Dungeon Siege & Legends of Aranna Review

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Have you ever gotten into a game before even playing it? I have and Dungeon Siege is one of those games. It’s been out for years but recently, I really got the urge to play it and started looking up all kinds of information related to it. I’ve heard of it before but always stayed away because I’m terrible at party-based RPG’s. My experiences with the Dungeons & Dragons games like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights have not been good and made me realize I would probably get a lot of people killed if I had to be a leader of some sort. Regardless, I’ve also heard Dungeon Siege is more of an action RPG, similar to Diablo and that’s what why I always kept it on my radar. Developed by Gas Powered Games and published by Microsoft, Dungeon Siege was released for PC in April, 2002. This is available on Steam but I actually acquired the retail version, specifically the Legends of Aranna version. Legends of Aranna is an expansion pack developed by Mad Doc Software and was released in November, 2003. The original game is included with the boxed version of the expansion I purchased and as far as I know, that’s the only way to acquire the expansion as of this review. I got my copy on eBay and it even came with this cool Dungeon Siege comic book. I’m pretty sure there’s a way to get the expansion working with the Steam version, based on a guide I saw in the game’s Steam community, but I just installed everything right from the discs because it was more convenient. This review will cover both the base game and the expansion. I think Dungeon Siege was praised when it came out but in recent times it seems to receive mixed reception. But it was popular enough to spawn two sequels and even three movies.

The story in Dungeon Siege takes place in the Kingdom of Ehb which is a region on the continent of Aranna. You play as a farmer and the story opens with your farming village being attacked by creatures known as the Krug. You soon learn the Krug are invading all over the land and this invasion is actually part of a larger invasion by the Seck, some kind of evil race. The story in Legends of Aranna is different, yet very similar. Once again you play as a farmer and this time your character is called upon by the Mayor of the town of Arhok to clear out the supply caves of monsters. You learn that a monster has stolen the Staff of Stars which apparently is very bad. Let’s just say the main antagonist of this story is called the Shadowjumper and that’s all I really know. Oh, and there’s also a clock that controls the seasons or something. The stories here are quite terrible and really failed to hold my interest. I’ve read that the story in the base game was an afterthought and was basically written to accommodate the level design and set pieces. I have no idea if that’s true but it sure feels like it. However, Dungeon Siege does convey a great atmosphere, at least I think so. As I was playing, I really felt like I was on an adventure, on a quest to defeat evil. Everything from the typical fantasy-inspired environments to the bestiary just gives off this really cool atmosphere that’s hard to describe. The voice acting across the board is terrible. You’ll meet several characters on your journey that can actually be recruited to join your party and they usually tell you a brief story upon meeting them but, ultimately, they lack personality and considering how the leveling and skill system work in this game, there’s no reason to favor one character over another, including your own. In Legends of Aranna, your party members are a bit more vocal and will say random things when you click on something but in the end, they’re no more or less interesting than the characters in the base game. I also want to mention that it took me about twenty hours to complete the base game and about fourteen to complete the expansion.

Before setting off on your journey in the base game or expansion, you must first create your hero. The character customization options are very basic. You can choose the gender, hair type, hair color, the style of your hero’s shirt and pants, before finally naming your hero. Afterwards, you choose the difficulty – Easy, Normal, or Hard, and then it’s time to set off to vanquish evil. For some reason, you can not carry over your character from the base game into the expansion. Both campaigns are designed for the player to start fresh with a new character. Dungeon Siege is played from the isometric perspective but you can move the camera around to view the action from better angles. You can zoom the camera in and out during gameplay and the camera will auto-zoom if necessary which does become annoying in certain situations and sometimes objects can obstruct your view but, overall, the camera works well. You can toggle on and off the megamap, which is basically an overhead view of your party, making it easy to see around you and you can also command and control your party from this view. The Legends of Aranna expansion adds in a world map so you can see exactly where you are in the world and what locations you’ve already discovered. The beginning of the game slowly introduces you to the different mechanics and features of the gameplay. Just like other action RPG’s you click on areas to move your character, or in this case party, click on enemies to attack them, and click on items to acquire them. You can interact with NPC’s to obtain some knowledge of the world and lore but mainly to acquire quests. The core gameplay has you killing monsters to obtain loot and experience. Unlike the Diablo the games, Dungeon Siege emphasizes party-based combat. You’ll meet several characters on your quest that can be recruited for free or for a sum of gold. You can have up to a max of eight members in your party at once and you can always release a member at any time. One thing I can say is that if you’ve never played a party-based RPG before or were intimidated by games like Baldur’s Gate or Dragon Age: Origins, than I can say that Dungeon Siege is very accessible. You really don’t have to think or micro-manage all that much. Everything about the combat and leveling is basically automated. When enemies are near, the characters will attack. On your HUD is a field command interface which allows you to manage how each character reacts to different scenarios. You may want specific characters to engage any enemy they see and others to only attack when provoked. You may want one character to hold their ground and engage enemies from a distance. Not only can you set different field commands for each character, but you can also select different party formations. Now I played through both the base game and the expansion on the Normal difficulty so I don’t know how important the field commands and formations are on Hard but once I set a character’s commands, I never changed them. As for the party formations, I basically forgot the feature existed and only changed it up when I remembered, only to see how much a difference it would make which wasn’t much. You can also pause the gameplay at any time to analyze the battlefield, issue commands, even have your characters drink potions. This may all sound somewhat overwhelming but honestly, the game kind of runs on autopilot and if you equip your characters with the right gear, you can get through most areas with ease. If you have your characters set to engage enemies in any fashion, they’ll always do so automatically so you don’t have to do much. You don’t really need to click on enemies to attack them and if you’re equipped appropriately, your party can function perfectly fine on its own without any interruptions. Most of the time you’ll be clicking the left mouse button to move your party, acquire loot, and manage your inventory.

