No hidden biases here. I’m laying it right out there. I’m a big fan of Diablo, and its more recent spiritual brother, Torchlight. While normally a fan of slower turn-based strategic games, there’s something about the frantic slaying of monsters and gathering of loot that keeps me coming back for more. I had never played the Dungeon Siege series, but reading the description it sounded like it would provide more of what I love, and I set out eager to enjoy it.
Now, about 8 hours into the game, I find myself torn between progressing further, or taking another romp through Torchlight. For a reason that I found difficult to put a finger on, Dungeon Siege just didn’t grab me in the way Diablo and its kin have. So, what is it that differentiates Dungeon Siege 3? Am I just the wrong audience for an otherwise fine game?
I’ve racked my brain trying to determine what makes Dungeon Siege noticeably less of a draw for me. In so many ways it is the equal of the games I’ve loved. It is an interesting study in how just a few things are the difference between a mega-hit, and just another time sink. Here’s what I think has made the difference for me. (Note: In case it isn’t clear, I’m a PC gamer by and large, and all of this is based on playing with keyboard and mouse on the PC)
On the surface, Dungeon Siege 3 has a very familiar perspective. You don’t see directly out of your characters eyes, instead looking from an angle slightly above and behind them. I actually had to go back and play Torchlight for a little while to figure out what felt wrong. First of all, the camera is just too tight. I don’t feel like I have a good view of what is going on around me, and this changes what would be blissfully chaotic encounters with multiple monsters into frustratingly confusing ones. I have trouble distinguishing one enemy from the other, or even from my allies. I’m big on challenging myself, so I’m playing on the hardest level, and I quickly learned that opponents can dispatch me in just a few shots. The way to survive was to keep moving, using the defensive dodge move to avoid attack. I’ve become quite adept at this but the end result is that I spend most of my time dodging hits while my AI ally does the heavy lifting. And all that dodging combined with the tight camera angle means I don’t even know what’s happening half the time. Instead of feeling like a powerful hero dispatching my enemies, I feel like a small creature that occasionally bears its claws before dashing back out of harm’s way, and ultimately I think the camera angle is to blame.
Randomized loot of awesomeness is the bread and butter of action RPGs, and Dungeon Siege 3 knows this. After playing for about 30 minutes, I had found new equipment for each of the 7 or 8 slots on my character, often multiple pieces. The different colors were instantly familiar as a way to indicate the “rarity” of each item, and I felt right at home. But that feeling quickly disappeared as more and more loot appeared, with confusing attributes like “Doom” and “Warding”. Thanks to the linked question, I already knew that I needed to go to the Help section to learn what these did, but even that gave me very little idea which items or attributes I wanted. That meant that even a highly trained optimizer like me lost interest in the constant onslaught of items that were coming in. It also seemed like there was a very uneven progression curve. Instead of continually finding more awesome equipment, I found that I was rarely getting anything that provided a noticeable improvement. My favorite item so far is one that makes all my attacks heal my character, and I’ve kept it despite finding items that are “better” based on the value of the item. But I haven’t been able to find other items that contribute to this (in my opinion overpowered) attribute, so I’m now at a point where I only check on new equipment maybe once per play session, a far cry from what I’m accustomed to.
The Character Builds
Dungeon Siege 3 has 4 different characters to choose from. I’ve chosen Reinhart, a magic-based character, after experimenting with the melee character in the demo and being repeatedly sliced to ribbons. The game has an interesting mechanic where you must use regular attacks to charge your more powerful attacks. When I gained my first level, I was actually a bit overwhelmed with picking a new skill, an ability that enhanced a skill, and a passive bonus all at once. But raising a few more levels made me realize that I was only rarely allowed to pick a new skill. And like the problem with the loot, there haven’t been enough synergies between different skills and items to allow me to feel like I was “building” a character of my own creation. Instead I was mostly just adding a few % here, a few % there. The new skills are interesting, and one place where I do feel the game mostly matches up to Diablo and Torchlight. And there are supposed to be “empowered” versions of the abilities to add more variety (I have yet to unlock any of them). But rather than finding myself desperately looking forward to my next level so I could get another awesome power, level gains have felt pretty “ho hum”, and I’m still mostly focusing on the couple of abilities I acquired early on.
Another contribution to my lack of identification with my character is that he looks the same regardless of the equipment I’ve equipped. I’ve never been one that turned down equipment because it didn’t look right, but faced with a never-changing look, I do feel like it really takes away from my feeling of immersion.
The Lack of Wonder
This one has been the hardest to quantify, but the more that I’ve thought about it, the more I feel like Dungeon Siege 3 is missing that sense of exploration and discovery that permeates Diablo and friends. While some of the bosses do have interesting attacks and abilities, the encounters in between seem dull and repetitive. There are no moments of excitement generated by random mini-bosses or unique combinations of monsters. Instead, everything attacks in very similar patterns, and in the same groupings. Dungeon Siege 3 does not use procedurally generated dungeons, so it should be able to more easily script unique scenarios, but instead it just plods along boringly through tunnel like paths, just buying time until the next boss fight. Nor have I encountered items with unique and unexpected abilities, or secret areas to uncover. The lack of all these things makes the game feel dry and monotonous.
While Dungeon Siege 3 has many of the trappings of the action RPGs I’ve loved, it fails to deliver them in a way that generates emotion or excitement. I’m sure some people will think it unfair and unhelpful to base my feelings about one game on a comparison to another, and I’m sure that for some people Dungeon Siege 3 is a more than adequate game, but for me, it has served mostly to give me a greater appreciation for all the little things that makes those other games great.