You know that moment you often get in a good dungeon crawler, when you've reached the lair of the final boss, and you've learnt all the tactics and mastered the rhythm of the game's combat, but you haven't got quite the right gear to take him on just yet? You've got the smarts, but you haven't got the armour. You've got the intelligence, but you're still slightly lacking in terms of technology. And you know that moment it's generally the very next moment when you decide to try and take the boss on anyway? That's how I see Obsidian Entertainment: a clever team with great ideas, often struggling against the budget, the timeframe, or the engine.
Check out the rap sheet. As stand-ins for BioWare, the studio offered glimpses of a truly great game with KOTOR 2, but had to rush the final act. Inspired by the choice and consequence of Mass Effect when it came to the ambitious spy RPG Alpha Protocol, it created an adventure that charmed even if it didn't always convince. As for New Vegas, look between the crashes and the bugs, and you'll probably like what you see. And now? Now the team is partnered with Square Enix for the latest instalment in the Dungeon Siege series. Can a loot-heavy hackandslash become the title that finally demonstrates Obsidian's full potential?
Who knows, eh? It's certainly looking like a decent game, though. For one thing, Dungeon Siege III's driven by the team's own technology this time, with the all-new Onyx engine doing a very reasonable job of crafting shadowy caves with water trickling down the walls and sun-dappled forests where fireflies litter the afternoon air. Sword swings send out glitzy little flashes of light, crows erupt from trees when you pass, and while character models may not be over-burdened with charisma, the animation has a nice flourish and weight to it during combat, and the game manages to shove a decent number of enemies and particle effects on the screen at once without falling over when things get hectic.
Alongside the engine, Obsidian's also picking its battles fairly smartly, backing away from a punishing comparison to the likes of Diablo III with a camera that's pulled in and tipped forward slightly more or less so depending on which of three viewpoints you choose. Nobody's going to mistake this for the Gears of War over-the-shoulder look, but it frames the action in a way that makes it feel more like a fast-paced brawler than an all-out number cruncher.
A recent trip through a side-quest riddled village and boss encounter suggests it's going to be a very decent number cruncher, too, however. Every one of the game's fights seems to result in a nice showering of loot to pick through, and the menus make equipping new kit and discarding the old stuff a very simple business. Comparisons show up via bright green and red arrows on the inventory screen, giving you a handful of attributes to keep in mind while making each decision, and 10 minutes into the game you can already expect to have a few workable swords to choose between, each with their own benefits.