has a primary goal leading you to the eventual conclusion of the game, along with one or more optional secondary quests. The playing field is 3-D rendered goodness, with the ability to pan your camera at almost any angle to view both your character and other party members. Parties can be up to 8 characters in size, with the welcome addition of a pack animal to carry extra equipment and items. A simple, intuitive interface with the ability to create a character of any type rounds out some of the more excellent aspects of Dungeon Siege.
You start out as a farmer, with three simple base stats (Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity), and four simple offensive slots (melee, ranged, two spell slots for either Nature or Combat Magic). These stats are not configurable; rather, they increase by your adherence to specific disciplines. For example, casting the low level Nature spell Zap in combat will slowly increase your ability to cast Nature spells effectively, and will also slowly increase your base Intelligence. Wielding a bow will cause you to be more accurate and skilled over time and boost your Dexterity skill. Fighting with melee weapons tends to increase Strength quickly. This unique method of customizing your character is one of the strongest aspects of Dungeon Siege, as you will quickly mold your character into whatever style you wish. You will also find potions which can heal hit points or mana, your internal magic power level. The nice thing about the potions is that your character will only consume as much potion as he or she needs to heal, and the rest of the partially used flask will remain in your inventory until used up.
Gameplay is deceptively simple, and can be played solely with the mouse if you so choose. The keyboard commands, also available, are pretty straightforward and easy to remember. Basically, you click on the spot you want your character to interact with, and he or she will move to selected locations, utilize items, attack enemies, pick up dropped loot, and so forth. There are several sliders on the screen that can ease the micromanaging that often plagues RTS games. One group of presets manages the character's interaction with his/her environment, and will allow the character to act passively, aggressively, or defensively. There are toggles that tell members of the party to pick up any dropped items they come across, and to place excess inventory on your pack animal. Selecting to your weapon or spell of choice is easy, and can be done on the fly and in the middle of heated battles.
The game world Dungeon Siege utilizes is innovative and bears mentioning. While there is a definite path from point A to B, the scenery is by no means flat or linear. The game switches elevation, weather, and other effects on the fly, but the most amazing fact of all is that there is no load time between levels. The game engine constantly loads new scenery on the fly. Even when entering buildings, caves, or dungeons, the engine fades out any blocking layers to give you an unparalleled view, without pausing to load new areas. Naturally, for some systems this may create lag, especially if you have a system low on memory or running lots of other utilities in the background.
To touch again on spells, items and weapons'the sheer number and variety in Dungeon Siege is staggering. Early on, you will only have access to crude, simple weapons, battered armor, and weak spells, but as you become more powerful and develop your stats, more items will become available. Many items are imbued with magical abilities, which is an added plus in combat. After playing for several hours, I have seen no fewer than twenty or so blunt and edged weapons, ten different ranged weapons, thirty spells, and massive amounts of armor, all with different stats and skins.
One of the finest aspects of this game is its robust ability to play over the Internet or local area networks. Dungeon Siege's built in interface allows easy connections to internet addresses, local networks, or Microsoft's built in ZoneMatch utility interface. While there still some bugs to be worked out with the interface, mainly due to the sheer number of people in this gaming community, the multiplayer interface seems to work well. While 56k dial-up connections tended to be miserably laggy, all of the broadband games I joined were, with few exceptions, responsive and free of major bugs. There are a few problems inherent with the system, though. Joining games in progress stops play for everyone in game while the player enters the world, and can become very distracting. There were also a few times where I lost complete control over my character, but jumping out of the game and hopping back in solved this problem.
Dungeon Siege's multiplayer community seems to be reflective of most online communities. Most people are happy to help "newbies" and are willing to take you through the ropes. There is also more strategy involved when creating balanced parties, as you will quickly fill a role in whatever party you join up with.
The multiplayer aspect of Dungeon Siege also greatly expands the world in which you play. The single player game concentrates strictly on the kingdom of Ehb, but multiplay will allow you to create game in both Ehb and the Utraean Peninsula, a much more diverse and varied world. Travel between areas can be simplified by using the H.U.B., a magical device that quickly transports you to the different cities available in the game.
Graphics in Dungeon Siege are simply amazing, and hold up under extreme scrutiny. My GeForce2 video card performed admirably well, and those of you with better 3D graphics cards will see even more improvement. Scenery, creatures, and objects are rendered and skinned with great skill, with nary a seam to be noticed, even under zoom. Character motion is extremely fluid and quite realistic, while in game dungeons, buildings, and outdoor venues are professionally done. The eerie feel of a cobwebbed dungeon meshed with a sculpted dwarven underground hall adds even more enjoyment to a well-fleshed gaming experience. There were some problems with the engine, however. Clipping tended to be a problem, as corpses and other objects managed to find themselves embedded in walls or skewed at odd angles over rough terrain, but while somewhat distracting, did not diminish overall enjoyment of the game.
Sound quality is well done. If you have directional speakers, you will get the most out of this experience. Music is soft and unobtrusive, yet tends to emphasize excitement and suspense. Creatures all tend to have their own unique set of sounds, and NPCs are rather well voiced.
The 45-page manual, while helpful in going over basic game and multiplayer commands, is deliberately sparse as far as descriptions on items found in the game itself, barely glossing over some low-level spells and items. Apparently the game's designers want you to discover much of this yourself while playing. Can't fault them for that.
I previewed the early beta of Dungeon Siege and was very excited at what I saw. The finished product is even better than the beta. A simple, intuitive user interface, coupled with excellent sound and truly amazing visual effects for an RPG of this magnitude is amazing in itself. Adding a huge game world with no load time and a myriad of nice effects make Dungeon Siege the most exciting game this year. A must-buy for RPG enthusiasts, Dungeon Siege'seasy to use interface will allow first-time gamers to jump in to this immersive game rather quickly. I struggled with my rating on this one, because I was ready to give it a perfect score. Some glitches inherent with multiplayer mode, clipping issues, and the fact that it is more memory intensive than the beta are the only reasons that keep me from giving this game 100 points. That aside, Dungeon Siege looks to be the new bar that all future RPGs will be marked by.