Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 03/31/02 | Genre: Action/RPG
Once in a very long time through the proper alignment of stars and peaking biorhythms, I manage to get lucky, and this time I got lucky in a big way. No, I'm not trying to gloat but make you understand how rarely some good fortune comes my way. If you play PC games, then you have probably heard about Dungeon Siege (due to hit shelves April 5th); somehow I managed to win an advance copy. After spending the weekend throwing back krug scouts and keeping Flare the packmule out of harm's way, here's a bit of what you can expect to enjoy in a few short days.
Gas Powered Games has put together an amazing, lush world to explore right from the get-go. You begin as a humble farmer working in your furrowed fields then venture forth on your quest to become a hero. When that first krug comes running at you with a flaming torch, you are torn between marveling at way the flame flickers, grabbing a bucket of water from the working watermill nearby, and ripping it a new smile with your trusty knife -- the knife wins every time. Trees sway in the breeze, fish swim in streams and small pools, krug explode out of hiding spots in the dense undergrowth, and brilliantly-colored spells erupt from the hands of your party and the enemy. Luckily, you are not locked into one camera position but able to rotate in any direction (except underfoot) and zoom in to view your character's clenched jaw and out to take in a sweeping view of all the action. All of that is just within the first few minutes of play.
While most RPGs adopt the overhead camera view, Dungeon Siege allows you to customize your angle on the fly. It's true that the camera is a bit disorienting at first, but it can be quickly tamed in most situations. Yes, I did say most, because there are still a few times that you can be temporarily blinded by an overhead object when entering a structure or moving from room to room in a dungeon. You quickly learn to either sweep the mouse to the left or right corner of the screen to rotate your view or use the left-right arrow keys. Most of the time the game will correct itself by aligning overhead to insure an uninterrupted view. If there is one weak point in the game, it has to be the camera system; most 3rd perspective games suffer from similar problems. After a bit of time spent with the game, you begin to forget about the camera and change your view automatically for the best angle on the action. I'm totally amazed with the amount of leeway that you have with the camera; it's a simple feat to retreat from battle and rotate the camera to keep track of your pursuit. You can also pull in for a tight shot of just your characters for amazing, action screenshots. With the game paused, the camera still rotates normally, which creates some phenomenal shots of spell blasts or arrows in mid-flight.
Character progress revolves around improving skills through use, which also improves its related stat. Using a hand weapon (sword, mace, axe, etc.) will also improve your strength; bows raise your dexterity; and spells, both combat and nature, increase your intelligence. I don't have any hard proof yet, but it also seems that dexterity and strength might be interrelated. A few times I've seen my strength go up while using a bow or dexterity go up while using a melee weapon. Once you get into the game, better armaments and armours have certain stat requirements. At first bows only require a certain amount of dexterity, but I've already found one that has both a strength and dexterity requirement. Players focusing on spellcraft seem to be able to get away with focusing on their intelligence, as mage robes and staves have that stat prerequisite. It turns out to be fairly simple to change your mind on the direction your character is taking as you go. My main character started out primarily as a fighter/archer combination, but I've recently been adding in a bit of magic to balance him out. In normal situations, he sticks with spells, but when the packmule dung hits the fan, he shelves his spells and draws steel. Whether or not specializing in one field will prove to make a better character is a debate for another day.
So far the game is proving to be everything that it was hyped to be and more. Keep an eye out to CV-Games for further reviews on the game in the near future. In the mean time, I'm off to where a good number of players will be journeying to in the weeks and months to come: Dungeon Siege!