(This is part of my journey going playing through 2002’s Dungeon Siege. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)
I needed a good, mindless palate cleanser after that super-long Chrono Trigger playthrough, and so a return to a very old favorite might just do the trick. Dungeon Siege came out in 2002 and offered a more streamlined, semi-autonomous Diablo ARPG-like experience. It was more focused on a party rather than an individual, letting the units fight by themselves while the player directs where they go, what gear they wear, and other high-level decisions. While I’ve played this many times in the past, I’ve never actually beaten it back in the day. So I bought a copy on Steam and decided that right here, right now, I would do just that.
While individual characters in this game aren’t that complex, there is some strategy in building them up. You see, they don’t have classes in Dungeon Siege; it’s skill-based instead. So if you want an archer, you just equip a bow and watch that skill go up as it is used. There’s really just melee, archery, combat magic, and nature magic, although there are some choices in weapons and spells in those. For my sole starting character, I’m going to train her up a bit in melee but mostly to make her an archer.
For a game that’s 18 years old, Dungeon Siege doesn’t actually look that bad. It’s 3D and does the best that it can for the graphics of that era. What’s much more important to me is that the camera control, UI interaction, and combat is smooth as silk. It handles really great, making me wish that some modern games had this kind of tight design.
The opening half-hour or so is easily the worst part of Dungeon Siege. With only one underpowered character, it’s just not that much fun to travel and fight. There’s a lot of downtime, saving, and fretting that your single character might get killed. I definitely wish they had started you with two characters from the get-go. It’s generally smart to just start as a melee character no matter what you want to become, otherwise this part becomes a slog.
Dungeon Siege is one of those games where its good parts are excellent but its bad parts invite a lot of criticism. You kind of just have to take it as it is, as a mixed bag. For example, the story is completely generic and forgettable (and the voice acting terrible), but the fact that this entire world is seamlessly connected is downright impressive. You can get right up to the final boss and run all the way back to the start of the game without any loading screens if you wanted to. Not that you would.
Happily, after the first dungeon I picked up my second party member, who I always make into a healer. Gotta have a healer in the group, right? Even better still, a third free party member (melee fighter) is right around the corner in the first town, as well as a pack mule that I can buy to help store all of this inventory I’m lugging around. I also paid 1050 gold to buy a fourth member to train up as a combat mage. Now’s I’ve got a party! This is when the game actually gets quite fun.
Probably the most important trait to develop while playing this game is patience. Mobs have a huge aggro radius, and by rushing ahead, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So it’s often a job of taking a few steps and then waiting to see what comes to you, rinse and repeat… at least in these opening hours.
Part of the seamless world is the fact that upstairs and downstairs are all connected, so transitioning from the outside to an underground dungeon is as simple as walking down some stairs. Here, the crew gears up for another dungeon delve, one room at a time. I desperately wish my front-line fighter was tougher and had better gear, but that’s only going to happen with time.
Dungeon Siege: In the name of the Syp
According to the official Dungeon Siege map — and boy do I remember this thing –I’m already heading into the fourth major area of the game. Making progress!
Make no mistake, this game may be simple but it’s not easy. These areas ramp up in intensity quickly, with gobs of different types of mobs coming at you fast. I’ve gotten in the habit of saving every time I go into a new room because of the frequency of wipes. At least I can pause at any time and swirl the camera around to take screenies and catch a breather.