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Dragon's Dogma is a console-exclusive fantasy open-world action-RPG produced by Capcom, or, in other words, their attempt to enter the same market of titles such as The Elder Scrolls, the late Fallouts, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, etc. That said, it would be unfair to single out Dragon's Dogma as a simple copy-cat, as the game offers plenty of twists on the formula, and, while taking cues from plenty of recent and less recent titles, also has its own, surprisingly well-defined, identity.
It's unfortunate that the game's design often comes off as schizophrenic and incoherent then, because Capcom's fantasy RPG actually had the potential to be great and even now might offer a fulfilling experience for many people.
In a fashion not unlike that of other recent titles such as Fallout 3, Skyrim and even Piranha Bytes' Risen 2: Dark Waters, Dragon's Dogma's opening is fairly linear and scripted, and serves as a way to familiarize with some of the title's basic mechanics. First you play as a pre-made character through a tutorial dungeon, then you actually get the chance to customize your own character's look, only to fight a losing battle with the titular's dragon, and finally get to choose your "vocation" (the title's class/job equivalent) minutes later.
Not even at that point you're still free to explore to your heart's content though, as the game's pawn mechanics and the rest of the map beyond the starting area only get unlocked after a few more story quests, and while this doesn't come off as particularly grating during your first playthrough, repeated playthroughs and New Game+ could have benefited from a quicker start.
This serves the purpose of setting up the premise of the title's story: you're a fisherman/woman in the village of Cassardis, which gets attacked by the titular dragon, and in your attempt to vanquish it you are defeated, and your heart is (literally) stolen. You discover you have command over the "pawn legion", a legion of mercenaries without feelings or desires, the "spark" that drives normal human beings. You're an Arisen, the last in a long series, destined to fight the dragon and vanquish it.
It's also worth noting that in between these story quests there are a few side quests you can undertake in the starting locations, and that advancing with the story will make you automatically fail them. I'm okay with the chance of failing quests, even thrilled by it, but in this case I can't help but feel like Capcom has done a bad job communicating their availability time frame to the players, and it's a problem that plagues not only the tutorial but all of the game.
The Draw of Adventure
It's outright counterproductive for Dragon's Dogma to take so much time to open up considering the title's strongest aspect is its sense of adventure and openness. The game features a well-designed, if rather small when compared to the competition, playable area, and many of the title's mechanics were clearly designed to support it, enticing the player to explore it while at the same time presenting a very real risk for traveling.
Where most modern titles try to offer the players an appropriate level of challenge all the time, Capcom went for a complete lack of level scaling: while the roads might be relatively safe, the wilderness area are full of all manners of monsters waiting to get their claws on you. Different zones of the map feature different types of monsters, so certain areas end up being a lot more difficult than others, and while there's a general difficulty progression in exploration, with the outer edges of the map being more difficult than its central hub, that's left for new players to discover, with almost no signposting. That said, fleeing from high-level monsters is always an option and NPCs constantly remind you to stick to the roads, so I never felt that the game was being particularly unfair in that respect.
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