Version tested: PlayStation 3
I have a signature move in co-op action RPG Dungeon Siege III. How many games can I say that for? Basically none.
What I like to do in Dungeon Siege III is wait until there's only one monster left to deal with. Then I summon a mirror image of myself - something I can do because I chose Reinhart Manx as my character, a mage who makes up for his terminally boring dialogue by being the spitting image of Kenny Rogers - and run off to whatever chest is nearby.
As my mirror image tangles with the monster, I pop the lid of the chest, sending Dungeon Siege III's characteristic ejaculation of loot (there's honestly no other word for it) flying twelve feet into the air over my head. Then I turn around and, with the touch of a button, bring a whip of purest energy down on the monster's head to send it crumpling to the ground.
All is silence. Finally, the airborne loot comes tumbling to the ground, gold coins and magic pants spilling across the floor as I remain still, like in a Chinese action movie. I hold the pose for a moment, then hoover up the loot and go hurtling down the corridor to the next fight like a boulder with an agenda. He's not graceful, is Reinhart, but it's always a corridor, and there is always a next fight.
Made by Obsidian Entertainment (Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol, KOTOR II), Dungeon Siege III is radically different to Gas Powered Games' first two Dungeon Siege games, which offered top-down strategy and party management, not unlike a dungeon crawl crossed with an American football simulator.
Despite this, it keeps more than enough of their spirit alive to be called a sequel, if not a successor. The world still takes the form of one endless, branching corridor overflowing with monsters; the colour palette is still kaleidoscopic; the camera still hovers high overheard like a pervy eagle; and the plot is still grave yet lightweight, with the occasional gag.
In Dungeon Siege III, all of the playable characters are descendants of the 10th Legion, the highly trained army that originally marched out and founded the Kingdom of Ehb, where the series is set. Since then, the 10th Legion has fallen into poverty and disrepair (and pies, if Reinhart Manx is any indication), and a war has broken out between loyalists to the Ehb monarchy and loyalists to the Church, led by one Jeyne Kassynder (BOO!).
Since the game opens with Jeyne Kassynder (BOOO!) putting out a bounty on surviving 10th Legion descendants, your side is basically chosen for you, and yours is the hugely satisfying job of bringing the 10th Legion back to full strength by finding and recruiting other descendants, reclaiming Legion property and convincing the populace of Ehb that you're the good guys. Or at least, the guys who are really good at killing and unable to say "No" to any and all requests to go and save husbands, priceless trinkets or pies.
Yes, there are some RPG elements in Dungeon Siege III, in the form of towns and buildings where your right shoulder button has you talking to people instead of shanking them. But these are more like motorway service stations than anything else - brief pitstops where you can pick up a quest or two and sell your loot before getting back on the road.
Every so often, you'll get a tough decision that you and your co-op partner can squabble over. You just defeated a boss; do you kill her, imprison her, free her or send her back to her master with a message? While these represent high points, they're fairly rare. The primary purpose of these sections, really, is to give you a break from the combat so that it stays fresh - 'palate cleansers', in the trendy terminology.
Combat in Dungeon Siege III is relatively simple. By holding down the left trigger, you block, and if you try to move while doing this, you'll dodge. Almost every other button on the pad is assigned to your character's unlockable abilities, and by blocking and using your basic attack, you'll charge focus that will let you use your fancier powers.
As in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and other co-op action RPGs in this vein, the combat isn't demanding or unforgiving. Instead, it has a very clear goal in mind: to be playable no matter how much attention you are giving it.
With the exception of a handful of tough fights spread throughout the game, it's possible to go tumbling through Dungeon Siege III with half of your brain playing and the other half chatting idly to your co-op partner. You simply tap away at the attack button, dodge on those occasions when you see an attack being aimed in your direction, and fall back and use your healing ability when you're hurt.
But don't think this means that Dungeon Siege III is a brain-dead game. It's just an adaptive one. Because your character has up to 11 abilities, as well as charged versions of each of those, and each is best used in a slightly different scenario, trying to play Dungeon Siege III perfectly is a totally absorbing dance of glossy particle effects, small victories and even smaller failures.
If you play on Normal, you're never in too much danger of dying, but you'll have plenty of occasions where you spot at the last second that your health bar is a shred of its full self - and you'll duck out of the fight sucking air through your teeth the whole way.
Dungeon Siege III is, as the recent incredibly creepy TV ad expressed, a single-sofa co-operative game at heart. There's support for up to four-player online co-op too, which unfortunately I wasn't able to try, but I'd imagine would be awesome.
However, if you want to play Dungeon Siege III through solo, you'll have a good time. After the game's opening chapter, it gifts lone players with an AI co-op partner who's more than capable. They'll die every so often and need you to revive them, and when you die they'll keep fighting for a while before they abruptly notice that you've fallen and can't get up, but I don't mind that. These are human failings. So long as my AI partner isn't being confounded by a wall, I'm happy - and the pathfinding here is flawless.
So is the treatment of levelling up. No fannying around spending points on mysterious statistics like "Will" and "Agility" here. You get a point that you can spend upgrading one of your abilities in one of two ways, and you get another point you can spend on a permanent buff for your character. Maybe you'll also get a new ability to choose from. That's it. Clean, simple, satisfying.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the game's equipment system, which is something of a let-down and exactly where those mysterious statistics like "Will" and "Agility" make their sad appearance. Nobody likes you, weird stats! Go home!
Here's how loot works in Dungeon Siege III: you nudge open a slug egg or pile of bones and something called Brave Pants fall out. They look the same as your existing pants. You open up the equipment screen. They seem worse than your existing pants, and so you leave them there, in your growing collection of pants that look the same as your current pants but instead of offering +4 attack, +2 armour and +4 Chaos: Doom they offer entirely different buffs, like +4 will and +5 block.
It's miserable. Fortunately, it's easily fixed by opening your equipment menu once every 30 minutes and simply equipping the most expensive item you have in each category.
It's also the only failure in an otherwise smart action RPG that boasts such good combat that it doesn't matter if the loot, traditionally the heart of these games, is disappointing. In fact, it's so good that I think I'm going to go back and play it right now.
You hear that, Reinhart? Cinch up that Belt of Quickness of yours and let's get moving. I've got a hunch that there are some monsters just down the road.
8 / 10