STAFF REVIEW of Dragon's Dogma (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Dragon's Dogma Box art Capcom sure had some high ambitions when they started developing Dragon?s Dogma. It seems like they took inspiration from numerous games, bundled them together, and then added their own flare on top of it. Getting familiar feelings of Shadow of the Colossus, Monster Hunter, and Dark Souls while playing Dragon?s Dogma is completely normal and probably intended in some way. While the game may have striking similarities to these certain games and other open world role playing games, Capcom has crafted a unique and entertaining experience, though at times flawed.

As the story begins in the land of Gransys, you find yourself face to face with a monstrous dragon on a peaceful beachfront village. The dragon battles against you and you are defeated, and in turn your heart is also taken from your body, leaving you with a huge scar down your chest. To everyone?s amazement, including yourself, you survive this attack and everyone starts referring to you as Arisen; a chosen one with a grand destiny and also has the ability to command unearthly warriors called Pawns. I?d love to tell you a little more of the main plot, but pieces of the main storyline comes so infrequent, that you?ll basically be doing other quests for the next thirty or so hours until near the end when everything is revealed.

If you?re the type of player that needs a strong and enriched story to keep your attention, especially for a thirty-plus hour game, you?re going to be disappointed with Dragon?s Dogma. If you?re the type of player that enjoys having free reign to do whatever they like set in an open world and doesn?t concern themselves with story and dialogue, you?ll thoroughly enjoy Dragon?s Dogma. After an exciting start, it was disappointing to essentially have so little plot to motivate yourself to keep moving forward in the game. Being kept in the dark until the end, especially in such a lengthy game, is not a great way to entice players to keep coming back into the world of Gransys. It?s a good thing that the combat and Pawn mechanics are good enough to bear that weight on its shoulders.

If you?re expecting Dragon?s Dogma to play something like Skyrim simply because of its open-world RPG setting, you?re going to be disappointed. As you begin and create your character to your preferred liking, you then choose an initial class you want them to start off with; you begin by choosing your vocation of Fighter, Rogue, or Mage. As you progress through the game you?ll unlock new abilities to further enhance your light and heavy attacks. Once you finally progress and make your way to the main capital of Gran Soren, you?ll have the option to then choose from an additional six classes, three of which are advanced and the other three being hybrids. For those that really want to create a unique character, you?re able to change vocations at Inn?s and be able to keep certain techniques you?ve already learned in a previous vocation. Once you learn how the ?job? system works, it can actually become very deep and gives you the options to create a unique character with many different skills.

While the world of Gransys may not be as vast as other games, it?s still quite a daunting trek from one corner of the map to the other, though this is mostly because of the lack of a fast travel system. Technically there is the ability to fast travel, but it doesn?t come until later in the game and it is item based rather than just choosing a point on a map where you want to go. While I can appreciate the developers wanting us to experience and see everywhere in the game, having to run to and from Gran Soren multiple times just to hand in quest or gather supplies, becomes daunting and a lengthy process. You?ll be attacked by wolves, goblins, bandits, and many other enemies along your travels which makes the process play out even further.

Word to the wise though; avoid traveling at night though, as even more dubious monsters roam in the darkness, and since enemies levels don?t scale, you better know where you?re going and decide to fight or run quickly, or you?ll find yourself dead very quickly. This makes preparing for travel essential, making sure you have enough restorative items and oil for your lamp to light your way. Though after a few trips up and down the same paths, you?ll learn very quickly that enemies are not random, and the same ones will attack you in the same places every time. What?s once a surprise attack will eventually turn into you becoming very familiar with the goblin ambush hiding around the next corner.

