Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna
The original Dungeon Siege, a game that took the original Diablo and placed it in a 3D world, automated everything to the point that the game almost played itself. But this was still pure action role-playing, so addictive that you kept exploring just one more haunted forest, just one more goblin cave, into the early hours of the morning.
So why mess with success? The standalone expansion pack Legends of Aranna, which comes bundled with the original game so you won’t need the first Dungeon Siege installed, is a carbon copy. The expansion adds more monsters, more quests, more loot, and more user-interface amenities to make your adventuring life easier. Such slavish devotion to the kill-collect-level-up treadmill makes the 20-hour dungeon crawl seem a little tired in comparison with its predecessor, although enough of the magic remains to give you a few more late nights.
Like Dungeon Siege, Legends of Aranna plays a lot like My First RPG. Plot is stock-standard claptrap about a peasant with a rusty knife leaving home to confront great evil, realize his or her destiny, discover lost truths about an ancient civilization, blah, blah, blah. There are gorgeous locales, including snowy mountains, cobwebby crypts, and aerial cities in the midst of tropical jungles. Still, everyone has seen these sorts of things in role-playing games many times before, and the presentation is marred by an abysmal script. Dialogue leads you by the hand so much that it could have been excerpted from a childrenâ€™s book.
Gameplay along the way to a showdown with the big bad, a demon called the Shadowjumper who has seized the element-controlling Staff of Stars, follows a straight line. There is no exploration as you travel the Island of Utrae, and the developers donâ€™t even attempt to disguise this. Finish one quest and you open the way to another. Many are linked by teleportation devices called Displacers. One of these magical bus stops can be found at the end of just about every big battle, so at least you always know where youâ€™re supposed to go next.
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A â€œmore of the sameâ€ philosophy governs all aspects of design. There is a new half-giant that can be selected as a playable character and as an NPC later in the campaign, along with a new pack animal called the Tragg that looks and fights like a bipedal rhino. New weapons and magical items are mostly identical to the old, with slightly different characteristics and fresh, florid nicknames. Treasure sets, unique collections of three to five pieces that provide added bonuses, spice things up a little. There arenâ€™t enough of these sets to really change play, however, and theyâ€™re typically so easy to put together that there is little satisfaction in the final assembly.
Hordes of new creatures are present, including races such as the mysterious Utraen elders and their former servants, the catlike Hassat and the reptilian Zaurask. But this novelty is mitigated by the re-use of common monsters. You see many familiar faces here, including the spider-like Mucosas and all types of the undead, in only slightly altered guises. Also, even though you encounter a lot of different monsters through the course of the game, Mad Doc bunches up similar types in the same dungeons. At times youâ€™re wading through room after room killing the same creepy-crawlies over and over again.
But at least itâ€™s easier to plough these killing fields. Mad Docâ€™s biggest contribution to the Dungeon Siege experience is a number of interface refinements. Inventories can now be sorted with the click of a button. Backpacks greatly increase each characterâ€™s carrying capacity. The â€œsell allâ€ inventory function lets you swap all unequipped items for gold. Spells can be collected into control groups for easy casting. And the world map gives you a better idea of where you are in Aranna.
Not that there are ever really any questions about where you are in Legends of Aranna. Yet even with such done-it-all-before game design, the combination of simplicity, repetition, and ease of use prove almost hypnotic. Like its predecessor, this might not be the most memorable role-playing experience out there, but it will still keep you enthralled.
System Requirements: PII 333 Mhz, 128 MB RAM, 8 MB Video, 1 GB HDD, Win 95/NT/98