Basically? Dungeon Siege III definitely works better as a cooperative experience.
The styling of the title - fantasy dungeon crawler with overhead camera - should mean that statement comes with little surprise. But my first run through of the title some months ago was decent, it lacked that sizzle that I take as granted with fiction grounded in the swords and sorcery world.
Cue a second player. I defend their back, they defend mine. We talk strategy. Argue over conversation branch choices (host player ultimately decides, but other players can highlight their preferred option) and which route to take. We squabble over loot. Chuckle heavily over an item labelled "Determined Pants" - though we both refuse to pick them up. The name gives off some odd connotations.
While they're highlighting the charging brutality of swordsman Lucas's Victory Rush, I'm dismissing its limitations for new girl Anjali's attack potential, that comes through flicking between her human and spirit forms. Doing so allows for both close and long range attacks. Cue an snarky aside that I'm more interested in the curve of her body than the arc of her fireballs, or the damage from her spear thrust. I saw nothing (though the spirit form character model is gorgeously designed.)
It's telling that were my previous note count for the SP numbered a few well written pages, my MP notes consist of a few hurried scrawls on a single page on my notepad. Less there was little to report, more I was too busy trying make sure both myself and my cooperative partner survived. He'd tell you he had to pull my ass out of the fire a number of times. I'd tell it differently.
The big reveal this time round was Anjali, and she's worth some space on the strength of her attack/defend versatility. Unless the other characters yet to be revealed have as much dynamic, Anjali will be the one you'll be fighting over friends for come Dungeon Siege III's release this May.
In human form, she's got a decent mix of attacks, a sweeping spear swing followed by an lunging kick is the most prominent combination she has, lopping off hit points from any attackers standing within its generous range. But this isn't a fight you'll win if you just want to trade health cuts with your opponents. The creatures we face from a segment reportedly some twenty minutes after our last play through (and that was the game's opening) are tough cookies.
Tactical is the key, and that's were her spirit form comes in, its attacks and immobilising spells proving especially vital in the haunted mansion that is the location for the majority of our play through this time. Long corridors bunch enemy forces together making easy target for hand-launched fireballs. Tight doorways make a perfect place to cast a circular area of fire, which serves a two-fold purpose - damaging enemies for as long as they stand on it, and herding foes in a direction of my choosing when cast inside rooms.
The former practice proves a sound strategy when battling the two bosses encountered within the once-stately home. Both the first, a lumbering beast summoned through some arcane ritual in the belly of the mansion and second, the sword-swinging spirit of Gunderic, the home owner turned pissed off spook, are stripped of health through dropping a hellfire circle by their feet.
The beast's steps are slow enough that it takes precious seconds to move out of the damage range, while the ghost needs time to cast spells. But it's far from the fool-proof solution. I haven't outlined that they're joined by spell-casting priests, skeleton archers, blood-sucking demon bats, and both bosses like to throw in the occasional charge across their rooms.
It's tough work, requiring you to be constantly dodging after a few combos, cleaning up the room in order of minion threat before finishing on the big guy. For some periods we're stuck in a cycle of resurrecting our fallen partner, only to die as our back is turned as our ally rises.
That's even with our upgraded Aura of Immolation (the big circular area of death's official name). Each of your Proficiencies can be upgraded for added status effects - letting the invisible effecting every move gaining you more damage or defensive additions.
Or in this case, doubling the AOI (not quite as catchy as I'd hoped) as a regen pool for allies. Stick within its perimeter and your health with start replenishing. The relatively small area makes you an easy target however, and as is increasingly proven during our time with the game, you need to plan its casting both somewhere off the battle's frontline and when there's a lull in combat.
Its one spell, and as such is only a small example of the wealth of combinations available as you proceed through the game. But it does prove the use of team-based tactics, even at this early stage, will make or break the experience. The gameplay is tough enough with talk between teams raging as furiously as the fights themselves. And even at this early stage two things are clear:
If you're going to venture into the world of Dungeon Siege III, don't go alone.
Make sure your backup is someone who's less Lone Ranger, more Tango & Cash.
Always pick Anjali, but avoid the Determined Pants. Because some things are just best left untouched.
Actually, make that three (possibly four) things. But you get the idea.