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  Preview: Dungeon Siege - Legends of Aranna
On 10/24/03 by James 'Sweetjimmy' Long

Developer: Gas Powered Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: PC
ESRB: Teen
Release Date: Fall 2003

Dungeon History 101
When the original Dungeon Siege hit shelves it was met with a wide range of positive and negative criticisms. Throughout its development, the title never suffered from a lack of advertising or hype. Three of its bigger selling points were the lack of load times, easy mod-ability, and excellent graphics.

For the folks that missed Dungeon Siege (DS), allow me to go through some of its strong and weak points (in case you�re wondering, Legends of Aranna is the expansion pack for Dungeon Siege and in many ways plays exactly like its predecessor). DS was definitely more of a hack-n-slash dungeon crawl than it was a
:: Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna ::
:: Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna ::
:: Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna ::
roleplaying game. While Diablo 2 has shown us that mindless clicking can be fun, DS attempted to move us beyond the point where Blizzard left us. After hearing reviews for DS, I expected a 3D Diablo-type game where you could have an entire party. This guess wasn�t too far off, but there were a few glaring problems in DS�s formula.

First and foremost, there was only 4 types of core characters to create, making for a very limited range of customization. Fighter, archer, combat magic, and nature magic were really the only specializations. While you could easily cross train your character in multiple specializations, it was bothersome and not always beneficial to do so. Who needs a fighter/archer when you can have one of each in your party, for instance?

From what I understand, Gas Powered was attempting to create a party-based game like Diablo 2 with more depth and strategy figured into the mix. Unfortunately, at times DS ended up being more of a potion-drinking simulator than an RPG. With enough potions, there was little you couldn�t accomplish. All it took was a simple press of the �H� key, and anyone in your party that had less than 50% of his/her health would quaff a sip of red goo and be as good as new. In addition to that, you never wasted ANY potion because the injured hero only drank enough to heal up. If your character didn�t require an entire potion to heal up he automatically saved the rest of that potion for when he�d really need it (generally 2.4 seconds later).

The true problem came about halfway into the game when you could no longer rely on the old �drink potions until everything is dead� strategy. Luckily, by this time your wizard was probably powerful enough to cast the �Healing Winds� spell that gradually healed everyone in your party. This made for a very unexciting game.

On the brighter side, DS introduced us to gigantic maps that required zero load time. Transitioning from the outdoors to the deepest dungeon was, as my pappy would put it: slicker than snot on a doorknob. Also, DS was graced with a wonderful musical score thanks to the legendary Jeremy Soule. In its day, the graphical engine running DS was actually quite nice to look at. The production value of DS was downright obvious even from the opening screen.

Unfortunately, almost every good thing in DS ended up being overshadowed by a few paltry game-play aspects.

Dungeon Siege: New and Improved
Here we are almost two years later and Gas Powered is releasing a brand spanking new expansion disk for DS. �Legends of Aranna�, due out this autumn, boasts hundreds of new weapons, new enemies, spells, races, and a fresh singleplayer or multiplayer campaign.
:: Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna ::
:: Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna ::
:: Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna ::
Legends of Aranna (LoA) will also come with the original Dungeon Siege game and an added bonus: you will be able to play the Kingdom of Ehb campaign in multiplayer cooperative mode. I suppose I shouldn�t leave out that the LoA campaign can be played both in singleplayer or multiplayer modes, too.

If you liked the first DS there is no doubt in my mind that you�ll enjoy LoA. Judging by the late beta I�ve been playing, the game will improve on just about everything the original did. The story is much more interesting and involving. The characters have more personality. The new weapons are infinitely cooler than the old stuff. LoA also takes some cues from Diablo 2 by including set items. If you are tenacious enough to find the entire set you�ll be blessed with cool bonuses.

Another new feature that has been added here is the inclusion of a world map. By hitting shift+tab, up will come a full screen map that shows you where you�ve been. This might not sound too important, but it really gives you some sense of scale while playing the game. The levels of LoA are very well put together. The first DS felt at times like it was on rails and you could only go forward or backward. LoA doesn�t entirely do away with that limitation, but the levels feel more open and expansive at least. The dungeons have extra rooms where you can get turned around or discover treasure. There are actually places now where you have to pay close attention or else you could miss a secret door hiding magical items and booty. The difficulty level feels more rigid, too. I actually died no more than 2 hours into the campaign. That was something that didn�t happen to me in the first DS until I hit the goblin warrens.

The graphics in LoA are no different from DS. Don�t expect anything more that what Gas Powered gave us the first time around and you won�t be disappointed. While the backgrounds are all nicely done, the characters in the game suffer from pretty low-resolution textures and ho-hum modeling. Lower level spell effects especially fail to impress.

I like to graphically compare DS and Neverwinter Nights (NWN) for three reasons:
  • Both games came out within months of each other
  • Both are considered good computer RPG�s.
  • Almost every PC gamer out there has played at least one of the two.
Visually, both titles excel in certain areas while they suffer horribly in others. Armor, weapons, and player characters in NWN are superior to those of DS but DS�s environments are infinitely richer in atmosphere due to the fact that the campaign wasn�t made from a cookie-cutter editing program. NWN�s textures and particle effects eat DS alive, but the fact that there are no loading screens in DS while roaming around the world is hard to beat. DS has NWN licked when it comes to maps and terrain. Lastly, the enemies in DS and DS:LoA look better than those in NWN.

