I first heard about Dragon’s Dogma many months ago when I had just finished the astoundingly brilliant Dark Souls and I was looking for other games that had a similar theme of slashing up demonic monstrosities. On an initial search the two games that came up were unsurprisingly Monster Hunter, and the yet unreleased Dragon’s Dogma. I devoured all the pre-release information that was out for DD [Dragon’s Dogma] resulting, with hindsight, what was to be a very different idea of the final product. So while I haven’t just finished a multiplayer Darks Souls like the internet speculation lead me to believe, I did end up playing a marvellous crossbreed of Shadow of the Colossus, Monster Hunter and a dozen Western RPGs, that all come together in a marvellous amalgamation of influences with some fresh mechanics that make DD an exhilarating experience.
You begin the game as a dashing young warrior tasked with killing a Dragon, the embodiment of all that is evil. The prologue which serves to explain some of the systems like slashing Goblins, running away from Wyrm’s and shredding the limbs off a Chimera. Initially I was a little surprised by the combat system and its variety, expecting the heavy slash, light slash, block and kick system that I have become so accustomed to with action RPGs. By holding the top shoulder buttons it opens up six interchangeable special attack options that are based on your selected class skills and weapon type, a system that allows deeply customizable gameplay as you level up your combat roles.
After my first time through the robust character creation system, I began my story as a towering mow-hawked warrior complete with an intimidating white skull tattoo covering my face. I had no idea what the story entailed, but I assumed I would be able to exercise my barbarian ways over the inhabitants of Gransys at the word go. You can appreciate my slight disappointment that my character was destined to be one of few dwellers in a small fishing town, entirely composed of small, timid white people. Although I was soon saved from such a monotonous and humble existence by having my heart torn out and devoured by a Dragon wreaking havoc on the shores, and awoke right as rain, finally able to exact the kind of blood thirsty rampage against my own townspeople. Perhaps not what the developers had in mind but there seemed to be no implications to my actions. In fact, it seems that the dwellers of my hometown have grown accustomed to my petrifying visage and bloodthirsty goings on over the years, as my primary love interest spoke to me as though I hadn’t just flattened the elderly woman standing next to her in a particularly brutal jumping two handed spike punch, then thrown her into a pile of crates.
Classes and Skills
I have a special place in my heart for unarmed combat in RPGs since the days of my Half-Orc ‘Zanzibar’ in Oblivion, so it upsets me that in many RPG titles it is either non-existent or you have to jump through so many hoops to get it to a viable level that you may as well leave it. While yes Unarmed Combat is eventually a reasonably effective method of dispatching enemies in DD I had to level up massively and do a lot of research to find a build that supported my desire to punch an Ogre in the jewels till it died. The animations for Unarmed, and all the weapons, are fluid and pack such a (excuse the pun) punch that I could really imagine the blade slicing through a hobgoblin as my pawn held him in a full nelson, or my arrow plunking into the head of a bandit before he could pulverize my healer.
The aforementioned skills are as plentiful as they are varied. Each upgrade, utilising discipline points which are earned in wealthy abundance throughout your travels, give your potent abilities greater damage or change their effect, opening up new strategies to combat. The innkeepers across Gransys, who also offer you the chance to rest to full health or skip to day or night, allow you to cycle between your core skills that carry over between your classes. These core skills upgrade things like physical and magical damage mitigation along with buffs to your pawns abilities. You can only choose a limited selection from your pool of buffs, so careful decision making is required when you know you have a big fight ahead, knowledge of your enemy could be key to this.
Capcom have made some interesting lore decisions in an attempt to set DD apart from the overdone lone hero fantasy story. Although yes, you are a lone hero entrusted in killing a beast that threatens to destroy your world, but more importantly your Hometown, including that sweet thing you left behind who likes you for who you are, despite your inclination towards battering the elderly. It’s more the political and philosophical quandaries within the storyline that distance it from other games in the western RPG genre. Firstly your companions, while looking and acting like humans (although at times debatably lobotomized) are actually alien, will-less creatures from another realm, living only to serve the Arisen as his companion/pack mule/ slave. The majority of the human inhabitants throughout the world are slightly hostile towards the pawns, supposedly out of fear as coincidentally arrive during great struggles for humanity, and are therefore considered harbingers of bad times to come. They are also a very secretive species, alluding to important knowledge of the Arisen which they choose to keep to themselves, hiding away in the vast subterranean caverns hidden directly under the Capital city of Grand Soren.
