"For the headstrong adventurer."
Platform(s): PS3 [reviewed], X360
Release Date: May 25, 2012 (EU)
There has rarely been a game so stunted by its own design that has come quite as far as Dragon’s Dogma. Truly, this action RPG from Capcom is so riddled with foibles and annoyances that anyone should rightfully spit on it and let it cinder to ashes. Yet, this ugly title would rise from this soot by a single ember with the force of a phoenix. Dragon’s Dogma inspires something. It’s not certain what exactly it invokes, but it does.
This tale takes place in Gransys, the fantasy land of choice filled with just a few olden settlements, ruins, forts and one pivotal capital called Gran Soren, where all roads lead to. Betwixt locations, a large open world awaits with plentiful hills and fields that stretch into the horizon. Periodically, a makeshift encampment will be found in the midst, some rocks will pose an obstacle or rivers will divide the way. Running around in Gransys gives off a sense of the great outdoors, certainly given the large amount of things that can be scavenged.
However, it doesn’t exude a positive vibe as the palette for locales is murky and gray. Even when ultimately switching scenes, it will keep going back to the dilapidated look of decay and lifelessness. More so, there is an obvious priority given to certain textures, as not everything is done with the same care. In particular clipping is lacking, as character models run through any small object. Additionally, the game often drops the frame rate and encounters terrible popup issues. This can get further denoted in the lackluster animations in general, filled with glitches.
Further stomping all over the presentation, glitches are also present in sound bites that drop frequently. This is however a good thing, as the speech and writing in this game are trite and extremely repetitive to boot. Occasionally, one member will have some wisdom to share, but all else will be met with a barrage of sound talking over itself, not to mention important story dialogue. And since the story is quite possibly the most detached element in this game, it’s important to try and grasp its illogical pitch. Still, in the end very little will make sense, open plots will remain that way and nothing will be explained or even gained. The compelling element is not given to the player, it is found.
All pictures were taken with the internal photo capture from Dragon's Dogma.
The player takes on the role of Arisen and sets out to kill a dragon. Quickly, Pawns will join this quest. These soulless beings are loyal followers, created by other players, which gather in the Rift. Through this rift, the Arisen can hire 2 additional allies along with a main Pawn of the player’s creation. That Pawn will in turn be available to the world through the internet. This actually heightens a social aspect towards the game and makes it desirable to create the best pawn possible, as these get hired more often and reap rewards and knowledge for it. In turn, it also encourages players to be kind and generous to hired muscle.
This alternating party will quickly meet its match in combat, as Gransys is littered with foes of all ranges. Small goblin groups mob parties, plentiful highwaymen seek their fortune in the Arisen’s demise; there is much to do and much to kill in Dragon’s Dogma. Luckily, the party repays favor in kind, with hard-hitting results. Once, a party member exclaimed: “There, a white wolf! It will be red soon enough.” It was not wrong. As the party reigns down fire and steel, blows visually collide in splatters of valiant violence.
The form of this glorified assault all depends on the given role. A standard of 3 classes are given with a warrior, a mage and a ranged rogue. Within those classes, advancements and mixes are all possible and encouraged, which will give the player a chance to radically alter gameplay for both Arisen and Pawns. Especially the vocation mixes are a joy to experiment with, as they add new layers of tactics to any given scrap. In turn, within those classes, skills can be purchased, changed and altered, so there will a style for anyone to get comfortable with. This is where Dragon Dogma shines. Once one thing becomes too commonplace, a hard-earned change can revitalize that sense of glory once lost in a whole new way. This also redeems some of the presentation, as lavish skills fill the land with movement and a flurry of spells lets the colors fly across the screen. Yes, combat makes and keeps this game engaging.
Yet, the epitome of combat comes from Dragon’s Dogma’s towering behemoths that need to be conquered like mountains. These prime beasts with multiple health bars can be mounted and climbed to strike at several vital parts. It’s also most gratifying to finally tame a beast after a long fight and that really gives a sense of having to fight tooth and nail for a lot of battles. In particular, the end boss will be the icing on this bloody cake, with an elongated battle that will switch up many sequences before finally striking a deadly blow.
To vary things even more, Dragon’s Dogma possesses a night and day cycle that radically changes the way the game needs to be approached. Not only do quests depend on time and do enemies differ and become more aggressive, but the mere sights of the party get extremely limited to what a lamp can illuminate. This turns everything beyond a short radius into a potential danger and confines gameplay into this claustrophobic array, even in open expanses.
Unfortunately, getting there or anywhere will take its sweet time as Dragon’s Dogma has tons of busywork. From the needlessly complex menus and interface down to its subpar crafting and terrible fetch and escort quests; a large portion of the time is spent in waiting. More so, the game has a way to send the party back and forth across Gransys, furthering its sluggish pace and defacing its open world by making it painfully obvious that the land is scripted. It’s strange, as some quests in turn offer novel ways to tackle missions and can even offer ways to screw with the noble task of being bombarded the savior role.
With some determination however, players can get a lot out of this game, as content is vast, its world is large and there are many in need of the Arisen’s help. There is an epic waiting underneath this bog of stench, for the headstrong adventurer. The end also offers additional content, so sticking it through is advisable, even beyond the excellent end struggle.
Dragon’s Dogma will not be a game for everyone, be sure of that. It’s a classic love it or hate it tale. In fact, more than likely its many design quirks will even annoy those that do enjoy it overall. That makes it hard to call the game any which way. Yet, there is certainly a quality to be found here. It’s a missed opportunity towards something grander, but at least it tried its hardest to walk in uncharted territory. Better luck next time.