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12:02 PM on 09.09.2015

Dragon's Dogma Online Review: You are the True Pawn

Looking back on the original Dragon’s Dogma, it stands out to me as one of the most underrated games of the last console generation. When I heard that Capcom was bringing the game to an online, free-to-play format, I was excited to see how they would adapt the original’s excellent combat, nuanced classes and incredible boss enemies to an MMO-style world. Sadly, the results are less than impressive, for reasons both predictable and surprising.

If you’re an MMO enthusiast who hasn’t played the original Dragon’s Dogma (DD), there’s definitely something here for you. Combat in Dragon’s Dogma Online (DDON) isn’t quite as varied as it’s predecessor, but it still remains some of the best in the action RPG genre and is leagues above anything competing MMOs offer. Fighters crush their opponents with heavy strikes and launching uppercuts, Hunters snipe enemies with devastating headshots or rain an entire quiver of arrows down on groups, and mages unleash visually striking, high-damage spells that will make short work of most regular foes. Each hit is weighty and responsive, and being hit by a boss monster’s immense limbs will make you cringe. At its core, it’s simply the best RPG combat outside of a From Software game. PvP is non-existent, however, and Capcom has said that there are no plans to include it at this point in time.

The world of DDON isn’t too different from traditional high fantasy fare. You have your lush, goblin-infested plains, your dense forests filled with wolves and ents, beaches swarming with harpies and mines populated by tar giants. Enemy designs are varied and interesting, but their placement in the world remains the same every time you pass through an area. You will always encounter the same three goblins on the path outside of the main town, you’ll always find the same Cyclops hanging out in the ruins near the settlement of Tel. At nighttime, some enemies are replaced by the undead, but this is still too little variety for areas that you’ll traverse dozens upon dozens of times. Fast travel is gated behind the same currency used to hire pawns, so warping around when you don’t absolutely need to is unwise.

Speaking of Pawns, they’re essentially player-designed bot characters that act as support in battles. Players get to design three unique pawns over the course of the story, and can customize them with whatever gear they find and assign them to whatever class their party needs. Players can also hire pawns created by other players using rift crystals, though they can only complete a certain number of quests before they must be rehired. Pawns are far less chatty than in the original game, though you’ll still hear the same lines ad nauseum whenever they choose to speak.

Pawns still suffer from the same AI problems that plagued them in the original game, with some additional setbacks that make their flaws all the more frustrating. Pawn commands, which allow you to give direct commands to your pawns, are completely broken. Pawns told to “Wait” will follow you if you get more than a few feet away from them, pawns told to “Follow” will slowly jog over to you in times when you want them to sprint, and there’s simply no way to command your pawns to use a specific ability or attack. If your pawn falls in battle, you have a short period of time to revive them, or they are “Lost” and you must return to the Pawn Cathedral to rescue them. The revival process in battle locks you into an inescapable five-second animation that leaves you totally vulnerable, and pawns die constantly in boss fights, meaning that the player must constantly endanger themselves to rescue bots that are practically useless in tough battles. Oh, and they get stuck on geometry a lot too. Nothing is more frustrating then working for 10 minutes to put a boss in a downed and weakened state, only for your pawn to get stuck running into their armpit.

The original Dragon’s Dogma was best known for it’s epic boss battles against all manner of fantastical beasts. From Griffons to Chimeras to Ogres and Drakes, most of the first game’s setpiece bosses are present in DDON, with some new tough customers like the humpbacked Trolls and electric Lindwurms adding some fresh challenges to the mix. However, boss fights in DDON are paced very differently compared to Dragon’s Dogma. You’re no longer using the environment to your advantage, hoping to bait bosses into falling into traps or finding convenient locations to whittle down their immense HP bars. DDON is much more your typical MMo-style DPS race, with more active combat and reflexes added in for increased challenge.

As they’re damaged, bosses will enter “Rage Mode,” a new feature that gives them a massive boost to defense (attacks that normally hit for 1000 damage will drop to around 100-200) and access to new, speedier attacks. The only way to break them out of this state is to deplete their stamina gauge, either by mounting them Shadow of the Colossus-style and tugging on them, or getting a priest to reveal their weak points and striking them. The problem is that this mechanic was clearly balanced with four human players in mind, as trying to drain the gauge with either method while playing with pawns is an exercise in frustration. Pawns are too inept to know when to jump on or where to attack, and will often get themselves killed while the player is busy doing the heavy lifting. This leads to boss fights feeling more like 20-30 minute chores than the exhilarating, tactical battles of the original.

