The newly announced, Obsidian developed Dungeon Siege 3 was on-show in private rooms off the show floor at E3, and I was there to take a look. This new dungeon crawler is an interesting project: the first two games were purely about action and loot. Dungeon Siege 3 does things differently - Obsidian want to add a story and moral complexity to this over-the-shoulder Diablo-inspired orc-em-up. WTF?
As the demo began, reps from Square Enix explained that both the Supreme Commander, and Dungeon Siege intellectual properties had been purchased from their former developers (Gas Powered Games, led by Chris Taylor) and were now wholly owned by Square Enix. Dungeon Siege 3 is the first time Square Enix have really created a western style RPG - and it's a market they're keen to crack. Obsidian clearly have the talent to make this work. They've just completed Alpha Protocol and are beavering away on Fallout: New Vegas.
They're known for their emphasis on story, and the developers are keen to impress that that dedication will be transferred to the new game. "We've taken Chris Taylor's lore," says lead designer Nathaniel Chapman, "and really expanded on it." In the game, the 10th Legion, heroes of the previous game, have fallen into disgrace and ruin. As the hero, you've got to return their honour.
Obsidian's design for the game is much more open compared to the strict linear path of previous Dungeon Siege games. It will also be the first game to debut their own 'Onyx' technology.' The quest I saw was a simple proof of concept - a few lines that asked the player, quite simply, to 'eliminate evil in the crypt'.
The dungeon itself was remarkable. The Onyx engine, according to Obsidian, allows the developers to produce vast draw distances. The view off the edge of the marbeled blue cliffs, stretched on forever. It was a pit that didn't seem to end. Across the edges of the chasm, the path down was clearly visible. You could stand and plot your route down into the caves from far above. The tech also allowed for some ragdoll deviancy - when the player was attacked by sinister Murloc thingies, the warrior punted them over the edge with a vicious shield bash.
The demo was played with an Xbox 360 pad, and delivered a neat trick. A second designer picked up the controller, and pressed Start, and instantly appeared on-screen in the first player's party. He was a mage, and used crowd control and stuns to hold the bads in position while the Warrior scored critical hits on the vulnerable enemies. When the time came to defeat a hulking boss, the warrior cut chunks into his armour, while the mage stood back and pelted him with fire magic. When done, the mage exited, and the game quickly adjusted difficulty.
While the game is being built jointly across PC and console, Obsidian promise a new interface for the mouse and keyboard, but players will still be able to add a 360 pad for same-box co-op play. When pressed about what the PC version would deliver over and above the 360 version, they replied that they have 'additional multiplayer plans'.
The game's due in the first half of 2011 - and it already looks sharp. Obsidian are an odd choice for making an action RPG - it's not really in their DNA, but what I saw gave me confidence they understand the violence required of the genre. And the importance of Murloc punting.