Dungeon Siege II



Genre:   Role-playing game

Developer:    Gas Powered Games

Publisher:    Microsoft Game Studios

Released:  Aug, 2005

PC Requirements:   Microsoft® Windows® XP SP1 or newer, PC with 1.0 GHz equivalent or higher processor, 256 MB of system RAM, 4 GB available hard disk space, Quad speed or faster CD-ROM drive, ATI Radeon™ series 7000 or better/Nvidia® Geforce series/Intel Extreme Graphics 82845, 82865, 82915, Sound card, speakers or headphones required for audio, Broadband Internet access or LAN for online play




by nickie

“A thousand years ago, the first age of man came to an end by the meeting of a sword and a shield. They were destined to meet on the field that will forever be known as the Plain of Tears. But unbeknownst to either warrior, the sword and shield had destinies of their own.”

Like a dance of prisms in a window breeze, Dungeon Siege II envelops your senses with a world of glittering color and constant movement. In fact, the game almost begs a replay so you can appreciate your surroundings without devoting your attention to the frenetic game play. Tattered flags and individual tree leaves wave in the wind over the grassy terrain as you make your way through the short in-game tutorial that begins your play. As you make your way through the canyon, there are jagged rocks, blood spatters, injured enemies on military cots, dust flying from artillery impact, and flames with realistic sparks here and there from sustained hits. You can hear the offscreen sounds of battle, even while you hear the wind shrieking through the canyon, as you meet your first foes. Later in the game you will be able to gaze upon a mesmerizing waterfall, and soothe your tired fingers while you rest in a lovely grotto. Are the graphics state of the art to rival Morrowind? Not at all. But the level of detail and color makes for an  enjoyable forty to sixty hour romp.

You begin the game as a mercenary, and are soon betrayed by the master to whom you sold your sword. The evil Valdis becomes your nemesis and his destruction your end goal. Your brief, ill-fated allegiance will come to haunt you throughout the game, as your motives and honor are questioned time and again. Left for dead on the battlefield, you are found and imprisoned by the tree-dwelling Dryads. A strange intervention on your behalf allows you the opportunity to prove your worth and gain your freedom. What follows takes you through lush forests to sandy deserts to shimmering snowscapes in an effort to defeat the evil that threatens the world, paralleled by your character’s growth from a self-centered mercenary to an altruistic hero.

You can’t do this alone of course, and along your journey you have the opportunity to add other characters to your party. Seeking the perfect party combination at any given time is part of the fun, as one character may make the difference in your success or failure in one region, and incur the opposite result in another. Your first time through the game, you are allowed three companions, although you must pay for the third and fourth member to join your party (and gold is scarce in the beginning of your travels). Each character has different strengths and liabilities, and differs from every other character in personality. Each also has a side quest that is unique to him or her, and you cannot accomplish the side quest without this character being in your party at the time you attempt it. Unlike Dungeon Siege 1, there are side quests to be undertaken if you so choose, more on this later.

In another departure from its predecessor, in Dungeon Siege II you can raise a pet to fight alongside you as one of your three companions. Each type of pet has various skills, and depending on what it is fed, varies in enhancement.  I have to confess that this was a highlight of the game for me. You have a variety of pets to pick from and purchase, and then you must feed this baby appropriate items until it reaches maturity. It was a wonderful way to get rid of surplus inventory, and entertaining to watch it gobble them up in glee. I laughed hysterically to watch the ice elemental pet barreling after my team as a baby. I love humor in my RPGs (Role Playing Games), and there is little enough of it in this one, so you have to grab it where you can find it. The expressions of the pets as they eat are different from one another. Kudos to the developer who obviously spent a large amount of time working on this aspect of the game. Endearing as infants, the pets often grow to be formidable, and at least twice saved my party from annihilation. At any point you can dismiss them as you can your other party members, or you are offered the option of allowing them to go free, and you will never see them again, not even waving goodbye. But I digress.

True fans of hack and slash RPGs will be in their element with this game, for there are continual onslaughts from hordes of creatures, and they also respawn. Some of this was annoying because of the sheer numbers you have to wade through to get anywhere, and you can’t take time to view the lovely and detailed surroundings. Some were amusing, like the dancing Hak’u tribesmen and the funny gaited Boggrots, but sometimes less is more. While this was a mostly entertaining game, by Act 3 I was frankly ready for it to be over. And I had just thought I had seen a lot of enemies, for towards the end, someone really opened the gates.

There is only one level of game play difficulty in the initial go-round, and better yet would be the ability to choose from easy to very difficult. As it stands, the one level was frustratingly hard for newbies and way too easy for veterans. The point-and-click movement is effective, but I promise that you will get a tired clicking finger before you are through. Sometimes a particularly difficult adversary would appear with no rhyme or reason as to why the difficulty level was suddenly increased. Sometimes the foes were killed like swatting flies, but it became a seemingly never-ending battle.

