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On First Impressions and Dragon's Dogma

Hello, Destructoid community! I'm Maddie and a newbie to your ways, but I'm going to try my hand at this whole blogging thing anyway. So, for starters, I thought I'd give my own review of a game that's been consuming what little free time I have lately - Dragon's Dogma. I have a love/hate relationship with this game, as my dog can attest, considering I've spent a lot of the time playing it yelling in frustration at the screen. Whoops.

Let me introduce you to my Arisen, the player character of the game that you get to create for yourself.

My Arisen is the attractive lady, and the sort of dweeby mage guy next to her is her "pawn". This is basically the game's version of a follower like Skyrim, but with a much more plot relevant reason for being there.

The premise of the game - and don't worry, it's not spoilers, it happens in the first five seconds (or maybe ten) - is that a dragon has attacked your home village and stolen your heart. But somehow you haven't died and have become the Arisen, destined to slay the dragon to get your heart back.

To me, this is just as interesting a premise as Skyrim's Dragonborn or Kingdoms of Amalur's Fateless One, but not given the same depth as, say, the Warden from Dragon Age Origins. What makes me frustrated with this game is that it has so much potential to be amazing, but squanders it with some really lousy flaws that make you want to hurl your controller away from you.

But let's start with the good first!

The Combat

The combat in Dragon's Dogma is amazing. It's a weird blend of Dragon Age II and Shadow of the Colossus, with vocations similar to Kingdoms of Amalur's classes thrown in. You have your three typical starter vocations; Mage, Strider and Fighter. Once you progress the story a little, you get access to others - and that's where it gets even more fun, because some of these others are mixture vocations, like Magick Archer, Assassin and Mystic Knight.

I played my Arisen as a Strider and later an Assassin (with a quick detour to get some augments from a few other vocations) and got the most out of the Shadow of the Colossus aspect of the gameplay. In Dragon's Dogma, you can climb on to your enemies and stab them to death a la Wander, but with much more fluid controls. My favourite method of felling Cyclopes and Griffins was to climb on them and spam Hundred Kisses, one of the dagger attacks.

To me, the combat in Dragon's Dogma is much, much better than Skyrim's. I feel like if Skyrim had used Dragon Dogma's combat, Skyrim would have been even better than it already is.

The Pawn System

This is going under both good and bad for different reasons, because hoo boy. It's going under good because it's a creative way to introduce an online element to an open world RPG. Every player gets a "main pawn" that you also design for yourself and, if you're playing online, you can hire other people's main pawns to act as your third and fourth party members. Whenever you rest at an inn, your pawn "returns" from its adventures with other Arisen and keeps the knowledge gained while with them, as well as getting Rift Crystals and sometimes a gift too.

I like it because the pawns are also very major parts of the plot, so they're integral to the game both gameplay-wise and story-wise. So it's only natural you'd get invested in them - and I think if it had been a bit less flawed in other ways, it could've ended up like Journey, where you get really attached to the pawns you hire. But unfortunately...

The Bad

Pawns talk too much

You know, maybe that sounds petty, but trust me. If you've played this game or ever do play it, you'll immediately know what I mean. There's only so many times you can hear "wolves hunt in packs", "bandits, Arisen!" or "that is a very large tree" before you slowly go insane. My standard reaction was I KNOW WOLVES HUNT IN PACKS FROM THE OTHER 3984895 TIMES YOU'VE TOLD ME, but I guess other people might have more well-adjusted reactions.

The pawns never shut up. You can fix this a little by sitting your main pawn down in the Knowledge Chair and pretty much telling them to shut the hell up more often. The only problem is, you can't control the behaviours of the other pawns you hire, so that only gets you so far.

It really does detract from my enjoyment of the game at times - even if I just tune it out now - and it makes me wish they'd handled this aspect of the pawns a little better. Or actually a lot better. Sure, it's helpful when they give quest hints and suggest where to go. But it's not helpful when they shout GOBLINS! in an alarmed voice even though I one-hit kill goblins with ease now.

No fast travel

Okay, there is fast travel to a degree, and they're apparently fixing this in the expansion they're releasing soon. But fast travel in this game consists of purchasing Ferrystones, which take you back to the capital, Gran Soren. Later in the game you find a Portcrystal which you can put down anywhere, then get the option to Ferrystone to it when you next use one. But you only get one of these Portcrystals in a normal playthrough and have to wait till New Game+ to be able to get more.

But it's annoying more than anything else. It's not challenging, because you just go to the same areas over and over and over. And because enemies spawn in the same place and stay at the same level, you fight the same enemies over and over too. It just makes you hate having to leave the capital at all, to be honest, and repetitiveness does not a good game make.

The Affinity System

Well, this wasn't really that bad for me, because I thought it was hilarious. But I know a lot of people have complained about this, so I felt I should point it out. The Affinity System is Dragon Dogma's "romance" system, in a sense. Whichever NPC you have the highest affinity with by a certain point in the game will become your love interest, and yeah, that's non-negotiable.

The potential for hilarity is that literally anyone in the game can become your love interest. Well, with the exception of two NPCs for plot reasons, but still. A lot of players end up with the innkeeper or blacksmith from the capital because they have to talk to those NPCs every five minutes to rest at the inn or enhance weaponry.

You can even get a little girl as a love interest or a balding old merchant dude, and it doesn't take gender or sexuality into account, so I can see how a lot of people would be taken aback. There are ways to control who you get as it seems to be whoever you last reach max affinity with - my favourite method was standing in front of Asalam the innkeeper and continually unsheathing my weapons to startle him for ten minutes straight. (I was really intense about not wanting him as a love interest, okay).

I managed to get who I wanted as a love interest despite having max affinity with about 10 NPCs by the end of the game, but it's definitely a flawed system. It's hilarious, but it does ruin the supposedly romantic scenes if you end up with the blacksmith you just wanted an enchanted sword from... sans euphemism.

(The best part is, they get a pink glow around them and blush if you get to max affinity.)

Anyway, overall Dragon's Dogma is worth playing, and there's a lot of other aspects and facets to the game, both good and bad. If you're looking for great storytelling and memorable characters, it's probably not the game for you. If you're looking for an RPG with a great combat system and a lot of customisation with a pretty nicely designed world, then give it a shot.
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About calliopiumone of us since 2:45 AM on 04.03.2013

An Australian journalism graduate who's now struggling with the scary world of post graduate studies. In the meantime, video games have become one of the few sanctuaries left - flexing my writing muscle this way sometimes instead of solely on my thesis is the sanest option, I've decided.