Dungeon Siege began in 2002 under Gas Powered Game's watch, largely keeping in the style of the Ultima series, and to a lesser degree Diablo. But this is Obsidian Entertainment's first crack at the franchise, and the new studio's focus has moved to other areas.
Depending on which genre you normally identify with, Dungeon Siege 3 is either a diet RPG for loot enthusiasts, or a refurbished dungeon crawler catering to RPG-lovers. On the surface it delivers a sustained rumination on what the world would look like had BioWare radial systems been implanted everywhere, regardless of genre. But underneath this is an ambitious attempt to add narrative substance to what's typically a single-minded lootfest.
Encounters with NPCs can trigger multiple cutscenes, while interaction with quest-givers results in branching dialogue trees, and sometimes these dialogues will have an effect on the plot itself. Occasionally you can decide the fate of bosses you've defeated, although generally speaking the chatter merely exists to add exposition. Compared to fantasy outings that throws themselves at narrative full-force, Dungeon Siege 3's aims are slightly lower, but it still develops a presence that distinguishes it from the line-up of the genre's usual suspects.
Still, it's not quite perfect. Even after years of modern fantasy games trying to develop a darker, moody twang, Dungeon Siege generally remains stoically dry.
A brief in-game history lesson explains the gist of Dungeon Siege's story: The Tenth Legion is in a right mess. The ancient army of legionnaires has been hunted down across the Kingdom of Ehb by Jeyne Kassynder, and all that remains are a few surviving offspring who have inherited the necessary genes for fighting reams of enemy scum.
This setup introduces you to the four playable Legion survivors, each with their particular abilities and set classes. Lucas is the classic sword-and-shield warrior class; Anjali has the ability to switch between melee-oriented human and ranged fire-based Archon forms; Katarina is a ranged shooter, specialising in rifles and handguns; and Reinhart is your mage. In single-player you will collect each of the remaining three as you work your way through the quests, choosing one as your AI sidekick - a sidekick who fights alongside you, resurrects you, and can be swapped for any of the other characters at any point.
Alternatively, four-player drop-in co-op means you can play as a sidekick. This brings up its own issue: it's brilliant fun for the person hosting the game, but multiplayer falters slightly thanks to its refusal to let the co-op partner bring their own pre-made character into the game. There's no added incentive them in co-op at all beyond a few Achievements or Trophies.
But if you can find a selfless friend the game's combat system is likely enough to hold their attention, as this is where Dungeon Siege finally finds its footing. Each character gets two attack stances that you're encouraged to switch between, at no cost. Console controllers in particular are tailored for it: in Lucas' case, hitting the left shoulder button instantly switches you from attacks tailored for one-on-one combat, to those that deal slightly less damage across groups of enemies. Anjali, on the other hand, switches between melee and ranged crowd control.
It's a surprisingly elegant system, and kind regards go to Obsidian's minimalist approach to the usual complexities of combat. Dungeon Siege 3 offers characters 9 upgradeable abilities to use, on top of a resurrection spell and basic dodge ability. Additionally there are 10 upgradeable talents, which means the skill tree you'll be frequenting looks relatively meek - it's nothing near as robust as anything you saw in Torchlight, and at times puts min/maxers at risk of feeling overlooked - but it's a one of the more manageable alternatives you'll find within the genre.
Generally speaking the game is designed to simply let you get on with it. The lack of loading screens means you can continuously chug through a 10-12 hour game without the usual stop-and-start pausing at static screens, like you're being bullied by a traffic warden.
A Transmuting system is available alongside your inventory menu, allowing you to turn inventory clutter immediately into gold without having to backtrack to one of the local city hubs. It's an accommodating system that shaves some of the classic annoyances out of the dungeon crawler.
When the likes of Torchlight and even Deathspank are offering the crawler experience for a fraction of Dungeon Siege's price, you need to wonder what the incentive is to lighten your wallet. But the trade-off is a level of craftsmanship. Dungeon Siege 3 is noticeably pricier - it currently edges around the £30 mark - but it's a modernised take on dungeon crawling that brings a few new ideas to the series.