Have You Played… Dungeon Siege?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I’m going to be mean: Dungeon Siege was the end of an era.

It’s a solid ‘crawler with what were at the time some very neat ideas in terms of automatic party management, levelling up and even the simulacrum of a seamless world in an age when the technology wasn’t quite up to it. It’s also the point that action-RPG’s mindlessly looty values tipped over into what were once known as ‘cRPGs’, and perhaps even in turn into other genres. Sure, we got Morrowind and Bloodlines and even Neverwinter Nights, but so much of what we once know and loved, from Black Isle and Origin, fell away. The age of WoW and the age Oblivion were not far away.

Certainly, Dungeon Siege is not solely or even the most meaningfully responsible for the Skinner box’s takeover of mainstream videogames – look to World of Warcraft, look to Call of Duty 4 multiplayer – but I do feel that it marked a quiet sea-change. An RPG with a character, a mule, specifically dedicated to hauling around excess loot. A party game in which the party performs only combat roles. Everything solved by violence. But enough BioShock Infinite, amirite?

I don’t know, perhaps I’m being cruel. It’s just that, tracing in my mind the pattern of games before and after Dungeon Siege, it seems like a herald of something different, something far more about gold and murder and inventories.

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  1. Infinitron says:

    Sadly, yes.

    • LexW1 says:

      Not only was it heralding the end of an era in it’s relentless focus on loot loot loot, but it went even further by allowing you to script the behaviour of your characters (similarly to BG, IWD, etc.), and because of the nature of the game, it was very easy to script it to effectively “play itself”, which you merely needing to pick up the loot and decide where it went.

      It was really the apogee of loot-centricity.

      • ShadyGuy says:

        This is why Dungeon Siege never appealed to me. If I remember correctly you only had to click once on an enemy for your character to attack it and keep attacking it until it’s dead. As opposed to the diablo games where every click triggers an attack animation. A game that basically played itself was a bit too boring for my liking, so I never got far into the campaign.

        • deadlybydsgn says:

          On the other hand, as someone who gets wrist pain from Diablo-likes (tho surprisingly not from Dota 2), I enjoyed the ‘click once’ mechanic.

  2. lokhe says:

    Yes. I used to love playing it back in the day :)

  3. drewski says:

    Yeah. It wasn’t very good. Aged terribly. The camera is awful, the combat mindless, the character progression meaningless and the loot unsatisfying. And I couldn’t get it to work on Windows 10 at all.

    The sequel is a little better, if just because there’s a skill tree. I wouldn’t recommend either really.

    • ElKevbo says:

      I got it working on Windows 10 a few months ago. You’re right: It hasn’t aged well. At all. I only played it long enough to verify that it was working correctly and then my intense boredom and frustration led me to quit.

    • Freud says:

      I enjoyed Dungeon Siege II but the game completely fell apart in NG+ because the scaling was off. So it was pointless playing it more than through one play through.

    • tigerfort says:

      The sequel, IIRC, was one of the first (and still few) games to have characters level up their skills by using them. Which makes for an interesting dynamic in some ways, as well as being arguably rather more realistic than killing 100 mushroom people with a sword and then leveling up and putting your points into “pick locks”. (It does also, of course, take away a certain number of traditional RPG options – notably, respeccing becomes impossible.)

      • Someoldguy says:

        It’s always been a niche genre (one I like a lot) but Ultima Online, Darklands and Elder Scrolls: Arena were there well before it.

        I’ve always preferred more meaty (c)RPGs to the ARPG ones, but DS was fun to play as a bit of light entertainment between more time consuming, turn based ones.

        • LexW1 says:

          Dungeon Master (1987) was a pretty big game at the time and long before them, too, and did that too.

          • Someoldguy says:

            Good call. I’d forgotten there was PC version of that, I was still running an Atari ST back then.

      • thekelvingreen says:

        I believe one of the Phantasy Stars had this mechanic.

    • malkav11 says:

      Yeah, it’s pretty much personality free, and nearly gameplay free as well. Dungeon Siege II did seem like a meaningful improvement but not enough of one to bother spending time with really. I can, however, heartily recommend Dungeon Siege III because Obsidian made it and although they appear to have taken the world from the previous games (I couldn’t have told you much of anything about it from my time with them, but it appears to be the same), they made literally everything better. It’s gorgeous, the storytelling is perhaps not quite as deep and complex and richly layered as Obsidian’s highest standards but there’s still plenty to it and unusual amounts of moral complexity and cool fantasy ideas for a hack-n-slash game, the combat is challenging, fast-paced and nuanced (far more interestingly designed than your Diablos or similar and vastly more so still than the prior Dungeon Sieges), and while there are awkward aspects of the coop I think it’s still best experienced that way. Provided you have friends willing to long-haul it with you, and have the progress only happen in your copy of the game. The flip side of that, though, is if you need a pinch-hitter for a particularly challenging encounter, you don’t have to spend a bunch of time levelling them or (if you’ve been keeping up with the characters you aren’t using) gearing them, nor does that person need to have played the game extensively. They can just use one of the unused characters in your party.

