Dungeon Siege II Preview
Dungeon Siege to me represented an epic journey through vast, beautiful landscapes (with no loading times), having to fight all manner of exotic foes and in the process growing from a lowly farm boy into the master of all I could get my hands on. I can happily report that Dungeon Siege 2 does not change this winning formula.
The preview version that I got my hands on consisted of the first 6 hours of the game and despite a few known glitches (minor quests not working etc) which are being sorted out at the moment, I had an incredible time playing it.
The pre-game customisation of your lead character (the person who is you unlike the other characters which you can get to join or leave your party) is adequate. You get to choose from 4 races, the magical (both nature and combat) elves, the ranged (+ nature magic) orientated dryads, half-giants who specialise in brute strength and humans who are fairly flexible (note that there are many more minor race differences) If you have a clear idea of what kind of discipline you want to follow, then you can get a minor boost from picking the race that is most suited to the discipline but in the long run, you can master any discipline with any race. There are a few different skin/hair colour and hair style options but to be honest I would have liked to see more customisation as I really didnt feel I had much freedom in deciding how my character looked. In the end, I settled for Vaug a dark grey elf who I decided would become a master of combat magic.
The tutorial/first part of the game does a masterful job of teaching a player as much or as little as they want to know about the game mechanics while also starting the story and providing some background information (Im not going to spoil the surprise of what it is). My only (minor) grievance with it was that after spending some time going around picking up items (in the hope of selling them) and levelling up both of the characters I controlled, I found out that after the tutorial, all my items/gold and one of the 2 characters is taken away from me. A small note at the beginning advising me to concentrate on Vaug (my lead character) instead of sharing the XP between two characters would have been appreciated.
One of the major additions to the game is the speciality system which allows you to really focus your characters skills. Within each of the four disciplines (ranged, combat magic, nature magic and melee), there are numerous specialities that you can spend skill points on. I chose to spend my first few skill points for Vaug on a specialty which increased his mana maximum (the first skill point increased it by 10%, the 2nd by 15% etc), I then put some into making all his combat spells do more damage as Vaug levelled up, more specialities became possible I decided to make Vaug an amazing fire wizard by opting to have increased damage bonuses on all fire spells. This greatly increases the role playing opportunities and also means that a ranged character no longer needs to be the same as another ranged character instead it is possible to guide their skills into completely different areas one ranged unit may be an ace at throwing axes and dodging enemy attacks whereas another might be a superb archer who is able to inflict critical hits on enemies a lot of the time.
Specialities may also grant you special powers which you can use every now and again in combat to help turn the tide or press your advantage. These powers, as well as being extremely varied, grow in strength depending on what you spend your skill points. By choosing the speciality that increased Vaugs fire spells, I gained a power that would send a wave of fire shooting in front of me and causing heavy damage. (The speed at which your powers recharge depends on the number of enemies you kill)
I absolutely loved the new pet system whereas before you could only choose a donkey, now there are a whole host of different pets that you can have each with their own unique set of powers. I brought myself an ice elemental and was enchanted to see this tiny little collection of ice shards scamper along to join me about the size of my foot, although still capable of throwing a nasty ice ball. A pet takes up a party slot and like a normal party member, will gain experience and levels by killing things. However, the most enchanting thing about the pets is that they grow as you feed them! Like portable dustbins, they will eat any item you want them to (they are also capable of carrying things) and they will mature more upon eating a certain amount, they will increase in size and maybe gain new attacks/powers! I didnt have my Ice Elemental for long but by the time I finished the preview, he was about half my size, looking a lot scarier and now capable of sending out icy waves to freeze people around him. Personally, I had a lot more fun with the pet than I did with the actual people!
Like the first game, there are an incredible number of items available for your raiding band of heroes to collect (or to feed to your ice elemental in my case) I really liked the sets of armour that you could collect not only special when worn individually but when you had more of the same set of armour, you would gain extra bonuses. There are also various scraps of bone/diamond/hide etc to be found which you can use to enchant certain items and so it is possible to create a deadly sword which doesnt need any melee skill to wield, merely by putting a lot of enchantments on it.
On my journey through a town high up in the trees, dense forests and dark caves, I was amazed at the number of side quests that are available to people should they wish to accept them and the quest book makes it so easy to keep track of your achievements and tasks. It becomes apparent that you will be returning to locations throughout the game as your skills increase. I came across a number of ghosts on my travels but I was unable to speak to them instead I was told I would need to visit a necromancer in a human town far away. I also met a blacksmith whose anvil had been stolen by some horrific monsters who were level 22 (when I was about level 12) and after attempting to kill one of them and having my entire party wiped out I decided that it would be best to return later. The system of teleporters makes it easy to revisit areas as well as enabling you to return to the last town to sell items while in the middle of the wilderness.
The minimap does a great job of guiding you through the lands with different coloured stars representing different kinds of quests, an arrow to point you in the direction of your next objective (although this can sometimes be misleading) and an outline of the land which make sure that you dont miss the bonus areas which normally hold some great items
No preview could be complete without mentioning the graphics in Dungeon Siege 2 although screenshots do a far better job of describing the games great looks! There are however a few things that I feel deserve special mention: waterfalls and rivers are a particular favourite of mine due to their sheer realism which really helps pull you into the game. Also, magic spells look devastating and fantastic and really make you feel powerful!
Although there is so much more I could talk about Im going to draw this preview to a close, Im replaying the preview with a single (soon to be) Master Archer and I want to nail some more monsters!
Dungeon Siege 2 appears to have all the pieces that made the original a must have any fans of the original will love this game and hopefully it should attract a lot of new fans as well. There were quite a few game play and missing content issues in the preview copy but most of them were acknowledged at the beginning of the preview and I have every confidence that they will be completely sorted by the time the game goes gold (hell, I had a great time even with these issues!)
Certainly a game to look forward to (I know I am) start polishing your blade, restringing your bow and rememorizing those fireball spells now!