REVIEW: Dragon’s Dogma
Title: Dragon’s Dogma
Platform: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
TL;DR: Excuse me sir, there’s some Capcom and From Software in my Bethesda.
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Say what you will about Japanese developers these days. Do their games really suck? Or do we completely miss the point when we play them? Whatever the case may be, Dragon’s Dogma straddles a fine line between western open-world RPG and Japanese dungeon crawlers. We might have found it odd that the opening sequence of the game lent to an upbeat J-Rock song (I kid you not), but this game is anything but punk-rock with silly hair colors and nonsensical overplacement of chains, buckles, and spiky hairdos.
When you first step into the fantastical world of Dragon’s Dogma, you might actually be reminded of From Software’s stark, colorless, and humorless Dark Souls. Indeed, you might even think parts of the game are just as hard. The only difference is that there isn’t really a sense of impending dread around every corner. Dropped literally into the midst of things, you’re simply told this: you are called the Arisen, there’s a gigantic dragon plaguing the kingdom, and it’s your job to kill it.
It’s the tutorial level, and Capcom wastes no time in telling you that this world is populated by creatures of olden myths. There’s a fair share of troublesome Harpies, a giant Chimera, and a lot of magic.
After the dragon seemingly is slain, the player is given a chance to customize their own character (as is apparent with most open-world fantasy RPGs these days), and we’re taken to a small village called Cassardis, situated on the southernmost shores of the continent called Gransys. It’s attacked by the very same dragon that you seemingly slew in the opening levels, and it wastes no time in letting you know that it means business. Ripping your heart out and then eating it in front of your face, it issues a simple challenge: come and get it back, punk.
Thus begins your journey.
Something noticeable right off the bat is the combat system. While it does seem a little clumsy, rest assured that you will have plenty of opportunities to refine your character’s weaponry and fighting style. This game isn’t intended to hold your hand through the whole entire process — using a vocation-centric leveling system, Capcom forces players to think about how they want to play. If you always liked slinging spells, the obvious choice is to choose the magical route. However, when it comes to being a tank, not all classes can carry both a weapon and a shield. In fact, a dodge mechanic is missing unless you equip the right kinds of weaponry. Assassins and rangers can learn a rolling dodge if equipped with a dagger, but if you’ve got a two-handed sword, you’re out of luck — looks like you’re the support, son.
The combat and movement is definitely not as fluid as the late 38 Studios’ KoA: Reckoning title, but it does give it a run for its money. Simple presses of buttons allow you to change weapons midway through battle. All class types can carry both a primary and secondary weapon, and sometimes they don’t make a lot of sense, but for the most part, it works out in the end. Look at it this way: it doesn’t sport Skyrim‘s millions of bugs either.
The most awe-inspiring moments of the game come when fighting its gigantic creatures. With a grab (and JUMP) mechanic, players are given many an opportunity to execute some pretty epic kills. Latching onto a giant Cyclops and climbing to its head to stick a sword in the eye is the easiest way in killing it. Go ahead and make all the “arrow in the knee” jokes you want, because sometimes that’s the easiest way to bring a Golem to the ground.
The Kill Cam is not the strongest point in Dragon’s Dogma‘s arsenal — in fact, sometimes I wondered why the slow-mo was kicking in — but when it is done at precisely the right moment, watching a skeleton warrior get blown apart is pretty satisfying.
As you make your way through the continent of Gransys, one thing will become apparent: this game is NOT easy, nor was it ever meant to be. Whether it was intentional or unintentional is a secret that Capcom can keep, but this game does follow Dark Souls‘ mantra of being careful of wherever you go. Even the smallest of all monsters can easily overwhelm you and your team. There is no initial difficulty setting to tailor the game’s hardness to your playstyle. You must tread carefully, and you also must understand how the Pawn system works and how to balance out your team in order to survive. Even at high levels, a group of goblins or skeletons can kill you if you don’t think before acting.
While the game doesn’t employ Skyrim‘s style of “here there be dragons, and you probably shouldn’t be here at Level 5″ style of walling, Dragon’s Dogma will still have plenty of “Oh shit” moments for adventurous players. You might accidentally stumble upon a nice wooded area for exploration, but if you’re not supposed to be there, the enemies in the area will definitely let you know — by sticking a spear in your back. You can either choose to fight your way through and perhaps die trying, or you can always do the smart thing and run like hell. The choice is yours — but be warned, death means starting from the last moment you save, and Dragon’s Dogma is unforgiving in that respect. Autosave is not employed frequently, so it’s best that you understand you should probably save after killing a big Griffin.
What exactly is a Pawn, the mainstay of your team? If you missed all the pre-launch tidbits Capcom dropped about their system, the easiest way to say it is this: they are shareable allies that can gain knowledge and experience if other players use them, and they will save your ass on more than one occasion. Some may critique Capcom’s poor AI for Pawns, but really it’s a matter of tailoring them to your playstyle. You are given a chance at any inn to sit down and talk with your Pawn, and you can tell them to shut up, play guardian, be a knight in shining armor, or simply to do their damn job. Whatever your choices may be will impact the way they perform on the battlefield, so choose carefully what you say to them.
Pawns will also be indispensable in the knowledge they have on quests and unknown locations. Other players can employ your Pawn and take them to an area you’ve never been to before — in that way, they can tell you what they’ve learned when you get there. Listen to them always, and listen well. You might not think they’re worth your time, but after the third time they save you, they’ll be your best friend for life.
While parts of Dragon’s Dogma lack polish, such as the numerous item screens, nonexistence of fast traveling, and clumsy cameras (what action game doesn’t have clumsy cameras these days?), the aesthetics and the view are nonetheless fantastic. Even your Pawns, who are seemingly souless, will stop and admire the view. Sure, the graphics aren’t as high-rezzed as Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption, but it’s beautiful in its own right nonetheless.
If you’ve got a hankering for something a bit more challenging than the average and want to fight gigantic monsters, then this title’s for you. Dragon’s Dogma is sure to set any fantasy RPG fanatic’s heart a-flutter, and there’s plenty of loot to be had besides. Exploring the lands and ridding it of the undead, goblins, ghosts, and bandits is just half the fun. However, if you’re wanting something of Skyrim‘s high caliber and more, then you’d best look elsewhere.
It’s a world of stark beauty with wooded vales, dark dungeons, and eerie catacombs. Epic monster designs combined with a jumping and climbing mechanic make big battles a Clash of the Titans. While the combat lacks some polish, it forces players to make strategic choices that may or may not kill you. Just stop and enjoy the view, will ya?
Lack of fast travel makes quickly getting from place to place a pain in the ass, especially when monsters come out in force at night. Feisty camera angles and numerous trees end up making combat worse than it should be in some cases. Millions of item screens make it hard to get from equipment to inventory to the map screen and back to the Quest screen. Did you get all that?
Dragon’s Dogma is currently available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
There are monsters that spurt a lot of blood, there’s dark conspiracies abound, and there are also half-naked bandits running around out there. We won’t even talk about the idea of killing people and using their bones for a necromantic army. If you think that’s okay for your kids to understand, then you are a terrible parent.