Review: Dragon’s Dogma
Imagine a world where Capcom got tired of making games where you swung swords at demons and took shots at zombies, decided to keep the swords and the zombies and then dabbled in creating a role-playing game. This is that lovechild. This is Dragon's Dogma, a fantasy RPG from Capcom.
- Worth The Time?There's a lot of time investment here and it can be rewarding, so I would say very much so.
- Things LovedThe boss battles, the styles of combat, the boss battles, the freedom of character building and configuration, the boss battles, the endless amounts of exploration on offer, the boss battles, the pawn system (when it works), but mostly that thing about the boss battles.
- Things HatedThe pawn system (when it doesn't work), the horrendous character animations, the bland game world, the lack of a fast travel system for most of the game, the forgettable story, the save system is not the best, your pawns just never, ever, ever, ever shut up.
- RecommendationIf you enjoy either Western RPGs or JRPGs, you might fancy giving this game a shot. If you enjoy both then just go out and buy this game right now.
- Name: Dragon's Dogma
- Genre: RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: It's Complicated
- Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: Capcom
- Publisher: Capcom
- Price: R 500
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
This past year has seen an abundance of role-playing games releasing to gaming platforms and as the months have passed by, the bar has been set significantly higher in terms of both quality and quantity; whether it’s a two-hundred-hour-plus game you want, or something with a more cinematic and story-focused feel to it. Capcom has somewhat bravely opted to release their entry into the recent RPG stable after most if not all of the big names have dropped and whether or not this decision will bite them in the ass remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure; they’ve got something good going on here.
Dragon’s Dogma falls very much into the category of two-hundred-hour-plus games that will go on for forever and a day before you not so much complete it but rather give up and go play something else, however there is an actual story involved and it’s the focus point of the game, so in essence the game attempts to stride along both lines of quantity and quality. What this then means is that the possibility for hundreds of hours exists, however this is dependent on how much of the main story you play through and indeed at times you will need to play through quite a bit of the story before you can even hope to venture out into the world on your own.
The game’s story revolves around you the player character; the so-called ‘Arisen’ after a dragon invades your hometown and you (idiotically) charge at it and proceed to get your heart ripped out of your chest. However you somehow manage to survive for reasons that go entirely unexplained to you, and it is therefore your destiny as the ‘Arisen’ to defeat the dragon and regain your stolen heart. Because presumably you have need of it now that you’re walking around without one. Look I don’t get it either; the fact that you’re walking around means you no longer require the heart and how your blood still flows is anyone’s guess but the story much like many other aspects of the game is better left experienced for yourself because it just can’t be explained in any logical way.
Going into Dragon’s Dogma, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of the final offering having seen some of the game at rAge last year, and having heard stories of it being a mix between such games as Skyrim and Devil May Cry with a hint of Dark Souls thrown in for good measure. If you don’t immediately put on your WTF face, then you’ve either played too much Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, or you’re not paying attention.
Straight off the bat, upon the starting up the game I was greeted with something of a bittersweet introduction, with a ridiculously catchy J-pop song that was completely out of place but suitably entertaining, blaring on in the background while the very first screen after hitting Start was a DLC reminder informing me of recently released downloadable content for the game and urging me to buy them. Seriously, what the fuck Capcom?
Starting up a new game, I was thrown head-first into a prologue with some assigned character at my control, with an NPC making random proclamations as we navigated a dark, dank series of caves. Not much was explained to me and what tool-tips popped up never really conveyed very much in the way of handy instruction. In short, I was thrown very much into the deep end but not in a way that allowed me to swim if I just put in the effort. It was confusing and forgettable, but for its concluding piece; a boss battle of sorts. We’ll come back to that.
The very next thing that followed was a character creation screen which allowed me to craft, with sufficient detail for an RPG of this stature, my player character together with my very own assigned name from a series of names both contrived and derived from other Capcom titles. So, Dante it is. Then the cutscene played where that dragon invaded my player character’s hometown and a few other random story elements played out, before I was finally able to set out on my adventure, but not before meeting the first of many ‘pawns’ to pass my way. This one, assigned by the game, introduced me to the concept of pawns by explaining that they are not human, though nonetheless look human for all intents and purposes, and are sworn to obey the Arisen. Fair enough, and eventually I was allowed to create my very own pawn, a female mage whom I aptly named Morrigan. This was becoming something of a fairytale RPG for me.