One of the benefits to having multiple party members is more inventory space but inventory management in Dungeon Siege is a real bitch. Maybe it’s just a product of its time but the inventory system is just a pain in the ass. You can acquire loot like gold, gear, and potions from fallen enemies or you can spend gold at vendors to buy items. Each character in your party has their own inventory space and you can also buy a pack animal which will accompany your party. Pack animals are literally designed to hold excess loot. However, they do take up a party slot. Regardless, I would highly recommend acquiring at least one since it does make inventory management slightly less tedious. Legends of Aranna introduces backpacks that each character can carry and these are designed to hold even more items. The problem is you’ll come across so much loot and the vendors are few and far between. None of the items you acquire will stack in your character’s inventory and there is no personal stash chest in town or anything like that. If you’re like me and like to acquire everything to sell off later, then this game will teach you to pick and choose wisely. Holding everything is really not an option unless you enjoy backtracking because there is no fast travel system, warp portals, or ways to quickly get back to towns, or anywhere else for that matter. Sometimes you’ll come across vendors out in the land or in a dungeon but don’t always count on it. Backtracking doesn’t just apply to getting back to town. No, it applies to everything. If you missed something, you may have to travel a long distance back to wherever it is you need to be. What makes it more annoying is that the monsters don’t respawn so you can’t even gain experience in the process. The dungeons can be rather lengthy so once you finally get back and discover whatever it is you missed, then you have to trek all the way back to where you were before and then proceed forward. So my advice is to either keep multiple saved games because thankfully you can save at any time, or use a guide so you don’t miss anything important like quest objectives. Legends of Aranna alleviates the tediousness of travel a bit by adding in Displacers which instantly teleport you to major areas of the world but these aren’t everywhere so, again, try not to miss anything important. One of the pains of controlling your party, at least in the base game, is getting them onto platforms. Sometimes you need to get them on a moving platform or elevator and if they’re all not on board, you can easily leave party members behind. Sure, you can go back to get them or have them get on the platform when it returns and I think if you navigate too far, they’ll eventually teleport to you. But it’s just annoying trying to get them all on a platform at the same time, forcing me to move each character individually, and the whole process just seems harder than it needs to be. Legends of Aranna seems to resolve this problem since every party member selected will get on a platform without issue.

Every character can equip a piece of armor, different types of shoes, rings, head gear, gloves, and even an amulet. They can also equip a melee weapon, bow, shield, and magic-based characters can carry a spell book that can store a multitude of spells. On your HUD are portraits of your characters and next to those are their weapons and spells which can be switched out at any time. Switching out spells can be a pain in the ass but the Legends of Aranna expansion adds the feature to save equipment and spell configurations to the number keys for fast and easy switching which is a very welcome addition. Leveling up in Dungeon Siege is not like other RPG’s, at least not when this game was in its prime. Your characters level up different skills based on what equipment they use. For example, if your character uses a bow, they will level up their ranged skill. If a character uses a melee weapon, they’ll level up their melee skill. There’s four different skills – melee, ranged, nature magic, and combat magic. And because you can have up to a max of eight characters in your party, you can easily dedicate individual characters to each skill. Once a character earns enough experience, they level up the respective skill but as they slay enemies they’ll also level up their attributes in strength, dexterity, and intelligence which are based on their skills. For example, melee characters will increase in strength faster, ranged characters will increase in dexterity faster, and obviously magic characters will increase in intelligence faster. This automatic leveling system is nice but also removes any control over character building. The only thing you can really decide is the gear and equipment for each character and that alone determines how each character will develop. You can decide to switch a character’s weapons and equipment at any time to have them focus on different skills, essentially changing their specialty or creating a multi-skilled character but I never saw a real reason to do this. With all of that said, I can’t say there’s a lot of replay value here because any character can specialize in anything and outside of being a higher level, no characters of the same skill will function any differently than any other. Your hero character never feels any different or special compared to any other characters you come across and the only thing that makes your character stand out is that he or she will probably be at the highest level in their specific skill unless you decide to focus on another at some point.

