Dragon’s Dogma is an open world action RPG with a huge emphasis on action.
Best described as a mash-up between Monster Hunter, Devil May Cry, and Oblivion, Dragon’s Dogma strives to combine visceral real-time combat with traditional RPG elements.
Can the guys over at Capcom provide an experience on par with their influences?
Find out after the jump.
Systems: PlayStation 3, XBox 360 [Reviewed]
Released: May 22, 2012
The game starts with an evil Dragon attacking your village; you then get the bright idea to fight it with a puny knife. As you climb his body and attempt to stab him, the dragon flings you off, scoffs at your pathetic attempt, rips your heart out of your chest, and challenges you to get it back. All before you lose consciousness. Surprisingly, you survive and become the Arisen, a chosen one who gains the ability to summon pawns which are humanoid entities bounded by fate to serve the Arisen. You and your pawns set out on a quest to slay the dragon. From there the story revolves around your plight to slay said dragon as well as the effect his power is having on the land and the meaning of the dragon himself.
You can rush through the main story and defeat the dragon, or take your time to explore and complete as many quests as you like; Dragon’s Dogma is refreshingly open. The main quests will have you traveling all over the world but there are still plenty of areas and secrets left to discover. If you see a spot clouded out on your map you can go explore it, and probably die in the process, but the freedom to do so is greatly appreciated.
The main thing that separates Dragon’s Dogma from most RPGs is its battle system. Fights are challenging and brutal. It is not just mindless button mashing either. Strikes and spells have to be timed, enemy attacks have to be dodged, and position has to be taken into account so you don’t get swarmed. Every attack has a satisfying tactile feedback. It doesn’t feel like a slow slap fight you’d find in MMO’s or other western RPGs. Instead attacks have weight to them; enemies will reel in pain and fly across the battlefield due to the force of your crushing blows.
Dragon’s Dogma also has huge enemies to be slain. While most games would suffice with quick time events or canned animations to take them down, here you’ll be taking a more hands on approach. Borrowing a page from Shadow of the Colossus, you can climb large enemies and exploit their weak points. It’s not as easy as it sounds since enemies will try to shake you off by any means possible, sometimes even jumping into the air and slamming themselves into the ground with you still on them. While it may not be as elegant looking as a quick time event you might find in God of War, it is definitely more fun to play. But as fun as the battles are on your own, you’d be screwed without your pawns.
Pawns make up the backbone of the game from the gameplay to the story. Dragon’s Dogma is a game based around the idea of AI controlled companions. That’s a scary prospect for a gamer; especially coming from Capcom, the company responsible for Sheva’s horrible AI in Resident Evil 5. Luckily though, for the most part it works. Your pawns are pretty smart and are eager to help you out in a fight, but can be a bit too chatty, often repeating the same lines.
Pawns are used to build a team with classes that compliment yours. You get one main pawn that accompanies you and levels up beside you. By exploring the open world you can find new pawns to recruit into your party. You can even recruit other player’s pawns via Dragon’s Dogma’s online connectivity and have yours recruited by other players as well. The ones you recruit don’t level up, so you constantly have to swap them out for stronger pawns. Not only are they useful in battle, they will help you complete quests, and once you send your own pawn online he/she will gain knowledge about other quests and bring back loot. It’s a very well thought out and neat mechanic.
All of Dragon’s Dogma’s parts lead to a satisfying dynamic of getting quests, preparing for them by selecting the right pawns with classes that compliment yours, finding the destination, and then fighting whatever foul beasts you were tasked with slaying. The battles are engaging and fun, prioritizing skill and strategy over stats and armor. One time I walked into a nest of bandits who were way stronger than I was. I could have retreated, but instead I had my pawn distract them while I flanked, knocked them down with a trip wire, then picked them up and threw them off a cliff one by one. The freedom of exploring and taking quests is great but is also the game’s double edged sword.
Dragon’s Dogma’s reliance on backtracking is the single worst part of the game. There are many quests, but they often have you traveling through the same paths, killing the same enemies on your way to and from destinations. Sure there is a fast travel system, but they’ve made it very expensive and a hassle to even use. There are semi random quests, similar to Red Dead Redemption, that pop up while you’re traveling that are cool at first but quickly become annoying. It just feels like a cheap and frustrating way to pad out an otherwise good game.
Combine irritating backtracking with an infrequent auto-save and you’ve got a recipe for madness. The game only auto saves when you reach key points or enter and exit locations. You’ll be exploring and suddenly you come across an enemy you weren’t prepared for, fall off a cliff, run out of curatives, or just get unlucky and die. If you forgot to save you’ll be sent all the way back to where you came out of a cave, which could have been ten minutes or up to an hour ago, losing all your loot progress and time. It’s a small oversight, but gets really annoying really fast. I learned to save often, but that sort of defeats the purpose of having an auto-save feature.
Despite its flaws that become apparent very quickly, Dragon’s Dogma instilled a desire in me to keep playing. I was always eager to explore its mountainous terrain. I enjoyed acquiring new pawns to form different teams. I kept changing classes, not because I had to but because each class’s skill set plays completely different and is fun to figure out and level up.
Dragon’s Dogma is the type of RPG I’ve been wanting for a very long time. It hits all the right buttons of having a very deep action experience, yet does not throw all the tinkering, planning, and management out the window like other action-RPGs. It unfortunately also represents the best and worst parts of both genres. Repetition quickly sets in because of trying to pad an action game that’s usually 8 hours into sixty plus hours. Dragon’s Dogma is ultimately a good game with fantastic moments leading up to an incredible ending, but is hindered by lots of tedium shoehorned in between.
Dragon’s Dogma takes a lot of cues from western RPGs, the most obvious being the ascetics which is probably for the worst. It’s got the “Next Generation Brown” palette with its very muted colors that are boring to look at. They were going for a classic western RPG look, but everything from character models to some of the monster designs looks generic.
Moreover, the graphics are not that great either. There is a lot of texture pop in, even after installing the game to the hard drive. The frame rate occasionally stutters, the screen tears and animations look stiff. The monsters, even as bland as they look, are animated great and accurately portray their ferocity. The humans, on the other hand, look almost robotic.
There is a large selection of armor that you can outfit both male and female characters in. You even get an achievement for dressing a male pawn in female clothes. You can run around in underwear and take lots of damage, or choose from the limited selection of revealing outfits like leather bikini tops, corsets, and silk lingerie. However, most of these are uninteresting to look at. It’s a far cry from the stylish and interesting armor in Capcom’s Monster Hunter series.
The blandness is weird coming from Capcom who has built up a reputation of having gorgeous, beautifully animated games. Just this generation Capcom has given us visually stunning games like Resident Evil 5, Lost Planet 2, Street Fighter 4, Marvel Vs Capcom 3, I could go on but you get the point. Even other games with strong western fantasy influences like The Witcher or God of War have more creativity in their monsters and outfits. Not to mention more nudity. Dragon’s Dogma is not a completely ugly game, I just expected more of that visual Capcom flair and was a bit disappointed.
– Sullivan O. Bradley