Dragon’s Dogma was a game that was hiding just under the radar until a couple of months before release. Suddenly, all this information and gameplay depicting epic battles with fantastic, giant monsters started being hyped. I certainly hadn’t paid much attention to it until then, but experiencing the demo where I got to tangle with both a Chimera and a Griffin had me sold. Unfortunately, for everything the game gets right, there are a series of problems that make the experience incredibly frustrating.
Initially the player has to go through a brief prologue, which was featured in the demo … where you play as a previous Arisen (this game’s version of the Chosen One cliché). It introduces you to a lot of the game elements with a character that’s already been leveled up and it ends leaving you questioning what exactly the Arisen’s role is.
The player then gets to create their own character in a fairly in-depth creation tool for an RPG. You then watch the Dragon return and start wrecking the world before getting a chance to flail at it ineffectually in gameplay. The Dragon then proceeds to eat the player character’s heart while mumbling some magical gibberish, thus making you the new Arisen and setting the stage for my first issue with this game … the narrative.
The game commits a sin I’m overwhelmingly tired of – making the protagonist silent. I’ve heard arguments that it allows you to put yourself in the place of the character and apply your own interpretation of what is going on, but the problem is that that makes for a terrible story.
The main character of a story has to have a motivation for the narrative to work with in order for the story to be compelling. Leaving them a blank slate makes them uninteresting and difficult to relate to anything that’s going on.
So, what happens is your character wakes up the next day and overhears he has no heart yet is still alive and likely cursed by the dragon in some way. Being that he’s a silent protagonist there is no discussion on the kind of emotional impact that kind of information might have on a simple guy, who was fine living an uneventful life in a fishing community.
Without much provocation or explanation, you head off on the adventure. You grab a weapon and cast off because… a Dragon tore your heart out? It is a non nonsensical plot that should be explained or detailed a little better.
From that point on, story pieces that actually move the plot forward are drip fed to you in tiny bits that are far between one another. You spend most of the game wandering between points, killing monsters and trying to work out what exactly is going on. Obviously you want to kill the Dragon, but that is as much as we could really comprehend.
On a more positive note, exploring new areas and getting into combat is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game. The combat is the best I have seen in this kind of RPG. It is detailed and strategic while giving you active control over your character’s attacks. Even your pawn layout plays an important part in how difficult or easy combat is.
Different enemies require a mixture of strategies, and sometimes location can aid you just as much as the weapons you carry.
I can detail a memorable fight I had with a giant.
The first time I fought this giant was long and drawn out and I eventually lost because of a misstep I made. Second time I fought him, instead of chipping down his health I accidentally lead it to charge me and throw itself off a cliff edge. There are often multiple ways to achieve the same goal. Not that this is a unique experience to this game, but it’s just an example of how a really difficult battle can be made easier if you utilize your options fully in the game.
Dragon’s Dogma really shines during the boss battles with enormous monsters. Waiting for them to be vulnerable or working out the right time to jump on them and climb to wherever they are weakest makes for some of the most exciting moments in the game.
The vocation system is fairly deep as well, allowing you to allocate points to new attacks and eventually learn new vocations that are mixtures of the traditional three archetypes. Each vocation can change depending how you play the game and how you build up your party.
The pawn system is another unique aspect of this game, though it is enjoyable, yet frustrating. You get to create one pawn of your own that can be any vocation you want and will level up along side you. The other two spaces can be filled by pawns that are walking around in the world or that other players have created. Even your own pawn can be used by other players when you’re not playing and will come back with experience and perhaps a gift item from the other player (expect a lot of rotted food or trash items).
Pawns work well most of the time in combat, assuming you’ve got a balanced team.
Moments where a pawn will grab an enemy to give the player a free strike or set you up for an assisted jump to grapple a flying enemy are a worthwhile addition to the intensity of battles. That said, their AI is flawed as often they will start picking up loot while a member of your party is under attack.
The issue is that these damn things will not shut up… ever! You can sit your own pawn down and tell them to keep their mouth shut but the other two you pick up can’t be directly commanded. They will spew the same lines over and over again until you go on a murderous rampage to kill all the pawns you can find. Trust me, it will happen.
Another point of contention is the lack of quick travel. There are rare items that allow you something similar to quick travel but it is almost completely worthless. The majority of the time you’ll be running from area to area, going through masses of enemies that always appear in the same spot while listening to your pawns rant on in the background. Being that the world is fairly massive, this can start to wear on you really really quickly.
Enemies do not scale to your level in this game, which adds a level of danger to the prospect of exploring as it’s very likely you’ll get yourself involved in a fight you’re in no way prepared for. It is nice that the game does not overly coddle the player as many modern games tend to. However, certain things can be rage inducing if you’re not prepared for it.
One thing that angered me a great deal was when I had saved a side quest I was having issue with, later only to be told without warning that it was no longer available after finishing one of my other quests. That’s the kind of thing I’d hope for a mention of at some point, especially in a game with a single save file and an autosave feature.
The graphics are decent though you’ll run into some issues here or there, especially some clipping problems while climbing some of the larger monsters. The audio is pretty good, though the J-rock that plays on the title screen can take some getting used to…
Overall, this is a game that’s both enjoyable and frustrating in equal measure. There is a very good game under the surface, it’s just buried under a plethora of stupid decisions and annoying issues.
The title has a lot of depth, so much so that I’d have to fill up several pages to go into detail of all the mechanics, such as upgrading weapons and crafting items. Honestly, if you are a hardcore lover of this genre you will more easily forgive the shortcomings and enjoy the experience it does offer.
For those of you that dig into this kind of game once in awhile when something really grabs your attention… I recommend renting it or trying it at a friends house before committing to buy. It won’t be a title to suit every gamer.