      It’s really damn good. And although I have had few of the technical difficulties some people report with certain other Obsidian games, by most accounts it’s one of their most stable and bug-free.

  4. Baf says:

    I don’t know if I buy this. When you speak of CRPGs focused on “gold and murder and inventories”, the thing it makes me think of the most is early CRPGs. Like the first several Wizardries. Heck, even like the first few Ultimas. This has always been a strain within the genre. But maybe Dungeon Siege marks a tipping point where the techniques behind such games became compelling enough that they didn’t need anything else.

    • LexW1 says:

      Well, actually DS showed how uncompelling they were without a good plot, characters or anything else to go on, because it was a pretty awful game, even at the time. I remember complaining about it a lot on the internet and no-one seemed to be singing it’s praises.

      It was inexplicably well-reviewed though. Almost as well as Diablo 2, hilariously, which has stood the test of time far better.

  5. zxcasdqwecat says:

    Nha you are not cruel, let your inner nosologist and designer idealist have more of these confessionals, it’s a great thing.

    • klops says:

      I don’t know what nosologist means but it sounds so great I’m not going to google its meaning.

  6. Konservenknilch says:

    Just the demo, but it seemed kinda bland and pointless to me. Then again, it probably brought in enough cash for Gas Powered to make the fantastic Supreme Commander, so I shouldn’t complain.

    Now: Who saw the Uwe Boll movie? :D

  7. ItAintNecessarilySo says:

    Ha, I remember that since there were no respawns and it was quite open for its time you could walk all the way back to the start! Took about an hour and was incredibly boring but for some reason I actually did that a few times, god knows why now.
    Ah, old times, indeed not that good but also not bad, perfectly medium.

  8. cpeninja says:

    It was also eclipsed by the obviously superior Dungeon Siege 2. Wonderful game, still like to boot it up to mess around with it to this day. It’s a shame they didn’t make a 3rd one.

    “Actually, they did, see-”

  9. WindemereRpg says:

    The best reason for buying Dungeon Siege is in order to play the Ultima 5: Lazarus remake of the original Ultima 5.

    • KingFunk says:

      Not to mention the other one. I can’t remember whether it was U4 or U6. 6 I think. Can’t use Google right now for reasons. Whichever one it was, I enjoyed it muchly, just like Lazarus.

  10. Telkir says:

    Yep, played it, liked it. Dungeon Siege 2 was definitely the best of the series (if two games *coff* count as that). Some parts of it seemed to drag on for longer than necessary, perhaps because my OCD compelled me to explore absolutely everything, but overall I have fond memories of it.

    • Freud says:

      There is a third Dungeon Siege but it’s a bit different. It’s more of a traditional RPG and a bit wonky, like Obsidian games can be. Still, I played through it (and the expansion) and enjoyed it for the most part.

  11. Premium User Badge

    SminkyBazzA says:

    I really loved this game, played it to death with friends in local multiplayer (was online even an option back then?!). Thanks for the memories :)

    • RedShenkt says:

      Yeah online was very much an option!
      It was actually the first game I ever played online, much to the dismay of my parents (over the phone bill, this was back when internet cost money per minute!) And boy did I play! There were also lots of community made maps and some weird chicken level or something, if I remember correctly.

    • Son_of_Georg says:

      I agree, it was a great LAN party game. Two things that stood out to me were the lack of loading screens and the verticality of the maps. You could run from beginning to end without a single loading screen, and I think it’s still unsurpassed in the way you would sometimes be walking high above the actual battlefield before descending to fight.

      In single player it almost played itself and there was basically no story. I still had fun with it, but Dungeon Siege 2 improved immensely there. Chris Taylor always designed games with neat mechanics, but the story was often an afterthought (e.g. Total Annihilation).

  12. chuckieegg says:

    God, I loved my mule. The trading of a place on your squad with a fighter being replaced with a mule (Or two) was genius at the time. It just showed how loot orientated the game was to allow such madness.

    Mules kick ass?

  13. Jiblet says:

    I actually really enjoyed DS3. It’s not in the same vein as the first 2 for sure, but it isn’t a *bad* game.

    Or perhaps I’m a terrible person.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Maybe. Or maybe you’re the only good person. Maybe you’re the best person. Maybe we should all start following you around ans trying to learn something from you.

      All hail the Messiah!

    • Jason Moyer says:

      III is the *only* one I like, but I also prefer Ys to Diablo so YMMV.

