Sunday, July 3, 2011

Casa update and a quick look on the Dungeon Siege III demo

Hi there, long time no see!

I guess I owe the few people who read this a little apology again for the silence. But when I check other blogs, I think I'm not the only one who's sometimes thrown out of the loop by reality.

Middleforest has been a little silent lately, especially since last winter. As fruitless as my toolset work was my custom content work too, and on Blender I completely gave up, call it a burnout if you wish, because it was. In real life I was completely burnt out too, which is nothing new. But it got worse and worse since last winter, so I took a little vacation, or should I say, it was suggested to me to take some time off out of town, which I did. Why am I telling you people this? Well, I think I'm not the only one in this rather nerdy circle who's been "under the weather" quite a lot, and I know how much it takes to admit that you need to be taken out, nursed and pampered for a while. Even though I panicked at first at the thought, it was good and I'd do it again anytime. The first week out there was the best week I had in the last two years, which means a lot, and in the end I came back with a lot of positive thoughts and insights - like, apparently you have to go to a place like that to finally meet people as normal as you. Anyway, that much about my long silence. And if you ever thought about doing something similar and have doubts - just do it, it's good.

Anyway, nobody there told me that gaming is bad, isn't that great? I even spoke about my favorite Dammendrech character once and it was quite interesting, I never got an odd look. The task is just finding a good balance between the hobby and real life, and not fleeing into some dreams all the time because you can't face reality anymore. And one thing I promised myself for the first week back home was playing my games until I fall from my chair.

Now that I'm here that's a little bit harder than I thought, I can't decide which one to play first! So what I did was starting with something easy, grabbing the Dungeon Siege III demo on Steam and have a look what Obsidian did this time. And I must say, it wasn't as bad as I thought. I'm not going to review it, just some quick notes on my first impression really.

So, Dungeon Siege III is of course not the latest great AAA title, neither were the first and second part. I only played the first part once, around the same time I discovered Neverwinter Nights 1. And while NWN1 was the much better game with a more interesting story, Dungeon Siege was still a fun casual RPG that was actually nicer looking in many parts. I also liked the lack of load screens...

Anyway, Obsidian making the third part meant to me "oh, it must look shitty and run like crap, but maybe it has a story now!". I can't really compare the games anymore since DS1 was too long ago, but that much stuck. In a review I've found a few weeks ago the usual Obsidian failures were mentioned again: Aging graphics, robot-like animations, horrible controls. Nothing surprising. Anyway, demo time.

Firing it up, it actually doesn't look so bad at all, and the first positive thing I noticed was that a simple assistant for gamma correction was actually forced on me, which was quite good because it helped the atmosphere later a lot. And of course I immediately raised the graphics options to as pretty as possible.

First thing you notice when playing the game is that you can't create a character. Sad, but at least you can choose from a few, which is already more than a Geralt (no customization at all) or a Hawke (looks only). The demo includes two characters, a male warrior and that female fire chick... guess which one I choose.

Now, that character looks actually... okay. You don't have the wonderful customization of a Dragon Age and it looks a little bit dated, more like Neverwinter Nights 2 actually than a 2011 game, but.... it's not ugly, I can live with the lack of realism. Then comes the intro and the first thought of course is "oh, hello Dragon Age". But, it's actually, and here we have a debut for Obsidian, a really good looking intro, rip-off or not.

So, has Obsidian maybe worked on the art department? Some new artists maybe, even though they had to fire employees lately? Good move, after the horrible New Vegas intro it was time to ring some changes! And furthermore, it was an intro I actually listened to - in most games I actually forget it the second it was told.

What comes next is a quick tutorial on how to move and do stuff while you run to your first objective. One word.... clunky. This is truly a console game, moving is no fun and hitting number keys for special moves extremely unfriendly to PC users. But: The game runs smooth! How can it be? It runs as smooth as Dragon Age! Not even my graphics card's fan going crazy like in a 5yr old NWN2! And what can I say... the graphics aren't half as horrible as I thought. No, it looks just "classic". No hyper-realistic, high-resolution textures and polygons up the limit, but the game does not look shabby at all. It reminds me positively of the old Dungeon Siege game which were simply nice looking without being fancy. And this is where I need to give Obsidian many cudos now: They actually managed to do some good area design! Yes it's simple, yes it's dated, but so was Dragon Age 2, an AAA title. And what can I say, this game is just much better looking. Because believe it or not, Obsidian got the atmosphere right!
Yes, I fell from faith too, but I really like the darkness, the autumn colors, the simple but efffective placeables. The game might look like from 2006, but at least it looks good. See...

Early in the demo you have to fight your way through a burning house. I say, this looks nice!

 I really liked these candles too.

A forest road. Warm autum colors, nice tree shadows, and trees that remind me of the Neverwinter Nights 1 forest tileset - you know, where you never see the trees in a whole. I still miss that badly in NWN2

A lake in the forest, texturing is simple but effective, again reminding me of the old Dungeon Siege in comparison with NWN1

A village, not fancy but atmospheric enough. NPCs actually move around and even sweep the floor. Not as nicely looking as in the Witcher and often cloned too, but... again better than the NPCs in a certain AAA game released not long ago.

Last but not least, some more mechanical stuff. Bioware set a standard with the dialogue wheel now and everyone has to do it, but, again, I think Dungeon Siege III makes it a little better and not as idiot-proof as Dragon Age with it's stupid icons. I can live with this.

The dialogues are very static, instead of making horrible animations like usual, Obsidian wisely decided to better not even try it, so these guys don't emote at all and there's nothing like a real cutscene with camera turns. Not good, but in Obsidian's case better than ruining the whole thing with embarrassing emotes. It's okay, guys, you've learned. :)

Okay, that much on the atmosphere, and that's why I even bother to talk about Dungeon Siege III. We all know this is an Action RPG that is mainly about looting and killing hordes of stuff, and it's also really a console game frustrating to play on a PC without a game controller. But, in Obsidian's favor I just have to say that I can see some big improvements here: The general atmosphere is well done, the game ran incredibly smooth and, who knows, maybe even Dungeon Siege got an interesting story now, because that's what Obsidian can do.

Might buy it someday once it's cheap. :)