Dragon’s Dogma Review
Genre: Action RPG
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Capcom gets a very bad rap, nowadays. The Japanese mega-publisher is often criticized for finding shameless ways to rehash and remarket the same product; adding a couple characters and a game mode or two to Marvel vs. Capcom 3, for instance. Also, they’re very good at not developing new IPs themselves. But, like the Arisen whose boots Dragon’s Dogma asks you fill, Capcom summons its courage and enters into a brave new world. For the most part, Dragon’s Dogma finds glory in its quest, but still finds itself unfit in some important areas.
Dragon’s Dogma begins when you create your hero, a voiceless puppet of which you can edit even the tiniest of detail. Edit to your heart’s content, but you might still be disappointed slightly in the end result, as character modeling in this game is sub par across the board. After selecting vital information like your vocation (combat role) you start the story, and if there was any bigger weakness in this title, I wouldn’t know it.
Dragon’s Dogma’s story is sadly underwhelming. Even after such a graphic intro as having your heart ripped out and consumed by a dragon, you never find yourself even remotely as impressed by the games lore again. The plot is erratic and almost laughably organized. The game world might as well just be called “Middle Earth by the Beach,” as most of the creatures and wilderness you encounter can be paralleled almost exactly in any given part of Tolkien’s classics. Which, in and of itself, shouldn’t be so bad. Mockery and imitation can both be forms of flattery. Dragon’s Dogma still finds a way to make this pretty strong base of content completely unremarkable.
Quests and tasks to be completed, be they to advance the story or not, are also dull and unfulfilling. You will very rarely feel like you’re doing more than a means to an end when you walk up to a passerby or quest board to solve the many problems in the world of Gransys. Many quests you will gain and complete without even knowing you received them. Things like killing crows or collecting tokens will NEVER be interesting, especially when you make no attempt to dress it up, which DD does very rarely.
Gameplay, in general, is when this game shows its most promise. You will hear a lot of comparisons to many of the industry’s most notable titles. The wide open countryside to explore can be akin to Elder Scrolls games, maybe most notably Skyrim or Morrowind, thanks to its mixtures of lush forests and mountainous terrain. The details in the trees, grass, and water aren’t exactly to the same caliber as the Bethesda masterpiece, but it is admirable, none the less. Traveling this land has a couple big issues as well. The land is pretty vast, full of twists and turns, but there is no good way to go from place to place. No fast traveling from previously found locales (with the exception of the Ferrystone that will take you back to the capital from anywhere on the map), and no faster way of travel short of your own two feet. As some would call this an immersion tactic, I find it troublesome when I’m forced to battle packs of wolves just to walk to a place I’ve been a dozen times.
Realism is appreciated in game design sometimes; not when in that same game, you can’t actually swim in the water that is so abundantly provided. The game writes itself out of designing a swim mechanic by saying there is a dangerous monster in the water that will kill you instantly, but that is about as laughable as monsters on the bed when you encounter some of bigger beasts that roam the land.
That being said, combat is the game’s strongest merit, and can be counted amongst some of the best in the genre. The hack-and-slash action is fast and furious, with skills and flourishes that keep battle consistently appealing, no matter which vocation you choose. Easy comparisons would be like a love child between Kingdoms of Amalur and Demon/Dark Souls, but there are definitely flashes of the meticulous meta game of combat that Capcom games like Devil May Cry so gainfully employ. Combos and juggling can absolutely be used to gain the upper hand over foes, and prove to add a depth that Dragon’s Dogma’s contemporaries have yet to reach. Hunting and killing beasts for loot and pieces to craft and upgrade items has the same ideology of another big Capcom franchise, Monster Hunter.
The monsters specifically vary from boring and trifling, to grandiose and frightening, usually dependent on size and rarity. Goblins and wolves become more annoying than challenging only after a few levels, but ogres and chimera very rarely disappoint. Big beasts need a bit more than simply swing your sword at it, and that becomes some of the coolest fights you’ll come across in the game. For example, a chimera has three heads, the lion roars and stuns, the goat casts spells, and the snake poisons from range. You targeting the head of the goat or the snake tail by scaling the creature can make for the systematic destruction of its multi-pronged offensive. You could also just kill it outright, making the battle more intense, as all of resources will be available to it to the very end. Even though the tactics to defeat these dangers becomes more a habitual reaction after a while, there’s never a point where you don’t feel at least a little challenged.
A single player experience, you will find yourself flanked by allies who take your quest upon themselves. Called pawns, the game sprinkles some mystical mumbo jumbo around the idea that you can recruit them often, and use them for your benefits (and you’ll need them). When you create your character to start the game, you will also create your own personal pawn in the same way. This pawn will be a permanent ally, and will never leave your side. You can recruit other people’s personal pawns to fight with you, if you’re connected to the internet, in order to round out for party. Seeing other people’s pawn designs is interesting, but unfortunately they all still products of the same sad character models.
Not only can pawns fill necessary combat roles, but they learn. When you kill monsters, travel to locations, or proceed with quests, pawns will learn about these experiences and take them back to their players. The same works the opposite way. When your pawn travels with others, it can potentially return with plot hooks and monster tactics that it learned in its travels. This is a great way to add a sense of community to an otherwise single player experience, but in a game like this I would have also welcomed full on traditional multiplayer, ala Monster Hunter. Dungeon crawling and monster slaying can be fun with friends, too. Sacrilege to some, I know, but this game feels like it could really produce a satisfying multiplayer adventure without having to feel shoehorned in, considering the entire pawn concept isn’t all that well explained, anyway.
Sound design is average. The ambiance of the wilderness is rather dull, not doing a great part in making you feel like you’re out on the frontier. Monsters make convincing snorts and growls, and the sounds of combat can, at times, be quite riveting. The soundtrack is forgettable until battles heat up, in which case it can be rousing. The v/o is hit or miss; hits during the over produced cut scenes, and misses pretty much everywhere else. Characters speak in that fluffy, mock Middle English to a fault most times, and your pawns will recite the same few lines far too often. They think they’re helping. They’re not.
Capcom’s strengths really soar in the title. Gameplay is tight, and action is absolutely brilliant, but the story and the quests are a bore, and as a single player game, becomes a huge let down in the long run.