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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Dungeon Siege beats opposition
Dungeon Siege screenshot, Microsoft
Combat in Dungeon Siege can be chaotic
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By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent
If you are looking for a computer game that strips adventuring in fantasy worlds to its essentials of spell slinging and swordplay then Dungeon Siege might be for you.

It gives you the job of saving the idyllic Kingdom of Ehb from the marauding hordes of the Krug and their associated evildoers.

The game emphasises action over all else and does away with the cumbersome character improvement systems found in similar fantasy games.

It is the game that Diablo II should have been and one that the Baldur's Gate titles perhaps wants to be.

The latter requires a formidable knowledge of the rules of paper-based role-playing game Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and are encumbered by all the bad points of that gaming system.

Diablo and its sequels suffered because of their single central character and relied on swift mouse clicking to overcome the legions of foes thrown at them.

Fight for life

By contrast Dungeon Siege gets the balance about right.

Minimum specifications
Pentium II 333Mhz or higher
Windows 98, 2000, Me or XP
64Mb Ram for Windows 98/Me, 128Mb Ram for Windows 2000/XP
1Gb of hard disk space
4xCD-Rom drive
3D video card with 8Mb VRam
DirectX 8.1
It doesn't force characters into narrow professions such as warrior or wizard. The characters pick up experience in a skill, such as swordplay or spell casting, just by using it.

Despite this it is worth specialising if you want a have a chance of getting the most powerful spells or being really effective in combat.

Dungeon Siege casts the player as a farmer who swaps his ploughshare for a sword when the Krug suddenly invade.

The farmer is not expected to free the nation alone and can gather up to seven companions to complete the task.

The storyline that gradually leads the farmer-turned-fighter to uncover the reasons for the invasion and find, and defeat, its leader is the worst part of Dungeon Siege.

Its join-the-dots approach is not very engaging and does the rest of the game a disservice.

Land and looks

Which is a pity because Ehb itself, although a standard-issue fantasy world, looks great.

Dungeon Siege screenshot, Microsoft
Magic works wonders in Dungeon Siege

The lush landscapes scroll smoothly past and the control system lets you pivot around the action, zoom in and out to hone your tactics.

The monsters, people and players are much less cartoony than in games like Battle Realms, and are much smoother than in other 3D games.

They are also very well animated. Creatures that gang up on you show different fighting styles and the mortally wounded ones do not assume the same positions in death.

Ehb's varied habitats - forest, dungeon, caves, desert, mountain and snowfields - pit the players against different creatures that have their own strengths and weaknesses. The biggest can only be defeated by well-managed teamwork.

But the ease with which you can co-ordinate the actions of your group of plucky adventurers is another point in Dungeon Siege's favour.

Action stations

There is little need for fiddling with endless screens prior to a fight, most spells and actions are accessible straight from the keyboard.

Dungeon Siege screenshot, Microsoft
Every proper adventurer needs a mule to carry loot
Combat is central to the game and its essential to pause the action regularly to tweak the tactics of your party as the battle flows.

The scale of the slaughter can get a bit overwhelming at times and, towards the end of the game, battles can end with the players almost knee-deep in the dead.

The game does not give you much time to dwell on this or question it, and you often cannot avoid combat with the creatures you come across.

Most attack as soon as they see you and the AI controlling them seems to be stuck on "berserk".

But despite these niggles, Dungeon Siege is a great-looking and involving game that others will have to try very hard to improve upon.

Dungeon Siege is available for the PC from Microsoft.

See also:

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Games fizz with proper physics
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