Lighting skeletons on fire in Dungeon Siege III brings back fond memories of that summer back in 2002 I spent playing Dungeon Siege with a buddy in co-op. Like its forbearers, this action-RPG is about having a good time with friends—just pick weapons and smash enemies until the loot stops flowing. DS3's quite different, though—there are many changes, most of which I've grown to appreciate.
At first, I balked at being forced to play as one of four inflexible dungeon-delvers, but each well-designed character's unique nine-ability arsenal is appealing. Each has a specific combat style—swords and shield, fire magic, arcane magic, or guns—but they all fill the same role: a self-healing damage-dealer that swaps between two stances, one best suited for fighting a single target and one for taking down groups.
While you can play solo with one AI ally, the Steam-based four-player co-op is ridiculously easy to get into, and enemy difficulty and loot drops scale on the fly. I invited three friends into a game, and within seconds, not minutes, they'd seamlessly assumed control of my NPC companions and all their gear, abilities, and talent points. We got right down to the business of stomping baddies and mocking them over voice chat.
That smooth system makes playing together effortless (yay!), but it comes with an absurd restriction where only the host saves progress from a co-op game, leaving the other three with nothing persistent to show for their time. (Boo!)
Likewise, sharing a single camera helps keep the group together, but I occasionally felt like a dog yanking on the edge of my leash when I saw something shiny a little too far from my team. Handily, the AI takes over inactive characters to keep slowpokes from acting as an anchor.
In combat, the ability to block and dodge attacks rewards you for paying attention and keeps fights engaging. We felt confident enough to pull ballsy moves, like taking on an army of skeletons. As the warrior, I corralled them into a small area using shield blocks and wide-swinging sword attacks, allowing my fire goddess ally to light them all on fire. Meanwhile, our gunner sniped the boss and our wizard zapped targets of opportunity with lightning.
Spell effects are absolutely gorgeous, and combined with the elaborate setpieces and creative enemy designs, DS3's visuals are unmatched among dungeon crawlers.
Wait…there's a story?
The real shocker for Dungeon Siege fans is the terrific 18-hour story's memorable characters and choices, where a spared enemy might turn out to be a convenient ally later.
But adding story depth seemed to cause Obsidian to forget some action-RPG fundamentals. The mini-map provides no indication of which direction you should be going, convoluted stats (such as Doom and Withering) are never explained, and you have to press E to retrieve every single piece of loot you want to grab.
Finger cramps aside, fighting through this imaginative, stunningly beautiful world is good fun. There are better single-player RPGs out there, but if you hunt for loot in a pack, Dungeon Siege III is a satisfying battlefield to conquer.