The idea behind pawns is that you create one and it accrues experience as you play through the game, however your party consists of four slots meaning you may acquire two other pawns for the purposes of filling those slots and of course complimenting your player character and created pawn. Where do these pawns come from? Well you could find one or two randomly in-game, but the majority are only available online through what is known in-game as The Rift. They are actually pawns created by other gamers, that are available for you to recruit, effectively forming the game’s multiplayer component. Pawns you acquire in this way do not level up, meaning that as you level up they become less effective forcing you to switch out and get new pawns every so many levels. The level of a pawn is dependent on the level of the player who created it. Your pawn may also be hired by other players, in which case when it is released, it returns with possible items as well as quest and creature knowledge. This then means that a pawn either hired or returned, might have valuable knowledge of a quest you are currently undertaking or an enemy you have yet to battle. Handy, but situational.
Unfortunately what this translates to in-game, is a group of NPCs — since you cannot directly control them — who just cannot shut the fuck up for five minutes, and because it’s so impersonal you never really develop much of a liking to any one pawn, especially since you know you’ll be releasing them once you gain a few more levels. While it might be cool to hire a pawn who is modelled after Gandalf, Lancelot or even Ned Stark (true story), the fact that you have to let go of them later means you never develop any sort of attachment, except to your main pawn, the one you created, whose personality can be crafted to some extent, but effectively is still as with the others, entirely useless in any practical form of character orientation. It’s extremely impersonal and almost betrays one of the core tenets of a good RPG; that of deep character interaction.
Deep character interaction as a whole, entirely fails in this game. There really is none, and your mute player character doesn’t help at all with this. Pawns are constantly spouting off the most useless information on, well, Gransys (the game world’s name), while other characters just throw you one-liners when you try speaking to them. Quest-giving characters throw in a few extra lines but they lack any kind of emotion and are often about as monotone as an elderly man singing the blues while playing Halo. Don’t even for a second consider the atrocious lip-synching and character animation, because those will make you want to off yourself. They’re embarrassingly bad, especially for a developer of Capcom’s stature.
Forgetting the abysmal presentation of characters, both in the sense of graphical animation and interesting personality, once you head off into the wilderness is where you discover the greater chunk of Dragon’s Dogma, and where you will spend a great majority of your time. The game world is huge. Not Skyrim huge, but larger than Oblivion’s Cyrodiil certainly. There are a few hub towns and encampments scattered around usually on a specific path but there are areas off-path with nothing of structure around for miles, at least, nothing inhabited by friendlies. All non-friendly areas of the game are inhabited by respawning enemies that are levelled independently of you, meaning you could very well stumble into a level 20 pack of wolves as a level 1 character and be obliterated in seconds. Or the opposite, of course.
This then becomes entirely unforgivable when you factor in the consideration that for the great majority of the game, you have no fast travel system to get you from point A to point B, which is all the way across the map and a five-hour trek if you had to do it manually. Granted later on you do acquire a service which instantly teleports you to the game’s capital city with the use of a certain in-game item, but even then it’s nothing like the kind of fast-travel system we know from most RPGs. Furthermore, much later in the game you unlock the ability to ‘create’ fast-travel points wherever you’d bloody well like, in order to properly fast-travel wherever your heart desires but placing them means first travelling there and you still require the same in-game item which does cost gold and so reduces the amount of times you actually can fast-travel. This is ridiculous considering just how large the game world is, and how many enemies you encounter between points. Not to mention the number of quests which send you, typically, back from right where you came. I spent an entire day of playing, making the same three-hour hike to a certain point in the game, and back to the capital, because quest-givers are typically lazy and so require you to do everything for them. Like all RPGs.
Now this wouldn’t be so bad if your damn pawns just shut their fucking mouths for five seconds, but to ask that would be to ask for Half-Life 3 tomorrow and as such, it never will never be the case. It would at least help if they provided useful information rather than competing for the ‘You don’t say?’ award. A typical stroll through a forest will yield such gems as “this area is teaming with grassy fields,” or “the path splits, we’d best check our map,” or “this area leads to the location ahead,” or the ever-green “a wolf approaches,” as a wolf approaches. Consider if you will, all of that would have occurred in say, thirty seconds of game time. I tried to find a video but luckily such horrors don’t exist on Youtube. Yet.
Thankfully, and this is a big plus on the side of the game since we all have a mute function on our consoles or just the ability to listen to something else, if you can block out the incessant chatter of your pawns then you’re in for a great time since the combat and adventuring aspects of the game are a blast. For one, the combat is fast and flowing and reeks of Reckoning’s sexy combat styles. Granted it’s a bit more clumsy here but once you get used to how it works, you will pull off some insane things. Back to this in a bit.
