Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dragon's Dogma Impressions

After 25 hours of adventuring in a brutal world filled with goblins, ghosts, ogres, giants and dragons; I have earned sufficient knowledge about Dragon's Dogma in order to let you all know what I think about it. I didn't know when I should come write some impressions, especially since I didn't know how much content there is in the game or how huge the world is, but today I spent at least an hour fighting a dragon and it was fantastic. By the end of that fight my party members had been knocked unconscious dozens of times, I had used 70% of all my healing items and I had finally lain the dragon into its earthly bed.It was the hardest fight I have attempted in the game and  by the end of it I knew I was ready to write.

Dragon's Dogma is an open world RPG for Xbox 360 and PS3. It is the first attempt by Capcom, to my knowledge, to try their hand at this genre and they have achieved a lot here, but it is not without plenty of bugs, flaws and half-successes. It came out on May 22nd in the US and the 25th in Europe. Like most other open world RPG's there is a focused main quest that is fairly short, but there are a great many side quests littered throughout the world. It is unfortunately entirely singleplayer, but you do not play the game alone.

*I apologize in advance for all screenshots. They are taken using the in-game screenshot tool included in each version of the game. They are not very high-resolution and rather blurry, but at least they are in-game right? 

One of the main differences between Dragon's Dogma and every other open world RPG, which there aren't that many of, is their pawn system. Pawns are your party members and you can use them to create a party of four. You have one main pawn that is highly customizable and levels up with you, while the other two are pawns that you rent from other players. These two pawns don't level up with you and you can only customize their equipment, plus whatever equipment you give them goes back with them once you stop using them. Throughout the game you switch out your secondary pawns to get pawns closer to level. You may also use rift crystals, a currency exclusively for pawns, that hire high level, popular and powerful pawns. They have a whole server system in place to allow you to favorite pawns, favorite players and search through other peoples pawns. It works really well and when you release a pawn from your service you can send them back with gifts and comments, plus if they learned new things about a quest or monster they will bring back that knowledge to their master.

The Rift

The whole pawn system makes the lack of co-op even more painful. You don't always have to be online in Dragon's Dogma, but you do need to be able to be online quite a lot. Every time you sleep at an inn or anything related to recruiting pawns then the game game accesses the online servers. It seems like it would have been pretty easy to use this system to allow you to play 1-4 player co-op. That of course would require different difficulty balancing and some other considerations, but Dragon's Dogma seems like a game that was made for co-op and just doesn't have it.

The region of Gransys is the main area in the game and contains some really open areas. In these open areas you can run into little monsters like goblins or saurians (lizard men), humanoid enemies like bandits or cultists, or huge massive enemies like cyclops, drakes or chimera's. Most of these enemies respawn after a day or so in-game and it's really tough to get used to. Most open world rpg's have enemies who randomly spawn places, but they almost never have the same enemies respawning in the same spots over and over again. Most enemies drop unique items that are used to enhance armor and weapons, so it kind of makes sense that you can harvest these enemies for items if you need it for your equipment. The good thing about this is that the world is always populated by monsters/enemies and that is really important when you have to walk everywhere. There is a fast travel system in the game, but it is very minimal and for the majority of the game you can only do a one-way fast travel to the capital city.

Walking everywhere in Dragon's Dogma is quite interesting, especially when the sun descends and the moon  shows its cruel face. Wondering the world at night is horrible, but in a good way. Tougher enemies are often out at night, for instance ghosts only come out at night, and there is quite a bit of loot that can only be found at night. Nighttime in Dragon's Dogma is really really dark though and generally all you have to illuminate your way is a lantern. It is very easy to wander into enemies and if you stray off the path it feels really dangerous. If you know an area really well you don't have to worry about all that much, but going into new areas at night is exciting and challenging. The one big negative is visibility. There are some sneaky out-coves, hidden chests and paths that are very tough to see at night. If you want to thoroughly loot an area it is best to do so by day, but there are some herbs and flowers that only grow at night.

One of the most successful aspects of Dragon's Dogma is the combat. This is not the combat you are used to from most RPG's. It is fast paced, brutal and really unique. Fighting huge enemies feels like a unique mix and delightful mix of Shadows of the Colossus and Monster Hunter. You can jump onto the leg of a cyclops and climb all the way to it's head in order to stab it in the eye, its weakest point. The cyclops is one of the easiest large enemies though and most of them require you to figure out how to hurt them and what works well against them. If your pawns are knowledge they may know how and yell out tips in combat, but otherwise you just have to figure it out and it's a blast. Smaller enemies are fun to fight too, especially when you can jump into the middle of a bunch of goblins and tear them apart with one strong ability, but the huge enemies are the most rewarding. Like this lovely golem that took about thirty minutes to beat because I had no idea how to really hurt it.

You can developer your character and your pawn fairly extensively in this game. Each character has armor, weapons and accessories to customize, but they also have class based abilities. When you fight you earn skill points and you use those to learn main skills, secondary skills and passive skills. You assign your main and secondary skills to your controller and you can easily switch between the two with the shoulder buttons. Each class has it's own unique skills and you can spend skill points to switch between classes. There are some skills that will transfer between each class, so it's not a waste if you max out one class and of course you will level up independent of your class, which will raise your stats in general. There around nine total classes and you can freely try any of them out if you have the points to do so. So far I've gone entirely the warrior route and have been trying to max out that one class before I move onto something else.

The last thing I wanted to talk about was the world. The design of Gransys is fairly inconsistent. There are some really exciting and interesting areas in the game, like castles, old ruins, perilous canyons, waterfall dungeons and mines, but most of the world feels lacking compared to other $60 open world RPGs. There is a lot there and a lot to find, but it's definitely not the most interesting world and doesn't have the hugest variety of enemies. There are also many areas that are pretty confined and not as open as you might want from an open world RPG. There are quite a few areas that are vast, filled with hidden crevices, treasures and enemies, but I wish the whole world was consistently that interesting.

It is pretty dis-concerning that some of the really challenging and interesting areas in the game, like castles, just respawn all of their enemies and leave you with little sense of accomplishment. It is made worse by the fact that many treasure chests also respawn, usually with different items than the first time you looted it, but it's still a bit annoying. The explorer in me wants to see the traces of footsteps in the world, but they seem to get blown away every day or so. In defense of Dragon's Dogma there are a few areas that will permanently stay clear of enemies once you have gone through it, but so far they are all inside areas and I've only seen it happen twice.

I could keep saying more about this game and I have grown to really like it, maybe love it, despite its often lackluster world, lack of co-op and yawn filled story (so far). The combat feels great, the pawn system is really enjoyable and the day/night cycle is very well done. This isn't the best open world RPG there, but it offers a really unique experience that some people will absolutely eat up. Like I said before I've only played the game about 25 hours and there is apparently another ten hours (at least) of story and 50 hours of side quests/exploring to be had. The point being that my verdict on this is not final and this is not a review. Unfortunately the demo for Dragon's Dogma really doesn't do it any justice so I will have to post this lovely video below for you all. If you find it interesting then you should keep your eyes on Dragon's Dogma and contemplate purchasing it. Since it's a console game it probably won't drop in price for quite some time, but keep your eyes on Amazon or Newegg for video game sales. Thanks for reading and for checking out Dragon's Dogma. If you have questions about the game I'd be happy to answer them.
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-Written by Sean Cargle


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