|Developer:||Gas Powered Games|||||Release Date:||2005|||||Systems:||Windows|
This week on Super Adventures, I'm playing the second Dungeon Siege! In the grand tradition of RPG sequels, and indeed sequels in general, they've taken the name and put a number after it to form the title Dungeon Siege II.
I've played and beaten this before, but just like with Dungeon Siege all I've retained from the experience is a vague memory of liking it. This is why you should always write down every aspect of the games you play to an internet blog, to save you the trouble of having to ever play them again. I am curious to see how this holds up though, as dragging Dungeon Siege 1 into the harsh light of 2016 revealed that it's not quite as fun as I once thought it was.
First thing I've noticed: it doesn't have Dungeon Siege's awesome animated menu screen, and that makes me sad.
(You can get the original sized screenshots by clicking on the tiny ones.)
This guy's actually the default hero this time, though the ginger default protagonist of the first game is just a single click away. Unfortunately character customisation is limited to cycling through faces and hairstyles, and the hairstyles kind of suck.
I went with a human male archer in the first game, so I'm going to do something a bit different this time and go with a human female archer instead. Not that I have to pick my class or attributes now, I become an archer just by picking up a bow and sticking with it.
Dungeon Siege skipped the traditional RPG 'pan across illustrations and maps' intro, but here it’s showing up in full force, as the narrator explains the game's history like a man who actually gives a shit.
His story begins a millennium ago, with an epic battle on the Plain of Tears where the Sword of Zaramoth the Unmaker met the Shield of Azunai the Defender... man, fantasy games are a pain to make notes for. This wasn't your typical case of evil being sealed away for a thousand years though. Nope, the power of the sword and shield was so great that bringing them together triggered a cataclysm that splinted the land and tore the souls of the warriors right out of them.
|Artist's interpretation of souls getting ripped out of warriors.|
Wait, wasn't Valdis the villain in Grandia II? Oh sorry that was Valmar, never mind.
Thing is, I actually am being carried by one of the dragons, as my hero is part of Valdis's army! So now I get to watch the most epic CGI fantasy beach storming scene since Final Fantasy VIII.
The dragon drops his troop container on the beach, the door drops down and... the intro ends. Sadly superimposing 3D characters onto video doesn't seem to be a trick this game engine can do.
Okay I'm the silent protagonist on the left, and the guy on the right is my old friend Drevin. He's an Elf... I think. What's important here is that I start off with a sidekick, so this is going to be far less tedious than when I was walking around on my own for the first hour or so of Dungeon Siege.
ACT 1: CHAPTER 1 - THE SIEGE OF GREILYN BEACH.
I think I preferred Dungeon Siege's interface as it was less cluttered and had clearer icons, but this'll do fine. I definitely like that new minimap they've put down there, with my next objective marked on it.
Right, my first task is to go through basic training and learn how the different weapons work, because we somehow didn't get around to doing that in the last few years we've been in this army. Turns out that the game has exactly the same set up as in Dungeon Siege, with characters being able to equip melee weapons, bows, combat magic and nature magic at once, and switch between them at will. But the game strongly recommends that I don't, as staying in one class is the best way to develop a strong (and boring) character.
SOME TARGET DUMMIES LATER.
Rampage Mode? Also where's all my other AI commands gone?
It seems that this time I'm pretty much always moving my team down the path as a unit, rather than dealing out individual orders. Mirror mode keeps them nearby and focused on my target, while rampage mode sets them to cut loose. I can still order them around separately and have them wait somewhere, but there's no button for it by default, I'd have to set one. So I won't bother.
There's no auto-attack any more either. The way combat works is that right clicking an enemy makes my guy take a single shot and paints them as a target for Drevin to start wailing on. Or I can hold down the button to tell my character to start burning through my infinite supply of arrows along with him. Honestly I think this is a fantastic change, as I feel like I'm actually doing something this time.
I can still automatically pick up all items with a single button press though, which is good, but the automatic barrel smashing button is sadly absent.
There's only two skills to spent points on here, but more get unlocked as I reach levels 5, 12, 24 etc. in my chosen class. I can even go crazy and start investing in the other classes' trees too, if there's anything there that'll be handy to me.
The game has its own idea what I should be choosing though, as by upgrading certain skills I can unlock powers. Like if I raise my Natural Bond skill up to level 5, I get level 2 Gravity Stone!
