All video games tap into our obsessive compulsive nature to some degree, but few do it more ruthlessly than the loot-dropping dungeon crawl RPG. This is a genre for people who feel a deep sense of personal failure if they don't smash every barrel, open every chest and own an inventory groaning with Rare Inferno Pantaloons of Swiftness.
It's also a genre that is making a comeback, with Torchlight stripping the formula down to its ruthless core components and Diablo III bringing back the sense of a blockbuster event to a game style that was once in danger of falling out of favour.
Dungeon Siege slots into the space in between these two extremes. Never quite big enough to attract Diablo-level passion (the movie adaptation fell to Uwe Boll, after all), but too ambitious in scope to fit comfortably with the new download aesthetic.
As it turns out, Dungeon Siege III looks set to define the middle ground. In a good way. Based on ten hours of roaming around the latest preview build, it looks like a robust, well-paced and carefully balanced dungeon crawl with a decent storyline and a journey that takes you through dozens of varied environments.
The story picks up some time after Dungeon Siege II. The kingdom of Ehb is mired in civil war. The 10th Legion has been decimated, its few remaining soldiers scattered and hunted by the cruel Jeyne Kassynder. As one of those few, it's your job to rebuild the Legion and lead the rebellion against Kassynder's zealot army.
Four characters are waiting to take you on this journey. You choose one as your main character, with the other three popping in to join your team as you go along.
There's Lucas Montbarron, son of Hugh Mountbarron, last Grand Master of the Legion and your typical sword-and-armour melee fighter. Anjali is an Archon, a fire demon with no memory of how she came to Earth. Raised by the Venerable Odo to fight for good, she's basically Hellboy crossed with the Human Torch and a set of boobs.
Reinhart Manx is a Legion mage with a reputation for unusual spellcasting. Finally there's Katarina, a Lescanzi witch specialising in firearms and ranged attacks. She's the illegitimate daughter of Hugh Montbarron and therefore Lucas' half-sister.
Between them they cover all the class types made popular in the prior Dungeon Siege games. This time, however, you're only ever controlling your chosen character. Once recruited you can switch your companion at any time, but this is strictly a two-handed affair. No four-way Gauntlet-style monster mash-ups, unfortunately.
Controls have been intelligently streamlined for console play, with the d-pad offering shortcuts to the most useful menus. A prod left calls up your list of active quests, while right takes you to the equipment screen. Up conjures a Fable-style breadcrumb trail for whatever objective you're currently working towards. All interactions, from looting chests to initiating conversations, are carried out with the right bumper.
For combat, blocking is mapped to the left trigger and there's a simple one-button attack that's modified by two different stances. These are quickly alternated with the left shoulder bumper.