Dungeon Siege III hands-on

Robert Hathorne at

Has anyone else noticed that chest has two meanings?

Legend speaks of an ancient blender far beyond the reach of mere mortals, and in it are blended the most fiendish of concoctions imaginable. It was in this blender that on a fabled and woebegone night a Blendtec wizard sought to create a dungeon crawler the likes of which Diablo and Torchlight had already seen, but with the dialog wheel and decision making of Dragon Age, the fisticuffs of an arcade beat-‘em-up and just a few drops of blood from the master sequel crafters at Obsidian Entertainment. Into the wicked blender the ingredients went, and after the froth and bubbles and not a few screams, the wizard dispensed a mean little package and christened it Dungeon Siege III.

You should have seen him as a tadpole.

Despite its borrowed trappings and engrossing decisions that are sure to make you stop and think, at its heart, DS3 is a co-op loot fest of old, and in that regard, it excels brilliantly. Rather than have you select a class, you select characters who each reflect familiar RPG qualities, such as DPS or healer, but who also come with back stories and allegiances that will flavor your path, and possibly color some of your decisions as you make your way through the land of Ehb. I choose Reinhart Manx, an older mage who specializes in magically assisted hand-to-hand combat and maniacal clockwork traps, and my partner selects Anjali, an archon capable of switching between a spear wielding human form, and a fire slinging elemental form.

RAWR!

My favorite scenario is set deep in a shadowy forest, beyond the Lescanzi occupied town of Raven’s Rill, where we must rid a haunted mansion of spectral terrors and deal with the trapped soul of a little girl that has been ensnared by an ancient artifact. Although there’s quite a bit of narrative backdrop going on, DS3 doesn’t allow that to get in the way of the fast-paced, narrative disinterested nature of co-op play. Cutscenes are skippable and almost every dialog sequence has an easy-out option. When we enter the mansion, my partner and I are almost instantly engaged by hordes of skeleton warriors complemented by undead archers and spell casting wraiths—it’s here that DS3 really shines.

Time out! I dropped my contact lens.

In human form, Anjali corrals melee units into tight clusters while I engage the ranged units with hard-hitting electrical blasts from across the room. Once my partner has gathered-up enough victims, I dart to the center and generate a circular clockwork trap on the floor. Its magical gears tick-tock away the last few seconds of our enemies’ lives before all within the trap’s radius are engulfed by yellow and green magical discharge. At the same time, my partner summons a fire jackal to harass a new band of enemies that have appeared behind us while I drop a huge glyph beneath them that causes damage over time. Our combined assault provides a much needed distraction that allows us to cast healing spells and mop-up the ranged units on an overlooking balcony with close-combat. My partner gets the coup de grace by detonating Anjali’s fire jackal like some sick Nazi war tactic. With the battle done, we get to the real fun—loot.

Firedogmon, dash attack!

The arena is littered with bits of armor and health and mana orbs (there are no health potions in DS3), and we quickly dart around the room to snap it all up. We then spend several minutes each checking out our new gear and min/maxing with DS3’s convenient equipment system. Categories with something new are marked as such, and highlighting a new piece automatically pulls up a comparison window with red and green arrows indicating the traits of the new piece compared to what you already have equipped. In most circumstances, you’re safe just going with the most green arrows and moving on, which is a huge boon when your co-op buddy is waiting to get back to the action.

Compared to Torchlight, there are some big differences in combat. While Torchlight is action bar focused, DS3’s combat is much more immediate—hit the punch key, and your wizard plants a lighting punch right in a zombie’s face. But as I ventured around in co-op, I couldn’t help but feel “this is so what Torchlight should have been.” Playing a narrative-optional, loot heavy game is way more fun with friends, Diablo made that clear years ago. That said, if I’m going to tolerate this game at all with a mouse and keyboard, Obsidian has got to get their controls wrangled in. PC controls on the build I played weren’t final, but with a June release fast approaching, they still need a ton of work. Sometimes more so than monsters, I found the camera to be my greatest enemy, the controls of which are shared by the mouse pointer, middle mouse button, scroll wheel and the “A” and “D” keys—WTF! My preview left me really wanting more, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that Obsidian is able to patch the control issue up before launch, especially now that the genre is finally starting to see fresh signs of life.