Building a great role playing game (RPG) is like making a great cocktail. Each different ingredient is not worth much by itself, but get the balance right and the result is delicious and intoxicating. Get it wrong and the result is an insipid mess.
Its only a rare few games that get the balance right, and unfortunately Obsidian Entertainment’s first foray into the Dungeon Siege world, the third title in the series, creates a cocktail that is slightly bitter. Dungeon Siege III is a competent RPG, but it's one that offers nothing special and nothing particularly exciting. All RPGs are built on the same basic building blocks; an engaging story, ferocious combat, and additive item customisation. Dungeon Siege III touches on all of these, but without any obvious flair. In the crowded role playing market this lack of differentiation is a bit of a problem.
Dungeon Siege III continues its story in the land of Ehb, as per the previous two installments, however it could have done more to draw from the large amount of lore that exists about its universe. The tale is a classic heroic quest; the 10th legion of Ehb has been annihilated and you, along with a small band of revolutionaries, need to bring it back to glory. It's an arc we’ve seen countless times. Story-lines and narratives form the backbone of role playing game titles, it's what drives these titles forward - Dungeon Siege III’s narrative is competent, but it does little to keep players progressing through the game (partly, perhaps, because we've seen it countless times before). Add to this some poor writing, lacklustre dialogue, and voice acting that is so-so, and the unfortunate result is a game that lacks grandeur.
But having a great storyline is not the be all and end all of fantasy RPGs; some titles can get over the bar by presenting an engaging and exciting combat experience. Different things appeal to different fans, some gamers prefer the politics of a good yarn, others just want to be Conan. In this more brutal regard, Dungeon Siege III also lets the side down. Its gameplay is not necessarily bad, it's just unnecessarily bland. The standard combat options are there - by choosing either the tank, the mage, the rogue, or variations thereof - but there is little innovation in how the action happens. Through cumbersome button configurations, players can switch between defensive and offensive styles, each with different combat options. This simplification of the combat does make things slightly easier to get ahold of (although even on casual difficulties the game presents a challenge), and it does make the combat flow in an appropriate way, but it comes at the cost of tactical depth. Obsidian made a gamble here, and it's unclear if its paid off.
But even with its combat changes, the title is still trapped in the framework of its predecessors. Part of this could be put down to the trappings of the genre, and the limitations of role playing games on the Xbox 360, but if developers want to keep gamers interested in their franchises they need to be constantly innovating. Dungeon Siege doesn't, and that's a problem. This sameness infects other areas; the artificial intelligence is poor (especially when fighting boss characters) and the normal combat is rote. The title also has the annoying habit of re-spawning enemies in areas you’ve already cleared. While it does give you more things to do, it detracts from the “revolutionary quest” of the game's narrative.
There are, however, some saving graces. The title is a generous one, and loot drops are common (although the loot itself is lacklustre). There is also multiplayer co-operative support, which has drop in capability. Proper attention to co-operative play is often overlooked by developers, so it's nice to see this given some serious attention. The game's auto-load feature also renders content in the background, which cuts down load times. But this just results in the title being presented more smoothly, it doesn't over-ride its gameplay problems.
The ambivalence of the title is reflected in its look. The graphics are fairly standard and offer nothing wondrous. Facial animations are good enough to not take you out of the game, but not they are not impressive enough to truly bring you in either. It's a shame that opportunities to really go to town with the art design were missed. The spells exhibited by both the mage and the archon are interesting enough, but there was ample room to present the titles magic in a more visceral way. This dearth of creativity is reflected in both the level design and the title's items. Certain environments feel repetitive and put together with the same pieces, and the loot on offer could hardly be called impressive. Again, this is a failed opportunity; other role playing titles place great stock in the design and lore of the game’s important objects, and with good reason - its a key way of progressing the story and keeping gamers immersed in the game world. Dungeon Siege III doesn't exploit this to the extent that it could have.
Obsidian Entertainment’s Dungeon Siege III is a mediocre title that fulfils the basic requirements of a console role playing game. At times, it shows promise and it does have enough going for it to keep casual gamers entertained. But Dungeon Siege III is a long way off being a glittering jewel in the RPG crown. As an RPG its combat, storyline, and aesthetic feel bland. The unfortunate result is a fantasy title that lacks any majesty.