In Dungeon Siege II players return to land of Aranna, to take the role of a simple mercenary who is forced to take up arms for a higher cause -- the defense of humanity itself. This hero may eventually be joined by up to five other adventurers. Together, the party travels the land to save it from an almost certain doom. Players have more choices as they develop their characters in the sequel, choosing from a selection of new hero powers instead of automatically building up the most-used skills. These new abilities are designed to give them a fighting chance against the sequel's more powerful enemies, which are directed by improved artificial intelligence. Many other favorite features from the original are reprised and enhanced in Dungeon Siege II as well. The pack mule is once again available, to help heroes haul their loot, but the party can also choose from other available support creatures, both magical and mundane, each offering distinct benefits.
The plot of Dungeon Siege II involves legends of an ancient time, when primordial magic was first unleashed in the world, through a deadly struggle between old, near-forgotten gods. Now it seems that an heir to these old gods is awakening, and soon may reclaim the errant magic of the world for itself, using it to destroy any who would stand in the way of its conquest. Storytelling elements are more prominent in the sequel, as player characters encounter lore-laden NPCs, important landmarks, and many other opportunities to learn about the culture and history of the fantasy world. However, the main focus of Dungeon Siege II remains on the efficient, fast-paced, hack-and-slash combat that won many fans for the original game.
Gas Powered Games head Chris Taylor is known for creating games that refine established playing styles while revolutionizing technical presentation. His work at Cavedog Entertainment was instrumental in producing Total Annihilation, generally considered to be the first fully 3D real-time strategy game, and Gas Powered Games' original Dungeon Siege placed familiar, Diablo-style isometric action role-playing in a 3D game world brought to life with graphics of an unrivaled quality for their time. Dungeon Siege II is intended to continue this custom. Along with the classically styled gameplay and new features it offers, the sequel runs on an advanced version of the game engine that's designed to produce contemporarily cutting-edge graphics and fluid, in-game cut scenes.
Dark mages, powerful heroes, and evil monsters. The stuff of fantasy. Literally, really, as a good portion of fantasy literature is made up of these things. Not that this is a bad thing; it can still be a good thing when done right. Gas Powered Games and Microsoft have teamed up again to create a good thing: Dungeon Siege II, the sequel to one of the best action-RPGs to date. The storyline may lack in originality, but the manner in which it's relayed more than makes up for it.
If you played the original Dungeon Siege, you'll find yourself in familiar territory here. Character creation is a simple matter of selecting your starting race, configuring physical features, and naming your character. You'll pick one of four races (dryads, elves, humans or half-giants), each with strengths and weaknesses, compensated for by focusing on one aspect of combat over another. The same four combat types from the original are available: melee, ranged, nature magic, and combat magic. The more you use a skill, the better you'll become at it. If you want to be a nature mage, simply use nature spells. Want to split your skills between nature and melee, use them equally. It's simple and very effective, but does have the downside of making you feel less involved in your character's leveling.
But the sequel adds something new: a skill tree system that lets you further specialize your character. Every time you raise a character level, you'll gain a point you can put toward your skills. For example, melee fighters might choose to go the dual-wielding route, or they might specialize in weapon and shield. If you split your time between combat magic and ranged attacks, you can also split your skill points. These new skills can give you powers, special super attacks that you use and then have to wait until they recharge. The new skill tree system adds more interactivity to the game without taking away from the fast pace and ease of entry.
Action-RPGs rely on two key elements: lots of monsters and lots of loot. The storylines tend to be simple, and actual role-playing elements tend to be limited to some minor interactions with NPCs and gaining levels. Fortunately, Gas Powered Games struck a good balance between the action and the role-playing of Dungeon Siege II. It's no Neverwinter Nights, but you can find lots of side quests alongside the primary storyline, and some of the quests require you to solve puzzles or riddles to complete them.
