Nostalgia Lane: Dungeon Siege

dsIf an RPG plays itself, is it an RPG at all?  Or a game?

That’s the odd question that I had to struggle with when I first got into Dungeon Siege in 2002.  As I recall, it was a fairly anticipated title from Gas Powered Games that claimed to have innovative ideas for the action-RPG genre.

You start out as a farmer whose village comes under attack, kicking off a tour of well-worn fantasy tropes that will continue through your linear tour of the world.  So you pick up a weapon and go fighting, and depending on the weapon you use, you get better with it.  You eventually find party members and recruit them.  You can even get a mule to carry your junk.

But the weird thing is that while Diablo was a mouse-click-fest, Dungeon Siege was almost the opposite — an action-RPG on auto-pilot.  You see, your party just auto-attacks as  you progress, leaving you with very little to do unless you want to micromanage movement or skills while the game is paused (and there’s little reason to do that).  And because you’re pretty much locked into a development path per character, there isn’t much in terms of character choice and diversity.

So your job was… to move the party.  You move them near bad guys, they fight, you hit a button to vacuum up all of the loot, and you move some more.  I’ll admit that there was a relaxing bit of fun to it all, but it wasn’t long-lasting.  I never finished the campaign because I got bored long before I neared the end.  And I never picked up the sequels, either.

I look back at Dungeon Siege as an interesting experiment in how fun a game can be when you take control away from the player and automate it.  Sometimes that can be a hoot, as in Majesty, but I believe you need to still give the player agency and choice.  Movement wasn’t enough for me.

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3 thoughts on “Nostalgia Lane: Dungeon Siege

  1. Majesty– now there was a great game with some interesting puzzles. A really innovative bit of design in its day. The narrator has a brilliant fake Sean Connery voice as well if memory serves. Damn, now you’ve made me want to go off and dig up my old copy of it.

  2. Oh, man, I loved the original Dungeon Siege! Sure, it was a little mindless, but it was so refreshing to play an RPG that just let you play how you want and focus on the action without subjecting you to overcomplicated skill trees or pointless grinding. Plus the graphics were gorgeous (for the time), the story was great in a corny old-school fantasy kind of way, and the music had a great heroic feel.

    It’s not really fair to say all you did was move, either. You had to program your squad AI correctly, you had to manage who got what loot, you had to fight yourself, you had to guzzle potions. If you were a caster, there was the potential to be summoning minions, maintaining buffs, or healing the party, too. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t an extremely simple game, but it definitely wasn’t total auto-pilot either.

    I tried the demo for DS2, but it was too much a left turn in terms of plot, and the attempt to add complexity to the combat only further highlighted how basic it was. I loved DS3, though, and I think it’s a criminally underrated game. It changed a lot, and I missed the freeform character progression, but some of the characters/classes were absurdly fun, the combat was really visceral and addictive, the graphics were stellar, and the story was far deeper than I would have expected.

  3. Ugh Dungeon Siege. Unfortunately it was an annoying experience for me since I hit the “you can’t get rid of anything from your inventory” bug midway and didn’t have a far enough save to evade it so basically I just gave up instead of starting from scratch. :P

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