|Developer:||Gas Powered Games|||||Release Date:||2002|||||Systems:||Windows, Mac|
This week on Super Adventures I went and did that thing I wasn't supposed to do and played another RPG! I've got nothing against the genre, they just take so much time and so many words.
Dungeon Siege has gotten a bit of a reputation for being a game that basically plays itself, but I've got fond memories of it. Well, I've got a vague memory of being fond of it at least. I've beaten the game, but the only thing I can recall after 14 years is that the steampunk goblins were cool. So I plan to keep going in the game at least long enough to run into those guys.
You know I still get surprised when I'm reminded this got an movie adaptation, though I can very much believe it was nega-director Uwe Boll who made it happen. 'In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale' came out five years after the game, in actual cinemas, with folks like Jason Statham, Ron Perlman, Ray Liotta and Burt Reynolds collecting paychecks for their participation. Boll really was on a mission to ruin the chances of us ever getting a decent video game movie back then, releasing three of them in 2007 alone ('Dungeon Siege', 'Postal' and 'BloodRayne 2'). He's slowed down a bit since then, but that hasn't saved us from 'In the Name of the King 3: The Last Mission'.
(Click any image to see the original sized screenshot. The game can apparently support more modern resolutions, but I’ll be playing at 800x600 because I want to give you a fighting chance to read the on screen text.)
By the way, see that 'Multiplayer' button? I'm playing the Steam version, so all clicking it does is bring up a message saying "DISABLED". But that can be fixed by typing zonematch=true into the launch options. Apparently you can still play the multiplayer via LAN or by connecting to a host online, but I don't plan to test that out.
© 2002 Gas Powered Games Corp". Square Enix wasn't even around before 2003!
I can cycle through different head models and hair textures, but I can't tweak their features, so somehow I doubt I'll be getting an accurate Jason Statham out of this. As far as the games are concerned the canon character is actually a fighter wearing this face called Lady Montbarron, but I hate it when sequels disregard a player's choices like that, so I'm picking whatever I feel like.
The game's still got the mandatory narrator though, who's currently telling a tale of how the Kingdom of Ehb was founded on the continent of Aranna by the 10th Legion 300 years ago. Also there was an ancient evil, and etc. It's generally a better idea to for a writer to build up a player's curiosity before dropping lore on them, but hey they it's their story, so they can do it any way round their feel like. I'll just have a bit of a nap until gameplay starts.
Eventually the camera settles on a lowly Farmer and his dog, just getting on with their lowly farm work, when suddenly an injured man runs over and collapses.
They apparently got Ron Perlman to play Norrick in the movie, but that's definitely not the voice I'm hearing here. Though despite that major flaw (and the fact that the characters don't move their lips), the voice acting's fairly solid. I'm especially impressed with how he managed to say 'The Krug are attacking!' without bursting out into laughter. Still, 'Krug' is a lot better than 'darkspawn'.
Before he dies, Norrick gives Farmer a quest: go to Stonebridge and find Gyorn.
CHAPTER 1: STONEBRIDGE.
Diablo, while steering the camera with the arrow keys.
The Krug are running around the farm having fun with flaming torches and things look bleak... so I finally get to hear the dramatic Dungeon Siege theme (YouTube link)! Trouble is that all I've got on me right now is a crappy knife, so I need to acquire something more deadly to fight back. There's a Fireshot spell over there that would be handy if I were a mage... and maybe I will be!
Like Skyrim and Final Fantasy II, characters pretty much start off as a blank slate and evolve during gameplay to get better at whatever it is they've been doing. If I hit people with swords, my Melee Skill and Strength will rise, if I use bows my Ranged Skill and Dexterity will grow instead etc. It sounds like a good idea, but in practice I'm pretty much still picking a class at the start and being stuck with it. Playing a jack of all trades will just leave me crap at everything, as the enemies slowly grow to out-level me.
Plus the game's left me solely responsible for the tedious job of smashing open every damn crate and barrel. I even have to manually press 'Z' to automatically fill my pockets with the loot that's spilled out of them!
This game engine was the shit back in 2002 and to be honest I still like the visuals. I'm not going to argue that they've aged at all well, because it plainly looks like an early PS2 title, but the game's got me posing on this bridge trying to find the perfect angle to screenshot so it must be doing something right.
You can see my ranged skill meter fill up on the top left as I make a neat pile of Krug in front of me. No ammo required, thankfully. No clicking either, and if any of them does get close enough to hit me, my health will regenerate by itself over time.
