There's something nostalgically warming about any isometric RPG. Looking down on fantasy lands takes us back, not only to the games that defined the genre, but further still, to lazy afternoons of Warhammer, where epic campaigns were fought on polystyrene hills and cereal packets repurposed as castles.
These games give us a chance to play gods, toying with the hapless mortals below. They also give the notoriously shaky Obsidian a lower bar to aim for. Compartmentalised isometric worlds are harder to goof up than Fallout wastelands. This is Obsidian's soundest technical outing in many a moon.
Fun as it is to peer down into shimmering mines or icky tombs (disguising years-old tropes with shiny 2011 lighting and set decoration), can such old fashioned hack-'n'-slashery really compete in the age of Bioware and Bethesda? Obsidian do a good job of modernising, dumping the pause-and- play action rhythm for button-mashing.
One face button attacks, the remaining three control abilities. A bumper switches to a second stance, doubling the move list, while blocking adds a third layer of alternatives. Nine abilities sounds stingy, but it works. Like Fable III, it elegantly tailors combat to fit the pad, where others stubbornly, and sloppily, crowbar in a keyboard's worth of dizzying moves.
THE GUN SHOW
There's a Fable-esque feel to the combat, too. Perhaps it's the inclusion of flintlock pistols, shotguns and blunderbusses (a refreshing change from the usual archery guff), or maybe it's the exaggerated physics that send bodies flying with a chest full of buckshot - certainly a lot more statdriven than Lionhead's RPG.
Enemies bleed digits like a stuck Pellett, and endless loot drops bombard you with giddying numbers. Kudos to an uncluttered inventory interface for clearly displaying all the relevant info. Oh, and good item names too: 'The Venomous Blunderbuss of Life-Stealing' is so much clearer than 'The Bane of Xygonalgal'.
But don't expect a Fable-esque pushover. Obsidian favours massive odds and some punishing boss health bars. Playing alone as one of two ranged heroes is particularly fraught as the close-up camera undermines said range.
Playing alone as any character is nastier than it should be thanks to dubious AI. Where old Dungeon Siege let you direct a friend move-by-move, here you can only set vague behaviour, which refuses to capitalise on moves you've carefully levelled up and equipment you've invested a small fortune in. Sometimes a parent just has to admit that they've invested in an imbecile.
No doubt about it, Dungeon Siege was made for two or more. Yes, the story and fantasy lore are good enough to hold a single adventurer's attention - for their faults, Obsidian are very good at world-building with minimal waffle - but the mechanics were built for more.
Our gunwoman only makes sense with a competent swordsman holding back the scrum. Likewise, a mechanical tinkerer can booby-trap arenas as a spell-flinger cauterises his wounds with healing flames. What good is unloading an entire magic bar's worth of curses if an AI character refuses to jump in and exploit the weakness? Takes a human mind to make the move.
For the purposes of this review, we've only been able to test local two player co-op - probably not the best way to play it. What is gained in companion intelligence is lost in on-screen elbow room. Two heroes battle for camera control, trying to frame their own fight in the best light.
Things get truly ludicrous when one falls in combat, as the camera basically pivots around the corpse (waiting to be resuscitated) at a time when the remaining hero really needs to have his wits about him. In hectic battles, we'd honestly be better off by ourselves. Of course, this should easily rectify itself in the 'one hero, one screen' online play.
Slightly unbalanced characters aside, Dungeon Siege III does a good job of bringing a PC genre into the console realm. Dungeon design strikes a nice balance of punchy action for the time-limited multiplayer parties and fuller side-questing for the lone adventurer.
And there's a definite appeal in such a full-bodied approach to multiplayer: Borderlands aside, few games offer such substantial co-op meat. Fantasy RPGs often lazily tout the value of camaraderie only to lump you with AI husks; the potential to play a party as a party is enticing.
Dungeon Siege III is a perfect stopgap in the RPG calendar: brisk enough to be over and done with by the time Skyrim arrives while offering suitable training should Blizzard deign to cook up Diablo III for consoles. A new enough spin on resolutely old fashioned thinking.
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Not big, but reasonably clever, and like so much else in life, best enjoyed with friends.
- Elegant streamlining
- A proper co-op quest
- Duff AI