Dungeon Siege is an action role-playing game developed by Gas Powered Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios on April 5, 2002 for Microsoft Windows and the following year for MacOS. Set in the pseudo-medieval kingdom of Ehb, the high fantasy game follows a young farmer, along with their companions, as they journey to defeat a force which has invaded Ehb. Initially only seeking to warn the nearby town of the invasion of the Krug, the farmer and their companions are soon swept up in finding a way to defeat the Seck, resurgent after being trapped for 300 years. Unlike other role-playing video games of the time, the game world of Dungeon Siege does not have levels but is a single, continuous area without loading screens that the player journeys through, fighting hordes of enemies. Additionally, rather than setting character classes and manually controlling all of the characters in the group, the player controls their overall tactics and weapons and magic usage, which direct their character growth.
Dungeon Siege was the first game by Gas Powered Games, which was founded by in May 1998 by Chris Taylor, then known for the 1997 real-time strategy game Total Annihilation. Joined by several of his coworkers from Cavedog Entertainment, Taylor wanted to do a different type of game than before, and after trying several concepts they decided to make an action role-playing game as their first title. In addition to the initial concept Taylor served as one of the designers for the game, joined by Jacob McMahon as the game's other lead designer and producer and Neal Hallford as the game's lead story and dialogue writer. The game's music was composed by Jeremy Soule, who had also worked on Total Annihilation. The development of the game took over four years, though it was initially planned to take only two; to complete the game within even four years required the team to work 12–14 hour days and weekends for most of the development time.
The game was highly reviewed by critics upon release; it is listed by review aggregator Metacritic as the third-highest rated computer role-playing game of 2002. Critics heavily praised the graphics and seamless world, as well as the fun and accessible gameplay, but were dismissive of the plot. Dungeon Siege sold over 1.7 million copies, and was nominated for the 2003 Computer Role-Playing Game of the Year award by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. An expansion pack, Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna, was released in 2003, and a further series of games was developed in the franchise, consisting of Dungeon Siege II (2005) and its own pack Dungeon Siege II: Broken World (2006), a spinoff PlayStation Portable game titled Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony (2006), and a third main title, Dungeon Siege III. A trilogy of movies, with the first inspired by the plot of the game, were released as In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007, theaters), In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds (2011, home video), and In the Name of the King 3: The Last Mission (2014, home video).
Dungeon Siege is an action role-playing game set in a pseudo-medieval high fantasy world, presented in 3D with a third-person virtual camera system under the control of the player, in which the player characters navigate the terrain and fight off hostile creatures. The player customizes the appearance of the main character of the story prior to the start of the game and typically controls them. They are joined by up to seven other characters, which are controlled via artificial intelligence; the player may switch which character they are controlling at will. The other characters move in relation to the controlled character according to the formation and level of aggression towards enemies chosen by the player. The additional characters can be disbanded from the group and re-recruited.
The game world is not broken up into levels, but is instead one large area not separated by loading screens. As the player journeys through the largely linear world, they encounter numerous monsters and enemies of varying types which attack whenever the party of player characters approach. The party defends themselves and attacks enemies using melee and ranged weapons, and nature and combat magic. The player does not select a character class for the characters, unlike other role-playing video games; instead, using weapons or magic of a particular type increases the character's skill with them over time. Whenever a player gains enough experience points from killing enemies and reaches a new level in that weapon type, they gain some amount of points in their strength, dexterity, or intelligence statistics, which in turn relate to the amount of health points and mana that they have, and damage that they do with weapons.
Characters can also equip weapons, armor, rings, and amulets, which provide attack or defense points, or give bonuses to some other statistic. There are also usable items such as potions to restore a character's health or mana. Weapons, armor, and other items are found by killing enemies, breaking containers, or by purchase from vendors. Each character has an inventory, which can hold items; inventories are represented as a fixed grid, with each item represented by a shape taking up spaces on the grid. One character, the mule, cannot use weapons or magic, but has a much larger inventory.
Dungeon Siege has both a single-player and multiplayer mode. The single-player mode consists of a single story and world; players can either create a new character or use one created in a prior playthrough. The cooperative multiplayer mode allows for up to eight players to play through either the single-player storyline or in the multiplayer map, which features a central town hub with increasingly difficult enemies as players move away from it. Multiplayer games can be set to different difficulty levels, to accommodate higher-leveled characters. Additional maps can be created by players which allow for competitive multiplayer instead. Multiplayer matches can be created and joined via local area networks, direct IP addresses, and prior to its closure in 2006 through the Microsoft Zone matchmaking service.
