Dragon’s Dogma has a few things going for it as a video game. Its exceptional combat and varied customization options make it a wonderful action/adventure RPG well worth playing. Unfortunately, Dogma's narrative is standard fantasy fare, and the incessant (and repetitive) NPC dialogue became internet joke worthy almost immediately. You’d think these problems would diminish the world building potential of Dragon's Dogma (and...well...they sort of do) but despite these faults, there are two elements of Dragon’s Dogma that I think give the Duchy of Gransys a more lived-in feeling than most games.
Caxton is the city blacksmith. They're masterworks all. Just go with it.
The two elements I'm referring to are the lack of true fast travel and Dogma’s day-night cycle. To be clear, you are eventually able to acquire a form of fast travel as the game progresses, but the system is tied into the game world in a way that actually makes sense. Magical items known as portcrystals can be placed anywhere in the world to act as teleportation anchors. Another magical item known as a ferrystone is used to teleport to these portcrystals. There is a permanent portcrystal in Gran Soren, the capital city of Gransys and your base of operations throughout the game. This means if you have a ferrystone, you can always warp “home” to safety. On a player’s first play-through though, ferrystones are few and far between and expensive to purchase from shop keepers, and only one portable portcrystal is acquired by the player at the end of a lengthy mid-game quest. NG+ gives you the ability to purchase portcrystals for 200,000 G (a hefty sum), and in the Dark Arisen expansion, players can acquire five portcrystals through quests instead of just one. But even with these affordances, the game limits the player to 10 active portcrystals on the map (presumably placing any more would rip a hole in whatever magical space-time tunnel you’re traveling in).
This is how fast travel works in all games right?
In conclusion, acquiring fast travel in Dragon's Dogma is both a laborious and expensive task. If you want to get anywhere in Gransys, prepare to walk. Fast travel systems have become something of an expected mechanic in open world games, and while they may be convenient, they do have the unintended consequence of constantly reminding us that we’re playing a game. It’s difficult to lose yourself in a world if you never have to walk through it.
This lack of true fast travel is integral to making Dragon's Dogma’s day-night cycle into something far more than just a superficial change in lighting. Dragon’s Dogma teaches you to fear the night. It’s a lesson I didn’t listen to my first time playing. Various NPCs in Gran Soren warn you not to be outside the city walls after night falls. “Make sure you have enough lantern oil!” “Plan accordingly!” Yeah, whatever. I still remember going on my first major quest far outside the city walls. I made my way to the designated location, did my business, and began my long trek home. I had used up some healing items along the way, but I was confident that I could deal with anything I encountered on my way back to Gran Soren. Boy was I wrong.
As night falls, the dead rise. As I made my way along the dirt roads of Gransys, skeleton warriors and undead townspeople began crawling out of the ground. I tried to evade them by cutting through the woods, but that only brought me face to face with phantoms and wights. As a warrior, they were immune to my physical attacks, and I had to rely solely on my mage companion to fight them off. I didn’t have a ferrystone. I didn’t want to spend the money. I had to fight my way back home or pray I could last until dawn. As I ran out of lantern oil, the light around my battered warrior dimmed. I began to hear the moans of the undead and the shrieks of goblins long before I was capable of seeing them. Eventually I gave up the fight, and decided to run as fast as I could towards Gran Soren. As I got closer to the city walls, the sun began to rise. I learned my lesson. If a quest takes you to the farthest reaches of Gransys, pack an emergency ferrystone, ample healing items, and extra lantern oil.
Skip to 7:17 for a taste of night combat
Fast travel and day-night cycles are not revolutionary systems. As game mechanics go, they’re pretty standard and have been employed by many games throughout the years. But more often than not, their effect on a given game world is superficial. Dragon’s Dogma is the rare game that implements game mechanics not because they’re expected, but because they make sense for the game world. The people of Gransys might have a limited vocabulary, but their world feels more alive than most.