I can put one skill for each character in that quickbar down there, which lets me activate them instantly by hitting the appropriate number. Nothing revolutionary for RPGs really, but it gives me something to do in battle and I really appreciate that after the hands-off combat in DS1. It recharges through violence though so I can't just hang around and wait a bit to get my special move back.
On the other hand my health and mana do come back if I give them a minute, just like in the first game, but this time I can't rely on potions giving me a instant refill; they just dramatically speed up the process. Managing my bars seems kind of important so it's a shame they're tucked away up on the left, exactly where my attention isn't during a fight.
This time I've got a yellow arrow on my minimap pointing me to my next objective, which is nice. I know some people dislike being led around by arrows, but in this case it's basically only showing me I'm already heading the right way down this one path, and half the time it points to a black void and leaves me to figure the rest out myself anyway.
Oh by the way, Drevin just stopped to give me his favourite medallion because he has a bad feeling about what's coming next. So it was nice knowing the guy I guess.
Turns out that Valdis sent his army here to collect a fragment of the shield from the intro. And with that job done he decides to prove he's as evil as his armour looks by slaying his own men! Drevin jumps in to take the full force of his attack, so my hero's merely knocked out. Well that couldn't have been foreshadowed harder.
ACT 1: CHAPTER 2 - PRISONER OF WAR.
You'd think I could just climb out of the cell considering there's a huge gap above the door, but that's where the 'Running Man' style collars that each prisoner wears come into play. If you even think about escaping, you're dead.
Turns out I'm in the Dryad town of Eirulan (these folks really like their coloured text), and they're not too happy I was part of the army that invaded their island. Fortunately a mysterious elf vouched for me, so now I’ll be working for the Dryads doing fetch quests to prove I’m not a total dick. I was only fighting monsters as far as I recall and I don't think any of their people died, so this could've actually worked out much worse.
The warden let me out of the cell and now I'm free to head to the marketplace.
If I pressed J here to open my journal it'd tell me that I need to collect some sharpening stones, and then I have to go over to the north gate and leave town so that I can deliver them to an outpost down the road. Then I'll be making some quest progress!
ACT 1: CHAPTER 3 - THE MORDEN TOWERS.
Speaking of Dungeon Siege traditions, the sequel also has the same seamless level loading, but it's not quite so bothered about having a seamless experience. For one thing there's those CG cutscenes showing up every now and again, but also there's teleporters, like this one on the right. It's nice to be able to return to any teleporter I've activated along the way, but that means waiting for it to load the old map. It also means that I'm being given reasons to return to those old areas, instead of continually journeying onwards. The game turning out to be more of a typical RPG than it's predecessor.
Hang on, why am I killing these things on my own? Being on my own is boring! I should teleport back to town and get myself a sidekick.
This inventory works pretty much as it did back in Dungeon Siege, with no equipment durability or weight to worry about, but there's a couple of nice changes. I still can't compare items side by side with what I've got equipped, but it does at least show me the change in stats now. Plus the sort button actually does the job properly now, grouping all the potions together and saving me a job. There's no elixirs of strength or fire protection or anything flashy in this by the way; you get red, blue and purple drinks and that's it.
There's a character stash in town too so I'll dump all the reagents I've been accumulating in there. I'll come back figure what they're for later, but right now I'm more interested in reaching more plot and hitting more Mordens.
I love that the game has a world map this time so I can see where my journey's taking me. That's something I was missing in Dungeon Siege. Actually if I could zoom out far enough I'd show you that this island is actually right next door to the last area in the first game. It's like I'm continuing my journey east, except as an entirely different person this time.
The difference this time is that I'm not cutting a permanent swathe through evil as I go, as the enemies all respawn. I don't get to have the feeling of clearing the land of monsters any more. Also the new save system doesn't save my position, only my progress, so if I were to quit before reaching the next teleporter I'd have a lot of enemies to rekill while getting back to where I left off.
Another thing about the save game system in this is that I only get the one save per character, so I can't keep a collection of saves handy for retaking crap screenshots. Also Ctrl+S is 'save game' and Ctrl+D is 'disband entire party', which is a bit awkward seeing as the keys are right next to each other. It's fine though, as even if I accidentally clicked 'yes' I'd just find them waiting in the inn, getting zero experience.