Potential Troubles
What may keep LoA from being a great title is its hectic pace. If there were fewer, stronger enemies, you could almost pass LoA off as a strategic RPG. While in combat you are able to pause at any given time to give orders just as you could in the late, great Baldur�s Gate series (I�m talking about the PC version, not the wiener console variation). One would think that this would add a whole new level of strategic playing, but it somehow fails to. There is a constant stream of enemies coming at you all of the time. Taking time to pause, assign attackers to different creatures, and swap spells ends up getting old in a hurry�especially when highlighting your entire entourage and assigning them to attack enemies one at a time is just as effective.

You�re able to have quite a large party (mine had gotten up to 7 characters) but there are a few problems this introduces. The more characters you have to interface with, the less you really can focus on your main character. There�s nothing I like more in a game than having a strong lead character to play the role of. In any RPG it�s of dire importance to play as somebody that stands out from the crowd but LoA, at this point, does not offer that. Your main character can be whatever you want him/her to be, but so can all of the other characters you adopt into your party.

The character progression system in LoA is, for lack of a better term, squishy. There are no classes to choose from and no definite specializations to give the characters a sense of individuality. The premise is simple: the more you use a sword, the better you get with it. The more you cast spells, the better you get with them. The more you fight, the stronger you get and the stronger you get the better equipment you�ll be able to use. Skin color and gender are the only insurmountable differences between the player characters (and they are merely graphical differences). One last thing folks might have a hard time with: characters� abilities are not affected by race. A male half-giant starts out just as strong as a female human.

Even so, the dungeon crawling and treasure hunting in LoA should provide many hours of fun. Another plus is the easy-does-it cooperative gameplay. DS was one of the only computer games my wife and I liked to play our home LAN and I can�t imagine LoA will be any different in that respect. This title doesn�t require a monster rig to play and possesses a decent amount of hack-n-slash spirit. If you ever feel the need to take a break from teeth-clenching, high-octane games, perhaps you can give LoA a try.

As I said before, there is nothing in the original DS that Legends of Aranna won�t improve upon. I understand that not everyone is going to agree with my criticisms about the original. It�s easy to see that DS has a sizable community and if you�re part of that fanbase, you will not regret picking up this expansion once it�s available. However, if you didn�t care for DS the first time it was up to bat don�t expect anything magical to happen when LoA goes up for sale this fall.
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#1 - nemarsde - 10/24/03 @ 09:10 AM EST
Well, sweetjimmy, you outdid yourself this time. Perfect review IMO, covered everything I wanted to know, even down to the different races/attribute score bonuses.

Thanks. And I shall be linking to this review in, I think a lot of gamers there will find this very interesting and informative.
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#2 - sweetjimmy - 10/24/03 @ 09:25 AM EST
glad you liked it!
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#3 - Disintegration - 10/24/03 @ 09:56 AM EST
Yeah, very interesting. I reckon i'll buy it based on this.
#4 - Anon@ - 10/24/03 @ 11:30 AM EST
I'm a DS addict (even after three years) good review but a little too much critiscism.
You're not advising people to buy it or so...
(while thats what you should do.)

/ I can guarantee that once you've played the game (SP) and you've uploaded your character (MP) everybody will love it!

greetz, alligate
#5 - sweetjimmy - 10/24/03 @ 11:41 AM EST
#6 - Anon@ - 10/24/03 @ 11:48 AM EST
Ni/na seems to be as bad as I feared it would be and as such I will not be buying it. Seems like a perfectly good waste of Chris Taylor's talent to be working on trash like this when we'd all be better off with a sequel to Total Annihilation or a game much like it.

Now that game had DEPTH.
#7 - Anon@ - 10/24/03 @ 12:34 PM EST
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#8 - sweetjimmy - 10/24/03 @ 12:39 PM EST
thanks for stopping by, Exitium.
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#9 - Anon@ - 10/24/03 @ 03:05 PM EST
Hi, more info on PCGAMES. Very good page. Thx, Tom.
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#10 - Scrote - 10/25/03 @ 12:51 PM EST
Great review, very nicely done Mr. Jimmy Hat. It's rare to read something that can put a new game into perspective the way you did here. I wasn't planning on getting LoA anyways, but was curious what it'd be like. Now I know, and still won't get it, I had quite a lot of issues with DS and it seems that they haven't changed the core gameplay.

I realize a lot of people went ga-ga over DS and to some it would be heresy to criticize it but they need to face the facts that some people just don't enjoy that mindless click-click glug-glug gameplay.

Very nice review, I'm well impressed.

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#11 - sweetjimmy - 10/25/03 @ 12:55 PM EST
muchos gracias, scrote. Now for your oral sex...
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#12 - Houdini - 10/26/03 @ 12:50 PM EST
i liked the game, it was fast enoughed paced, had tons of weps/monsters .. the lands/dungeons were very well done.
i was a little simple to play, but i liked it for that reason.

i tried to get into Diablo2.. but i couldnt, i got into this game instead.

but yes.. i wished there was a Total Annhilation part 2 :(
#13 - Anon@ - 10/26/03 @ 04:38 PM EST
You all suck monkey balls!!!!!!

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