Dungeon Siege is set in the Kingdom of Ehb, a varied region on the continent of Aranna containing deserts, swamps, forests, and mountains, created three centuries prior at the dissolution of the Empire of Stars. At the beginning of the game, the player character's farming village is attacked by a race of creatures named the Krug. The main character, a farmer with no given background and named by the player, journeys through the Krug forces to the town of Stonebridge. Upon breaking the siege of the town, and gaining their first companion, they are tasked by the town's garrison leader Gyorn with alerting the Ehb military forces, called the 10th Legion, of the incursion at the town of Glacern, and defeating any forces they encounter along the way. After journeying through crypts, mines, and mountains, the player reaches Glacern, where they are informed that the Krug invasion is part of a larger invasion by the Seck, who destroyed the Empire of Stars before being imprisoned underneath Castle Ehb, and who have escaped and taken the castle. The player and his companions are then charged with rescuing the Grand Mage Merik in the snowy mountains. Upon his rescue, Merik asks the player to help recover the Staff of Stars from the Goblins, which prior to its theft had kept the Seck imprisoned in the Vault of Eternity.
The player fights through monsters and bandits in crystal caves, a forest, a swamp, and an underground Goblin fortress filled with mechanical war machines. After recovering the staff from the Goblins, the player meets a division of the 10th Legion and are pointed towards Fortress Kroth, which has been overrun with undead. After clearing the fortress and fighting monsters and a dragon in the Cliffs of Fire, they march on Castle Ehb. The player and their companions then storm the castle and fight through the Seck forces to rescue King Konreid. He informs the player that the only way to defeat the Seck leader Gorn is with the magical weapons from the Empire of Stars stored in the Chamber of Stars. The player collects the weapons and fights through lava caves and the Vault of Eternity where the Seck had been imprisoned. The player kills Gorn, defeating the Seck and saving the kingdom.
Gas Powered Games was founded by in May 1998 by Chris Taylor, then known for the 1997 real-time strategy game Total Annihilation. Joined by several of his coworkers from Cavedog Entertainment, Taylor wanted to do a different type of game than before, and after trying several concepts they decided to make an action role-playing game as their first title. In addition to the initial concept Taylor served as one of the designers for the game, joined by Jacob McMahon as the game's other lead designer and producer and Neal Hallford as the game's lead story and dialogue writer. Hallford was brought onto the project after it had already started; Taylor had devised the start and end of the game but left the intervening details and background story to him. The game's music was composed by Jeremy Soule, who had also worked on Total Annihilation. The development team included around thirty people during development, with changes over time, and reached forty at the project's conclusion. The development of the game took over four years, though it was initially planned to take only two.
Dungeon Siege was inspired by prior role-playing games such as Baldur's Gate and the Ultima series, but primarily by Diablo, which Taylor admired for having an experience that "concentrated on action" that players could jump in to without first researching the gameplay details setting. Taylor wanted to further improve on this formula by removing the concept of picking a character class at all, and omitting Diablo's long loading times to make the game as a whole more streamlined and immersive. He also wanted to make the gameplay itself simpler than contemporary role-playing games, so as to appeal to a wider audience. Taylor wanted to make an action role-playing game that was heavy on action and eliminated much of what he felt was boring about the genre, and asked Hallford to make a narrative that was also fast and streamlined.
After the first year of development, Gas Powered Games found that they were not going to be able to finish the game within the planned two years; not only was the seamless world without loading screens harder to create than they had thought, but according to lead developer Bartosz Kijanka they had been overambitious in choosing how many innovative features they could put into the game's custom engine, such as the wide range that the virtual camera system could zoom in and out through. According to Kijanka they also spent a lot of time changing technologies mid-development, such as building a custom animation editor before moving to a licensed one, and starting with the OpenGL graphics library only to switch to Direct3D. As a result, to complete the game within four years required the team to work 12–14 hour days and weekends for most of the development time.
As development concluded, Gas Powered Games began to search for a publisher for the game. Taylor claims that multiple publishers were interested in the game, but he was convinced by Ed Fries to partner with the newly established Microsoft Game Studios. Although Microsoft's publishing wing was established in part to publish games for the newly launched Xbox console, they did not strongly consider bringing the game to the console. Taylor believes that this was due to the size of the game itself, as well as the small market for role-playing games on consoles at the time. Dungeon Siege was released for Microsoft Windows on April 5, 2002, and for MacOS on May 2, 2003 by Destineer.
