Dragon’s Dogma

I enjoyed writing a little review/opinion piece on Far Cry 3 on my main blog, which I why I thought I’d keep it up but move over to Upon Completion. The next game in my targets is Dragon’s Dogma. More specifically, a Xbox 360 copy of Dragon’s Dogma (DD), from Capcom and released in May 2012.

It even comes with a fairly hefty manual in the box, hefty at least in comparison to most Xbox games I appear to own. With such a manual come lengthy instructions and guidance. Attacks are mapped to the colourful buttons (ABXY in this case), with extra attacks avaliable when you aquire them in game, and mapped to the same buttons and accessed with a hold of the right bumper button. Much like Dragon Age so far. The player chooses from (initially) Warrior, Strider(Archer/Rogue) or Mage, much like most RPGs, although later changes and/or specialisation can be made. At first glance then, DD is like many existing RPGs out there. On the surface it certainly seems too samey, and even on playing, inferior to many games already out there.

Where it starts to differ is in some of the mechanics. Let’s start with the ‘pawn’ system. This provides the player character with companions to aid in battle and assist with quests, navigation and conversation. Although introduced fairly slowly, these pawns form part of the lore, and have some background information and further lore entwined within quests. I have to admit, when I first tried the Dragon’s Dogma demo (free on XBL and I assume everywhere else you can play the full game), I was utterly bemused and the explanation was unclear and short (as was the demo, which essentally is the ‘prologue’ to the game). I just brought along the least stupid looking and hoped for the best. However, as the full game opens up, you bump into people along the road and in towns and villages, people who are more often than not,’pawns’.

You begin with an initial main pawn, who sticks with you no matter what, whom you can upload to the ‘pawn database’ every time you sleep in an inn, ready for other players (assuming you are online while you play) to download and take with them. Don’t worry, your main one is back by the time your character wakes up. Alongside this one, you can take with you up to two others, totalling three plus you. These other two can be downloaded from the database, just like yours can be uploaded, and are made by other players for the most part. If you are offline, they are created by the game itself. You can swap and change as often as you like, and it is suggested that you keep doing so throughout the game, keeping them close to your level or higher. The pawns provide much needed support in battle and often the player made ones, provided you choose the right ones, know things about quests you may not, thus making your journey easier.

My initial general dislike of the pawn system has turned to a liking after several hours of gameplay, and after switching through several sets of pawns. Despite their advantages, the pawns have a few things I take issue with. Firstly, they insist on pointing out every enemy they even think they see, even if it turns out to be their imagination. Too many times I’ve drawn my weapons when they announce “GOBLIN!” to find there isn’t one anywhere near us. Secondly, you only have limited instructional capabilities and they’re determined to pick up every piece of rubbish they can see and fight every enemy they come across, even if it means certain death And then there’s the voices. DD has a very limited, and not especially enthusiastic, range of voices for their characters. NPCS are forgettable, lacking much in the way of personality and the pawns you spend so many hours with are either shouting GOBLIN in your ear, or telling you that ‘it’s dangerous to go alone, take me with you’.

DD has a fair bit going for it, it really does. The environments are really pretty on the whole and the day/night cycle works well. You don’t want to be out at night in this game, especially early on. More challenging monsters come out and you can only see as far as your lantern lets you. If the sun is going down, be afraid. For the most part the enemies in the game aren’t significantly different to most RPGs; trolls, goblins, wolves, bandits are common within the genre. What isn’t so common is the sheer size and unpredictability of the larger ones appearing. Trolls and cyclopes are several feet in height, and you should expect a decent challenge from taking them on. The larger monsters, as well as some others, do present a significant difficult curve, although the game encourages wandering the wilderness to level up with many “kill this many of this creature” quests. Levelling up is necessary to survive the game, and enables you to develop better skills and specialisations. What’s nice about the challenging enemies is that it is usually pretty clear when you shouldn’t really be near an area yet. If a large beast is in the area, and you’re underlevelled, or underequipped, chances are you need to come back later. But at least it’s better than not knowing how weak you are four hours down the line and getting stuck.

This is a Cyclops. The player is the person in his hand. Told you to be prepared.

So, I hear you ask, what isn’t so good? Well, there are some pretty big issues I have, though I still find I like the game more than I dislike it. The plotline is very weak and the gaps between main quest events are often so huge I forget what’s going on. Side quests are often only vaguely linked to main quest points or characters, if at all, and largely are made up of fetch quests, escort missions or hunting sessions. Secondly, the sheer amount of time it takes to get anything done, or get anywhere. I mentioned that it is usually obvious when you shouldn’t be near an area, but when you also have to constantly be wary of it getting dark AND there’s no real fast travel system (you can use ‘Ferrystones’ but they only take you to the main city and are really expensive to get a hold of), you can easily become trapped within a certain area, or only end up going to the same place over and over again. I’m all for limiting fast travel but there’s so many limitations on travelling around as it is that it becomes a chore getting anywhere. The menu and inventory system also leave a lot to be desired. Your inventory is mapped to the back button on Xbox 360, whilst everything else is on start. Everything else covers saving, options, the map, your quest log, and the equipment screen. There are far too many clicks to get to equipping weapons that once I find a weapon that’s good enough, it doesn’t get changed until another is significantly better. There are far too many button clicks and too much micromanagement of stuff that I just stop picking things up for fear of dealing with so many menu choices.

Although I have pointed out a few negatives, I have to say the mechanics, style and challenge of Dragon’s Dogma, as well as some of the ideas it hasn’t got quite polished, have revealed a game that initially looked bad but proved to be quite enjoyable. The character customisation screens alone will keep you occupied for a long while, even if your character still looks like all the rest once you start playing. If you can work through the problems, and certainly feel free to largely ignore your companions and the plot line, you’ll find a fair few day’s worth of game and challenge in this one. There’s supposedly a sequel in the works somewhere, and if it can improve on Dragon’s Dogma’s shortfall, then it will certainly be a sequel worth looking at.

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