Dungeon Siege

a game by Microsoft
Platform: PC
Rating: 8/10


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.

Bottom Line

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.

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