Dungeon Siege was very commercially successful, selling over 1.7 million copies. It was highly reviewed by critics upon release; it is listed by review aggregator Metacritic as the third-highest rated computer role-playing game of 2002, and the twenty-first-highest computer game overall for the year. The graphics were highly praised; Dan Adams of IGN called it "ridiculously pretty to watch", while reviewers for GameSpot and GamePro praised the "wonderfully detailed and varied environments". Robert Coffey of Computer Gaming World and Greg Vederman of PC Gamer similarly lauded the detailed environments, while Kristian of Game Informer and GameSpy's Peter Suciu called out the seamless world without loading screens as especially worthy of note. Suciu further praised how the freeform, seamless map was used to create areas that were not shaped like rectangular regions with a winding path filling up the space, as was typical with other role-playing games of the time. The IGN and GamePro reviewers also noted the sound effects as excellent and helping to create the atmosphere of the game, while the IGN and GameSpot reviewers also praised the "ambient orchestral score".
The gameplay was similarly lauded; the GamePro review claimed that "Dungeon Siege's gameplay is perhaps its biggest and most transparent improvement over previous titles in the genre." Several reviewers compared it favorably to Diablo II (2000), then one of the most popular computer action role-playing games, with Coffey of Computer Gaming World stating that the only thing keeping it from being directly rated as better was that the shift to a more tactical gameplay made it too different of a game to directly compare, and Adams of IGN claiming that it was very similar to Diablo II with some changes and improvements. PC Gamer's Vederman, Computer Gaming World's Coffey, and the GameSpot reviewer praised the gameplay as being streamlined and accessible, liking the tactical nature of controlling a party of adventurers who improved according to how they were used rather than directly controlling their actions and statistics. The IGN reviewer, however, said that it could get monotonous, Vederman of PC Gamer felt that the gameplay combat choices were somewhat limited, and GameSpy's Suciu disliked the linearity of the single-player game. The IGN reviewer further added that many of the tactical choices in the game were inconsequential, as all battles quickly devolved into brawls, and that the freeform system of leveling was really the same as four character classes as pursuing multiple tracks was ineffective.
The multiplayer content received mixed reviews: the reviewer for IGN praised the amount of additional content, while Suciu and the GameSpot reviewer noted that the multiplayer gameplay could easily get unbalanced between different players. The plot was generally dismissed as inconsequential: the GamePro reviewer termed it "skeletal" and the Game Informer reviewers "lackluster", and the GameSpot reviewer called it "bland and forgettable" and concluded that players who wanted a "deeper role-playing game" would be disappointed. Overall, Vederman of PC Gamer called Dungeon Siege "one of the best, most enjoyable games of the year", and GamePro's reviewer claimed it "walks all over its competition with almost effortless grace", while Adams of IGN concluded that it was entertaining but had "untapped potential".
Dungeon Siege was nominated for the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences's 2003 Annual Interactive Achievement Awards in the Computer Role-Playing Game of the Year and Innovation in Computer Gaming categories, though it did not win either. During development of the game, Gas Powered Games made creating tools and documentation for players to create mods a priority, leading to numerous mods being created, including several "total conversion" mods. Gas Powered Games released one mod of their own, titled "Yesterhaven", which formed a short storyline for low-level characters wherein they defended a town from three thematic plagues of monsters. It was followed up by Legends of Aranna, a full expansion pack developed by Mad Doc Software and released on November 11, 2003 for Windows and MacOS by Microsoft. The expansion pack added little new gameplay besides new terrains, creatures, and items, but featured an entirely separate story from the original game. In Legends, the player controls another unnamed farmer; after the Staff of Stars is stolen by a creature called the Shadowjumper, they set off to retrieve it. After fighting their way through monsters in icy hills, jungles, and islands, the player arrives at the mystical Great Clock, a giant artifact which controls Aranna's seasons. There they defeat the Shadowjumper and retrieve the Staff of Stars. It received generally lower reviews than the original, with critics praising the amount of content but criticizing the lack of changes to the base gameplay.
Several other games have been released in the Dungeon Siege series, beginning with Dungeon Siege II (2005). That game received its own expansion pack, Dungeon Siege II: Broken World (2006), and was followed by a spinoff PlayStation Portable game titled Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony (2006) and a third main title, Dungeon Siege III (2011). A movie inspired by the original game, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, was released in theaters in 2007, and was followed by the home video sequels In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds (2011) and In the Name of the King 3: The Last Mission (2014).