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Dungeon Siege II review: Dungeon Siege II

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The Good Skill system gives more control over character development. Detailed and immersive environments. Great sound effects and music.

The Bad The game lacks challenge and depth. Combat gets repetitive. Item collection feels unnecessary after awhile.

The Bottom Line Dungeon Siege II is a solid effort that manages to improve on the first game to deliver a lengthy, combat-heavy dungeon hack that will certainly please fans of the genre.

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Dungeon Siege II plays pretty much like your average action RPG, except instead of controlling a single character, you control a party of up to six characters. Don't get too excited though, as it takes a lot of work to get six characters in your party. You start the game with the ability to create a two-person party, but you can buy extra "slots" from an innkeeper to increase the size of your group. On your first run through the game, you can have a maximum of four characters in battle at a time. By the time you start on your third run through the story, you're finally able to get that sixth party member. It's a bit of a chore, though, since the story takes between 40 and 60 hours to complete.

Once you have your party assembled, you're ready for combat. You only directly control one character at a time, but you can give your party orders with a quick press of a button. For example, you can tap the F key to put your party into mirror mode, which will make them mimic your main character. Or, you can put your party into rampage mode and they'll kill anything that moves. It's easy to switch characters on the fly as well. You can hit the F2 key to take control of your mage and fire off a quick healing spell, or you can press F3 to switch to your fighter and go pound on some enemies for awhile. You can also set magic spells to auto-cast, which can be handy. It's easy to set up the artificial intelligence-controlled characters to be self-sufficient enough that you don't have to do anything but tell them where to go. In fact, if you have healing spells set to auto-cast, your mages can easily heal your party faster than enemies can inflict damage, so the only thing you have to do to stay alive is keep your mages' mana up.

Unlike the first game in the series, Dungeon Siege II gives you complete control over how the characters in your party develop by letting you allocate skill points to make your characters more specialized. There are four classes in the game: ranger, fighter, combat mage, and nature mage. You choose your class by simply using the character in a certain way. A character that uses primarily physical attacks will level up in melee skill and will effectively become a fighter. Any character can learn the skills of any class, but if you try to make a jack-of-all-trades-type of character, it'll end up being fairly weak and useless.

Combat in Dungeon Siege II is about as simple as they come, but it can be pretty satisfying for awhile. You simply right-click on an enemy you want to attack, and if you hold the button you'll keep attacking the enemy until it dies. If you take too much damage, you'll get knocked unconscious, but as long as one of your characters is still coherent you can continue fighting. Eventually an unconscious character will wake up and be ready to fight again. However, if a character takes too much damage while unconscious, he or she will die.

As you fight, enemies will drop all kinds of loot for you to pick up--too much loot in fact. You'll find so much gold, armor, weapons, and spells that the notion of collecting items becomes almost trivial. Luckily there are teleporters located throughout the world so you can simply teleport back to town, sell off everything you don't want, and teleport back to continue your quest.

The combat in Dungeon Siege II doesn't require any sort of skill or strategy, but there's still something to be said for tearing through mobs of undead soldiers and leaving piles of bloody corpses in your wake. Unfortunately, cutting down evildoers gets stale after a while, since enemies don't really become more challenging as you progress through the story; they just have more hit points so they take a bit longer to kill. There are a few cool boss fights in the game, but even those can get dull at times.

To make things slightly more interesting, you can play through the story cooperatively with a friend via LAN or online play. You can import a party from your single-player campaign, but when you start a multiplayer game you have to start at the beginning of the story, which isn't much fun if you already know all the ins and outs of every quest. Although you can use parties in multiplayer, each player can only use a few characters, so there are never more than six allies in the game at a time.

Dungeon Siege II does a good job with its setting and maintaining the fantasy atmosphere. The environments are detailed, and although some of the textures look a bit blurry and faded, the assorted areas are varied enough to be interesting while still feeling like they belong in a cohesive fantasy universe. In addition to the scenery, the sound goes a long way in enhancing the atmosphere in Dungeon Siege II. The fully orchestrated soundtrack from Jeremy Soule helps set the mood for each area, whether you're exploring a dungeon or just chatting with people in town.

Dungeon Siege II is a solid game with plenty to keep you busy for hours. The biggest problem is that the game is just too easy, and even though there are increased difficulty settings, you have to put in a good 40 hours just to unlock the veteran setting, and another 40 hours to reach elite. Unfortunately, the story and gameplay really aren't deep enough to warrant that many trips through the game. But, there haven't been a lot of good dungeon crawlers lately, and Dungeon Siege II does a respectable job of filling that void.

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