Much as with the original, Dungeon Siege II can occasionally be a little too easy, however. In the first 24 character levels, only one character of a party of four ever actually died, even when taking on creatures 10 levels higher than the party. You're limited to the first difficulty level (mercenary) until you've completed the game in its entirety. (As for the loot, you'll never lack for that from the get-go.)
One of the more beloved creatures of the original Dungeon Siege was the mule. He couldn't fight, but his inventory room more than made up for his little failings. If you wanted, you could go through the game with one character and nothing else but mules. Dungeon Siege II includes many more pets, some only available after completing quests, and the mule now more than holds his own in combat. One of the niftiest new features is the ability to feed your pet treasure so he can gain new abilities. It doesn't make much sense (why is your mule eating magical chainmail?), but it's neat to see your creature get stronger and bigger, and let's face it, money isn't much of a problem in games like this. Anyone who's played a MMORPG recognizes a money sink when they see one, but it's a fun one.
Another new feature is enchantable treasure. Sometimes you'll come across armor, weapons, jewelry, and spellbooks with the 'enchantable' feature. You'll also come across reagents. When you speak with an enchanter, you can mix and match reagents to enchant these pieces of gear to your liking for a fee. Sadly, it's rare to find enchantments or enchantable weapons that are actually better than your existing magic items, and you can't enchant just any piece of equipment. It's fun to play with, but not very useful.
If going through Dungeon Siege II with yourself and five of your closest computer bots isn't your thing, you can always try the game in multiplayer, though the story is the same as the single-player game. There are LAN and Internet options, with three modes of play: In classic mode, up to four players can play using only their main characters (no pets or NPCs); couples mode is three players with one main character and one pet or NPC; and party mode is two players with three total characters each.
While multiplayer is a fun way to go through the game, it's not without its flaws. For starters, you can't see other players on the mini-map unless they are nearby. No arrows or other markers indicate which way someone went, so the only way to figure out where the other players are is to click on the map tab of your journal, which doesn't always work as it should.
Another problem is that the first player to click on the quest is the only one who can actually read it. Everyone gains the quest and any quest items, and only one person needs to speak to the quest giver upon completion, but if someone else goes around picking up quests, you'll know nothing more about the story than what the quest log provides, unless they read the dialog to you.
The final problem with multiplayer is the lack of a way to set treasure dispersion, beyond sharing gold evenly. Quest rewards are given individually, and you can only see the quest rewards for your own party, but treasure in the field is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Someone quick on the Collect All button could easily take some of the best drops before you even knew they were there. It would've been nice to have the option to set various types of treasure division.
The graphics in Dungeon Siege II aren't much of an improvement over its predecessor, but this isn't really a bad thing. The original's graphics still hold up, and the only real problem is that there's so much stuff on the screen that it can be difficult to even find your characters, let alone the hordes of enemies coming at you. Even the desert areas are filled with shrubs, ruined buildings, boxes, crates, barrels, and more. You'll come to rely on the red dots on your mini-map just to keep track of what's going on in front of you. (A word about the mini-map: the blue dots on the screen indicate something you can interact with, such as a button, lever, or chest. Keep your eye out for these tiny blue pixels.)
If the graphics in Dungeon Siege II are good, the same can't be said for the sound. Music and sound effects are fine, but the voice acting leaves much to be desired. Some of it is decent, certainly bearable, but quite a few of the voice actors are just terrible.
Despite some of its problems, Dungeon Siege II is truly fun to play. The monsters come at you in waves, and it's still a simple thrill to watch your party cleave through them like a knife through butter. (Icky, bloody butter.) Using your powers to deliver an incredible super blow and watching gibs fly across the screen is always worth a giggle, and the sweet, sweet sound that means a set piece has dropped is pure music.
While it never strays too far from the standard action-RPG formula, Dungeon Siege II stands as one of the most solid games in its genre to date. An improved story, questing system, and plenty to do means that if you were a fan of the original and are in need of some good hacking and slashing, you should pick this one up.
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