It's hard to spot enemies hiding in the bushes without a radar and this barely helps at all to be honest, but I've delegated that crap to Farmer! I'm more concerned with making sure I've swept every inch of terrain to clear away the fog of war, and collect maximum loot and experience. Plus maybe find a secret cave or two along the way.
A proper world map would be nice though. I know the game can't show the actual layout of the areas, because if you stitch the maps together they form a tangled overlapping mess, but a line on a 'Lord of the Rings' style illustrated map would've been fine! I just want to see how far I've travelled (and maybe how far's left to go).
A BIT LATER.
This is my inventory grid by the way, which is where I store my collection of hoes and pitchforks. I guess I must be an optimist, as I'm apparently expecting to get some cash for them when I finally reach this town.
Equipment doesn't have durability and there's no weight limit, but there's no item stacking either so I've ended up with potions scattered everywhere. Plus I only sip as much of a potion as I need, so I've got half-empty bottles to manage as well. I kind of like the idea of having to pour potions into different containers myself though, as inventory management gives me a break from the relentless Krug slaughter.
SOME MINDLESS KRUG SLAUGHTER LATER.
This Alpha Wolf I'm fighting must be a special tough enemy as he's got his own blue column of light, which basically means I have to wait longer until he fills up with arrows and dies. I have to be honest, the game has been pretty tedious so far as I’ve mostly just left my farmer to it. I can't even move around during combat as it interrupts his attack, so whenever enemies crawl out from a bush I have to stop for a while and let him sort out business before carrying on. This walk through the woods would be plenty boring on its own, but the combat really helps to slow the pace down.
There's more to do down here, with fireball traps to get caught in, levers to pull and sarcophagi to break open for no good reason, but the game's still impossibly easy down here. Sure these skeletons end up shuffling around with a dozen arrows sticking out of their ribcage before they drop, and I could really use a sidekick though to double my firepower and speed things up, but as long as I stay mobile and keep an eye on the health bar the fights generally win themselves.
My hard-earned reward is a blue-tier bow called the Heart Stopper, but the damn game won't let me equip it yet! I've been deliberately straying off the path and sweeping every inch of every area to embed arrows into more than my fair share of targets, and I still haven't developed the dexterity to use the thing.
Oh by the way, the enemies in this are finite. Once I've cleaned an area out they're gone forever, so there's no way to grind.
This also gives me an opportunity to show off the dialogue system, or at least it would've done if the game had one. I don't talk with people, there's no list of replies, I just listen to what they have to say and if I'm very lucky I get a choice to bring them on the team.
Now I’m out of the crypts, and back outside in the fresh air for another hike through the forest. With two characters to manage the combat’s gotten a little more interesting, as Ulora hasn’t got much health yet, and I have to keep her away from enemies while my character does the heavy lifting.
SOON, AT STONEBRIDGE.
Finding Stonebridge was easy, I just followed the path, but now I've got to track down Gyorn and he could be hiding anywhere. There's no quest arrows and NPCs aren't marked on the map, so I'm stuck searching every building in town for the guy.
A few houses later I came across another archer for hire called Naidi, a fighter called Rusk, and a nature mage called Zed. Each will cost everything I have though so I’ll hold off on that for now, but there's also a pack mule going far cheaper, and I could always use more carrying capacity.
The good thing about shops in this is that they'll accept any junk I throw at them and they've got infinite money. There's never a weapon too expensive for them, and I never have to barter for items instead. Which is good because I can't store things in chests and I don't have a stash. I suppose it's possible that things I drop on the floor will stay there, but I don't feel like testing that.
To save time I checked a walkthrough to find Gyorn, and it turns out I walked right past him at the town gates, like an idiot. He joined my team as a fighter, so I went and hired Zed to round out my squad with a mage. Always nice to have a man with the power to heal wounds and resurrect the dead at your side, even if he's not quite good enough to actually do that yet.
CHAPTER 2: JOURNEY TO THE OVERSEER.
Health potions! That's what I should've tried drinking! There's no cooldowns, so my characters can be pretty much immortal until the drinks run out. But they won't be hitting anything while there's a bottle in their hand so it's best to conserve them when I can. Death is a two-stage process in this, as first a character is merely knocked unconscious. If I leave them long enough in this state they'll just pick themselves back up again and carry on where they left off. The enemy has to continue smacking the K/O'd hero around a bit before they actually kick the bucket.