Loot is largely relegated to consumables and materials, with most of your equipment being obtained through crafting or at shops (for high prices). This can make dungeon-crawling a bit disheartening, as the deepest chests will often award you with a piddly 400 gold and a healing potion. What’s more, many chests and all ore deposits/downed trees require tools such as lockpicks and pickaxes to loot. These tools often break within one or two uses, so you might not even be able to open post-boss chests by the time you reach them.

As an MMO, the game has it’s fair share of grinding. Main Quests are often locked behind both player level requirements and area level requirements, area levels are locked behind world quests, which are also locked behind lower area levels. This means that you’ll often find yourself killing the same two or three bosses, running the same two dungeons and fetching the same few items a good ten times each before new options become available to you. For higher area ranks, you must spend hours doing the most efficient runs again and again to unlock the deepest dungeons. The game’s Free to Play systems are, surprisingly, totally unobtrusive. Most of the weapons sold in the online shop become useless after about level 15, and there’s little available that will give you an edge in battle or reduce the amount of grinding you’ll need to do.

Dragon’s Dogma Online is a game possessing a brilliant framework marred by repetition, broken companion AI and frustrating boss fights. Playing with friends alleviates some of the game’s core problems to a small extent, but there’s no escaping the area level grinds or poorly-paced bosses. If you’re a fan of the original looking for more Dragon’s Dogma, skip this one and pray for a sequel. If you’re a PC player looking to get into the franchise, wait for the PC remaster of the original game in January. If you’re an MMO enthusiast looking for a game with unique combat, Dragon’s Dogma Online might be worth a shot.


11:42 AM on 02.14.2015

Girls Rule: Why Fictional Lesbian Relationships Succeed where Hetero Love Fails

It was a few years ago that Remember Me's devs, Dontnod, made this comment relaying what publishers told them about Nilin’s gender:

“‘Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.’”

In particular, this rationalization stood out to me:

“We had people tell us, ‘You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.’”

Looking at recent fiction, a handful of talented, progressive writers have been eager to tackle issues of gender portrayal in various forms of media, giving birth to a handful of iconic “string female characters.” And yet, very few of these characters find themselves in romantic relationships. Those that do often only find audience acceptance when in same-sex relationships. Let’s examine a few examples below.



By this point, I’m sure everyone has seen the last scene of Korra in some form. It was a beautiful, if somewhat unexpected moment between two bisexual women whose relationship was handled with subtlety and tact. Sure, you had a handful of detractors who thought it was pandering, or using homosexuality as a shock tactic to keep people talking about the show, but the overall reaction was still largely positive…

…especially when compared to the almost universal hatred of Korra’s first heterosexual relationship with chiseled, broody, athletic love interest Mako. This relationship followed a familiar path of angst, passionate kissing, and dramatic declarations of mutual love. And it really, really sucked due to the complete lacked of levity or likability of either character when they were around each other. It was so bad, in fact, the writers had to overhaul Mako’s character, give him a separate affair subplot with Asami, and have him dramatically dump Korra using words that emphasized the gripes the audience had with the relationship.


The Last of Us: Left Behind is the story of two girls who mean literally everything to each other. They’re best friends, relentless competitors, and they sometimes totally kiss too. TLOU co-writer/director Bruce Straley has said that Ellie and Riley’s relationship “wouldn’t have been any different” if Riley had been written as a male character in the original comic, and that they simply stuck with the characters they were given. I find myself doubting this statement, however, or at least that the reception of the DLC would have been as positive if Riley were male.

Simply put, Ellie gets a lot of the tougher, more independent aspects of her personality from emulating Riley. If Riley had been male, this would have been seen as regressive towards the character’s strength. The only other kid in the story Ellie’s age is Sam, a young boy who is treated as pretty powerless and is often protected by Ellie, before his eventual death.

