Dragon’s Dogma Review
Dragon’s Dogma delivers a grand adventure in a world full of excitement and danger to explore.
“When the weak court death, they find it”. Towards the end of the game an eloquently speaking dragon utters this to you and in a lot of ways this is the motto of this experience. It is something that can be described as a cross between an Elders Scroll game and Dark Souls, but saying that cheapens what is a wholly new role playing experience. Developed by the producer and director of Devil May Cry 4, Capcom assembled a large team to create a new fully open world rpg with a large emphasis on combat and exploration. It is also one of my favorite games this year thus far.
The story is a bit nonsensical and esoteric; what little is there is fairly interesting but not the focal point of the game. I tried to make sense of it and got this from it. Once every generation or so a great dragon, let us say an elder god or ancient evil, comes to the land Gransys and brings forth a horde of monsters with it. It initially comes to your little fishing village where your character takes up arms against it. You are rightfully smited and then the dragon takes your heart, swallows it and you are chosen as “Arisen”. Still alive, you now have the power to control humans from the Rift, your pawns. One is your custom creation and two more are other players’ creation. Your party of up to four are now set to vanquish the dragon. Other than that, there is the usual dark medieval setting with castles, keeps, ogres, goblins, zombies, trolls, harpies, etc.
Your hero is a custom creation. Options are pretty extensive for a uniquely created avatar of your liking. Initially you are optioned three classes; Fighter, Mage and Strider. Fighter being sword and shield knight, Mage a magic based character and Strider is the archery class with daggers. As the game progresses you can advance to hybrid classes such as Mystic Knight, Sorcerer, Ranger, Assassin, Warrior and Magic Archer. Every class is effectively balanced and by the end of the game your progression path could be something like this; Fighter to Mystic Knight to Assassin. Your character has taken augments from each previous class and adding them to your new discipline, given you a plethora of options to play with.
Combat and exploration is focused heavily in this game. Other than basic attack, jump, climb and defense, your character has upwards of six special moves for whichever class they are. Your attacks have weight and the combat is more action and skilled based than usual rpg’s. Monster can also be grabbed or if large enough, scaled ala Shadow of the Colossus. I preferred the defense and offense of a sword and shield as I found archery a bit one note and casting time for magic spells too slow for my liking. Exploration is encouraged and stubbornly so. Prepare to walk and walk and walk in this game. With a very limiting (almost non-existent at first) fast travel system, the game treats every mission like an adventure.
The land is not as big as say Elders Scroll Skyrim, maybe 60 percent the size of it, but it is packed with areas and a horde of enemies is never more than a few paces away. There is a great risk, reward system with travelling. Venturing into the unknown can yield great items but also fear a random Chimera or the night. No game has made me fear the night like this. Exploring the map, battling and realizing, “Oh crap, the sun is going down”. Zombies and phantasms arise as other enemies attack in with much more ferocity and greater numbers, giving the game an almost survival horror feel.
To help you combat and explore is the Pawn system. You can have up to three companions, one being your other custom creation, which you will level up and select classes yourself to complement your character. You then can go into the Rift, where you can select two other pawns. These characters are actually creations from other Dragon’s Dogma players. Your custom pawn can also be used by others, earning you rift points based on their frequency, popularity of use. Rift points can be used to select pawns that are above your current level. The game can put unfair odds against you and this is a good way to help if you are feeling that the game is too challenging. A higher level pawn does not come cheap though.
There are faults in the game. Travelling can become tedious. The game focuses your adventuring from the city Gran Soren. From there you go out and explore. Sometimes you can come across a rest camp, but you will always have to travel back to the main city. You can fast travel back to the city with ferrystones, but they are expensive. Also you can find port crystals, which create custom fast travel locations, but they are very rare. The graphics while serviceable are not extraordinary. Some bosses do stand out as impressive. Npc’s lack facial detail, the environments, dungeons and general world is well designed if generic. There is a ton of screen tearing throughout, clipping with enemies and your equipped gear. The camera can get wonky if you scale a boss who is moving around frequently. Also the game did not make progression clear. For a while I was out doing notice board quests before I realized that the story was not progressing. In the menu, there is a tab called Chronicle, this will help guide you to the next objective that will further the main quest.
Dragon’s Dogma does not hold your hand. It treats the simplest escort mission or monster hunt as a grand adventure. The developers want you to go out into the wild with your team and come back feeling like you just took on the world. The overall visual design is a bit generic but the gameplay and combat does feel fresh for this genre. There are design faults, some presentation hiccups and technical issues, but it is still worth experiencing. The overall adventure can take anywhere from 30-50 hours depending on how you play. After a ridiculously grand final battle, there is an epilogue that challenges you in new masochistic ways for a few more hours. After that you can go back and experience it again in new game plus. Capcom created a world that is asking you to challenge it and I would heed their call.