Your right to party.
Ever since the very first days of role-playing, there has been a fundamental split between the single character games, like Ultima, and those where you had a party, like Wizardry. By and large, it was always less complicated to play and in turn to design the single-player RPGs, which often left the party out in the cold. Managing eight characters simultaneously is exponentially harder, but it's always a little disappointing when you find that Mighty Battleaxe of Smiting and just throw it away because you’re a wizard.
Then Dungeon Siege showed up and streamlined the RPG party system so gracefully, you barely noticed it was there. Your characters would so smart things, like heal each other or attack monsters even if you didn’t tell them to. Press the healing potion icon, and everyone who needed to would automatically drink a potion. “How are you feeling, Stig The Barbarian? Fine? Great!”
Baldur’s Gate micro-managers, who were always pausing the action to consider all possible spell-and-sword combinations, might have felt that Dungeon Siege was a little distant, but I was thrilled. It was great to see all my little guys taking some initiative for a change.
Fans of the original should be pleased that the expansion is here, but it’s not really an expansion, because you don’t need to have the original Dungeon Siege to play. That’s because the entire first game is included with Legends of Aranna, making it an especially good deal for people who have never played Dungeon Siege before.
So what’s new in Legends of Aranna? How about a new single player campaign? Venture out of the Kingdom of Ehb and into the wilds of Aranna to try and unravel an ancient mystery. Like the first one, this campaign is for new characters and is about the same length. And while it’s a good, classic dungeon crawl, it’s also disappointingly linear, again, just like the first one. Of the three worlds available to explore in Legends of Aranna, it’s the more open-ended, multiplayer Utraean Peninsula that is my favorite.
Of course, there’s plenty of new stuff inside the Aranna campaign: new spells, monsters, weapons and armor. A notable addition are magical sets of items, which become more powerful with every part of the outfit you find. There's also a new half-giant race that can join your party. Towering over all the others, it looks as if Shaquille O’Neil has joined the team.
Legends of Aranna has fine-tuned the slick interface ever further, with smarter inventory management, a button for distributing potions and lots of other little tweaks. Unfortunately, what’s still not included is a toolset for making your own adventures. Giving the tools to the fans is like throwing gasoline on a fire. You’re practically guaranteed unlimited new content and creativity.
Everything else is exactly the same as the original. The graphics hold up surprisingly well for a year-and-a-half old game. The sound is still great, with a good score, plenty of clanging metal and fighters that don’t shout their battle-cries too often. The most impressive part of Dungeon Siege’s technology is still very cool: no loading. Once you start playing, you’ll never see a loading screen, ever. Very nice.
However, Legends of Aranna’s best selling point might be how much of a bargain it is, at least if you never bought the original game. Since it’s priced as an expansion at $30 but actually has two full games, it's one of the best PC deals this year. So go buy yourself an early Christmas gift and get this party started.