Lara Croft:

Lara Croft’s romantic outlook has never been favorable towards men. As Yahtzee has pointed out over several Tomb Raider reviews, any man even slightly hinted at being a love interest for Lara ends up dead. Sometimes at the hands of the gun-toting archaeologist herself. In the 2013 reboot, the one overt romance subplot is the one-sided crush that the geeky hacker, Alex, has on Lara. When he sacrifices himself for her, even declaring her to be his hero, the best that the new, highly empathetic Lara can give him is a quick peck on the cheek before he dies horribly.

And yet, the game’s damsel in distress plot doesn’t rub any part of the audience the wrong way, because it features a strong woman saving a weak one. Weak and strong men alike drop like flies in the game, and are seen as either heroic or pathetic when the end comes for them. I have to wonder: could a game like this ever work if rescuing a guy like Alex was the core motivation? Could a scene like the one above ever work if Lara was carrying a man in her arms? I’m inclined to say “No, absolutely not!” because we as a society have been too trained to see such a dynamic as either humiliating for the man or downright silly and unrealistic. There is no serious precedent for it, and it would be crazy to try it in a medium that expects a male core audience, especially when publishers are expressing sentiments like those thrown at Dontnod.    

Katniss Everdeen:  

But what about in literature? Katniss from “The Hunger Games” is not a lesbian, but she is strongly implied to be asexual. Every romantic interaction with her core “love interest,” Peeta,  seems depressingly one-sided. She kisses him because she feels it will keep him strong and confident, not because she wants to. In the story’s epilogue, it is heavily suggested that the couple’s decision to have kids was entirely Peeta’s idea, and that he had to seriously twist Katniss’s arm to make it happen.

It’s hard not to see this reluctance to depict a healthy heterosexual relationship as Suzanne Collins’s attempt at preserving the strength and independence that made Katniss such an iconic character. While a male MC like Harry Potter can fall in mutual love with a girl and still be accepted by the audience, a strong woman like Katniss cannot accept the love of a man, or love a man herself, without seeming to betray her characterization.

TLDR Why Lesbian Relationships work with Stong Fictional Female Characters: Lesbian relationships simply have fewer examples in fiction, fewer tropes and cliches, for authors to be influenced by. Authors are required to be more creative, to think about the feelings at the core of a successful partnership instead of following the template they’ve seen in hundreds of romance novels, RomCom movies and cheesy anime love scenes. Mako and Korra didn’t suck because it was a hetero relationship, it sucked because it was so typical, so bland, so full of tropes and because both characters lacked personalities that made the audience interested in seeing them together.

Heterosexual relationships have been depicted in a very male-centered, male-empowering manner for literally thousands of years, and any deviation from that is seen as either emasculating to men or regressive towards strong women.  It’s half a problem with an audience that gets uncomfortable seeing a man in a vulnerable role, and half a problem with writers that can’t depict strong women as equal partners to strong men, turning them instead into the typical swooning, lovestruck morons.

As much as I'm interested in seeing more empowered lesbian women in fiction, I think it's equally important to have more examples of female MCs presented as equal partners in heterosexual relationships. It is evident that very few writers possess the skill needed to write such relationships.


5:13 PM on 11.30.2012

Anything You Can Do: The Top 10 Game Franchises That Need A Female Protagonist

With all of the recent hubub surrounding women in the games industry, a lot of blogs have been focusing on the real-world politics of the issue. I, on the other hand, found myself immediately excited by the prospect of seeing more well-crafted, playable women in future entries of some of my favorite series.

In a time where burly space marines and manly-man adventurers are becoming old-hat, female protagonists are poised to become a more prominent presence in the changing face of video games. These are the top 10 franchises that need to make that possibility a reality. Fast.

10. Deus Ex

He didn't ask for this, so why not relieve Human Revolution's protagonist Adam Jensen of his burden as a playable character in the next game of the series? Gender has little correlation with physical strength in a world where augments can semi-believably make a young woman hit like a truck, as seen with antagonist Yelena Fedorova. Give us a complex female protagonist with a strong backstory like Jensen's and an equal number of cool abilities, and it's hard to see how things could go wrong.