Even death is something I can cure (as long as the victim's not called Norrick), but re-equipped all the stuff that spilled out over the floor's a hassle I can live without, so I'm going to start playing more tactically from now on. Instead of leaving my group to automatically put themselves in front of a Krug mage firing squad, I'm going to edge forward with a single character and see if I can lure them over to me one at a time.
EVENTUALLY, IN SOME DUNGEON.
Unfortunately I'm still losing people pretty often now. And by 'people' I mean 'Gyorn'. I’ve got Zed on full time auto-healing duty now just to keep him standing, which sucks as casting healing magic gives me less experience than offensive magic. Poor Zed's going to start falling behind the group.
I’m tempted to just swap Gyorn into being an archer like my first two heroes, but I need someone with high strength in the party or else I won't be able to wear all the cool armour I'll undoubtedly acquire.
LOTS OF SKELETON SLAYING LATER.
I've decided that my priority is to run over and smack the ranged units first though, as they tend to fall quickly. It's bit hard to make out who's hitting who with these graphics (I can barely even spot all eight spiders in this screenshot), but thankfully I can issue orders when paused so I've got time to figure it out.
I still wouldn’t say this is the greatest RPG experience I’ve ever... experienced, but it's certainly a lot better now I've got a crew together and the enemies are putting up a bit of a fight. It means I get do video game things like reacting to situations and making decisions!
There's no mystery about how I'm going to kill him though, as my team are all specialists in exactly one type of weapon and he's a giant slow moving target. There's no hotbar full of skills for me to activate, no antidotes I need to drink, no anti-spider gems for me to equip on my swords. All I do is watch them hit the spider and keep an eye on their health and mana bars so I know when to tap the 'H' and 'M' keys. Hey, I've just realised what else is missing from the game: a big health bar for enemies so I can see at glance how much damage I'm doing.
I can switch between different spells for my mage, but I've only got the two slots to click on and I hate bringing up the menu to ready other types of magic. Plus all the buffs I've found have been so terrible I don't see the point in them.
LATER, IN THE MINES.
This place does look cool though, all multi-levelled and open. One thing the game does right is having variety to its dungeon design, so I'm not just making my way through narrow tunnels and shooting through doorways all the time.
CHAPTER 3: THE SEARCH FOR MERIK (SOME TIME LATER).
The dungeons have become a real endurance test now, as I'm worn out and my crew are nearly out of health potions. I am still making progress, but it's definitely not effortless at this point. In fact I'm feeling underpowered for this place, like enemies are taking a few more hits than they're meant to. The fact that every decent piece of gear I've been collecting in here has been way out of my league isn't helping.
I'm still holding onto the quality gear for later, but inventory management lost its charm a long time ago, so now I just throw everything I find in wherever it fits without even checking the stats. Then next time someone gets a strength upgrade I get to go through my six separate boxes of items and see if anyone's carrying something they can now equip. Joy.
CHAPTER 4: THE WARDING STAFF.
The swamp's a bit more sprawling than the typical dungeon so it'd be nice if I could zoom the map out far enough to figure out where I actually am in this place. I'm met an old woman in a hut selling potions along the way but now that I need them I've no idea how to get back to her.
By the way, the faces on the shopkeepers in this game are generally amazing.
EVENTUALLY... IN THE GOBLIN HIDEOUT!
Well I'm miserable anyway, because even with two nature mages on full time heal duty I still can't survive a couple of seconds under the barrage from these enemies waiting to ambush me. But I kind of have to, as this moving platform is the only way across this pit.
I feel so underlevelled, as my characters' stats are clearly too low to survive this fight. Which is weird because it's not like I've been skipping fights and enemies don't respawn so grinding is impossible. Plus I've been buying and hoarding decent armour whenever I've found it, I'm just not strong enough to wear some of it.
Maybe I should've been hiring more of the people I've met along the way and dropping my original heroes. It's too late for that now though, as it'll take half an hour to walk all the way back to them as there's no fast travel, and they'd likely be massively underlevelled themselves at this point.
FAR TOO MANY RETRIES LATER.
With him over there as my unconscious spy I can now move the camera over to the other side of the chasm and observe what's going on. So I have my mage summon a yeti, send him across the pit, and let him get swarmed by spiders. All I need is for one of the enemies fighting him to stray onto the platform, then I can pull it back to my side of the chasm and dogpile it with my crew!
Once I've whittled down their numbers I can get my whole team over there to finish off the tanks! And finish off the last of my health potions I expect as well.
