Siege the Day

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There are times when a game is released and everyone in the industry has to take a step back and say, "Wow, how did they do that?" Dungeon Siege is one of those games.

Billed as a role-playing game, Dungeon Siege is better described as an action-packed Dungeon romp along the lines of Diablo II, Darkstone and even perhaps the Myth series. But that is about where any type of comparison ends. Dungeon Siege has the same type of elements found in other games, but they are put together so well here, you will swear that you’ve never seen anything like it.

The first thing you will probably notice when you start playing is that the world is beautiful. The opening cut scenes use the game engine itself, and you really don’t notice or mind. You start out with a panoramic overview of your little corner of the world, which includes a cool running waterfall, a bunch of chickens running around your fields, a farmhouse and deep green, lush woods. At the onset you are a simple farmer with no combat skills of any kind, and the world is so pretty you will almost wish you could just wander around in peace for a while.

Alas, that is not your fate. Almost immediately, a fellow farmer limps across the small bridge into your dell, having been mortally wounded by attacking creatures. He sends you on your first quest and as he dies you notice dark figures running around your home. The attacking monsters put the torch to your house and start to come in your direction.

How you fight them will determine how your character develops throughout the game. There is no tedious spending of experience points. Basically, if you grab your shovel and start whacking at them, your skill in melee skill will increase. If you instead grab a bow, your archery will go up. You can find some rudimentary magical spells pretty early in the game too, and set your feet on the path to becoming a mage in one of two spell realms.

Early in the game you will probably want to specialize in one or two areas. My initial character tired to go up evenly in all areas, and I think it was a lot harder before other characters joined up and I could start to concentrate more in one area. It’s better to have a rounded party, but within that party you should try to have specialists who are experts in one or two areas of combat.

Again, as long as you realize that the emphasis is on combat and not really role-playing or character development, then you should have a great time with this title. I consider myself a hardcore role-player and I loved this game even without a myriad of side quests and confusing double-crossing NPCs. Dungeon Siege is pretty straight forward, but coming off of Baldur’s Gate, Arcanum, the beta of Morrowind and Siege of Avalon, I was ready for some straight-forward hacking and slashing.

The game interface is easy to learn, and not too difficult to master. You basically have a top down view of your character and you can use the mouse to point and click where you want to go. You can rotate the camera angle in any direction and zoom in and out as well. You can set the AI of your character to attack any enemy that comes within range, which is a must if you are planning on using ranged weapons so you can get some shots in before you enter close combat.

Later on in the game, you can either hire people to join your party or find folks willing to accompany you for free. Once someone joins, they are controlled and managed just like your initial character. The most difficult part of the control interface is keeping your troops in the proper formation. You can control the general shape of the formation by using a series of buttons at the bottom of the screen, and you can control the distance between characters within that formation using the mouse and the mouse buttons.

However, you need to have all your players selected or they won’t all go into formation. And after a battle there is a good chance your troops will be somewhat scattered depending on their AI settings and from how many sides you were just attacked from. Since formations are an indispensable part of success in the later game, the interface does take some time to master. There are even some rudimentary jumping-type puzzles where your entire group needs to run onto a moving platform. If you miss, you are forced to fight on the other end with only those group members that made it. In a way this is kind of fun, because it’s a bit of a rush racing everyone else to the combat on the second trip.

You can have up to eight characters in your group, which is large for the RPG genre where the upper limit is normally about six. Some of the slots can even be filled by mules. And I am not talking about mules in the online-only RPG sense meaning "a character who carries stuff." I mean you can actually put a mule in your party. Mules carry a lot of the junk you find inside the dungeons so you don’t have to leave it behind. Then when you get to a town you can offload your cache for big bucks. The problem is that mules won’t fight unless attacked, so every mule you own is one less party member that can accompany you. Plus, although they do their best to run away from trouble, thus protecting your stuff, sometimes they run into trouble. More than once my party mounted a frantic rescue operation to save Flame, our favorite, if a bit stupid, mule.

Second only barely to the amazing graphics, the sound of Dungeon Siege is extremely well done. When you are in a forest for example, you will hear the wind rustling in the trees and other various forest sounds. As soon as you step into a dungeon, or your neighbor’s cellar, the wind dies down slowly and the more subterranean sounds take over. There is also a music track that is also extremely well done that crescendos at the appropriate moments before a large battle, adding to the tension.

The single player game could take as much as 60 hours to solve if you explore every location in the game, including all the side caves, caverns, towns and tunnels that are hidden throughout the world. And this is assuming you can find them all.

Once that is done, there is a very nice multiplayer area that adds value to the title. You can play against other groups of people, or adventure together through the game world. With Dungeon Siege released this week I did not have too much time to play multiplayer, but I was able to get into some battles with other reviewers who were given advanced copies of the game about two weeks ago. I can say that multiplayer is well done, does not seem to be heavy with lag, and is very exciting when real humans are trying to kill you.

The only real negative I would say is that the game is retailing for $55, and I grit my teeth when I think of a PC game costing more than $50. I’m taking a small half gem off the value part of the score for this reason. If the game were one percent not as good as it is, the $55 would really be a sticking point. I may just be afraid that other companies will see what is sure to be the success of Dungeon Siege and raise their prices as well. Dungeon Siege is probably worth the money, but I can think of few other titles that would be.

With all the hype surrounding the Xbox, its good to see that Microsoft is also still in the business of publishing top-quality PC games. Dungeon Siege’s destiny is to be a hit for the company, and will probably make most people’s top ten favorite game’s list after only a few minutes of play.

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