Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dungeon Siege III Exclusive Hands-On Preview - Cooperative Play

When we last visited the world of Dungeon Siege III, we helped young Lucas Mont Barron escape the burning Mont Barron estate, adventured through the countryside, and rescued a supposed Archon, Anjali, from some cultists. Now, we're back in developer Obsidian Entertainment's action role-playing world. However, this time Lucas and Anjali are teaming up for some cooperative gameplay as we go hands-on to investigate the spooky Gunderic Manor.

Once again, we stepped into the young adventurer's shoes. Adept with a sword and shield, Lucas is a strong melee fighter who excels at powerful blows against single targets. Our co-op companion was Anjali, a fiery mage with some crowd-control abilities. Our mission was to help Leona, a witch looking to set up shop in the dilapidated Gunderic Manor. We agreed to investigate the manor for her and clear out any malcontents (or homeless people) we found within it.

The quest started out easily enough. The manor seemed to be deserted until we encountered Alise Gunderic, one of the manor's former inhabitants. Specifically, we encountered the ghost of Alise Gunderic, who pleaded with us to destroy the Heart of Nagog. According to her, this item was the one thing binding her soul to the mortal realm. Having only just met her, we decided to trust her completely and agreed to help without another word.

All of the gargoyles and skeletons outside must have overheard our conversation because after we exited the room, they all sprang to life and attacked. What a mistake on their part. It didn't take us long to fall back into the easy rhythm of Dungeon Siege III's combat. Our role was simple: Get in front of the enemies and dish out as much hurt as possible. If we got swarmed by their numbers, a shield bash from the sword-and-shield stance would temporally stun a few. And if some pesky ranged units attacked from a distance, the broadsword stance's blade dash ability would run them over with ease.

For the most part, it was just a lot of tapping the attack button and watching the numbers fly. This basic pleasure, a staple in the action role-playing genre, is not lost here. For all our frantic sword swinging (and accidental dodge rolling), it was Anjali's "aura of immolation" ability that did most of the work. On command, she could conjure a pool of fire that would heal allies and damage enemies. Combined with the stunning power of Lucas' shield bash, we could trap our foes in flames and finish them off with steel.

Once we got some experience under our belt, we were able to level up these abilities. Each ability is divided up into two styles for you to improve, so you can choose to either focus on one, or go with a combination of both. For instance, aura of immolation can be improved with "fiery presence" (which deals more damage to enemies) or "cauterize" (which provides better healing to allies). Our extremely useful blade dash could be improved with "lightning precision" (which improves critical hit chance) or "hemorrhage" (which deals more damage over time).

With the enemies slain, we took a break to read up on the history of the manor. OK, maybe we just skimmed it. There was something about Lord Gunderic and the occult, as well as a secret password for his underground dungeon. However, before we could get to this dungeon, we had to get past a talking door--and an arrogant one at that. We already knew the password it wanted, but we decided to do things the hard way. One after the other, our two-character party bombarded the door with a series of off-the-wall guesses. After we made several failed attempts at guessing the answer, the door took pity on us, and it let us pass. This bullheaded feat earned us the "trial-and-error" achievement, as well as a small stamina boost to the entire party.

In the dungeon below, we stumbled upon another pack of pesky cultists, who were busy summoning some kind of ungodly monster. Just as they were finishing their ritual, we dropped in and squared off in a mini-boss encounter with a mire hulk horror. Acting on heroic impulse, we blade-dashed Lucas right into the thick of it only to get blown to pieces under the combined strength of our two foes (alone, Anjali didn't fare much better). A reload later, we devised a plan to better tackle this situation. Lucas would hit the cultists on the periphery first, while Anjali would keep the hulking horror distracted with a barrage of offensive magic.

Working together, we bested the beast and headed into the library beyond. Lo and behold, our adventuring duo found the Heart of Nagog, which was an ornate canister exuding green smoke. Blindly following the ghost's instructions and disregarding Anjali's suggestions for further research, we smashed that sucker right then and there. This didn't have any immediate ramifications, but when we inevitably encountered Lord Gunderic, he thanked us for destroying the item and subsequently increasing his power. Whoops.

After the battle, Alise Gunderic materialized out of nowhere and gave us a heartfelt "thank you" for our assistance, which made the whole thing worthwhile. Or something. Leona moved in shortly thereafter, but we assured her that we would be back to reclaim this keep once we finished rebuilding the Legion. According to Lucas, it was once Legion property, but as it turns out, we were just being jerks on that one. You can be a jerk too, if you want, in Dungeon Siege III for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on May 31.