Well, Broken World (BW) has now been released upon our world, and I've decided to take the time to write down my opinions and experiences, as well as some details of what the expansion to Dungeon Siege 2 contains.
The game installed without a hitch, and interesting enough it is in it's own directory structure (C:\Program Files\2K Games\Dungeon Siege 2 Broken World\ by default). I expected it to be contained within the Dungeon Siege 2 (DS2) program directory (as LoA was for DS1) but considering the publisher change (from Microsoft to 2K Games) perhaps this is not too surprising. Installing BW does not affect your DS2 installation at all (at least it didn't for me, starting with DS2 patch v2.2), but it does use the DS2 game resources (so mod users beware of conflicts / incompatibilities).
Running the game for the first time came with a minor problem... a black-screen lock-up. Fortunately I knew how to fix it (I had the same problem with the original game) so a quick fullscreen=false run allowed me to see the hidden firewall pop-up, and quiet the prompt from interrupting again. My system does meet or exceed all the system requirements, except one (My CPU is a 1.7Mhz vs. the "required" 1.8Mhz), but even considering that DS2 is a CPU intensive game, the performance I experienced was quite playable at 1024x768 (with some features turned down or off).
Starting Off on a New Adventure
I didn't have any character saves of an appropriate level to convert and jump right in to the new BW map, so I decided to try out one of the pre-made characters, a Dwarf (the new playable race in BW). After making my choice I watched the opening movie (quite nicely done) then found my avatar located in a Dryad Outpost. I took a look around, and found all the recruitable characters from DS2's Acts 1-3 all eager to rejoin the battle, as well as two new special NPC's (more on these later), but my heart just wasn't behind the pre-made hero character (because I didn't build him / watch him grow). He was well equipped, and had some gold too, but my personal preference is to do it myself (you know... the "R" part of "RPG"). So, after that quick look into the new map, I started a new character way back at the beginning of DS2's Act 1.
After reading some of the preview information, I really wanted to try out the new Fist of Stone (FoS) class. I had some concerns about having a much weaker melee character (because of the dual-classing with Nature Magic) but according to the game manual the experience split is 70-30% in favor of melee so that ended up being a non-issue. Now, the FoS class works by casting a buff spell on a character (the expansion having four auto-cast slots makes this easy) and then using melee weapons. For those interested, Blood Assassins (BA) work the same way (auto-buff, use ranged weapons and get the 70-30% exp. split between Ranged and Combat Magic). The cool thing about the dual-class buffs is that even mages can benefit from them. The early ones boost Strength / Dexterity (for extra life...) and later on (with higher magic level casting requirements) there are armor boosting BA & FoS buffs (and what mage can't use a little extra armor eh?). Since the automatic experience split only works when using melee / ranged weapons (for FoS and BA respectively), the mages using these buffs can exploit the benefits without penalty. Note: these dual-class buffs do not count towards your two-buff maximum.
FoS and BA skill trees are separate from the other classes' skill tabs, and the new skills include level requirements in both of that build's two classes. This means that the new skills (and very cool new Powers) are not available until you've developed a character a little bit first, and also that there will be less skill points for use on other skill tabs. Another change to the skill tab is in the fact that the hard skill level cap of 20 has been raised. You can still only assign 20 points per skill, but you can reach up to level 30 with skill point bonuses from items.
Starting off in the tutorial with a Human character, I had no way to get a FoS buff until I reached the magic shop in the Dryad city, so I played through as melee (figuring that would have the least affect on the character's attribute balance). Going ahead and building up my party, I went with Deru as a Nature Mage, Lothar as a Combat Mage, focusing my FoS hero as a shield wielding tank (something I had never tried before), picking up Amren as soon as I reached Act 2 (and making him into a Blood Assassin). I really liked the FoS skill tree, which has some cool stuff including defensive, offensive and healing based skill development. As for Blood Assassins, they are quite simply: killing machines. If I ever want to try soloing this game, I would definitely choose a BA character... I think it would be incredible fun (I just love the BA buff with Knock Back Enemy...).
A Loot Lovers Dream
Along with the new player classes, and rebalanced difficulty (tougher), another major difference playing the DS2 map with BW is in the items. The addition of many new attributes that jewellery, books, weapons and armor can have is very refreshing. Examples include: Chance when Hit: Major Infect, Chance when Hit: Invulnerable, Chance when Hit: Impale for 95 - 155 Damage, Chance on Hit: Rapid Attack, Chance on Hit: Petrify Enemy for 2 seconds, Chance on Hit: Death Burst for 110 - 185 Damage, +12% Healing Effectiveness, +45% Summoned Creature Damage, +20% Melee Critical Hit Damage, +10% Ranged Critical Hit Chance... and there are many more. Add in new Sets and Unique items, including some unique jewellery that drops randomly as loot (something missing from DS2), and the variety of equipment is greatly enhanced. Plus, with the addition of all the new and improved magical attributes, Rare items are frequently useful (I used the same Rare mace for almost the entire BW map!). There are new armor looks too (for the fashion conscious), and many new items targeted to the two new classes (with skill requirements in melee/NM or ranged/CM).
