Dragon’s Dogma has been on my list of games to check out for about five years now, but I never got around to it during the time the seventh generation of game consoles were relevant. So after it was released on PC, and after finding the time to invest in a massive western styled action RPG, I was finally able to go through the game. Though, I sort of regret putting as much time into it.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360
The premise of Dragon’s Dogma is pretty simple, at least if you don’t really ask questions. The player’s user generation character is attacked by a dragon, a rarely seen sight in this setting, and is branded as an Arisen. A person with increased power and skill in all fields of combat who is destined to battle the dragon and reclaim their heart. Therefore, the main character sets off on a journey across the land in order to defeat this beast, and by virtue of being an Arisen, is able to summon a group of transdimensional warriors in order to help them in a quest of epic proportions where they must grow in strength in order to slay whatever beasts and monsters lay before them. Though, that is hardly an accurate description of most of the game.
Dragon’s Dogma is a fantasy game, to the point where its take on contemporary fantasy is arguably its greatest weakness, and I would certain agree with that sentiment. The world is a chunk of medieval Europe presented with little new or interesting about it geographically beyond points of potential interest over the horizon that soon reveal themselves to be as drab as whatever location was visited before. I suppose it does look quite good for a PC port of an Xbox 360 and PS3 game, but the visual aesthetic still doesn’t impress me.
Characters are presented under predictable fantasy archetypes and despite there clearly being a focus on some of them, I can barely remember the characterization and names of a handful of them. While the story, beyond the compelling premise, is one that I would rapidly gloss over when describing anything other than the beginning or end, as I honestly don’t remember the middle or really anything substantial that was accomplished during it. I remember the beginning because it was my first experience with the game, and I remember the end because it was easily the most interesting part of the game.
I won’t spoil the surprise, but the ending to Dragon’s Dogma changes the very world the game was set in up to that point, and changes the game structure and tone while introducing new areas and new monsters. Considering how exploration and monster designs were already two of my favorite things about the game, this renewed my interest in the game for a while. At least until I realized that this shift comes with a dramatic spike in difficulty that I could never get over. This combined with the disinterest and apathy I build up towards the world in the preceding 50 hours, I just could not justify playing it any longer.
Though, the only reason I got that far, and got through another massive hurdle I encountered earlier in the game, was because of how much I enjoyed the gameplay and combat of Dragon’s Dogma. It’s an RPG that puts its combat and game feel first, amounting to a series of fast and frantic battles where the player character and their allies must fend off against merciless hordes of baddies they carry on with their journeys, slashing, bashing, and grabbing them in a combat system that manages to feel very distinct despite a fairly basic foundation.
I certainly never got tired of plowing through the one hundredth batch of goblins I ran across, and while their quantity is a bit absurd, few things feel more satisfying that plowing through a wolf’s stomach with a pointy metal stick, watching them go flying three feet back upon impact. Beyond that, things are varied up when battling against larger foes, cyclops, chimeras, griffins, and yes, even dragons in what feels like the middle ground between a character action brawl and a battle in Shadow of the Colossus. With characters desperately clinging to the beast’s body, stabbing in its sensitive regions while the others distract and stun them with magic blasts.
However, the enjoyability of this combat largely depends on the vocation the player chooses to adopt, which unfortunately contains three duds in the form of the mage, their advance form of a sorcerer, and the two-handed weapon wielding warriors. All of which have one thing in common and that is slowness. Dragon’s Dogma is, or at least it feels like, a very immediate game where the player is suppose to always be hitting monsters and dealing as much damage as possible in as little time as possible.
This is hard to achieve when a weapon is so heavy that it misses its targets and while dealing a lot of power per blow, feels like they deal worse damage per second than other classes. Magic on the other hand is just boring to cast. Select your spell, aim it, and hold down a button until it is ready to cast. Move a bit further away from combat, and repeat. Do this for every strike, every heal, and every summoning of horrors that humanity was never intended to dabble with. For as compelling as that sounds conceptually, it is not worth holding down a button for 30 seconds.
The entire vocation system seems vastly unnecessary, especially when looking at how many modern western RPGs let the player specialize anything and everything, allowing the player to create the character they want to play as. But in Dragon’s Dogma, the player is actively encouraged to completely change up their playstyle, and their equipment, in order to assume a new class. While it can be tempting to just ignore this mechanic all together, benefits of playing other classes include new passive and active skills that can be used with other classes, variation in stat growth, and being able to gradually earn more and more abilities, rather than hit a wall, as will happen once a vocation is maxed out. Though, this is only one element of the game that’s bogged down in outdated ideas, which seems to be a theme throughout the game’s entire design.
This can be seen in the decision to have quests that can be failed without the player’s awareness. Quests that can be lost depending on the amount the player has progressed. A single save slot per character that auto-saves immediately after important decisions. A fast travel system that requires the player to manage their portable fast travel points in order to avoid wasting time by exploring the same environments ad nauseum. A weight based inventory system that has the player collecting a deluge of tat and nonsense that rarely has a practical purpose, or at least a practical purpose in my experience. Oh, and the worst goldarn side quest I ever begrudgingly tried to complete, only to realize that I already failed it.
You know how some games have those obnoxious quests where the player needs to collect 100 macguffins for some reward that is so not worth the 5-10 hours spend on such a repetitious action? Dragon’s Dogma has the most extreme version of that by making each one of these 100 macguffins only available as a quest, of which only six can be active at a time, and are presented in an arbitrary order. To sour this already foul pot, these macguffins are also very hard to find, given that they are very small, often hidden in very difficult to see or reach areas, and many of them require the use of a specific vocation in order to obtain.
However, that’s not even the worst part. Some of these can be missed during a playthrough, and two of them are only available during the span of a single story quest that results in an area being destroyed for basically no reason. I was not aware of this, meaning I effectively failed the quest, and would need to undergo a second playthrough in order to get these worthless macguffins. Never before has a game infuriated me so much for wasting my time, effort, and energy on inconsequential and manipulative drivel. Especially upon researching the reward for collecting all 100 of these and realizing that it is, indeed, absolutely nothing. That’s bad, but the actual worse part is how this was originally paid downloadable content.
I want to truly love Dragon’s Dogma. Its vastly enjoyable combat system, wondrous wandering, and the organic gameplay situations the player can easily stumble into offered some of the most enjoyable sections I’ve ever undergone in a western fantasy RPG. Unfortunately there are so many negligence and irritating elements to the game, elements that I would hope to be addressed in a sequel, that prevent me from so much as praising the game as a whole, or even be confident in giving it any kind of recommendation for the nonsense it put me through.