Dungeon Siege: ToA Review - 09/02/2007

Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony is an entirely new game from SuperVillain Studios, considered the third in the series after the PC’s Dungeon Siege II. Having played the latest game considerably, we can vouch for the fact that it is one of the best options for RPG fans on the handheld.

The basic premise for the game is that you pick one of three main characters, and then a sidekick, and venture through the corrupted lands of Aranna on a journey north after you were unexplainably shipwrecked on the southern shore. The three protagonists are wildly different, experting in the field of magic, strength and agility. While the story does not directly change with each character, the gameplay style alters dramatically, and it will lead to finding new items, getting to previously inaccessible areas (because of certain types of virtually undefeatable enemy in the region) and generally should make each play through fairly different, at least three times over.

It’s a good idea, and translates well into the game, although the hack and slash, button mash is still the mainstay of the game, which may put some people off. It feels really good to use though, with punchy, satisfying audio accompanying each and every hit. The controls are also really well laid out, although there are some things you may miss due to the lack of tooltips or instructions when you first access the menus or unlock certain abilities. Health potions can be accessed with L1, and Mana potions, which are used for magic abilities, are used with a combination of the two buttons.

You can change to a secondary weapon, such as a crossbow, with a leftwards push on the D-pad, and initiate a range of attacks and spells with face and shoulder button combinations. It all feels really intuitive once you get into it, but again, working everything out needs a good deal of assistance from the instruction booklet, and so you can’t just jump straight in and play with all the facets of the game open to you. With the name Dungeon Siege is the gameplay of, well, sieging dungeons, and Throne of Agony has them in abundance. The system for clearing them isn’t particularly clever, and can be very frustrating at times. For example, there’s a main series of quests which leads you north, basically doing a load of good deeds for the locals, investigating the mysterious force over the land, and just being a two-man police-force pretty much. However, when you explore the lands in the top-down movement view, which you use to travel from dungeon to dungeon and place to place, you will see what appear to be ‘extracurricular’ dungeons.

These are places that may not yet be active in your main quest, so, if you’re feeling a little bored, or stuck as for where to go to next, you may want to siege some random dungeons. However, if you clear all the enemies in them, they’ll just reappear at a higher level when you re-enter, which may sound good, but in the dungeons you are likely to find objects and enemies relevant only to the story, such as a certain ‘boss’ for example. Even if you slay him, once you activate the quest for the dungeon he’ll be back in place and you’ll need to retrace your steps and do it all again, which can get tiresome despite the fun combat system.

There is also a lack of safe places. At the start of the game you find ‘Seahaven’, a village which has not yet been destroyed by the evil force over the land. Throughout the fifteen hour plus campaign, you will rely on Seahaven and rarely find other places of solace. While there are frequent teleporters throughout the map to transport you around, it would be nice to get to know more than one main village, with the few people that populate it selling you potions and weapons.

When you’re not in the birds-eye travelling view, you are in the third person combat view. Here you can do all the different attacks that you unlock as you move through the levels, and the camera is genuinely one of the best third person angles on any handheld game. It actively moves if your character stays still, but hasn’t once gone out of place or been stuck behind an object for us. The angle of the camera allows the graphics to be superb too. Rarely do you get to see any of the environments or test the draw distance due to the overhead camera that the developers have chosen to adopt. This surprisingly doesn’t ever feel stale, and the levels are still really varied with differing texturing, heights and interactive objects. When you do get treated to cliff edges or long distance views it really gives you a sense of presence, as you’ve been used to the restricted view previously.

The enemies vary from foot soldiers, to eagles, to Minotaur like monsters, and there are often alternative tactics needed – surprising perhaps because of the combat system. However, for any enemies using long-range attacks, you’ll want to try and get close to them as quickly a possible before stunning them with a combo attack and then unleashing the basic X move. Enemies that can only use a melee attack can be attacked by range with a bow or magic attack, and the quick switch combo can then be used to change to a sword once they get too close for comfort.

For a RPG, the game dispenses with a lot of story, character background and text – while most of the text still isn’t voiced, it means you can get straight into the dungeons and begin to kick monster butt. However, the lack of narration or general story progression means a lot of the missions and quests just seem relatively pointless. One mission had me looking to clear a castle of enemies, and once I had cleared about half of the rooms I was told my quest log had been updated. Going into it to check what the new situation was, I could see that my mission was now complete, despite all the remaining enemy filled rooms. This happens all too often, and leaves an empty feeling with little accomplishment after certain dungeon quests. Some however are more epic, but the feeling of a lack of depth still remains.

Character progression is however really rewarding. As your character advances a level you are rewarded with three attribute points that you can use to improve key abilities, such as strength, luck and agility. At a more specific level, you also get three or four points to spend on individual attacks and abilities, such as health regeneration, dual wielding two weapons, or the basic X move for example. You can also unlock new moves and attacks at certain levels. Some objects also require a certain level of ability before you can use them. Once you reach the higher levels, new character classes open up to you, which allows your character to take even more varied routes through the game’s latter stages.

The equipment screen works much like Oblivions. You can only carry a certain amount of armour, weapons, gear and ‘stuff’, which is increased with your level. Throughout the game you will find literally thousands of items to kit out your character with, the better things coming with an improved ‘luck’ rating. It takes quite a bit of working out to discover which items are best, as some are improved with magic, but may have less core stats than the others. You can sell your excess wares to the traders in the game, but the only thing you’ll really need to buy are health potions. After about ten hours into the game, we’d already amassed 60,000 credits, which, when you bear in mind that the early items only cost about 100 to buy, it seems a little unbalanced, although later on with the more expensive stuff, it does even out.

We had some glitching issues, particularly late on in the game, where certain enemies would not be locked onto, and just stood there, not registering our presence but allowing us to use a magic attack to kill them, although the main melee attacks wont register. These cheap kills seem to happen very often, and it does ruin the feeling of pride of clearing a tough room or even whole dungeon if the glitch is particularly prominent.

There’s also a superb multiplayer mode crafted into the game, allowing you to team up with a partner via ad-hoc and play through the main game side by side. It’s a really remarkable feat when the best most games can manage, even next-generation titles, is a tapped on Deathmatch or Arena mode, or single levels of co-op play. Well done to SuperVillain Studios.

Finally, a superb, Oblivion-esque soundtrack and audio effects make the atmosphere complete, only fully voiced text could be improved, with the classical, dramatic music really adding an extra touch of class to the game.

You can see how it has evolved from the old point and click method of Dungeon Siege games before it, with the camera angle for example, but it all feels incredibly intuitive and plays like a dream. Some parts do have flaws, but an incredibly sophisticated multiplayer mode and great graphics and audio make up for them.



2K Games
SuperVillain Studios