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Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony

For: PSP

A regal title, only let down by the agony of slow loading times

Product: Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony | Developer: SuperVillain Studios | Publisher: Take-Two | Format: PSP | Genre: Action, RPG | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
 
Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony PSP, thumbnail 1
Evil is very much like owning an old house. As soon as you've fixed something, your attention is needed elsewhere. Think of the Dungeon Siege games, then, as a hamlet of ageing properties, with evil as the cracks in their mortar. Every time wickedness is repointed in one, more fissures show up in a sequel.

In Throne of Agony, the third instalment of this real-time role-playing series (though the first on PSP), Malith the Betrayer's untold malice has again erupted on to the continent of Aranna and, obviously, it's up to you to send his minions back to the dark, dingy hole from where they came.

To do this, you must first decide whether you would rather roam Throne of Agony's expansive gameworld as Allister the Battle Mage, Mogrim the Warlord, or Serin the Shadown Stalker. In predictable RPG style, each possesses an individual mix of skills that affects the way you play – Mogrim, for instance, excels at melee combat but isn't particularly comfortable relying on ranged attacks.

Each main character is also given the choice of one of two 'followers' who, as their name suggests, accompany you on this considerable quest. Their abilities also vary, so you should think of the elf, elemental, golem, dragon, archer or hawk (to list the initial selection) as a way of making up the shortfall in your character's skillset, rather than as the perfect AI-controlled half of a ghoul-slaying duo.

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The combat itself is in real-time (this is an action RPG, after all), and its nature will obviously vary depending on the type of character selected. But whether spell, projectile, or blade-based (or a mixture of the two, given that access to a secondary weapon is available at a button's press) – and despite the majority of suitably short quests requiring, for example, the retrieval of an object, extermination of vermin or the location of fellow characters – the overall objective is to slay everything in your path.

Granted, Aranna doesn't happen to be the most densely populated fictional land we've ever encountered – much of Throne of Agony is spent trundling through fiend-free scenery (here the excellent soundtrack helps maintain the atmosphere) – but at least there's no shortage in the variety of enemies that do inhabit it.

You could argue that encountering new enemies partly covers up the fact that you're effectively repeating the same mechanic from start to finish – kill a monster, ransack its possessions for useful or lucrative loot, and move along to the next wave. But that doesn't take into account all of the typical RPG fare that sucks a player in: the levelling up and distribution of experience points, the discovery of (or ability to purchase) better offensive and defensive items, and the sense of discovery as you progress, as well as the reward of seeing your character develop along the way.

And the particular appeal of Throne of Agony is how it deploys these RPG conventions in an accessible manner, while simultaneously streamlining some elements for RPG-virgins. So, sure, you have direct involvement in your character's development and equipment, but the menu system is clear enough to be understood without the need to consult the instructions, for instance, while clever touches such as the ability to immediately compare equipped items against those you find on your travels without needing to pick them up first helps make the experience pleasingly fluid.

What a pity, then, that this smooth flow is so brutally broken by the game's considerable loading times. Whenever you swap between areas – a regular occurence, given the to-and-fro nature of most quests – there's a frustratingly long wait. Just loading up the map takes an inexplicable lengthy period. Related to this is menu navigation, which suffers from a slight but noticeable lag and which, even after several hours' play, will have you wondering whether it's registered your command or not.

Other issues include the way followers occasionally get stuck in the scenery and are unable to offer their support – not ideal when you're surrounded by hideous, hit-point sapping beasts. And the initial allocation of items your character is able to carry soon feels restrictive, forcing you to be very selective about what you pick up, although this ability can be upgraded over time.

The above criticisms may sound petty, but they're substantial enough to taint an otherwise accomplished, very enjoyable action RPG. True, some may also eventually tire of the game's repetitive core, although we can't see anyone objecting to completing the game via the two-player cooperative ad-hoc Campaign mode.

To return to our initial analogy, Throne of Agony is built on a solid foundations and boasts a pleasing aspect, but the odd architectural niggle means you suspect you'll be moving on rather sooner then you might hope.
 
Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony
Reviewer photo
Joao Diniz Sanches | 9 February 2007
Great action RPG – one of the best on PSP – cleverly balanced in such a way as to appeal to both veterans and newcomers, but significantly marred by frustrating loading issues
 
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