"Dungeon Siege II is a game you'll really be able to sink your teeth into," says Chris Taylor as he begins to demo the sequel to 2002's hit action-RPG. While the original Dungeon Siege attracted high review scores and went on to sell over a million copies, this statement of intent from the founder of Gas Powered Games should make many fans breathe a sigh of relief.
The first Dungeon Siege found favour by streamlining the fiddly features of the RPG experience, but it possibly streamlined too much. Fans complained that the automated combat reduced fighting and levelling up to a relatively passive experience, and the lack of a decent storyline gave others no incentive to keep adventuring.
But Chris Taylor and his team at the Washington State-based developer have definitely taken these criticisms on board. "Dungeon Siege II represents one of the highest density experiences you'll ever get in a box," he says, before estimating that the finished game will push over 70 hours of gameplay.
And if you're going to be sitting in front of your monitor for that long it's lucky that there's actually a storyline in Dungeon Siege II. An evil force has discovered a long lost power, and unless you do something about it the world will be destroyed. This means you actually have a reason to progress through the game, learning more about the world of Aranna and interacting with over 250 NPCs with spoken dialogue.
Then there's the enhanced combat system. While the first Dungeon Siege was, in Taylor's own words, an RTSFRPG ("That's a Real Time Strategy Fantasy Role Playing Game") where the player told his heroes who to attack and then sat back, Dungeon Siege II encourages much more aggressive mouse clicking. Your allies are still intelligently automated, but you have much more control over who you attack, when you attack, and how you attack.
This new concentration on active combat is bolstered by enhanced skill trees that let you customise your characters' abilities more than ever, and Hero Powers that let you bust out earth-shattering special moves. You can even buy an elemental pet that you can train and develop into a potent killing machine by feeding it unwanted loot - a weirdly cute and Pokemon-esque feature that Taylor hopes will also endear the game to a female audience. "Women love to feed enchanted helmets to ice elementals," he says with more than a little mischief.
With so many changes to the Dungeon Siege formula up for discussion - and even the prospect of an upcoming Hollywood adaptation of the first game - we settled down with Chris Taylor to get the drop on why he had to make some changes, why Dungeon Siege II could be the last big single-player RPG and why he won't ever abandon PC development for consoles.
You've always been very open about addressing the criticisms people levelled at the first Dungeon Siege game. Do you feel you've been able to sort out all the problems for Dungeon Siege II?
Chris Taylor: As a developer it's an unfortunate thing that you always, always have to make some compromises because there's simply not enough money on the planet to develop the ultimate game. But we've come very close. We had to draw the line at some point with features, but we've polished and tweaked everything and worked very hard at getting the production values up. In fact, I'd say this is the closest to perfection I've ever come on any game I've done! If you look at everything I've done over the past 17 years, Dungeon Siege II absolutely represents the very highest quality of product in terms of craftsmanship and polish that I've ever been involved with.