The Destiny of the World. The Heart of one Hero. The pointlessness of the storyline in Dragon’s Dogma.
When I first heard of Dragon’s Dogma, I thought I was dreaming; the makers of Devil May Cry 4 and Resident Evil 4 making an action RPG.
Then I saw it at rAge last year, and the code involved my character getting stuck in the floor and tripping himself up. It looked absolutely awful. The graphics were a mess and it was impossible to reach the griffon, even though an NPC was offering to launch me with his shield (which went the wrong way every time).
Things, sadly, haven’t changed much since that preview. The fluid, slick combat of DMC is nowhere to be seen. The tension, atmosphere and dread of RE, falls away before you step out of your house.
The game starts with a story, a premise of revenge, of getting what is rightfully yours back. A promise of a long journey, full of sacrifice, mystery and well, some story. But sadly, this is not the case. Instead of giving us a deep story, welcome to a world of overdone archaic speech and mediocre graphics.
You are the Arisen, a heartless human, thanks to The Dragon (his name in the credits). The story about getting your heart back from the most powerful creature in nature? Besides sounding like an old kung fu movie (get stronger so that you can beat me!), that is the only motivation for your character to do missions. You are the silent protagonist, in a world full of very talkative people, happy to take on any random task for coin and experience and body parts of various large monsters.
Having no heart seems to have granted you the power to summon pawns: soulless myrmidons that have no will of their own. You can summon and control these beings, finding them in the Rift, a pocket dimension of sorts. So engaging happily in “human” trafficking and the slave trade, you gather pawns, who call you master and obey unquestioningly, to do battle with the monsters.
These little sacs of flesh are made to do your bidding, to follow all your commands and help you in combat, so that you can take on more challenging monsters. Except that there is no way of giving commands, or asking for a certain ability to be used. You can say “Come!” “Help!” and “Go!” That is it, which seems rather pointless. Then you realise that they are offering advice. On everything. All of the damn time. When walking towards the city (“Gran Soren is the heart of all Gransys”), when seeing a goblin (“I think they hate fire”), when standing in the woods (“Perhaps aught is over yon rise, Master”) ad nauseam. Even when turning down speech rates, the pawns talk far too much, often repeating each other or repeating the same thing over and over again, as if it is the most important discovery ever (“They are weak to fire, Master”).
They also give advice, which they fail to do themselves (“Strike the eye, Master” [at which point they started hitting a random tentacle]). Not being able to ask for certain enchantments, like fire on your blades, makes for some overly long battles, which is exacerbated if the monster requires certain points to be hit, as the pawns won’t do so, even if they have maximum knowledge on the foe. When your pawn shouts, “Hit them with fire” and then promptly imbues your weapons with ice, it is hard to care for them at all. In one encounter I watched as my warrior shouted, over the course of 10 minutes, how she was going to climb to the head of the beast. She never did. Not even once. Nevermind the combats where they stand around not doing anything to help with the fight, unless you count shouting the same advice time and time again as helping.
Turning their inane commentary off completely doesn’t help either, as it makes you realise how little music, sound effects and ambience are in the game. If you hear a noise in this game, it is because there are monsters or bandits about.
In Dragon’s Dogma you start by choosing one of three basic classes: Fighter, Strider and Mage. As you play in these vocations, you level up as a character, which yields automatic stat increases. As your level in a vocation increases, a journey to the Union Inn is required to learn new skills and to set them. You can only set three skills per weapon (with the exception of the spellslingers who can set 6 for their staves). As you progress through vocations, you also unlock core skills and several passive abilities. You can also swap vocations to advanced versions (Warrior, Ranger and Sorcerer) which allow for better damage dealing. Sadly, Warrior and Ranger use different weapon categories compared to their basic counterparts, meaning none of the active skills can be passed on when changing. Your main pawn, the one that levels with you and you can customise with skills and vocations, can take basic and advanced vocations. The true power of the classes lie in the hybrid vocations: Mystic Knight, Assassin and Magick Archer. Besides blending the best of two war forms, hybrid characters can change their armaments in battle, giving them access to more than just 6 skills while out in the field. A Magick Archer, for example, can use either daggers or a staff as primary, and a special magic bow as secondary, allowing for some on the fly changes, something impossible with the other classes.
