Party time, excellent.
Since its '70s inception, Dungeons & Dragons has been all about the party, both in the game and in the real world. Without question, it was essential to get all your friends around the table in your mom's basement, armed with enough gross snacks and sugary drinks to keep you geeking through the night. But of equal importance was making sure your party had a healer, a wizard, a fighter, and a thief. This combination has proved so irresistible that it has practically become RPG law.
However, without your friends to fill in their stat sheets, equip their vorpal blades and roll their fake crystal dice, controlling a whole party can be incredibly cumbersome. Early D&D-themed video games were turn-based, so you had plenty of time to work out the nuances, while games like Baldur's Gate solved the problem by letting you pause and unpause at will to better manage multiple characters.
Then Dungeon Siege came along and elegantly improved upon the system by making everyone just a bit smarter…everyone in your party, that is. Your friends at the table will have to fend for themselves.
Party members in Dungeon Siege generally do smart things, so you don't have to micro-manage them to death. Hit the health potion button and who drinks a health potion? Everyone who needs healing, that's who. Characters will move and fight enemies automatically, reorganize their inventories efficiently, and cast appropriate spells. It was a study in game refinement and was also a blast to play, not to mention one of the best deals in PC gaming history when it was packed as a two-for-one in the Legends of Aranna expansion.
And now it's on its way back in the official upcoming sequel, Dungeon Siege II.
In the distant past, the planet was ruled by Zaramoth the Unmaker. For centuries, the people suffered under his fearsome magic and even more terrible sword until one tribe, led by Azunai the Defender, discovered their own powerful magic and forged an impenetrable shield.
The battle on the Plain of Tears raged brutally, and the leaders clashed in the very center. When the Sword of Zaramoth struck the Shield of Azunai, the world itself was nearly destroyed. Even the stars themselves shifted in their alignment. Zaramoth and Azunai and their armies were incinerated instantly, and nobody knew what happened to the mighty weapons.
Thousands of years later, the destruction of that war is a distant legend, but now a man named Valdis believes himself to be the reincarnation of Zaramoth, and unfortunately for the land of Aranna, he has the sword to prove it. Time to party.
Dungeon Siege II doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, only to refine it even further. For instance, magic-users have been given an IQ boost, allowing you to assign a couple of spells to "auto," which essentially means "cast it whenever there's an appropriate chance." Buff spells are a perfect example of this; set one to auto, and whenever the mage spots an unbuffed party member, he'll buff 'em to a high sheen. Nice.
For the many fans of the Pack Mule, you'll be happy to know your old beast of burden is back. In fact, there's a whole new menagerie of companionable pets you might care to bring along, some far more fearsome than ol' Sal the donkey. They can even mature, grow, and level up over time (especially if you feed them some tasty magic weapons).
New Dryads and enormous Half-Giants flesh out the character selection, and new skill trees allow you to customize your heroes even further, granting them unique hero abilities to trigger when the situation gets particularly hairy. Again, this is a refinement of the previous system.
Like before, party members in Dungeon Siege II get better at the things they do. Shoot a lot of arrows and you'll get better at archery; charge to the front swinging your sword and you'll get better at swordplay. Once again you can mix and match character skills at will, but in the sequel you can also follow specific skill paths in the different combat types and find complementary skills for your party. Of course, there's still room for bad decision-making (Hint: Give the Half-Giant a big axe, not a spellbook).
A new graphics engine rounds out the refinements with more detailed textures, insane lighting and explosions effects and a pleasantly stable framerate. The main tree city where you begin your quest is especially impressive, with odd, suspended moving platforms to get you around and an unnerving sense of height. In-game cinematics and scripted events give the updated land of Aranna a more dynamic, organic feel.
Though the preview copy does not support online play, you'll definitely be able to take the party online in the final release. In the online game, you become just one member of a larger party made up of the guys who used to sit around your mom's basement. You'll again be able to import your single-player character into the online world, although it's unclear if you'll be able to export him back into the single-player game with newly acquired XP. Fingers crossed.
Finally, I'd just like to give Gas Powered Games a big thumbs-up for keeping Dungeon Siege II a non-stop party. Like the first one, there are no loading times, ever. From start to finish, it's set to be one seamless forty hour fiesta. Sharpen your sword and whip up some guacamole - this shindig is set to start in August.
For more screens, check out our Dungeon Siege II screen and fact page.