Review: Dragon’s Dogma
It’s tough to know where to start with Dragon’s Dogma. There’s so much to like about the game, but equally there is so much to frustrate you.
The game starts out with the big showpiece, the Dragon itself. The scale of the beast is phenomenal, and when your character grabs a rusty sword and tries to take the Dragon on it’s impossible to believe that you’ll survive. That wouldn’t have been much of a game if you’d died however, and instead the Dragon steals your heart. Normally there isn’t any difference between the two, but not this time.
This time your character becomes the Arisen – a mystical hero blessed with amazing martial skills and the ability to command pawns. Pawns are the very sketchy multiplayer element to Dragons Dogma. They are companion characters that you can share online for other players to use. You have one of your own, which you can edit and equip however you like. Then you can throw it out onto the web for others to use and enjoy. You can use virtually anyone’s pawn and virtually anyone can use yours.
Following a brief interlude during which you decide your class – Fighter, Strider or Mage, you set off in the company of your pawns on an epic quest to get your heart back. Yeah, it’s a little odd, but roll with it.
The classes are simple enough. The fighter is a sword and shield staple of the RPG. The Strider is essentially a scout, armed with a bow and pair of daggers and uses fast and light attacks. The mage is also a familiar RPG element, making use of fireballs and healing magic – at least to start. The mage seems to be a support class in general, buffing your companion’s weaponry and healing them up when they take damage.
In order to take down the Dragon and get your heart back, you have to roam the country of Gransys, taking down all manner of beasts and monsters on the way. You also manage to get into the Dukes good-books, qualifying you to join the Wyrm Hunt. The Wyrm Hunt, as the name suggests, is the hunt for the Dragon, which has been terrorising Gransys.
The hub of your journeys is Gran Soren, the capital city of Gransys. From there you can traverse the land, doing quests for anyone and everyone. Most of them are standard RPG fare, fetch this, take me here, kill this and that. The more entertaining ones generally involve taking down large enemies.
As you complete your quests you will gain experience points and discipline points. The experience points level up your character in two respects. The first is another standard levelling system. You gain levels and as you do you increase your health, stamina and so on.
The other is the clever vocation system. You can pick and choose your vocation throughout the game, with nine to choose from. There are the three starting classes, each with two other sub-divisions. Each class has different strengths and weaknesses, and your choice of class significantly impacts the way that the game plays. As you continue to level up the vocation that you’re currently using will level up with you, allowing you to use more techniques, along with more powerful techniques. These are purchased with discipline points which are earnt by defeating opponents.
These techniques deepen the already robust combat system. If there is something that Capcom do really well, it’s combat. The combat in Dragon’s Dogma is pretty solid, consisting of light and heavy attacks along with the most impressive element of them all, a grab function. There are also more powerful techniques, accessed by using the bumpers and face buttons together. They’re far more powerful than the standard moves and serve as good go to moves to get out of trouble.
The grab function is really what lifts the combat from solid fare to something really enjoyable. Allied with the scale of some of the beasts that Dogma throws at you it makes the combat genuinely brilliant. The rush you get when you scale a Cyclops or hang from a Griffin as it takes off is incredible. Which brings me to the greatest part of Dragon’s Dogma. The monsters. There is quite literally nothing like stumbling across an Ogre, or watching a Griffin swoop down from what was empty sky just seconds ago. The scale of the beasts is fantastic. You can quite literally scale Golems, looking for weak points to hit. Likewise, taking down a Chimera head by head is a fantastically satisfying experience. And when you cling to the back of a Cockatrice while it hovers above the city you get a real adrenaline rush.
The beasts look great as well. The game doesn’t have the same graphical brilliance as Skyrim does, but it still looks pretty decent. The real stars of the show are the beasts that roam the land, and they look fantastic. The cities and the environments around them are unfortunately disappointingly bland in comparison.
The problem with Gransys is that Capcom have built an ambitious open world game, but then decided not to put anything in it. There is only a single major city to explore, and even then there are only a few accessible houses. Exploring the city is unrewarding and bland, much like exploring the rest of Gransys. Much of the country is similar, with only four types of environment: plains, forest, mountains and beaches. There is not much change-up, and despite the size of the map, you quickly feel like you’ve seen all there is to see.
Unfortunately, there is little redemption to be found in the voices or music. The music is almost a non feature, apart from the intro tune, which is great fun. The voices are acceptable, but are generally just as bland as the rest, the only exceptions being the few voices that are truly terrible. The scripting itself tends to be very repetitive, a good example being the armourer Gran Soren. When you get to the menu of his shop he says “They’re masterworks all, you can’t go wrong.” I wouldn’t have an issue with this, except for the fact that he says it every single time you go to the menu, which means that he can say seven or eight times in a row, making it absolutely infuriating.
It is little things like this that are really symptomatic of Dragon’s Dogma. The fantastic combat experience that sees you fighting giant monsters is the framework for a brilliant game, but there are tons of little flaws that drag the game down. Things like enemies not showing on the minimap, the lack of a fast travel function and the overwhelming blandness steal away from the enjoyment of some clever little features.
The lack of fast travel is particularly infuriating, as Gransys is big, and the quests will take you back and forth across the large country, which takes ages. It just feels like a tactic to flesh the game out, and the only thing it adds is an extra opportunity or two to take down some bigger beasts, but even then it’s not welcome.
On top of this, the quests that send you farthest are generally to further the main story, which is odd. The story is increasingly confusing and the twists and turns just don’t make a lot of sense. On top of that, the story is dragged on long past the point where it ideally would have ended, getting more and more confusing as it goes. By the time the final credits finally rolled I was filled with a sense of relief, not pride.
The game is endlessly connecting to the servers as well, which means interminable waits every time you sleep and regain health. Not only that, it connects time and again while you’re playing, and if you speak to someone while it is connecting then the game crashes. Everytime. Not only that, but I could run through benches that should have been solid, creatures got stuck in the walls and when my shield was on my back my arms went through it when I ran.
These flaws are a real shame, because they do overshadow some unique features. The pawn system is clever and interesting, the grab mechanic is absolutely fantastic and the creatures that you fight are jaw-droppingly awesome. It’s wonderful to watch your pawns evolve and improve, and to watch a character that could hardly fight wolves eventually take down enormous beasts.
If you’re willing to look past a lot of irritating little flaws and an increasingly nonsensical and confusing storyline, then this game will deliver a pretty fun experience filled to the brim with epic battles that feel as good as they look. I took much more from the game in the time I spent wandering the map taking down massive monsters than I did with the story, so the replay value is pretty decent. You won’t get as many hours out of this as Skyrim, but not even Skyrim can match the epic battles that Dogma provides.
Review: Dragon’s Dogma Results
What we liked:
Epic battles with fantastic beasts
Clever vocational system
Brilliant grab mechanic
What we disliked:
Confusing and uninspiring story
No fast travel