I had this review in mind for the past week now, but having only explored a fragment of the overall world, employed the assistance of only two pawns and dropped the joypad from my hand in awe only five times, it was unfair for me to write it. Games like Dragon’s Dogma reinforce my passion for videogames and remind me of the hope the industry still has.
I did not play Dragon’s Dogma when it was released, so this will be a review of the full game, complete with its add-ons, so that people who also missed out on it the first time around will discover what they’ve missed out on.
Readers and followers of mine should know by now that I am not a fan of the out-of-the-pan-into-the-fire style of gameplay; I like to be softly padded through a game and be given the time to explore its offerings until I’m good and ready to unhinge myself from the training wheels.
The opening section of this game, as I mentioned in my preview, was anything but welcoming and forgiving. Instead of “Here you go, sugar plum, open the menu and use that shiny potion to heal”, I got “Hey, douchebag, you’re about to get your ass handed to you! Get your finger out of your nose, assign a pawn and defeat that Chimera!”
By the time I got to the character create screen, and after I was done weeping in a corner, it dawned on me that what Dragon’s Dogma did was apply the harshest mode of tough love I have yet faced; It was the kind of love that leeches on you, forcing you to constantly prove yourself worthy. But I’ll get to all that soon enough.
The world you exist in is Gransys, a fantastical land dominated by magic casters, sword swingers and bow users. Dragons, or Wyrms as they are referred to, play a pivotal role in the balance of all things, but their intention is not directly clear. Losing against a perilous battle with a dragon who consumes your heart, you find yourself in the small town of Cassardis answering to titles like ‘cousin’ & ‘Arisen’. Choosing your path starts with your desired class, which is awesomely established by picking your weapon of choice: Sword, bow or staff. There are no customizable stat screens beyond that and you are given the freedom to alter vocations or choose an advanced class soon after that, but for a cost and at the risk of sacrificing whatever skills you may have learned.
Your stats generally increase with each gained level, foregoing the number crunching and point distribution that usually exists in D&D games. You also learn new skills that you may employ every couple of levels, however, in order to assign them, you are required to visit an inn and speak to the owner, except in the case of Bitter Black Isle, a new high level area that was added to Dark Arisen, and which I decided to explore on my first 2 hours of playing. #Genius. But I digress; No matter how far you level up, if you do not visit the inn keeper to assign new skills, you will be stuck with your first level techniques. Not encouraged. This setup proves to be a bit of a hassle, specially if you are no where near a town and your enemies are using advanced skills.
This, of course, would not have been a hassle had there been an implemented fast travel system. Instead, what you end up with is a system that requires you to keep Ferrystones with you that when used, grant you access to major cities in a blink. In the original game, each one of these stones cost a whopping 20K gold, which undoubtedly bred animosity from gamers. This time around, the price has been modified to a manageable 2k gold per stone, if you know where to buy them from. Y’see, taking the path of a true RPG experience, the game points you nowhere and expects you to uncover that for yourself. Granted, the alleged shop was located in Gran Soren, the first major location you will come across after leaving Cassardis, but if you don’t happen to walk by the shop, you are never told of it, and are never instructed by the game that you can purchase more stones to keep in your inventory.
Back to your skills: You are also in charge of pawns that you will assign to assist you in battle. One of them will be your main pawn, and the other two will be pawns you can hire from a kind of a central recruitment hub entitled the rift and who may have been created by other players online, complete with their looks, class and skill level. Your main pawn will level up with you, while the other two will remain at the state you hired them in, save for the equipment that you may assign them. Be wary, though, that anything those pawns equip will forever stay with them and will be transferred to their original creator. While this may seem plausible, when you equip a secondary pawn with a high level item that only he/she can use, and then have to replace them with another pawn, a small part of you will die for a second before succumbing to the reality of the situation, specially if you were unaware that they do not level up with you the way I wasn’t, and that you will eventually have to replace them with stronger pawns that match your level. Equip them sparingly, specially in regards to high-level weapons that may benefit higher level pawns.
For all the great things the game offers, there are two flaws that I believe take away from the overall experience.
The mission system is appalling, at best. There is no way for you to differentiate between story missions and side missions, and quest descriptions often offer little help in regards to what you need to do. Notice boards are littered around for you to pick up new missions for you to partake in, but most of them ask that you kill a number of creatures or escort someone to a designated location. Uninspired.
The second element that any RPG should perfect, but that some unfortunately still miss the mark on, is the inventory. Detailed as it is, you will find yourself struggling with its lack of cohesiveness and the clunky nature that it exists in. Adding to the problem, many items that you will pick up in your travels look the exact same in the inventory, forcing you to highlight each one of them individually in order to tell the difference. The act of combining elements, also, is a complete mess that deterred me from dabbling with potion and ingredient creation because there is no list of recipes to choose from. Where in other games you are given the freedom to browse your recipes for instant creation, in Dragon’s Dogma there is nothing of the sort and it’s as if the game expects you to write down everything. Not only is that more hardcore than it should be, it’s senseless.
The storytelling, though flat and emotionless, I felt supplied the right blueprint and accompanied the rest of the game perfectly. There is a delicate beauty to the nothingness that surrounds you, and a grand sense of just being that overpowers the need for a series of events, allowing you to experience the world for what it is. For me, walking and discovering the myriad of locations populating the map, taking in the breathtaking beauty of the world was cathartic and unequaled.
As frustrating as some elements are, and as angry as I got playing through some parts of the game, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is one experience that I still find myself openly and willingly coming back to. From the greatly conceived battles, to the vastness of the wilderness and the world, I can easily claim this game as one of my all-time favorites. Granted, there is little on offer in regards to story and lore, but what it presents you with in return is a unique adventure that is unmatched and will forever be, in my mind at least, a true testament in game design and an undying proof that there will always be a demand for high quality, single player games.