If you’re like me, the last time you played a traditional action-RPG on a console was probably Diablo for the PSone or Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance for the PS2. Over the years, the action-RPG gameplay foundation — compulsive loot-hoarding and XP-grinding with liberal character progression and heavy replayability — has slowly but steadily infiltrated other genres, from shooters such as Borderlands and BioShock to pure RPGs such as Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Dungeon Siege III brings the trend full circle, presenting a modern take on the classic overhead-view action-RPG.
Crucially, developer Obsidian Entertainment has put much work into making Dungeon Siege III play nice with the DualShock 3 controller without diluting the combat and inventory depth that genre fans have long adored. On the PS3, Dungeon Siege III’s interface is a robust approximation of the PC hotkey system, enabling you to swap between two battle stances instantaneously with a tap of L1. Each stance has unique strengths and weaknesses as well as an arsenal of special abilities that can radically alter your attack strategy. The lithe warrior Anjali, for example, can swap from her spear-fighting stance to a ghostly spell-casting form to pummel enemies from afar with fireballs and flesh-melting fire walls. Each of the game’s four characters will ultimately acquire nine different abilities, and at times you’ll need to swap stances rapidly to chain together combos in order crush the toughest monster hordes and harvest their sweet, sweet loot with maximum efficiency.
Speaking of loot, you’ll find thousands of randomized magical items, enchanted swords, blessed boots, and mystic helms on your fallen foes, as well as uber-rare Relic items that bestow outrageously powerful benefits. A welcome touch lies in the streamlined inventory management screen, which is accessible but not watered down in the name of draconian oversimplification. In another nod to accessibility, you won’t be fumbling for red and blue potions when you need to recover health and magic energy — defeated enemies drop healing and mana orbs and every character comes equipped with an innate healing ability. Another nice addition: Tapping Up on the d-pad will lead you to your next active quest, keeping you progressing through the game rather than staring at a mini-map. What’s more, the game’s developers claim you’ll almost never encounter a load screen while progressing through the game.
Dungeon Siege III is also preparing robust cooperative play support on the PS3, beginning with two-player local co-op play that shares the same screen. Over PSN, online support swells to four players for drop-in, drop-out co-op play. Take heed: As more players pile into a co-op game, the forces of darkness respond by growing stronger and deadlier with larger XP and loot bonuses to sweeten the pot. Co-op play also factors into certain story decisions you’ll make throughout the game, the consequences of which can alter the course of the story. Your co-op players are able to vote to show support for a particular course of action, be it killing or saving a particular character or accepting or denying a quest, though the game host makes the final decision.
Dungeon Siege III raids the PS3 on May 31st (UPDATE: Today, Square Enix announced a new release date of June 21st). Want to know more? Ask your best questions in the comments and I’ll try to shed some light!