Gas Powered Games inspirational debut...
Indulge me if you please in the following conceit. Let us imagine that computer games are a form of life. Let us not be topical in giving Creationism a look-in and rather think about the way in which evolution affects the development of life. Consider the methods used by organisms as they fight for survival in an increasingly competitive environment, adapting and innovating to become master of their niche. Shall we travel back to the beginning? First out of the primordial soup was Hack, a sturdy dungeon crawl whose simple looks hid a complex nucleus. After many years of slow, incremental change during the 8bit years Dungeon Master first made an appearance, taking the adventurer into the dungeons at eye-level. Many different variations on this beast were eventually followed by the giant leap forward heralded by Ultima Underworld. The beast had extended into three dimensions; another node in the ever-growing RPG tree had been reached. Over ten years later we can now see Dungeon Siege making its presence felt, drawing attention to itself with advanced visual powers. Augmented by its absorption of Diablo 2’s efficient interface this new animal is made all conquering by abandoning the older RPG tendencies towards rigidity in favour of a liberating versatility. Dungeon Siege is nothing like the shrew of early mammalian development; rather it is the equivalent of a cheetah, a wolf. Let’s delve deeper into its makeup and play with its furry ears for a while and find out why this game could very well be an emergent new species in the RPG tree of gaming. So what exactly is so special about this game that justifies such an indulgent introduction? For a start the character generation involves nothing more than choosing race and appearance. After that it’s on the in-engine intro cutscene. Rejoice, because that first loading screen will be your last (unless you have died and are re-starting). The intro opens up into the game proper and no matter where you go, whether it be exploring a forest, crawling through a sprawling dungeon or entering a new town or building you will be free of that screen which has been with us since the dawn of computer gaming. This achievement becomes all the more impressive when you come to realise the true scale of the world that has been created for you. I went into a mine to find a dwarf’s brother, thinking it would be a quick hunt, only to find myself being tormented by a giant rock monster three levels and three hours into the depths of the earth. The monsters I encountered during my travels were not just colourful and well animated but also showed a pleasing amount of variety, from kobold type cannon fodder through to dogs, scorpions, some weird two-headed thingy to a yeti, and then some. The graphics and visual effects deserve the next special mention. Right from the word go you are immersed in a rich, vibrant landscape, with swaying trees, sturdy crop fields, shorelines, towering keeps and cosy homesteads all lit by a dynamic day/night cycle. The ravages brought about by the baddies are shown in slaughtered peasants scattered about your path, overturned carts and burning buildings. The lights coming through the trees in a deep forest enchanting, the swirling lights of a healing temple awed. It is reminiscent of Ultima games with their attention to detail and lavishing atmosphere. The third person camera works wonderfully well, becoming a breeze to control very quickly, never hindering you in your attempt to bring justice to these lands. Combat in a forest or dungeon is never against the camera with trees and walls becoming transparent as needed, although sometimes it was a little too helpful by revealing enemies lurking around the next corner. This RPG places no restrictions on who fights in what way. All characters can wear armour, wield weapons and cast spells with a character's ability in doing an action being determined by how often they use it. As my party grew I began to specialise my characters, assigning magic to two members and front line hacking to another two. Yet no matter how little my priest would use a weapon she could still take out a staff and defend herself well just as my fighter could put away his axe to cast an acid-cloud on an approaching foe. This sheer versatility, this brave move to let the player decide exactly how they want their party to work is one of the strongest elements of the game. I loved it, as I did the inventory auto-arrange function, the pack mules you can buy to increase your carrying space and the absence of poison. All is not progress however, although most of the problems I encountered were probably due to the uncompleted nature of the game. Bugs such as losing money for no reason and random exceptions should be ironed out in the finished version. No, the only faults I could find I probably wouldn’t have noticed if the game as a whole hadn’t set itself such high standards. The larger map (which you can use to get about) just doesn’t zoom out enough to adequately portray the huge levels and the autosave is far too infrequent leading to too much repetition of the same areas. The level of fogging also seems somewhat extreme as it hinders your orientation and hides too much of the beautiful graphics for my liking. The largest problem is one common to all RPG and most shooters as well: a large group of monsters can usually be beaten by retreating round a corner to pick the baddies off in more managable numbers. This is one area where Gas Powered Games has not managed to evolve the RPG genre, but considering the amount they have done in all other areas they must leave themselves something to do for the sequel. All in all this is the best action RPG that I have ever played, making me happy just to be near such a lovingly produced game and enthralling me with its freshness and vigour. There are so many little touches in this game, so many well thought out enhancements and well implemented design decisions. I can’t wait to finish off this adventure when I get my hands on the completed project.