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Dungeon Siege 3: Typical dungeon crawl or much more?

Hands-on with Obsidian's latest...

Poor old Obsidian. In spectacular bug lists have defined the Californian outfit. Who could ever forget the rotating-headed freak who sometimes appeared in New Vegas' opening ten seconds? Or forgive the game that rendered a 30-hour save file useless because it crashed when you wore the wrong hat to a certain location?

Between 2010's New Vegas and Alpha Protocol, Obsidian did itself no favours to dash the suggestion its games were plagued by shonky tech. What those two titles did do, however, was prove that in spite of some major technical shortcomings, Obsidian still has what it takes to make a great game.

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New Vegas was as broken as they come, but it was still a smarter title than Fallout 3 and better written and scripted to boot. Likewise, Alpha Protocol looked like Mass Effect's inbred backwater cousin, but beneath the laughable exterior sat an RPG that shone if given a chance.

The signs, then, are looking extremely good for their upcoming hack-'n'-slash Dungeon Siege III. For starters, it's a story-driven adventure that plays nicely to Obsidian's strengths. Obsidian's retained key personnel from the old Black Isle Studios team and while technical hiccups have marred their past games the writing has always been consistently solid.

More importantly, Dungeon Siege III is a by-the-numbers looting game. And to put it bluntly, that means there's a lot less for Obsidian to screw up during production. It would take an astronomical implosion to run the project aground given the relatively simplicity of the on-screen action. With that in mind we're hopeful Dungeon Siege III will be the game that completely reverses people's cautious opinions of Obsidian.

SIEGE THE DAY
Scratch that, we're confident it will. Because after sitting down with hands-on preview code it's clear DSIII will instantly become one of the best looters the moment it launches. As we charge through the Kingdom of Ehb it's obvious that Obsidian hasn't made a game this polished since the Icewind Dale days.

The world's quite beautiful, with extravagantly detailed mansion interiors nicely complementing the lush greens of forests and gloomy torchlit cave systems. And despite the occasional hang time when loading in new assets (which we're optimistically putting down to being a work-in-inprogress-debug issue) the game rattles along from scene to scene and location to location with impressive competence.

Historically the 10th Legion army had protected Ehb, but prior to Dungeon Siege III's opening the Legion was falsely blamed for the King's murder and its ranks were demolished by an uprising led by a malevolent fighter known as Jayne Kassynder (get used to that name - you'll hear it every few minutes for many hours...).

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Think of her as a devil-powered Joan of Arc and you're not far off. Four playable characters make up the dribbles of Legion's ranks and your chance for revenge against Jayne: Lucas Montbarron, a noble swordsman and the son of the Legion's former Grand Master; Anjali, a fiery female archon warrior equipped with a staff; Sean Connery wannabe Reinhart Manx, a mage who has mastered the arts of arcane magic; and Lucas' half-sister Katarina, an illegitimate daughter of the Grand Master and a witch, and a woman who wields two flintlock pistols equipped with ensorcelled bullets.

Each character class comes with typical positives and negatives, but to mix things up slightly everybody's packing an alternative 'stance' to best tackle certain enemies. Anjali's a prime example: in her standard state she runs around bashing people with a staff, but toggling the secondary stance with LB morphs her into a hovering flame sprite who hurls fireballs at foes from long range.

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