Dragon’s Dogma does things old school: There isn’t a fast travel option, unless you count the expensive
use of Ferrystones to return to the city. Monsters respawn at a frenetic rate, meaning there is never a shortage of goblins (“Don’t let them swarm you, Master!”) or harpies (“They hold the advantage!”) or wolves (“Wolves hunt in packs, Master!”) to maim. Sadly, when you are in a hurry, or it suddenly becomes night-time while you are out exploring, or when returning to town bleeding and torn after a difficult cave or quest, the throngs of undead (“It’s not human, but not a pawn”) and bandits become more of a chore to dispatch than a joy to use the combat system.
Combat also involves climbing onto the bigger foes to attack weak points. Sadly, your character sometimes forgets which way is up, making navigation difficult. There also appear to be many collision detection issues, with creatures able to kill you by running forward with you on their back. It has also resulted in most boss fights feeling far too similar. You often are beset upon by creatures with four legs, a tail, wings or a breath attack of some kind, which makes fights start to feel monotonous.
The voice acting is uninspiring and characters forgettable. During the credits it shows the people who have touched your life during your quest. Sadly, I didn’t remember many of them, possibly due to a lack of impact they had.
Your character in the story is always considered male, regardless of your gender choice. Everyone refers to you as ‘ser’, and the flimsy attempt at emotional investment with a romantic story arc results in an odd lesbian story. It also showcases the most awkward courting scene ever, with you and the girl falling madly in love after a monologue. This ‘manliness’ comes through in the character creation mode as well; because both genders use the same facial and muscular builds.
The PS3 has some terrible framerate lag issues, especially during boss fights or large battles. The reason for this isn’t apparent, seeing as the world is for the most part, covered with drab, low resolution textures. Sprinting, in town or not, causes character to move faster than NPCs load, resulting in ambushes by monsters and missing merchants etc. The loading of the Rift, as well as encountering wandering pawns, suffers from horrible latency. You know there is going to be a pawn soon because the ‘accessing server’ icon will appear in the top right of the screen.
In the end, I also wonder why your main pawn, who is with you the entire game, isn’t given a stronger personality, or a capacity to grow/ develop a bond with your character and you. Instead, they also offer asinine commentary and advice, while standing around looking as vacant and vacuous as your own character.
Combat is a clunky affair and the mechanic for climbing onto beasts is poorly done, which is sad considering how many creatures you must climb onto to dispatch.
Design and Presentation: 5.0/10.
Low resolution textures, choppy frame rates and a clunky menu interface become all too apparent while waiting for conversations and bad lip sync to load. Open fields, forests and sea vistas all lose their grandeur as you notice the rough edges.
For a game that takes around 40 hours to complete, the world isn’t that large. Most of your time will be spent travelling back and forth along the same roads, fighting the same monsters, and shopping in the same shops. Add new game plus, which allows you to restart with your gear and level, and an extra 30 hours of side quests and you have a really long game, should you care to be there. In the case of Dragon’s Dogma, the length works against the game. By the time you reach certain exposition of plot, the previous occurrence was so long ago that it is hard to remember what happened earlier.
I am going to be hated for this review by those who loved the game. I know that. But after 8 hours I absolutely despised the game, a feeling that grew all the way to hour 40. This game tried to do too many things, resulting in a lot of them being done poorly. It isn’t a story-less kill everything game with great fluid combat. It isn’t a rousing plot-driven quest that motivates you to explore more, to kill more. No, it is a clunky, empty mess of half-developed ideas with no polish. The game tries too hard to use archaic speech and a grand story, and then falls flat. Combat is solid, but by no means fluid and monster climbing and teamwork leave much to be desired.[Begrudgingly finished on PS3 on normal difficulty.]
Last Updated: June 7, 2012