    • malkav11 says:

      It’s not just not a bad game, it’s an awesome game. It’s not going to deliver what the strange, strange people who loved the GPG Dungeon Siege games are looking for, because GPG didn’t make it and it’s not really aimed at them – and yeah, that’s not maybe the smartest move with a sequel 99% of the time but when the franchise has been…questionable…up to that point, I certainly can’t complain. And maybe it’s not going to be a great game for people who play Diablo et all purely for the loot grind – the gear in DSIII is basically just piles of not-super-intelligible stats. But as an action RPG with actual story and dialogue to go with a seriously solid combat engine, it’s top notch.

  14. Premium User Badge

    johannsebastianbach says:

    link to youtube.com
    All there is to say is covered in this video, I guess.

  15. Silverchain says:

    I really enjoyed Dungeon Siege at the time; it’s got its flaws but the seamlessness and the variety of environments were attractive.

    My main gripe was that the class system seemed intrinsically unbalanced against the mage classes, so that it was difficult to keep mages on par with their hack-and-slash party fellows.

  16. Michael Fogg says:

    I remember fighting a dragon near the end of the campaing. I placed all the squishy casters safely out of range, then sent in the chopper squad. Then it was a matter of pressing ‘H’ at the right moments, so that the crew would gulp down a healing potion in lockstep and continue to hack away. That whole scene realy made me question what was I doing.

    • LexW1 says:

      Hey, if you’d edited the scripts for your characters (which the game’s website encouraged you to do at least) you wouldn’t even have had to press H. So it could be… I dunno is that worse or better?

  17. fuggles says:

    Killing beasts killing beasts killing beasts killing beasts killing beasts killing beasts killing beasts killing beasts!

  18. Jonnyuk77 says:

    LAN it up!

    I seem to remember if a co-op player was knocked out you could nick all of his his loot? That started an argument or two as the player then had to wait for the thieving git to drop so he could nick it back… or beg for his loot!

    The result was a sulking wizard who refused to wear shoes through the whole game to remind everyone how poorly equipped he was.

  19. C0llic says:

    Ha! Yes. It was one of a few games I used to distract myself from my university work. Very simple clicky clicky action rpg stuff, but well executed and entertaining. Pretty damn good compared to the other stuff out there at the time.

  20. kalirion says:

    I played it, beat the original campaign, then sorta got bored an hour or two into the expansion.

    It felt less like an RPG than an RTS (without base/resource management) with RPG elements to me.

  21. ResonanceCascade says:

    I definitely played this game to completion when it came out. I guess it doesn’t say much for it that I literally cannot remember one thing about it, though. It started on…a farm, maybe? I don’t know.

  22. laggerific says:

    Pretty much have to agree. But there was so much happening around that time. This happened, and then all those shit Baldurs Gate and Fallout console games came out, and we entered a dark age for the cRPG, where Bethesda (of all the friggin’ companies) were “champions” of the new era…an era of streamlined to oblandvion “cRPGs”, which lacked the nuance, heart, and detail of their fore-bearers. Of course, I’ve always felt that way about Bethesda even since the first Elder Scrolls (certainly compared to the Ultima Underworlds they were up against, which put them to shame from the beginning).

    • LexW1 says:

      Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance was actually pretty non-shit, and the sequel was okay. The Fallout one was godawful though. But yes, this was the herald of doom.

      However I don’t think it was quite for the reasons people thought it was. It was because this was at little after the first big, accessible MMORPGs appeared. UO was 1998, EQ was 1999, DAoC was 2001, and everyone who wanted really role-play-y stuff and could afford the internet connection was playing them. Companies stopped developing conventional RPGs as much because of their success as stuff like Dungeon Siege.

      • malkav11 says:

        The Fallout one was hilarious. I mean, how could you not love the one character who said “SHEEIT” about every other hammer swing. …by being a sane and functional human being, probably. But hey.

  23. baozi says:

    Because I always like to bring up Gothic (2001), I gotta say that technology was very much up to featuring seamless worlds

  24. theblazeuk says:

    Does Alec = wizardry?

  25. Idealist says:

    It definitely has issues as a game, but the first 10, maybe 15 minutes were really brilliant. The whole “peasant who takes up a weapon” dynamic has really never been done better in my opinion. But the game didn’t really leverage the theme, and the mechanics and plot were very weak, and the game became very difficult if you did not grind or get exceptionally lucky with drops.

    Full disclosure: I didn’t have to buy my copy because I won a copy signed by Chris Roberts from a contest. I think I would have been rather irked if I’d purchased it at release.

    • Idealist says:

      (That should be Taylor not Roberts, curse you RPS for your lack of editing even now!)

  26. Darth Gangrel says:

    I would like to play it, but I’d really like it to be the DS1 + expansion Legends of Aranna bundle, which I can’t find anymore.

  27. Heretic7 says:

    I remember beatibg everything in that game by putting a book on the spacebar.

    Just an interactive wallpaper. A bad one too