If this was Dungeon Siege I'd just continue down the path and never see these Dryads again, but they won't let prisoners like me go much further, so I have to return to town now and get Warden Celia to take this damn collar off me. Fortunately I have a town portal spell, so I don't even have to walk back to a teleporter! There's a feature the first game really needed; hiking all the way back to the last town with bags fully loaded with swag to exchange for health potions was pain.
BACK IN DRYAD TOWN.
I'm starting to wonder why they've even given me that dialogue box when more often than not I've only got the one reply I can make. Some RPGs give you a choice between 'thing a normal person would say' and 'thing a supervillain would say', but in this I only get 'thing someone in a bad fantasy novel would say'.
It seems like I really want to get to this Elven Shrine sooner rather than later, but I'm sure I've actually got all the time in the world so I'm going to go chat with NPCs first. Maybe they'll have some new side quests now, or new plague-related dialogue!
ACT 1: CHAPTER 4 - THE PLAGUE.
Well at least now I know why I have that dialogue box, it's so I can visit this humanoid codex. Hey she capitalised 'humans'! I've been wondering why Dryads and Elves get to have their species name capitalised and we don't.
My sidekick Deru actually chimed in as I was walked around, asking my hero if she'd put any thought into whether she'd like to be buried or burned after her inevitable demise from the plague. Deru's pretty enthusiastic about her going with a full Viking funeral. It's cool that they've added a tiny bit of party banter this time, but I'm worried I might have hired the Dryad version of Harley Quinn.
That reminds me, I should get a pet while I'm here, see what what they're all about. Maybe I can get her a hyena.
Wait, I can’t buy a pet because I already have too many party members? There's only two of us!
I went down to the innkeeper like she suggested, and it turns out that it's 500 gold to open up a third slot and then 1500 for the fourth. I could buy almost 7 mules for that! Apparently this party size restriction is a Warrior's Guild rule, which makes me wonder how they can possibly enforce that. Worse, if I want a 5th party member I have to beat the entire game and play on Veteran difficulty. I could have a team of 8 in the first game!
Well I can't afford a 4th slot, so I guess I'll purchase my pet and go save myself from the plague.
It's funny how there never seems to be many enemies in these screenshots, because I can assure you the game likes to swarm me with the little gits. If you glance at the minimap you'll see there's more around than there seems to be.
That over there at the very back of the room is a Sanctuary door, which requires someone with a particular set of levels to open it. In this case it needs to be shot by someone with Ranged skills at above level 6, which I've easily got covered. If it was a Combat Magic door or something I'd have to come back to it later. Or not, seeing as it only had a pair of gloves inside. Probably not worth the trouble.
Equipment is restricted to a character class, so a lot of what I've been finding has been useless to me. Fortunately my pet needs to eat items to level up, so I've just been feeding my unwanted gear to him. Not sure if it's the smartest thing to do financially, but I might as well see what it does. Plus money is no longer finite, so I can grind for cash if absolutely necessary (and turning my unwanted crap into pet food saves me having to make trips back to town to sell it.)
Oh, it turns out that I just have to take the red cube and put it in the red slot, then take the purple cube and put it in the purple slot etc. I guess it's basically a child-proof lock to keep out toddlers. Solving the puzzle gets me an elevator to ride, which is cool because it wouldn't be Dungeon Siege without the elevators carrying me off into the void. The party automatically gets on this time though so there's no risk of accidentally leaving someone behind! You can do it deliberately though if you want; no need to gather your party before venturing forth here. You can leave people scattered across the world if that's what makes you happy.
Anyway I finish playing around in my secret loot cave, killed some more mobs, got my healing water for the plague and teleported back to town. Job done.
ACT 1: CHAPTER 6 - LEAVING GREILYN ISLE.
Magic is mostly unchanged from DS1, but I now I can have four spells out ready to click, and two more in my autocast slot. That means everyone can have automatic healing and/or raptor summoning enabled and I don't need to keep switching spells myself. Just one more little tweak that lessens the frustration (though I have to be careful, as some enemies freak out on people they see using healing magic).
I can't play the whole game from the map any more, but the thing's a lot more useful in other ways. It still fills in as I walk around, so I can tell where I've already been (its most important purpose) but now there's teleporters and shopkeepers and enemies marked on it too. DS1's map on the other hand was just an aerial view without the foliage.
A BIT LATER.
