Xbox 360 Preview

Dungeon Siege 3

Siege Mentality

Obsidian Entertainment occupy an odd position in the world of videogame development. With only one bash at creating something from scratch (the mediocre Alpha Protocol), they've instead built their reputation by working on sequels to other studio's games.

Fallout: New Vegas, Neverwinter Nights 2 and Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic 2 all fit the mould as Obsidian-developed follow-ups to revered source material. And they're decent too, their frequent bugs largely overshadowed by solid design and widely praised storytelling.

With this in mind it should probably come as little surprise to see Obsidian's name attached to the latest in Gas Powered Games' Dungeon Siege series. With a bit of guidance from creator Chris Taylor, they'll be looking to cement their reputation, while hopefully banishing the oft-seen stale whiff of rushed development.

Oh, and there's the small matter of bringing the series to consoles for the first time too. Thanks to Torchlight XBLA's great sales and Blizzards continued reluctance to announce a console version of Diablo 3, there just may be a big market for a full-size, console hack 'n slash 'n looter.

The action returns us once more to the Kingdom of Ehb, some time after the conclusion of Dungeon Siege 2. You are a member of the 10th Legion, an army of warriors all but wiped-out by the megalomaniacal Jeyne Kassynder. Taking control of one of four characters, it's your job to rebuild the army and claim Ehb back from Kassynder's evil clutches.

The four characters each belong to a class. Lucas Montbarron is a sword and shield-wielding Guardian, Anjali is a fire-casting Archron, Reinhart Manx is a Legion Mage and Katarina is a rifle-toting Lescanzi Witch. Unlike previous entries to the series, this time around you can only control one warrior at a time.

Adding a little depth to the combat is the Stance System, allowing you to jump between weapons and attack types. So, for example, in one stance Anjali is capable of swatting around with her staff, while the other sees her erupt into flames to dish out fire-y death. Montbarron, meanwhile, can either wield a shield and sword in each hand, or use both to swing a huge double-handed blade.

Each stance has it's own strengths and weaknesses, necessitating that you switch regularly between them. Playing as Anjali, you'll find the staff stance better for close-combat, while the fire stance is preferable for ranged attacks. There is a little overlap between the two, the fire stance allows Anjali to ignite a circle of flame on the ground for example, but that's the general pattern.

Similarly, Montbarron's sword and shield stance is better at short range, while the double-handed blade stance allows him to swing around, slicing through enemies in a wider, longer arc.

The enemies you'll be vanquishing with these moves are the standard fantasy fare. You can't move for orcs and spiders and knights. Dungeon Siege 3 certainly wont win any awards for imagination in this regard. This is reflected in the settings too, which are similarly carved from familiar sources.

However, that's not to say it isnt pretty. What Dungeon Siege 3's environments lack in inspiration, they more than make up for in style. Majestic castles give way to rocky valleys and deep green forests in quick succession, all featuring some lovely lighting and detailing. Such variety bodes well for an adventure that looks set to offer a sizeable chunk of gameplay.

When you are not wading your way through battle, you'll be nattering away with NPCs as the story of the fallen Legion's battle comes together. These are navigated with the use of Bioware-esque conversation trees, allowing you to pick from a variety of responses with which to glean potentially crucial nuggets of information.

You won't have much fun listening to it all, mind. The vocal work in Dungeon Siege 3 is pedestrian in some places and just plain terrible in others. Anjali in particular is awful. Her wooden, expressionless intonation is perhaps an attempt to convey her other-worldliness, but instead just comes across like a female Stephen Hawking. It's a pity.

Still, you don't play dungeon crawlers for the sparkling conversation. Loot is the real draw here, and while DS2's loot mule may be notably absent (the previous game had a donkey you could load up with goodies), Dungeon Siege 3 has swords and armour and staffs and shields coming out of its ears.

Littered around the environment, each of these has their own stats, unique abilities and quirky names for you to pick from. The inventory system you'll be using to size-up their relative merits is easy to understand and navigate. Highlight a particular item and it will immediately compare its stats to whatever else you are looking at. Its ease of use puts many of its contemporaries to shame.

So despite clearly needing work in some areas, Dungeon Siege 3 looks like it might just fit the bill for dungeon crawler-starved console fans. Its simple, yet pleasingly nuanced combat and potentially epic storyline looks to offer hours of loot-comparing fun. Of course it's too early to say whether Obsidian will shrug off their buggy reputation, but from what's been shown so far the prospects are good. We'll know for sure next month.