Dungeon Siege 3 preview

Now we'll see who can pray harder!

Obsidian, of Fallout: New Vegas fame and Alpha Protocol infamy, are best known for telling stories that take you on a journey with your characters, and allow you to craft a unique experience through the choices you make. So when they next present you with a game that's not only action oriented, but aimed at co-operative multiplayer, it's a surprise.

Less surprising is when it's another sequel to a series Obsidian didn't create. After Knights of the Old Republic 2, Neverwinter Nights 2 and the aforementioned Fallout, they've got a reputation for being a sure hand for a follow-up. Can they do the same while picking up the mantle of Gas Powered Games' Dungeon Siege series?

When I sit down to play, I'm pushed into the role of Anjela, one of the game's four heroes. She's a hybrid melee caster, and currently wielding a spear. She's a sort of medieval Lara Croft, in looks at least, with a braid trailing most of the way to the floor. If this were singleplayer, I'd get a good close look with the camera hovering over her shoulder. But today is about playing cooperatively.

The camera pulls back, turning isometric as I'm joined by Lucas, another of the heroes, being controlled by one of the Obsidian reps. This is the tank, your warrior, a man with a loud voice and louder actions. He'll be the one making sure I don't die.

Anjela? Playing as her, Lucas is similarly reliant on me to preserve his life. Just as he distracts the enemies, I've got the healing spells. Or at least, half of me does. Just as Lucas can swap his sword and shield for the claymore on his back, so Anjela has a pair of stances too. And they're not 'sassy' and 'bitchy'. You've got the Anjela with the spear, and then you change stances, and there's a flash. The braid is gone, the spear is gone, the feet on the ground are gone. She's basically just gone Super Saiyan, her hair disobeying gravity and flaring upwards, alight, and her clothes replaced by cracked, red hot stone.

At the core of it, Dungeon Siege 3 is about juggling two extremes. High damage or high defense. Long range or close range. Fight or flight, it's all about tradeoffs. The stances can be switched instantly at any point, letting you lay down healing flames in Anjela's fire form, before switching back to human and fending off some skeletons as they close in on you. After that, you swap back to your fire elemental and blast some long range casters. It's about managing the combat and reacting to it, rather than just pumping the same skills over and over again. This isn't the type of dungeon-crawling Diablo-alike where you smash the baddies with one hand and chug potions with the left.

It doesn't even have potions, just floating green and blue orbs. Static orbs, you have to run to. This is a game about movement, about watching the fight rather than your respective bars. But still, it seems like a pretty hefty change of direction for Obsidian. Going from New Vegas to a combat heavy dungeon crawler seems more than a little odd, because while they're still fundamentally RPGs, they're very different styles.

Maybe that's what Obsidian need. They're known for their stories and their worlds, and not so much for crafting a combat system, or the rigid A to B formula of a dungeon crawler. But perhaps limiting themselves to a more linear approach will allow them to concentrate on creating combat that's harder-hitting, and satisfying.

Me and Lucas, my trusty tank/warrior/meleeDPSguy stand outside a particularly eerie looking door. So of course we go inside, because we're adventurers, and we've got a quest. And the minute we're past the threshold, an eerie voice cries out for help.

Despite the game telling me I should go investigate, I head down the other hallway, away from scary voices. But it's OK; while I might be skipping a step, the game doesn't seem to mind. I find myself in a vast study, the broken corpses of a dozen bats behind me. There's a story to be found here, detailed in journal entries, of a father trying to save his daughter and turning to the dark arts for help. It's a vault key I find among his things that interests me most, though. In a Mansion this big, I have no idea where it goes, so perhaps it's time to talk to Casper.

It turns out she's the friendly type of ghost, trapped here inside this house against her will and unable to move to the next life. She knows where the vault is, and when I tell her I've already got the key, she warns me that there's something evil in the depths of the house that needs destroyed so that she can be freed. It sounds simple enough.

It's not. Talking to her has got the house angry, and the path between me and the vault has filled with reanimated corpses; skeleton archers and skeleton warriors and skeleton mages. There's even a few bats left around.

Combat starts to establish a rhythm, now, with Lucas rushing into the main force while I hang back, cast my healing flames on the ground and nuke them from a relatively safe distance. If anything gets close, I fend them off with my spear or phase away and kite them. It works well, and so long as we play to our strengths, there's little challenge. There's none of the instant death from something like Diablo, and enemies soak up more damage than you expect. But that gives you a little time to think about where next to go, rather than wearing out your mouse with incessant clicking. There's even a little enemy variety, with the Skeleton Mages raising new troops if we don't take them out first. Priorities, priorities.

Whenever the game's been shown before, the levels shown have always been set in some grand cavern, or on top of some gargantuan mountain. The house feels very different, with claustrophobic walls funnelling us down a path and occasionally giving way to larger rooms. Still, the level is vast, coherent, and perhaps more importantly, conveys the kind of room-by-room feel of Dungeons & Dragons. It doesn't wait around, setting a scene and having you ogle at the environment; it presents you with a scenario, and gets you slaying immediately.

The combat works, the levels look pretty, but the most exciting moment happens at the end of the Mansion, when you find the 'Heart of Nigog', a big, evil, green glowing orb thing. It's binding the spirit of the girl to the house, and causing all of this evil. Again simple enough, right? Destroy it and you'll be sorted. Except that's not the only option.

Lucas warns me that we don't know what might happen if we just destroy it. I can, if I want, leave it alone while I do some research in the vast dungeon around me and return later. There are even hints that your actions could well have consequences in the greater game, and that doing the obvious might not necessarily be the right course. Free a spirit and potentially doom someone living? That's the kind of decision that could keep a man up at night.

Dungeon Siege 3 is certainly a departure for Obsidian, but from what I've seen, it could be a worthwhile trip. So much of your time is going to be spent killing things, and so far, the killing things seems fun. If they can add depth to the combat, and bring their usual story polish to keep it interesting, we could be presented with an Obsidian game worthy of their reputation.