If you're looking to get your monster murder on, this is the game for it. Let's face it, in an action RPG, the story always takes a back seat to carving your way through a few thousand beasts. The latter is the focus of Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony, a built-for-handhelds episode of the popular PC hack and slash franchise.
The action is the strongest element of this game, which itself is packed full of high points. The interface is based largely on the Untold Legends meme (which is a good thing, because it works ), with a handful of improvements that make monster killin' even more intuitive. As you wander through wilderness, temples and dungeons, DS throws hoards of beasts at you and your companions, and you wield a huge array of varied weaponry, spells and abilities to smite them.
Of course, running and killing aren't the only components of DS; it's an RPG at its core, so it also involves a heavy helping of the proven formula of character development, item looting (and there are tons of items to find), interaction with NPCs, and questing. Everything comes together to create a deep, action-packed game that works incredibly well.
You start by choosing from one of three characters: Mogrim, the requisite massive bruiser who gets through the game on brute strength alone; Allister, a battlemage, who employs physical and mystical attacks and defenses with equal skill; and Serin, the most interesting of the three, who is a blind assassin with incredible speed and the ability to wield dual weapons.
You're not alone in your quest. Each character comes with a choice of two, autonomous NPC companions, and you'll meet other friendlies during the adventure; some are battling bruisers, some are mages, some are healers, and one is a hawk. While you can only have one helper at your side at a time, you can dynamically summon any of them at any time, which adds a strategic twist to the action.
As the game progresses, you'll eventually mold a unique champion based on your habits and choices, and which attributes and abilities you power-up. Eventually Legendary classes become available, based upon your play style and character. For instance, Serin can advance to become a Ranger or a Blademaster, and then move on to be a Sniper, a Ninja, or another lofty class.
The game follows the typical RPG blueprint. The countryside through which you wander contains friendly towns and hostile places, like forests and dungeons. You advance the plot by interacting with NPCs and gaining quests, which take you into monster-filled locations. Quests are usually easy to come by, but occasionally you'll find yourself wandering about looking for an NPC with an exclamation point over his head, indicating he has an errand for you. Quests include finding objects, killing bosses, rescuing villagers... you know, the usual tasks.
The game shines brightest when it's creature slaying time, with melee and ranged weapons, plus special abilities that can be queued by assigning them to dynamically programmable buttons. In a minor balance issue, ranged weapons like crossbows and throwing daggers aren't as effective as swords, axes and maces, as enemies usually close the distance between you and them before you get more than a few shots off. When close to a monster, all you have to do is press the attack button and you'll automatically face the right way and attempt to strike a blow against its hit points. Rinse and repeat, and beware: sometimes the monsters (of which the game boasts more than 100 types) respawn before you leave the dungeon.
All is not rosy in the lands of DS. The game is plagued by long load times - even for the PSP - whenever you enter or exit an area. That makes those times when you're faced with a lack of quests extra tedious, because in searching for some way to advance the plot you'll want to check out a few towns and other locales.
The hackin' and slashin' starts to get old about halfway through the game. At least, that's when your button mashing thumb will probably start to get sore. With about 14 or so hours of gaming plus serious replay value (thanks to the character development paths), you'll be pressing that attack button enough to test the very endurance of the console itself, much less your thumb knuckles.
Even with those minor flaws, Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony is the cream of the action RPG crop on the PSP. There's just enough of a plot to keep you interested enough to venture into more caverns and battle more beasts. An RPG by nature, it's an action game by trade, and most of all it's a satisfying romp.