Dragon's Dogma Review

Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2012-05-22
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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In another move that defies most modern conventions but helps the core design, Dragon's Dogma's only fast travel system relies on fairly expensive magic items that are consumed after use, forcing you to travel to most locations by foot. While this helps keeping players on their toes at the beginning of the game, many quests require you to travel relatively long distances on a regular basis, which means you'll fight the same monsters and face the same challenges even when you're way past their level range, making them more of a nuisance than anything else. Putting some kind of a carriage system in the title could have prevented at least some of this tedious backtracking and would have greatly benefited the game.

Another factor that contributes to the exploration's risk-reward proposition is the day-night cycle: visibility is extremely low during the night, with your only light source often coming from your lantern (which needs to be replenished with oil to avoid dying out, though the developers have been fairly generous with its length), and undead and phantoms populate the roads adding a different dimension to the challenge in the same locations.

While not exactly on par with Ultima VII or even Skyrim, the world certainly feels alive: flowers, plants and fruits can be picked up from the ground, just as a good portion of the other rendered items, boulders fall in certain locations, bandits ambush you from appropriately advantageous places such as cliffs or walls, walking in bodies of water makes you wet and vulnerable to lightning-based attacks, travelers constantly walk along the roads, strong winds blow in certain locations, pushing you away or making you travel faster depending on what direction you're coming from, boss enemies can ambush you while you travel, etc.

The game's dungeons also merit a mention: while hardly perfect, they easily win against the competition's linear and short affairs, often spanning multiple levels, and including secret and secondary paths and chambers, puzzles and a good enemy variety (while it could be argued that it's not particularly appropriate for a cave to have a cockatrice reside in its depths, it certainly makes for a fun fight).

Overall, none of that is revolutionary or an achievement in itself, but compared to the other role-playing titles I've played in the last 5 years or so, Dragon's Dogma has some of the best dungeons, with the only downside being that there are very few of them.

That said, while it can be argued that traveling and exploring is Dragon's Dogma's biggest draw, it's hardly perfect. Sure, your characters are fairly agile and can easily climb and jump their way to most locations, but you can't really swim, and most bodies of water are limited to puddles or extremely shallow lakes: trying to get into deeper bodies of water will net you some slight damage and teleport you back location you were in before entering. Chests often hold only junk inside, due to the fact that the majority of them are random in content, and respawn on a regular basis, reducing the need to continuously search for new areas to explore.

The map's relative small size, and the plentiful use of natural barriers on part of the developers means you'll generally be walking the same path to go from A to B and vice versa, which also contributes in making the player feel tired during the end-game stages, with most quests eliciting only a "been there, done that" type of response.

Finally, the environments are pretty much all variations on the same generic medieval fantasy theme, and, while there is a certain charm to Dragon's Dogma's honest derivative art style, it's difficult to to muster much enthusiasm at the thought of visiting yet another forest or canyon to finish a quest.