Dungeon Siege seems to revolve around loot and that’s it. I don’t think the world and monsters are randomly generated but the loot is. You kill monsters, they drop loot, you acquire it, and hope its better than what you currently have equipped. There are several towns and vendors scattered across the land where you can buy and sell items but the best gear is acquired from fallen monsters. You’ll acquire different pieces of armor, rings, amulets, spells, and weapons like swords, maces, axes, bows, even flamethrowers, grenade launchers, napalm guns, and miniguns believe it or not. Some gear requires you to have a specific attribute at a certain level before it can be equipped and the best gear has special properties like better resistance to melee and/or ranged attacks, maybe your weapon has a better chance to stun enemies, or maybe your armor has a chance to zap enemies when you get hit. Basic items are identified by white text and special items are identified by colored text. Blue items are magical, purple is rare, yellow is unique, and green or teal is a set item. Set items were added in Legends of Aranna and if you manage to acquire equipment that’s part of a set, equipping multiple items of the same set will grant you extra bonus properties. When one of your characters is injured, a magic character can cast a healing spell to restore their health or the character can simply drink or take a sip from a health potion. Yes, characters won’t actually drink entire potions at once. They actually take sips which restores their health in full. Casting spells drains mana and that can be restored by drinking a mana potion or by casting special spells. The game implements this system where you can press the health potion button and any character in your party with health below fifty percent will automatically drink a health potion as long as they have a potion in their inventory. The same applies to mana and magic characters casting healing spells. You can also acquire health and mana from their respective shrines and pixies scattered throughout the environments. If a character dies, they fall to the ground and can be revived with spells but if they’re attacked while they’re down, they’ll eventually die and drop all of their items. I do believe dead party members can be resurrected with spells but honestly, if a character died, I just loaded a previous save because if I was wrong, having to acquire all of their dropped items is a scary thought. It’s a lot less time consuming to reload a previously saved game. I normally don’t play as magic characters but considering this is a party-based RPG, I figured it’s good to have a balanced party and I think it’s best to have a magic character that can cast healing spells, reducing the necessity to buy healing potions in bulk. I was right. With that said, there’s all kinds of spells ranging from offensive spells to summoning different types of monsters. Some spells temporarily enhance armor or a character’s attributes and other spells can even transform your character into deadly creatures. Some spells can transmute items into gold and potions. With the loot being randomized, that’s the only thing in this game that would make every experience unique. There’s no skill trees or anything special to make every character unique in their own way. It’s all about gear.

As the name Dungeon Siege implies, you’re going to siege a lot of Dungeons. The world in both the base game and the expansion are large and fairly linear. You’ll traverse through forests, caves, beaches, swamps, snowy areas, crypts, and other typical locations you would probably see in a fantasy game. Usually you need to get from point A to B and there’s an obvious path you follow to get there. While the game funnels you where you need to go, you can go off the beaten path which usually leads to treasures or monsters. Some of these side paths can take you quite a distance and the only downside here is that if it’s not the way to go, you’re going to have to backtrack all the way back to proceed onward. Getting to where you need to go normally means you have to traverse through a lengthy dungeon and they are lengthy. You can spend a half-hour to an hour traversing a dungeon and while fairly linear, some can be quite intricate with multiple rooms and numerous branching paths. On your journey, you’ll come across chests that can be opened and objects that can be broken, both of which can contain loot. Some objects contain traps and upon breaking they release arrows or bolts, fire, acid, even enemies. Throughout the world are signs which point you to major locations like towns and every new location you visit is guaranteed to have monsters. I actually really enjoyed the bestiary in this game. You’ll be up against skeletons, goblins, gargoyles, wolves, drakes, dragons, sand mages, giant insects, wraiths, and other types of various baddies. Legends of Aranna includes new races of monsters including the Hassat and Zaurask for example. As you progress, the enemies become more challenging and the loot gets better. Although, some areas seem to show a noticeable difficulty spike which can result in trial and error gameplay unless you don’t mind if any of your party members die. These areas should not halt your progress though because your characters will level up their skills rather quickly and new and better gear is usually introduced in every major area. I would say the challenge is fairly consistent throughout, at least on Normal, and if I can beat this game, anyone can. There are several areas in the game where you get ambushed. By that, I mean enemies that spawn behind your party while you’re already engaging other enemies. These sequences can become really annoying because you just get swarmed and overwhelmed and if you like to keep your magic and ranged characters in the back of the formation, well there’s a good chance they’ll get destroyed as will your pack animal. These are very trial and error scenarios, resulting in a character or multiple dying, loading the last save, positioning my party members in different spots and trying again until I got it right. There are a few boss monsters spread throughout the campaigns which are really just damage sponges but if you’re equipped properly, they shouldn’t be a problem. Just have plenty of health potions on hand and healing spells ready.

