The words "metaphysics" and "computer games" are rarely mentioned in the same breath, fortunately for all of us. Dungeon Siege 2 does raise a philosophical point though: can a game be said to have a "soul", and would it matter if it didn't?
That may be rather a heavy way of starting a review of something as inconsequential as a role playing adventure, but the single most notable thing about Dungeon Siege 2 is that it lacks the spark of life that could mark the game out as excellent.
The original Dungeon Siege took the stripped-down RPG approach of Diablo 2 and shoehorned it into a 3D engine. The result was definitely entertaining, but flawed enough to prevent it becoming a classic.
With Dungeon Siege 2, Microsoft have concentrated on fixing the flaws that dragged the original down.
They have managed to create a game that looks good, plays well (although it could be accused of lacking a little pace at times) and retains the unique touches of the original. Those include the immense levels uninterrupted by infuriating loading pauses, and the ability to add a pack-mule to your party to carry the huge amount of loot that you will gather during your journey.
That journey is going to take you a very long time, as this game is vast. If you really wanted to you could finish it relatively quickly by concentrating your party's energies solely on completing the plot-related quests, but there is so much else to do and to discover in the world in which you find yourself that you'd be missing out on a huge chunk of the game.
That said, this does flag up Dungeon Siege 2's major flaw: it's abject shallowness. There is so much to do, yet you get the feeling that none of it - even saving the world - matters.
An opening cut-scene of lazy Tolkienesque nonsense introduces you to the back-story: evil sword, magic shield, pieces scattered to the four corners of the world, time of destiny has arrived blah blah blah.
Of course, games aren't expected to be works of literary genius, but the sheer lack of thought that went into this one casts a pall over the entire game. How can a game be gripping and immersive when the player has no interest in the heroic deeds he is being asked to do?
It's not just the story that fails the player: aside from the graphics, the presentation generally is terribly weak. The characters you meet through the game are barely worthy of the word, and the voice acting is uniformly dreadful. Combat is repetitive, the levels are claustrophobically linear and the orchestral score that plays along underneath the action is so grating that I switched it off after half an hour.
The most aggravating thing about the game though is that, despite what I consider to be serious problems, it is still a damnably addictive dungeon hack. Once you have finally managed to tear yourself away from the PC though, you will be left with that nasty junk-food aftertaste: hungry for some real nourishment but unable to eat any more.
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