Square-Enix are branching out of late. In fact, ever since the company formed they've rather enjoyed surprising people. No longer are Square simply 'the guys that do Final Fantasy' they're trying new things, entering into publishing contracts in new areas, and now, for the very first time, they're about to release their first Western RPG.
Not that they're developing it in-house, no that role is going to Obsidian, a name that RPG fans should certainly be familiar with as the studio behind Neverwinter Nights, KOTOR 2 and, of course more recently, Fallout: New Vegas. It's the first collaboration between the two RPG factions and they're pretty sure that they've managed to work together, using Gas Powered Games for consultancy purposes, to produce a game that will stay faithful to the series' action-RPG roots whilst also incorporating some rather interesting new elements as a result of bringing the series to home consoles.
The demonstration we were shown used the Xbox 360, showcasing the Guardian class, one of six unique playable classes that will all have different styles, different moves and abilities and slightly different stories. Sounds a bit like a certain BioWare RPG involving origin stories and dragons? Yeah, I thought that too. If you've been following Dragon Age Dungeon Siege since inception, you'll know all about the disgraced 10th Legion. Well, a century on, they're attempting to restore some of their former prestige, and you're right at the forefront of it all.
The Guardian hero, as with all of the other classes, had two stances, swappable with a single click. His one-handed sword and shield stance was useful for taking on enemies one at a time, with the two-handed stance far more effective at dispatching large crowds of enemies. Moreover, once he'd picked up a companion, a second player could drop in and out locally just by pressing 'Start'. As previously stated, with combat abilities mapped to the face buttons, engaging enemies appeared to be a quick and easy with much in common with hack'n'slash action titles for more immediacy.
With the shield equipped and brought up, defensive abilities became available, again for simultaneous use and all of the attacks were tiered,making for careful choices when levelling up. A simple spear attack demonstrated early on became a multiple-foe engine of death when upgraded, bouncing around from enemy to enemy in rapid succession until everyone was dead. If it all got a bit too much, one of the demonstrators had a mortality issue, we got a chance to witness the revival system – comparable to that in Left 4 Dead – in action. Simply clear some space, go over to your downed companion and restore them with the press of a button.
Obviously, though, Dungeon Age has always been about exploration and amassing large amounts of loot as much as the combat, and the demo didn't disappoint. Items are often class specific, as you'd expect, but they're also colour coded and display their monetary value as you draw closer on consoles to make up for the loss of a mouse and immediate data.
The game world is touted as being enormous, with plenty of side quests and interesting nooks and crannies to explore and pillage as the player sees fit, but navigation is made easier thanks to The Causeway, an interlinking hub built by the 10th Legion that serves as a fast travel system you'll occasionally have to clear of the odd beasty.
Narrative choice, it would seem, plays a large part in the game too, with dialogue trees offering different avenues of conversation that we were informed would indeed have an impact on the game later on. For example, a village being attacked by an outside force yielded a scenario where the player had to decide with which faction to ally themselves, something that would inevitably influence whether or not the town remained the same and praised the hero as a saviour, or got razed to the ground.
Obsidian's desire is to make this far more of a personal experience by focusing in on the hero a little bit more than in previous games and, to be honest, I think it could certainly work. Dragon Age: Origins proved that you could have an interesting party whilst still maintaining a narrative focus on an unchangeable player character and Dragon Siege is looking to do something similar – keeping in the blood, guts and subterranean thievery of course.
With immediate local multiplayer down, we asked about the possibilities for online multiplayer but were politely told each time that this was something they were unable to talk about. However, the 'Find Game' option on the game's main menu screen – a feature that apparently no-one who'd sat through the demo previously had spotted – suggests that it could well become a possibility. Obsidian weren't prepared to confirm that though and looked nervously at the SqE reps present.
As it stands Dungeon Siege III is shaping up pretty nicely. The Onyx engine looks great, Obsidian's first proprietary game engine and stuffed with dynamic lighting, ragdoll physics, particle systems and grand sweeping vistas, and the gameplay looks up to scratch too. I'd have loved to have gotten hands-on but unfortunately that wasn't possible, although the co-op potential is very attractive indeed. It's coming out in 2011, although Obsidian remained tight-lipped about precisely when, and it'll certainly be one to watch.