The game has the typical three classes of ‘brute force tanking’ strength, ‘sneaky sneaky’ agility and ‘powerful but weak’ intelligence which come in the form of warrior, strider and mage, and offer more or less exactly what you would expect of these RPG staples. What’s really cool is that just like Reckoning, you are allowed to change your classes — called vocations here — and even mix or upgrade classes to form hybrids between the various original three. Once you purchase a vocation, available at the capital city’s inn for a nominal fee, you then own it and can swap between whatever you own as and when you feel like it, allowing for maximum experimentation. Each vocation then has some weapon-specific and bonus skills that can be unlocked, as well as augmentations, both that must be assigned to slots in order to be ‘active’ and abilities which are passive powerups which offer probably the best upgrades and make you feel as if you’ve earned the right to be that awesome, in combat. Such things as levitation for a mage, and a combat roll and double-jump for striders really makes you feel as if you’ve built your character’s skills all the way up, instead of other RPGs where your level 1 character is already a skilled athlete.
Your pawn may also be configured in this way, but not the pawns you recruit through the rift. This then requires you as the player to mix and match pawns until you find the right sort of party combination in order to take on most things. I’ve found that as a warrior-strider hybrid, with my pawn a sorceress (damage-dealing mage specialist), a tank and a healer served to perfectly compliment. So basically, I played this game as I would, Dragon Age: Origins. At least in terms of party composition.
Coming back to exploration, the game features a day-night system that attempts to be more than just aesthetic, with the onset of evening severely limiting your forward vision and forcing you to either pick up your monitor’s brightness settings (cheat) or equip a lantern which will allow you minimal extended visibility. But do keep in mind that lanterns run on oil, which must be used to refill it before it runs out, or… cue the South Park skiing instructor meme. You also might take care not to get your lantern wet or the fire in it will burn out. Apart from the visibility (or lack thereof) that night brings, you also suffer extended amounts of enemies as various creatures and bandits take to the uninhabited moonlit paths, which turns what would be five wolves during the day into thirty at night. Wonderful for grinding experience, an absolute nightmare for when your party members are severely damaged from a fight with some boss enemy, such as an ogre or chimaera, having travelled for five hours because of that fucking fast travel system not being around. At that point in time it becomes pure survival horror, if nothing else.
One final unforgivable aspect of the game is that it only has one save file, meaning that you cannot create more saves and must rely on that solitary save as you play through the entire game, which means any decisions that don’t go your way require either dealing with it and moving on, or restarting a checkpoint (the last time you slept at an inn), which might very well take you ten hours and a solid five levels back, and nobody wants that, especially if you’ve just fought a really epic boss fight and have had to reload your game because directly thereafter you realised it killed the character you were meant to be escorting safely to some arbitrary destination and had already saved your game. Speaking of boss battles…
Check out this video to watch an assassin (hybrid of a warrior and a strider (and my vocation, when I played)) take on a drake, which is the only dragon in the game to occur in a set place in the game world entirely separate from the main quests. This is your typical boss battle in the game. This is where the game excels. And this is why you would buy Dragon’s Dogma.
When not constantly throwing incessant jibber-jabber from badly animated party members at you, the game asks you to take on behemoths in combat and overcome them by any means possible. Where other games that require you to fight such enemies typically involve swiping at its heels until it dies, in Dragon’s Dogma you get to pick where you hit your enemy with melee by scaling it, no pun intended for dragons, and basically climbing your way onto the part of the body you wish to attack. This consumes stamina but ultimately leads to insane amounts of damage that make the difference between a three-hour-long slog (trust me on this) and a twenty-minute victory. Boss battles are almost always memorable in this respect, very much in the same light as perhaps Shadows of the Colossus and Dark Souls both of which had obvious inspiration in this title. Most of the game’s bosses are unique and different to battle and require a very specific tactic to approach with. A boss battle won feels like a victory and you will talk about it with friends afterwards, such is how epic it actually was. And it requires some brains as well, since simply slapping a dragon on its face will yield certain death or a billion shots to put it down but all it would take is five shots at the heart and you’re doing critical damage to the wyrm.
You could pretty much forgive everything else that’s wrong with Dragon’s Dogma based purely on the boss battles, and you typically will after each and every one of them, at least until your retarded pawns get going once again. The story is quite forgettable, if not downright confusing at times, but what Dragon’s Dogma does, it does with suitable provisions for continuity meaning the story never becomes a chore, just endlessly uninspiring, and you don’t so much complete it because you’re forced to but you do so because you feel you’re ready to take on whatever bosses it throws at you next. If anything even the egregious methods of travel in-game are just a hurdle on your way to your next memorable boss battle and that together with the freedom of character building and seemingly endless exploration on offer serves not only to redeem the title entirely but throw it right up there with the hard-hitters of Dark Souls, Skyrim and Reckoning.
In truth if you’re okay with idiotic AI (we typically are, as gamers) and you don’t mind walking everywhere you go, for hours on end, then this game is pretty much for you. In fact, if you’ve ever played a JRPG and enjoyed it but preferred the more western-oriented fantasy fare, then Dragon’s Dogma was pretty much made for you. Because deep down, that’s exactly what it is.