The place feels a lot more open than the jungle was. It's not, but it feels like it because the game cunningly makes areas seem less linear by having the road loop around and cross over itself. Like this looks like an alternate path I can go and explore, but the bridge is cracked and impassible, so it's actually a glimpse of a place further down the road. All those monsters over there will have to wait until I get around to them.
The further an enemy is from my level, the less experience I get, so grinding in one area quickly becomes pointless and going after tougher enemies is equally futile. It makes sense I suppose, but the trouble is that the game doesn't go out of its way to tell you about it. I was so disappointed when I didn't get a level up for slaying them all during my first playthrough.
Another change in how experience works is that all the conscious characters in the party share XP equally, no matter how much of a contribution they made. So healers aren't getting punished for healing any more! Sadly sidekicks outside of the party don't earn shit, so you're encouraged to pick a team and stick with them.
FURTHER DOWN THE ROAD.
This guy's forcing me to use strategy, as my usual tactic of holding right mouse button and waiting to win isn't cutting it. And my currently strategy is to keep my crew alive and dealing their pitiful damage until my skills recharge. He's got a ridiculous amount of HP, but I've got attacks that'll do 1700% damage in a single shot so with any luck I'll be able to blast him to pieces in the nick of time.
It's always satisfying to hit those number keys and watch everything explode around me.
ACT 1: CHAPTER 9 - WINDSTONE FORTRESS.
Combat can be hypnotically dull at times but that move's always a nice break from the monotony. It's like a bloody rocket launcher!
You might be looking at this wondering how I can even tell what's going on with the tiny characters and the effects firing off everywhere, and to be honest sometimes I can't. I kind of rely on my pet raptor to let me when know there's an enemy hiding in plain sight, as my actual characters don't auto-attack any more.
ACT 1: CHAPTER 10 - THE TEMPLE OF XERIA.
This guy's different from most fights so far as he's actually got patterns I have to learn and there's a trick to defeating him. After I smacked him around a bit he filled the room with this toxic breath and I decided to get elsewhere and heal up. Then when I came back he'd gotten all his health back! At first I thought it was because I'd ran too far away and reset the fight, and tried hitting him harder, but then I realised that one of his heads is called 'Vitalus'. Yup, the guy's got a head for healing.
So I carried on beating up Vitalus, getting behind cover when necessary, and soon he keeled over and left the other heads vulnerable to my infinite arrows too! Not the greatest RPG boss fight, but the developers did pretty well within the limitations of the gameplay.
Alright, I think that's a decent place to turn this off.
tl;dr: you walk down a road and click enemies to make them die.
Dungeon Siege II takes its job as a sequel very seriously, as it's pretty much Dungeon Siege again, except moreso. There are more features, there's more depth to the combat, it's a bit more hands on, it's more colourful, there's more of a plot, and there's a lot more backtracking. Every aspect of it has been reworked to make it play just a little bit better, and look just a little bit nicer, and overall I'd say it's definitely more engaging as a result.
The gameplay still gets a bit draining and monotonous after a while though, so it's probably best to play long enough to reach the next teleporter or two and then take a break, but I found myself enjoying the simple combat more than I ever did in Dungeon Siege. And not just because it gave me buttons to make things explode (though it helped). You're still encouraged to pick a weapon type and use it forever, but things like powers and skill trees and incantation shrines and item enchantment give the player some choices to make along the way. Choices beyond whose backpack you're going to dump a new piece of armour into and where the potions are going to go. Sure it's lost some of the direct party control of the first game, but I didn't miss it, and it turns out that controlling four characters can be more fun than eight when there's inventories to manage.
Dungeon Siege had a bit of a story, but this has more of one and that's... okay. It wants to be a bigger part of the experience, with all its rendered cutscenes and exposition breaks, but to me I found it was a lot like the inventory screen or journal: a functional part of the game that I'd miss if it were gone, but nothing I took any interest in on its own merits. The dialogue seems to suit the overhead view though, as the further away from the characters I got, the less obvious it was that they weren't communicating like actual people. If you find the characters and their quests dull in Skyrim, this is really going to wear you down. That said, it was nice to get a little bit of party banter this time, and I definitely appreciated how NPCs noticed that I was wearing a prisoner collar, or was sick with the plague, and reacted accordingly.
I stuck with the game long enough to beat the game on my first playthrough and now I'm tempted to do it again, so I have no choice but to say that this one isn't crap. But it likely won't blow you away either.
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