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Page 3 of 6Quest(s) for Glory
While Dragon's Dogma might excel at exploration and adventure, it utterly fails at providing interesting quests to the players, both as far as side and main quests are concerned. Capcom's designers were clearly inexperienced in the genre, and it shows: the vast majority of the quests are handed out through notice boards, and amount to fetching, killing or escort quests, with only a select few coming from proper quest givers and breaking the formula, often with disastrous results.
If those formulaic notice board quests might at least lead to interesting gameplay situations and make use of the game's core mechanics, the more elaborated ones that in Capcom's intentions were probably meant to offer a deeper experience often end up feeling convoluted, obscure and tedious.
For example, a side quest required me to convince a family to leave the land owned by a certain wealthy individual, which translated into having to follow a series of quest markers to find the members of this family and talk to them. This in turn lead to one of the children escaping and having to find him... with the help of a conspicuous quest marker. After reaching the boy on a roof and talking to him, I had to talk with another family member again, and then either pay the wealthy individual to buy the land and allow the family to stay there or give the family enough money to survive even after being cast away from the property.
I don't know if my standards are too high, but I don't consider that to be meaningful gameplay. Maybe it could have worked if the game had proper dialogue trees and dialogue skills, but the developers instead opted for a system reminiscent of Diablo-like action-RPGs, with an extremely limited amount of strictly practical options, which relegates players to an essentially passive role in most of the conversations.
Add to that, as I've already said, you can fail quests extremely easily simply by advancing the story, with little to no apparent logic behind it, and it's easy to see how Capcom's failings far outweigh their good ideas. Which is not to say that there aren't good ideas: a few of the quests are genuinely competent and present interesting scenarios, such as a rivalry between two rather different rival bandit gangs, and sometimes even choices and consequences. Admittedly, these choices and consequences are extremely minor and aren't always present where you would expect them but I was still pleasantly surprised by the few I encountered.
A little touch like seeing someone you fetched an item for earlier help you with that very same item, easily dispatching an otherwise formidable foe, goes a long way in making you momentary forget about the oddities and obscure logic of the title's quests. Unfortunately, though, that's the exception rather than the norm.
Combat and Pawns
Dragon's Dogma holds the strange distinction of combining a relatively free, open-world structure, an action-based combat system and a four-man party, and somehow not making the mix feel like a tremendously clunky and awkward affair. You get to outfit and customize both your main character (dubbed the "Arisen") and a "main pawn" in terms of appearance, skills and equipment. The main pawn is essentially a cohort that follows every order and helps in combat and quests, and ties into the larger mechanics concerning your party.
You also get the chance to hire two more "support pawns" at Rift Stones or during your travels, either by hiring other players' main pawns or one of the computer-generated ones, though their mechanics slightly differ from your main pawn: they don't level up, their skill selection and inclination (more on that later) can't be changed and any attempt to equip them with different items will have those items sent as gifts to their owner.