On the same theme of less is more, I littered the countryside with loot I didn’t bother to pick up. There was so much of it, I didn’t even bother to see if it was better than the equipment I already had. I only needed money to buy potions, which I did have to stock in huge amounts. There also seemed to be little benefit from enchanting anything, as the enchanted items weren’t as good as those you picked up from defeated enemies. Again, it was useful to have surplus only to feed my pets.

Something I did like was that whatever your party was equipped with, it showed on the screen. There was much detail and color to the various items, and I enjoyed the glow and sparkle to the various robes and weapons. There was also a very helpful chart which showed how the new equipment would affect a character’s statistics, and I played with that for some time.

Speaking of what is helpful, the journal is essentially well laid out to assist you in the game. Your objectives are laid out in a straightforward manner, from primary goals to secondary quests, and each step you take towards a particular goal is checked off as it is accomplished. This is very nice if you leave the game for a time, and have a senior moment upon your return as to where in the heck you are and what you are doing. Also in the journal is a list of specialized items that you have gathered, a Bestiary of monsters you have killed, and a handbook of how to play the game, if you could possibly have questions after the in-game tutorial. With all that incredible attention to detail, you might think the map would follow suit in a likewise excellent manner. Not! This map is so worthless one wonders why it was included. To be fair, there is a mini-map also, which appears on your game screen of much, much better quality. This small map indicates direction and where you must go to reach your objective, along with very helpful blue markings to show hidden areas or treasure, red dots to show enemies, and green dots to indicate friendlies. The quarrel I have with it is that it is too small in scope.

Another annoying aspect of the game is the abysmal save system. You have one save point, and earlier saves are overwritten. Not only are you unable to go back to a previous saved game and try a new tactic, if you encounter a bug in the game, your game is over. Granted there are few bugs in the game, but there is one that can be a game ending one, resulting I believe from clicking through dialogue too quickly, which results in quests being broken that are necessary for the game to be completed. To the developer’s credit, a patch was quickly produced to fix this problem. I hate to whine, but I prefer to save my game, and then return to where I was when I finished play previously. However, with this game you are returned to the town teleporter nearest to where you were playing, rather than the same location you left. It is boring and frustrating to have to backtrack through already covered terrain, especially with all the respawned monsters, to get to the point where you left the game the time before.

However, the teleporters themselves are well done, and it is immensely more interesting to look at an array of stars as you warp through the galaxy, rather than looking at a loading screen as you change locations. This gives you an impression of fairly seamless game play.

You move the mouse to rotate your view, and can zoom in or out with your scrolling button. Most of the time this is very effective, unless you happen to get behind a wall when your party begins a battle without you. Some fast shuffling will be in order there!

Something strange that I encountered was completing a quest, and then (possibly because of some negligence on my part), finding myself in a location far away without one of my party members. For some reason she was admiring a cave at the previous location, picking daisies perhaps, and was killed before I could hasten back to assist her. Several hours of game play were lost, unless I wanted to resurrect her, which I didn’t. I had this problem several times. On boarding one of the dryad lifts, one of the members would charge off in the other direction, and the lift would leave without him. One can only speculate why he had to rush off like that – there weren’t enemies to kill.

Sometimes a dialogue would be cut short when enemies attacked. The conversation wouldn’t be repeated, and you are left pondering whether some information of import was lost to you forever. I enjoy dialogue anyway, and it was annoying when the little that was there disappeared. Realistic perhaps to cut people off in mid-sentence when they are attacked, but not appreciated by this writer.

Another negative were the quests. Although I appreciate that DS II was much improved from DS1 in having quests, the quests were lifeless and ho-hum. In the main game you have a plethora of caves to visit and scads of monsters to kill, and the quests really don’t vary from the same scenario. The caves and the monsters look alike.  One quest that showed promise -- speaking to the dead and setting them free -- deteriorated into finding them and that was that. It would have been better here if something more had been required of the player, such as finding the dead person’s killer, a lost love or item, anything but hearing over and over about the distant shores. I was ready to kill them all over again, if I had been given that opportunity.

By and large though, the voiceovers were excellent, and I would have appreciated more dialogue. The dialogues were full of drama, and none of the voiceovers sounded like the actors were reading a tedious script to escape being tortured, as is so often the case in games.

The ambient sound in the game is outstanding, from rushing water to the clash of weapons. It is utterly immersing, and acts to make your journey almost lifelike. What is disappointing is the score. Although the game begins with a dramatic theme song, the music dwindles. At some points of the game it is lovely, at other times mundane or nonexistent.

The cut scenes are cinematic in quality, and from the beginning they serve you notice that you are playing a game to be reckoned with. The story is compelling, well-written and does not disappoint those of us who longed for a story springing from its predecessor.

Summing it up

“I want you to take my medallion. Please, it’s important to me- more than you know.”

Fans of hack and slash RPGs should be in their element with this game. The problem I had with it was mainly that this could have been a classic but for some annoying features. It is superior to its predecessor in many ways, with mostly wonderful innovations and a few irritants. If this franchise takes those things into consideration and develops a third to the series -- world look out!

 Score: 79%



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