This isn't the first RPG to throw anachronistic weapons into its medieval setting (Ultima and Might & Magic even had spaceships), but it'd gone out of fashion by the 2000s so was surprised to find this gear first time I played the game. Surprised and grinning from ear to ear. Of course I can't keep them long, as they'll do pitiful damage compared to the average pointy stick soon enough, but until then I've got a dwarf with a grenade launcher and a lot of goblins looking to get blown up.
You know, now that I think about it, I'm not sure if these weapons are even good for this area. It's hard to tell because of the way that weapons have min damage, max damage and speed.
Alright, now I just have to kill the boss and I'm out of here.
Funny thing is that there's two tesla coils in here that he's supposed to use to heal himself up and make the fight harder. But I took them out first and they were utterly effortless to destroy.
15 MINUTES LATER.
If you're wondering why the screen isn't full of item names, I had to turn them off. Every time someone dies the screen fills up with so much text I can't see what I'm doing any more.
I got the bastard down to 2139 health that time, so I know I can beat him if I keep running up, taking a shot, and then running back to heal up and save the game, but that's going to take approximately forever and I can't be arsed. I actually started to head back to buy some potions from the woman in the swamp, but that's going to take forever as well and my folks are just going to be so busy gulping potions they'll never have time to get a hit in. So fuck it, I'm giving up here!
Sorry, but I just don't have that stubbornness and patience that gets people through difficult games. Funny thing is, I'm sure it's not supposed to be this difficult. Either I'm not playing it right or something's gone wrong. But I'm done with it now.
CHAPTER 5: AN ANCIENT EVIL.
Also I got Merik's staff, which is cool because Merik the Magician is one of the mages tagging along with me. Trouble is he's far too dumb to equip his own staff! He's got 23 intelligence and he needs to have 28. I'm telling you, there's something up with the levelling.
Weirdly the difficulty seems to have sorted itself out now though and it's much more bearable to play. In fact, I'm getting sucked back into the game again, making steady progress. I'm not falling for its tricks though, I've got other games to play!
I did take a look at the multiplayer though (playing it on my own) and comes with two maps to play on, one of which being the entire single player campaign map. It seems like I could start over here using my level 34 hero with the story more or less intact, one-shotting Krugs with my dragon minigun. Trouble is I wouldn't be able to recruit any other AI characters, and the game's at its worst when you're playing solo.
If I were going to describe Dungeon Siege in one line, I'd say that it's a generic gruelling repetitive test of perseverance. Though that sounds kind of mean and I'm actually weirdly fond of the game, so I'll write some extra lines to go along with it.
The problem for me is that the gameplay is very passive at worst and just isn't that interesting at the best of times. It did get more fun and tactical once I had a crew together and had to start drawing enemies out and shooting them through doorways (occasionally), but then I had the tedium of sorting out eight inventories! Also the game's very repetitive and doesn't have much in the way of story or conversations to cover that up. You walk through a forest, then go underground, then come back up for a bit, then go to a town. Repeat. On the plus side there's no grinding or backtracking, and no real danger of ever being stuck on where to go next. Even quests don't require you to return to the quest giver once the job's done.
The game is a journey, all about going forward and never visiting the same place twice. Except for when you go past a crossroads and realise too late that you've chosen the path that went to the exit instead of the one leading to a dead end filled with side quest goals and treasure. But mostly it's a long Lord of the Rings hike to get a job done and I like that aspect. It means I'm always getting to see new places and new scenery and this low-res seamless world still has a lot of charm for me for whatever reason.
I also like the levelling system... in theory. It's nice not to have to pick all my attributes before I even know what the game's like, but I found my hero soon settled into having a single role and a single weapon anyway. There's no encouragement to create interesting hybrid characters. I'm still not sure what 'Ranged Skill' and 'Melee Skill' actually affect, but I sure didn't want to waste my finite kill experience filling up anything but the bar I'd already made progress in. But I totally should've given all my dudes healing magic, damn why didn't that occur to me until now?
Plus was really missing skill trees and special moves. I kept wanting to do something in combat besides watching the characters brawl, but in the average fight my only role was to press 'H' to heal the wounded and 'Z' to claim my loot afterwards.
On the plus side, I was at least able to load the game up and get it working! I had two or three crashes and the cursor left behind a glitchy flickering mess across my screen when I played it in a window, but the game mostly behaved itself in full screen on my Windows 10 machine. Unless the excessive challenge is a symptom of something other than me being too crap to play on Normal difficulty, in which case it didn't.
So yeah, I can't really recommend this, even though I do want to keep playing it. By my rules I should really give it a 'Not Crap' star, but nah.