The time is drawing nigh for us to once again return to the beautiful, if not chaotic, world of Aranna in Dungeon Siege II, the successor to one of 2001's top-selling action RPGs. DSII is the hack and slash, action role-playing game from Chris Taylor, the creator of the critically acclaimed Total Annihilation. The player takes the role of a mercenary during a time of civil war, and it doesn't take long before you're thrust into the front lines, dicing up enemies and causing general disarray. The game sticks with the type of gameplay found in hack and slashers like Diablo and Baldur's Gate, but in Dungeon Siege II the game engine has been tweaked and the art style has taken a slightly different path.
There are four different races to choose from, including elf, dryad, half-giant, and human. As you may have guessed, each race comes with its own unique strengths and advantages. This time around, the game features an intuitive character development system that lets you choose your skill path across four main disciplines. These disciplines include melee and nature magic, which adds a tremendous amount of replay value and variety in the game. Also, there is a great deal more customization options in DSII than in the previous game. The distinctive skill system lets you really create the type of fighter you want. Massive amounts of weapons, armor and in-game items will also ensure a very distinct look-and-feel for your character as well.
A nice touch is the inclusion of party formations. For example, when you leap into a forest chock full of baddies, you can either set your formation to rampage, which will let every party member chase and attack enemies at will, a guard formation, which has your party members gathering around you, or mirror formation, which orders your entire party to attack the same enemy together. The latter formation is of course extremely helpful in boss fights. There is also the regroup party command, which brings all of your current party members back to you after they've been scattered, and the disband member command, which opens a new slot in your team for newcomers to join your cause by kicking someone else out.
One of the more unique twists in Dungeon Siege II is the addition of pets. There are nine pets that can join your party, including elementals, giant scorpions, mules, and a lap dragon. The neat thing about having pets is you can feed your pets excess inventory, and they will adapt and grow around whatever you're feeding it the most. For example, if you feed your dragon lots of armor, your dragon will consequentially develop a strong, hefty skin. Also, your pet gains levels and hit points just like you, so you don't have to worry about being level fifty with a pet that dies from a couple of blows from a weaker enemy.
On the gripe side, one of the things I find rather annoying is the combat system. Once you left-click on an enemy to attack them, you're required to hold down that button until the enemy dies. This affects your attack strategy. You'll constantly be following enemies around trying to get a good lock on them rather than leaving your party member to automatically attack, which would then give you time to manage other members of your party. I suppose it beats clicking your mouse button every time you want to make a hit, but some work in this area to include an auto-attack feature would be welcome.
Another element that left me feeling less than satisfied was the inconsistent graphics. Some areas were absolutely magnificent to behold, while others were extremely insipid with washed out colors and were just plain uninteresting. Let's hope Gas Powered Games addresses this concern by launch.
As it stands though, Dungeon Siege II, despite its few flaws - which are expected in a preview build - is pretty much ready to go. With a few minor tweaks here and there and some normal wrinkles to iron out, it's looking and playing extremely well. Gas Powered Games has taken the original Dungeon Siege and have added some fantastic new features that should bode well with both first timers and seasoned veterans alike.