Dungeon Siege and its expansion have definitely aged visually but they still hold up for the most part. By that I mean they’re not hideous. Character models lack detail but the gear you have equipped is reflected visually on the characters so it’s really not that big of a deal. Some textures appear blurry, some of the visual effects for the spells don’t look as satisfying as they sound, and the draw distance is extremely short. You really can’t see that far ahead of you due to the isometric perspective but the fog effect is still clearly visible and I’m guessing this is in favor of performance. When it comes to the audio, most of the sound effects are generic and expected. All of the weapons, spells, and enemies sound as you would expect from any fantasy game like this. Although, the background sound effects like animals making noises, the sound of thunder when it rains, and stuff like that does add to atmosphere of the environments. Now the music is fantastic and is easily one of the best aspects of Dungeon Siege. The music was composed by Jeremy Soule whose works you may have heard in other games like Secret of Evermore, Neverwinter Nights, and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, just to name a few. The soundtrack is full of orchestral scores, many of which are memorable and do a great job at capturing a feeling of adventure. As for the performance, the base game ran fine without any real hiccups. I noticed the frame rate stutter a bit in the Legends of Aranna expansion but it wasn’t often. The seamless world is actually quite impressive given the time this released. You can enter a building or dungeon and you’ll never be exposed to any load times. I did have to edit the game’s configuration files to get this running in widescreen but the main menu is hardcoded at the 800×600 resolution. Luckily, the gameplay is not.

Despite my issues with the game, I did have fun with Dungeon Siege. There’s just something about it. I know many people find the game boring and if you don’t like games like Diablo because you feel they are boring clickfests, the funny thing is, this really isn’t. Yes, you click to do everything but most things like the combat is completely automated so you don’t have to do much other than issue a few commands and click where you want your party to go. There’s something about Dungeon Siege that I really like and I think it’s the atmosphere. It offers a great feeling of adventure. But it’s also a product of its time and honestly, it has issues. As much as I like the game, I’m aware of its issues and I can’t really defend it. I can completely understand those of you that find this boring. There’s no real character building because any character can specialize in anything without being unique so the only thing to keep the characters interesting is the gear. Knowing that I suck at party-based RPG’s like Baldur’s Gate and maybe the fact that this is a very accessible one is another reason I enjoyed it so much. Although, this more of an action RPG than a traditional RPG. In fact, it’s less RPG and more action. You really don’t have to think about much and any form of role-playing is very bare bones. Now I am aware that this game was designed to be modded right out of the box and from what I hear, it had a pretty crazy modding scene back in the day. I looked for some popular gameplay altering mods and couldn’t find any but it’s also possible I didn’t look hard enough. I’m talking lore-friendly gameplay altering mods, like something that adjusts leveling, monsters, character building, etc. I am fully aware of Ultima V Lazarus and The Ultima 6 Project, two mods or overhauls if you will, that recreate Ultima V and VI using the Dungeon Siege engine. I think you need the original Dungeon Siege and possibly the Legends of Aranna expansion to play at least of one, if not both of those so keep that in mind if you want to play them.

In the end, I would recommend Dungeon Siege if you like action RPG’s but it’s not going to appeal to everyone. If you think games like Diablo, Torchlight, or Path of Exile are boring, than I would say look elsewhere because Dungeon Siege probably won’t change your mind about the genre. The game is automated to death but if you can get past that, it can be a lot of fun. The Legends of Aranna expansion is literally more of the same in new environments with new items, characters, monsters, and some minor quality of life improvements but not enough to make the overall experience drastically different. Despite its issues, Dungeon Siege is still a unique game in the genre just due to its emphasis on party-based combat. You can clearly see the developers were influenced by games like Baldur’s Gate and Diablo, although the gameplay definitely leans more towards Diablo. Regardless, elements from both are present here with the developers’ own twists on the mechanics, making it feel unique and stand out among other games in the genre. If Dungeon Siege looks interesting to you, I would definitely recommend you check it out.

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