No matter your views on whether they should be treated as second class citizens or not it’s easy to see why people would be bitter towards them, as I commonly find myself throwing them off bridges in an attempt to just get some peace and quiet from their relentless comments about foliage, enemy weaknesses and hideous levels brown-nosing. The illusion of the AI being a real companion holds up for the first 15 minutes until you hear them repeat a line for the fourth time. It’s an amazing step forward in artificial companions however, as they really do try to interact and learn from their surroundings. It’s a pleasant change from an NPC that follows you around silently for the most part unless prompted by initiating a conversation, a preprogramed response to a story development or getting attacked.
The multiplayer features within the game revolve entirely around the main pawn you create. Using the same creation system utilised in designing your Arisen, players create a main pawn which can be hired at the rift gate by other players to fill the remaining two slots in their squad of four. Pawns will return to you with combat experience and knowledge of the local areas they visited on their travels which will aid you on your own adventure. It’s an interesting feature that made me feel both like a medieval pimp, tarting up my pawn so others would choose him over the other millions of lookalike healers. It turns out however if you call your pawn ‘HealerSlave’ he gets a lot of attention, he constantly awoke me while I slept at the inn with a high ranking from his surrogate master and begging for my approval like a dog returning from Crufts… or a whore.
Linear vs. Open-world
Now you won’t hear this often from me as I am usually all for open world exploration, but actually I don’t think DD benefited from being open-world at all and probably should have gone with a more linear approach to gameplay. Backtracking around the world map is merely aggravating during the day, but deadly during the night, as bandits, goblins and wolves wear you down along the main roads with great frequency. Despite your ability to one-shot these foes as you grow in strength, they will forever and persistently insist that this time they will get you, despite having ten minutes ago, on your third time sprinting across the same section of field, seen you propel their kin skyward with a lightning enhanced Zweihander.
The side quests quickly become a little bland and repetitive and rarely offer enough of a reward to stop me from following the main quest line. While I appreciate that you have lost an heirloom somewhere in the bandit and snake people infested woods, I’m actually trying to kill a dragon and save the world here? I want to scream at them, instead just choosing to carry them to the end of a long pier and throw them into the water where a mysterious sea monster that remains entirely unexplained devours them.
There’s nothing wrong with a linear storyline in an RPG, sure have an open world for the player to explore if they want to but I really just wanted to keep up the momentum supplied by killing the big monsters and uncover more of the story, which leads onto what I consider to be one of the biggest pulls of the game…
The boss fights in DD leave me reminiscent of Monster Hunter with all the fun that is to be had by lopping off monster’s appendages and Shadow of the Colossus, because of the way you must first scale some of the greater beasts, finding their sweet spots to inflict maximum damage. Without a doubt DD has the best boss fights going, totally blowing all other competitors out of the water. I would happily play this game if it was just killing boss after boss, seeing as the goblins and bandits just serve as a distraction from the main entertainment of the game, which is to kill big, bad mythical creatures with your big, bad bastard of a sledgehammer.
Dragon’s Dogma has impressed me in so many ways I feel my score of five is not underserved. While yes there are things I would like to change, like the somewhat cumbersome inventory system and side quests, I find all the effort that goes into tracking down the monsters rewarding as soon as I grip on tight to the creatures belly and give it a stomach full of fire enchanted steel. Even though the pawns are dim-witted and their dialogue is ripped straight out of the most clichéd of fantasy fiction, they never hold my ‘accidental’ clumsiness that leaves them testing the potential harm to be had off a possibly game ending cliff edge against me, so I duly forgive their flaws.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.