Gas Powered Games and Microsoft team up again to produce Dungeon Siege 2, the second addition to the series bar addon packs. While at this point in time the game is still a few months away from release, we went hands on with a preview build of the game and took in some impressions from the single player experience. Obviously multiplayer will play a large role in the fate of DS2, and if it is anything like the current build's single player, it should have no problems impressing.
DS2 continues the legacy of Aranna; a fictional land now torn by civil war. Basically, without getting too involved in the storyline, the clash of a mighty sword and a mighty shield in a battle, both crafted from magic, sparked the end of the first age of man, opening a "hell" from underground that tore the world of Aranna apart. Soon enough, Aranna under went its second age, and as the second age marked off the centuries, one young prince began his search for the long lost magic sword, and with the help of dark magic, attained it. The battle of the 2nd age now commences.
As of this time, there are 4 character types available - Human, Elf, Dryad and Half-Giant. Each offer strengths and weaknesses in key areas, and each should offer a "template" for every type of RPG gamer to build upon. While you're at it, there is also a decent suite of visual customization options, including hair style and color, as well as general all round appearance. While 4 is not exactly a groundbreaking number when it comes to RPG character types, as stated they do range significantly in abilities and other attributes, so as far as style variation goes DS2 seems to have it covered.
There are 4 basic combat types in DS2 - Melee, Ranged, Combat Magic and Nature Magic. None of these are a huge surprise and have somewhat been a standard in most RPG's to date. The way in which DS2 implements these however is very nice - rather than limiting certain styles to certain character types, your main style will depend on how you start the game off defeating enemies. For example, the more you kill enemies with melee attacks, the more your melee rating goes up, which in turn grants special melee abilities and "powers". Of course, there is a skill point system present, which are spent by your choice on the skills you choose. For instance, on melee again, you can choose to master in dual weapons, a weapon and a shield and two handed weapons, or you can use a "jack of all trades, master of none" approach. In fact, that applies to the 4 basic combat styles too - you can focus on all 4 if you want, but that obviously means slower individual development.
Going from the beta, DS2 is quite a tough game. You can't expect to win battles by simply jumping in and holding down "attack". This is most evident in situations where multiple enemies are attacking you - selecting the right baddies to target first is a key strategy as obviously some deal more damage than others. Most RPG's in the past failed to deliver a system which would allow you to target individual enemies effectively, but not DS2. What DS2 does is place a "highlight" around the enemy in which you're targeting, so you can easily see who it is you're attacking and therefore, you can easily select individual enemies even if they are in large groups. While it is only a reasonably minor addition, this does seem to enhance the game's strategic value as far as target selection goes.
The menu system in DS2 is quite impressive. Although we were playing with a high resolution, 1280x1024 to be precise, the inventory is very well organised and only takes up a small part of the screen, making it easily possible to play with the inventory open; useful when a cheeky enemy decided to launch a sneak attack when you're checking out the new pair of gloves you just picked up. On top of this, just about everything can be found in the game's highly organised menu system, ranging from campaign and mission details to spell books and enemy information. It really is quite an impressive and "clean cut" in-game menu system.
Obviously from looking at the screens it isn't hard to tell GPG and MS put a lot of emphasis in the game's visuals and they do not disappoint. Environments look very nice, and although you do have a general linear path to follow if you intend on completing the tasks, the way in which the environments are rendered give the impression of infinite surroundings. Characters have great detail and actually look good in close range camera angles, and as you'd expect, all armour/weapon items are visually represented on your character in-game.
Perhaps the only quirk in the current build is the savegame system, and even so, this is subject to opinion. As it stands now, you can save the game whenever you want, but when loading the most recent saved game, the game fails to load one key aspect - your location. You see, the world of DS2 works off teleporters, and when loading a game, you will spawn at a teleporter no matter where it was you saved. This means teleporters, in a sense, are in fact "checkpoints", and I must say I'm not a fan of the checkpoint saving system. On the other hand, the game does save everything else - XP points, inventory, and even killed enemies, so it isn't a huge hassle and could very well just be a temporary implementation for the beta release.
While the build we played did not feature Multiplayer, nor a complete single player mode for that matter, the game played very well and really felt like the finished product mostly throughout - the polish and quality was certainly the most striking. Dungeon Siege 1 was a good RPG for its time but it wasn't as good as it could have been, and Dungeon Siege 2 seems to really bring the whole RPG package to this series, including everything from character customising to weapon enhancing, although perhaps the best improvement I can note so far is the game is set in a "world" rather than a maze of conjoined levels like the original. When the retail versions sees release in a few months time, I fully expect DS2 to impress a lot of RPG fans.