When talking about all the extra goodies available in the expansion, you didn't think I'd forget describing Reagent Recipes now did you? As I reached about level 20, the reagent recipes started dropping as random loot. Recipes appear with the same font color as Uniques, so your eye should surely spot them on the ground when they drop. When you pick a recipe up, it shows up in your journal's Lore tab as a "Book". The ingredients are listed but you'll have to actually make the recipe to find out the exact specifications of the product. To make a recipe, go an Enchanter, and use the ingredients (enchant specified type of enchantable item, plus specific reagents). The result will be a Unique or a Set item, instead of the usual enchanted attributes added to the item. Finding recipe ingredients gets much easier in the BW map too... reagents are scattered about the map, plus an early side quest unlocks a vendor who sells only enchantable items and reagents.
Two New Friends
As I stated previously, there are two new special NPC's in BW. The first gives you the ability to reassign all the skill points of any character in your party, for a meagre price in gold. While I didn't use this feature extensively, I did use it to reclaim a couple of skill points that were pre-assigned to a recruited NPC in a way contrary to how I wanted them built. If you want to try out different skill trees without starting a new character, then you'll love this feature.
The second new NPC type is a bit of a mystery at this time, since it refers to the upcoming PlayStation Portable game "Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony", and a feature needing a "crossover code". You can trade some "tablets" found within the BW map for your choice from a list of cool items, but the full use of this NPC is apparently for those with the PSP game's code.
A Broken World
Watching the intro. movie, reading through the conversation dialog, and taking a look around, you see that the world is not the same one you last saw (at the end of DS2). I won't spoil the story for you, but I will say that when the Sword met the Shield, bad things happened over the next year (the BW starting timeline is one year later). You will see many familar characters from DS2, and the changes on the world have taken a toll on them. Venturing forth into the scarred lands to battle a whole new variety of evil, the effects of the cataclysm are evident. The environments created by the level designers are quite spectacular in places, and I frequently paused playing to take a look around at all the beautiful scenery.
When talking about gameplay it is hard not to mention some of the tactics you will encounter. There are: many more ambushes than were found in DS2, enemies that explode when they die (damaging any characters standing too close), and even beasts that come back from the dead after you thought you killed them! I won't go into details, because that would spoil a lot of your fun, but suffice to say that even more thought was put into gameplay experience this time around.
The game's graphics have been tweaked in BW, and I have to say I like the changes. One of the first things I noticed about the original DS2 was the lack of lip-synching in the NIS dialogs (when Amren and Celia are talking about you in the Dryad prison). In BW, this has changed... all the BW map's NIS's have proper facial movements. Another noticeable difference to me was in the shiny armor. My "Mirror of Vistira" (a set shield) certainly lives up to it's name... and seeing reflective chainmail is something I didn't expect. A nice surprise. If I was to have one gripe (about the graphic experience in BW) it would be in the extensive use of particle effects... The FoS and BA buffs all come with swirling rocks/skulls and grey/red smoke swirling around the character. This makes it difficult to see the characters normally, but in battle it is virtually impossible to differentiate between incoming/outgoing attack effects and buffs, let alone trying to find an enemy to click on... It's nice to see everything for the first time, but after hours of playing with the same effects following me everywhere, I was wishing for a way to have the buffs' effects without all the SFX.
The game manual mentions two new NPC's that are willing to join your party, but I was able to find a third later on. Each character requires you to complete a side quest before offering to join you, so keep your eyes open. There are also two new Pets that you can have in your party: the Pack Ram and Kohl Beast. I didn't try them out extensively, but they are both melee based. The Kohl Beast's Power is a quick burst of attack speed, and the little guy can pack quite a punch with an emanation boosting critical hit damage. The Pack Ram shows how much equipment he is carrying (by packs added to it's back in-game) just like the Mule, and the Ram also has an expanded inventory as it grows. The Ram's Power is a prolonged set of stunning "earthquake" waves that damage nearby enemies, with an emanation that reads like a party wide life & armor buff. Looks like a handy companion to have along on any adventure.
Later on in the game there is a side quest for a light puzzle dungeon. Solve one of the puzzles and the quest is done, but that also unlocks a door leading to another puzzle... completely optional, and not part of a quest. I'll admit to writing a little Java program in order to solve the extra puzzles (there are a few) because there's just no way I'd ever be able to solve the last couple without help. A nice diversion added to the game, with a funny reward.
The final battle was challenging, but not quite as tough for me as the three Dark Wizards, the Archmage, or Valdis. I was however a bit over-levelled by the end because of doing side quests (in BW and the DS2 map), so that may be a factor in the perceived difficulty. I do know that I used Resurrect on this journey through DS2 & BW much more than I had to when playing without the expansion, so that should be an indication of overall difficulty change.
Overall I found the ending quite satisfying, and even enjoyed the movie while the credits were rolling (you'll know what I mean when you see it yourself). With the DS2 story wrapped up very nicely, Gas Powered Games did leave the door open for more adventures within the Dungeon Siege universe... only time will tell if the call to arms is to be heard in Aranna again.
I won't "rank" Dungeon Siege II: Broken World with so many stars, points or a percentage because such things are meaningless to me, but if you liked DS2 at all, then BW just adds on to the experience with some imaginative storytelling and very enjoyable gameplay enhancements.