You won?t be venturing through Gransys alone though, you?ll eventually get to have up to three Pawns aid you in your quests as you progress. Since you?re the Arisen, you have the unique ability to control these warriors from another plane that look like human in nature, referred to everyone as Pawns. You eventually get to create your main Pawn from scratch that will be loyal and at your side from that moment until the very end. You can ?hire? two more other Pawns that either wanders the cities or you can enter a foggy realm through a Rift Stone and hire another players? Pawn. While Dragon?s Dogma is a single player adventure, this is its pseudo way of implementing multiplayer, as you?re able to recruit any other players Pawn to help you in your quest. Other players can do the same, and if your Pawn is hired for their journey, they will return with a gift that is either items, experience, or currency to hire higher level Pawns that are more experienced than you. The implementation of the Pawn system is actually quite ingenious once you learn the mechanics and how to choose a proper Pawn that will compliment your party. While the hired help won?t level up along with you, your main and faithful Pawn will, meaning you?ll need to recruit new help every so often as you progress in levels.

So what exactly does a Pawn do you may ask? They offer help in your journey, not only in combat and battles, but also help in your quests and other bits of information. For example, if you hire a Pawn that?s already done the quest you?re about to set off and do, they?ll actually give you hints and tell you locations of where you?re supposed to go. These small details never made me really miss the company of other human players, though it didn?t help that the Pawns never seem to shut up and will constantly be spouting the same lines over and over again when it?s not needed. While they?ll help you with knowledge, they?ll also ?attempt? to help in battle as well. I purposely use the word ?attempt? because it seems very hit or miss if they?ll going to be a big factor in some of the battles or not. My mage Pawn, named Sheldon, for example never wanted to heal me when I really was close to death?s door, though after the battle he was more than happy to heal me after I used all my healing herbs. The same goes for their own AI sometimes, as they might stand beside an enemy trying to cast a lengthy spell rather than gaining some distance first and letting me take the bulk of the damage. While not perfect, having a full party of four is almost necessary, and finding out what classes benefit your play style is half the battle.

While Dragon?s Dogma is very entertaining for its combat mechanics and Pawn system, there is a laundry list of flaws that seem to constantly get in the way of being fully immersed in the story and world of Gransys. Character models look clunky, there?s clipping issues, camera problems, lip syncing is off quite often in cutscenes, and there are no characters other than your party you?ll truly care about even after forty or so hours of playing. Like Dark Souls, there is virtually no help within the game to help you learn the mechanics and become better at playing it. The lack of hand holding isn?t always a bad thing, but when so little is explained to you from the beginning, you?re forced to put the time and effort in to simply learn the basics before you can even start enjoying the game. There are even times when I ran to a quest marker and the person I needed to talk to wasn?t there, that is until I stood around for a few seconds looking, waiting for them to ?pop? into the game.

For all the major issues I had, there were also fun moments to be had as well. Combat feels rewarding (once you figure it out on your own) and the inclusion of a grab button is extremely fun when you?re fighting against a larger scale enemy like a griffon or troll. You?re able to grab onto these larger enemies and actually scale them, much like Shadow of the Colossus, and attack them in any spot you wish; that is, before your lose your stamina and let go or get thrown off. These battles I found the most fun and annoying, as this is where a lot of the camera problems occur. Once your climbing one of these beasts, you have almost free reign of which direction you want to climb on the enemy, but the controls don?t always stay a constant, meaning your climbing up one moment can be a completely different direction the next, and not being able to see your orientation because of the camera doesn?t help either.

The biggest problem I had with Dragon?s Dogma though wasn?t the lack of help of learning mechanics, but more the quest system, as you are never realty sure what?s the main quest or side quests. Sometimes you don?t even have a step for the main quest until you complete some of the smaller ones, but again, this is never taught to you and you just need to figure it out on your own. This coupled with the lack of fast travel sometimes made me not want to venture out, as I was not always sure where I was going, it was way too far on foot, or if the quest was even intended for my level range or not.

Oddly enough, there is no difficulty setting and there?s only an option for one save file, meaning you are stuck with your character unless you start over again. ?Boss? battles are fun due to the climbing mechanic and the Pawn system is done in a very unique way that encourages experimentation. If you?re looking for a strong story to keep you driven to progress forward, simply put, this game is not for you. If you?re able to look past all the flaws and simply sink a lot of hours into it to get to the good parts, you?re going to have a great time in the end.

Overall: 6.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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