9. Dishonored

Far from the traditional male power fantasy, Corvo Attano's journey of revenge was a fantastic, self-contained story that rewarded restraint and patience in favor of ruthless violence. Since Bethesda recently confirmed that Dishonored will be a continuing franchise for the company, and Corvo's story is wrapped up with little room for continuation, having a mysterious woman take his place as one of the Outsider's chosen would be a great next step for the series. The Outsider doesn't discriminate who receives his gift based on gender, as seen with Vera Moray (Granny Rags), so perhaps a lone female rogue is what the City of Dunwall needs to solve its reliance on the despicable practice of whaling.

8. Infamous

Infamous 2 introduced players to Nix and Kuo, two female conduits with powers that rival those of series protagonist Cole MacGrath. While the game's conclusion wraps things up pretty definitively, there's no reason why developer Sucker Punch couldn't follow up Cole's story with that of a super-powered young woman in an equally thrilling situation. Infamous 2's story went in some bold directions, and a female protagonist backed by an equally compelling narrative would breath new life into a series that could just as easily be forgotten after this generation.

7. Metal Gear

From Big Boss to Raiden, the Metal Gear series is hard at work filling the void left by Solid Snake's retirement after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4. Before she was marrying men with severe bowel issues, Meryl Silverburgh was a pretty cool character. A competent soldier and the capable commander of Rat Patrol , Meryl would be an ideal protagonist for a more action-focused, squad-based game. Alternatively, Snake and Ocelot's adopted daughter, Sunny would be an interesting character to develop into a badass agent. And she makes some mean eggs.

6. Dead Space

Isaac Clarke is no space marine. The engineer became an unlikely hero during the events of the original Dead Space, and his arc looks to be coming to a close in Dead Space 3. It's easy to see how a female protagonist could take up his mantle in future entries of the series. Survival horror prioritizes a feeling of vulnerability that makes it a poor environment for the male power fantasy hero, but an Average Jill protagonist would be just as well suited to the frightening and claustrophobic corridors of a derelict spacecraft as an Average Joe like Clarke was.

5. Assassin's Creed

No, Liberation doesn't count. I don't care how cool Aveline is, Ubisoft needs to have a female Assassin headline a game in the main series. With the gripes about Connor's character being fairly forgettable, next year's inevitable release in the annual series is the perfect opportunity to place Aveline (or another female assassin) in the starring role. With Ezio, we've seen how well the Assassin's team can craft a memorable protagonist who relies more on guile and charm that brute force. Seeing them put an equal amount of creative effort into a female protagonist would undoubtedly be something special.

4. The Legend of Zelda

It's the most glaring mistake a person who is new to the series can make: "Oh, looking at the title, I guess that blond boy with the droopy hat must be Zelda." Link may be the protagonist of every game in the series so far, but the title makes it clear legend is still about the Princess. In a series desperately needing change, there's no time like the present to find out what makes Zelda herself so damn title-worthy. She took some definite steps towards cool in Wind Waker, showing her aptitude with the Hero's Bow, so I'm convinced she has what it takes to shoulder a full adventure on her own.

3. Grand Theft Auto

When Game Informer first revealed GTA V's three protagonists, one question kept popping up over and over again: "Where's the woman?" Don't get me wrong, each of V's playable characters has an interesting premise backing their role in the game, but I can't help being a bit disappointed that rumors of a central female criminal (dating back to leaked pictures pre-GTA 4's announcement) were so far off the mark.

2. Bioshock

There was nothing in the first Bioshock that really necessitated the main character being male. Being trapped in Rapture is a nightmare regardless of gender, and the audio logs of Andrew Ryan's many opponents (and eventual victims), clearly make the player aware of that a number of determined, capable women tried to take the madman down years before you even arrived in the city. When Bioshock Infinite was announced, Elizabeth's character stood out as one of the most compelling parts of the game's prospective narrative. So much so that I was left wondering: "Why aren't we just playing as her?"

1. Red Dead

Bonnie MacFarlane is arguably one of the best written and most well-rounded female characters in all of gaming and deserves her own game. I could just leave it at that, but the fact is that Rockstar is one of the few publishers who stands to make a real, groundbreaking impact by having a female playable character star in one of their massive, multi-million-selling titles. While GTA certainly has room for such a character, Bonnie's performance in Red Dead Redemption all but necessitates the eventual inclusion of one. She is every bit as capable as John, and remains a tasteful character in combat, competition and romance throughout the game.   read

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