Dungeon Siege II (PC)

By Phill Parker

Published on Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Graphics: 7.50
Sound: 8.50
Gameplay: 9.00
Replays: 5.00

Have you ever gone to a movie theatre and bought a big bag of buttery popcorn? Sitting in your seat (waiting for the damn commercials and mind-numbing previews to end), you grab a handful. And another. Then another, and another… You just can’t stop! That, in a nutshell, defines Dungeon Siege II. The classic third-person isometric graphics of Microsoft’s and Gas Powered Games’ latest action RPG may not qualify as cutting edge, but the gameplay is so addictive, clicking on bad guys and collecting “phat lewt” is like gobbling a fresh batch of steamy popcorn. You want more, more, always more!

That said, if you own the original Dungeon Siege, you don’t absolutely have to run out and immediately buy the sequel, because the second version looks, plays and feels pretty much the same as its predecessor. There’s some new reflective textures and it cranks to a higher resolution – no big deal. On the other hand, if you don’t have the first game, definitely pick Dungeon Siege II up, because it’s so simple, yet so compelling. I love taking my wrecking crew and killing everything in sight, then collecting tons of goodies dropped by vanquished enemies. There’s always bigger and better armor, weapons and spells just around the corner, so you’re constantly rewarded for pressing forward. It’s like non-stop positive reinforcement.

The game takes place in a fantasy land called Aranna, where hostile creatures of all shapes and sizes are out for blood – yours, that is. You actually start the story fighting for the bad guys, working as a mercenary under a rather brutal oaf named Valdis, who wields the mother of all weapons, the sword of Zaramoth. Think of this sword as a handheld Death Star, and you get the picture. After Valdis betrays his hired soldiers, it’s your job to stop his quest for world domination and redeem your honor.

You can setup your player character as a male or female, picking from a number of different races. These consist of Dryads, Half-Giants, Elves and Humans. Your actions throughout the game determine your role: Hack and slash with sword and shield, and you’ll become an accomplished fighter; Stand back and snipe with bow and arrow or crossbow, and you’ll mature into an accurate ranger; Hurl fire balls and other destructive spells at enemies, and you turn into a fearsome combat mage; Lastly, heal your comrades or envelope them with protective enchantments, and you specialize as a nature mage.

This detail brings us to the party system. You don’t fight alone, but rather in the company of AI cohorts who do a good job of covering you when facing Dungeon Siege II’s tougher foes. They follow automatically, and either watch your back or go on a rampage during combat, depending on your orders. With one mouse click you can assume direct control of any party member, including a pet.

The first Dungeon Siege featured a loveable pack mule to help you collect scads of valuable loot appearing throughout your adventure. The loyal donkey was a necessity since there was simply too much stuff to fit inside your backpack. Dungeon Siege II takes this feature to the next level by allowing you to adopt an exotic creatures that not only serves as a walking treasure chest, but also fights alongside you. Your creature grows in strength, dishing out more damage after you feed it various pieces of equipment.

Another enhancement in version II is the deeper skills system, topped by special hero powers that let you drop 10 tons of hurt on badies for a limited time. Besides normal leveling up through experience, you collect skill points that can be assigned to specific ability upgrades. Hero powers are milestones that you acquire, and subsequently activate to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

The overall effect of leveling up, collecting skills and triggering hero powers creates characters that are virtually unstoppable. Some might complain this makes Dungeon Siege II too easy, but there’s something to be said for playing a game that makes you feel nearly invincible.

Nevertheless if you’re not careful, retreating to recover health, luring powerful packs of enemies out one-by-one, you can still die quickly.

But the confidence to plow through armies of opponents never evaporates, thus reinforcing the addictive nature of Dungeon Siege II’s design. Think about it: How many games punish you for playing by getting harder and harder? They’re powered by negative energy, and almost every game ever developed adheres to this model. DS II, on the other hand, satisfies players by making them feel stronger and stronger. That positive philosophy is unique and (most importantly) fun.

Granted, Dungeon Siege II can get repetitive. To take a break from all that mouse clicking, you can pause the game and read the extensive journal, with entries that expand the further you go into your adventure. Anyone who suspects the Dungeon Siege universe is shallow should dive into their journal, because it’s packed with details and back story. Exhaustive information about weapons, armor, shields, spells, locations, quests, races and special items is available. Every time you encounter a new beast, the journal updates to provide data about the dozens and dozens of foes you eventually fight.

One subdued aspect of Dungeon Siege II is the pace of its opening chapter, which seems somewhat humdrum. I hope gamers don’t abandon DS II if they assume the entire game is this slow, because things really do pick up after the first few hours.
As mentioned, the graphics aren’t spectacular, but certainly are serviceable. While Dungeon Siege II won’t steal any graphical thunder from the upcoming Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, especially when you zoom in close to the comparatively blocky character models, it’s hard to deny DS II looks good. The environments are lush, filled with objects big and small. Aranna feels like it could be a real place, despite the fact it’s a fantasy realm – a testament to the game’s artists and level designers.

Sound is a strong point, with ambient music supplied by composer Jeremy Soule, who’s contributed to a variety of top-selling RPGs. The noise of clashing swords, exploding spells and other combat effects is convincing too. Unfortunately, voice acting is just plain flat, which detracts from DS II’s ability to immerse you into its world.

There is a multiplayer component of Dungeon Siege II, but sadly no player-versus-player skirmishing. Action is all cooperative, either on a LAN, through an Internet connection or GameSpy account. Three modes are included: Classic (up to four players each use their hero, working together to complete the main campaign – there are no exclusive multiplayer maps or quests); Couples (up to three players each use their hero plus one AI follower apiece); and Party (two players team up with their respective heroes and two AI followers apiece).

Since multiplay doesn’t offer different adventures, the focus is squarely on single-play. In this regard, Dungeon Siege II shines. If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced action RPG that provides hours and hours of combat and exploration, then look no further.

Overall Rating: 8.50

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