Does Dungeon Siege II dethrone Diablo II? No. But the good news is that it comes closer than any game yet. Dungeon Siege II openly embraces its Diablo II lineage, making comparisons simply unavoidable. This isn't a bad thing at all - Diablo II was a brilliant game, after all - but it's a little disappointing that Gas Powered Games didn't stretch itself a little more in the creativity department.
But what Dungeon Siege II lacks in originality, it makes up for with fiendishly obsessive-compulsive gameplay. The game model of click, kill, loot, click, cast, click, and click is a lot like popping bubble wrap; it's senseless and repetitive, but that's part of the charm.
The party element helps differentiate Dungeon Siege II from the Diablo games, but it's both a strength and a weakness. Players can cobble together an array of various characters and sidekicks, but this can make battles chaotic and difficult to manage. If you're controlling a larger party, you'll occasionally find that characters get stuck or obstructed.
Online adventures are limited to four players, each of whom can control two sidekicks; it's a shame there isn't an option to play with eight humans and no sidekicks - the same modest number supported in Diablo II some six years ago. In the end, Dungeon Siege II's Gamespy-powered online modes don't even begin to stack up to Diablo II, which had the advantage of Battle.net (Blizzard's sublime, and free, gaming service) and much larger game sizes. This is a shame, but it's by no means a deal-breaker.
In these types of games, graphics and sound barely matter - they're essentially empty vessels for more clicks and more compulsive carnage.
Nevertheless, Dungeon Siege II shines brightly. Though the textures and models tend to fall to pieces if you zoom in too closely, the special effects and environments look simply dazzling. They certainly put Diablo II's sprites to shame. On the audio side, it's pretty much what you'd expect to find: yelp, thuds, and thwacks, driven along by propulsive bongo beats. That, and some mediocre, but inoffensive, voice acting.
Diablo II is quite simply a legend, an effortless, elegant condensation of every compulsive act known to man. Dungeon Siege II is a variation on that premise, and an excellent one. Sure, the new skill tree system (which allows for more character-building flexibility) is a neat twist, and the streamlined inventory system represents a wonderful addition. In short, it's a great game, but it needs a more persistent online community to truly shine.
But it's now clear that Dungeon Siege II is now one of the action RPG stars. It makes many welcome tweaks and improvements - far too many to list here - and is sure to thrill any action RPG fan. You'll find the demo on this month's cover DVD.
Visuals: Excellent, assuming you don't look too closely. Dazzling special effects.
Audio: Lacks Diablo II's audio flair, but a good mix of sound effects. Mediocre vocal talent.
Gameplay: Not quite good enough to topple Blizzard's epic, but great if you're a fan looking for fresh meat.
Developer: Gas Powered Games