Intro to Dragon’s Dogma 101
If I had to put Dragon’s Dogma into a genre it would be a single player RPG, rogue-like open world game with Dark Souls like fantasy aspects, but in reality it’s a Capcom gem that stands alone as a game of its own. On the surface it seems like a dark-souls type with the game throwing a chimera, goliath sized dragon, a huge cyclops, and a hydra at you in what could be the very first 10 minutes of the game, not to mention the little goblins, lizardmen, harpies, and the like tossed in the mix.
For anyone that is a fan of the game I recommend putting it on hard mode as soon as possible and really challenge yourself because as any fan would tell you, Dragon’s Dogma is all about Capcom’s best battle system put to the test against what seems like every imaginable monster. However, for any first timers Dragon’s Dogma does have an easy mode, and I do recommend it until you get a handle on how the game works. With 9 classes to choose from, each with their own unique ways to dish out the punishment, Dragon’s Dogma gives the player the tools to fight back in their own way. What keeps players coming back is seeing what each class has to offer in the pain department, and navigating the game’s many dungeons in new and interesting ways. Alternatively though, what keeps new players from coming in is it’s drawn out gameplay that can test even the most patient of players.
Dragon’s Dogma is a third person action game that allows the player to weave in and out of combat in a moment’s notice. The player gets to create their own character from scratch as well as another AI controlled character that the game aptly names Pawns. The player is also allowed two other Pawns that other players made or that the game provides, for a max party of 4 characters.
There are 9 classes to choose from, each with different weapons that they can equip. Each class has different skills that they can learn for each weapon, most of which are unique to their class. Additionally, each character can only have 6 skills assigned to them at a time with the lone exception of the Warrior class which can only have 3. To progress through the game the player must choose their Pawns strategically to balance out their team or risk being taken out by the broad scope of enemies the game has to offer. While going solo is not forbidden, and is even encouraged in the Assassin’s Class, good gaming skills, brute strength and overpowered spells alone will not get you through the hell that is the Post-Game and Bitterblack Isle.
As important as your Pawns are to the team, they are still AI and can only make the most basic decisions in battle. It is up to the player to approach every enemy with a strategy in mind or risk losing all of your progress in one breath of fire. To execute that strategy the player must also perform flawlessly, using the deadly skills learned in their class to capitalize on their opponents. A cyclops, for example, is around 40 feet tall with lots of health and crushing blows with its eye being its weak spot. With just this one enemy you’ll find there to be a plethora of possible ways to plan your attack.
“… there is more than one way to skin a cyclops”
To start, there are four classes that have bows, and thus have easy access to hitting the eye. You also have four classes that use spells which are good not only for ranged attacks, but allow the player to summon meteors and tornadoes onto the battlefield which can be both strategic and aesthetically pleasing. The two power house classes don’t have any ranged attacks, but with the right stats and skills can bring the cyclops to its knees to set up for the finishing blow. A cyclops usually always comes with about a dozen goblins as well so it’s still not so cut and dry on how to approach one. In the simplest of terms, there is more than one way to skin a cyclops, and it’s fun any way you do it. Not to mention, and it can not be understated, the combat looks amazing. The game goes into great detail in the animation of each skill the player learns, and every one aims to please that guilty pleasure of driving your sword into a goblin’s chest, twisting the blade until they scream their last breath, ending with a flourish that sends their lifeless corpse into the dirt. But it’s okay, they’re just goblins guys.
For hardcore gamers who want to put their skills to the test, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen comes with a hell dungeon called Bitterblack Isle that the player gains access to immediately in the game. Here the player must hone all their skills learned throughout the game and unleash hell back. Of course, there’s always the “grind enough until you can one shot everything” approach, and you can overpower the bosses that way. In the end you may find that approach to be highly rewarding, but the high of victory will be short lived. Once the final boss of the Isle is completed, the dungeon resets. Afterwards, the dungeon is made into an OP hell version of itself, leveling up every enemy, introducing more powerful versions of themselves and of course, just adding more enemies.
In an epic Capcom tradition, the game sets itself up to be as challenging as the player wants it to be. On easy mode the player can unleash their godlike powers without much resistance if they grind enough. Hard mode however is a different story. When you find yourself in the Isle on hard mode the player’s level becomes far less important than the skills that the the player will have honed throughout their playthrough.
Visual & Mechanical Design
To me Dragon’s Dogma is a survivor/horror game at heart without all the deliberate jump scares you see in Resident Evil-like games. The horror comes just as much from the atmosphere as it does from its overpowering and numerous foes. The first time that the player goes out at night or goes into a dark place they immediately must learn how to equip a lantern because, and I cannot emphasize this enough, it gets dark. Even with the game and tv settings at max brightness there is no way to cheat the fact that you cannot see in the dark. Even with a lantern equipped it only lights up a small area around you, forcing you to use your ears when navigating at night. This also increases the difficulty since a pack of wolves in the daytime is much easier to pick apart than a pack of wolves that you can’t see at night. This eerie effect along with an epic score that erupts whenever your team is in danger adds to this truly frightening game.
For an open world game, the area is small, probably only a quarter the size of Skyrim’s open world. Traveling is no easy task, though, as horses don’t seem to exist in this world, and fast travel is limited to 2 permanent cities and up to 10 customizable travel spots that the player can choose, and even that is only obtainable during a second playthrough. In fact, traveling is probably the hardest barrier to entry in this game as it will take a new player a long time to learn exactly where things are.
Maybe even more difficult is figuring out where the best places will be to put the rare portcrystals that players can find allowing them to gain those additional points of fast travel. Even veteran players find it hard to level up quickly due to the distance required to get to the monsters in order to kill them. Because of this it’s not uncommon for casual players to quickly lose interest once they are swallowed up by the world. The little or no direction will end up killing them quickly and often, because one can quickly wonder off into an area that they aren’t nearly powerful enough to be in. The game is quite unforgiving in that regard.
A Lacking Narrative
The story is there, and it’s pretty good, but as usual it was not Capcom’s focus when making a game. They even make your character a mute Link type that just goes along with everything. Overall, there are a couple hundred main and side quests ranging from killing rabbits to helping NPCs complete their goals. Some characters have arcs, and the player can even choose who they want to marry, but all that is optional. There are only about a dozen missions that the player must do, and a good player can finish the game in a couple hours. The game even offers a speedrun setting in which your current character is put back to the beginning and times you on how quickly you can get to the end credits. There is enough story and lore to keep you interested if that is your thing, or you can skip to the end to fight the hardest of monsters if you want.
Dry plot aside, your character still seems to come alive through the intricate character customization that the game offers. Despite the fact that this game was made in 2012 it has just as much visual customization as games today. Some of the choices aren’t just aesthetic either as size matters when it comes to how fast their character runs, how much weight they can carry and how fast their stamina recovers. Plus, every piece of armor and the weapons that your character puts on is visible, making some choices in armor not only stat based, but aesthetically pleasing as well. Capcom goes as far as giving nods to other games and animes through their armor. For example, my favorite set is modeled after the Berserker armor in the Berserk anime, made for the warrior class that swings around giant swords no less.
Dragon’s Dogma is not a perfect game. Compared to most of Capcom’s lineup of fast-paced games with nonstop action, this one has a lot of slow traveling in it. Players familiar with the open world genre will be familiar with this issue, but this game seems to lean hard in sacrificing mobility for the sake of thematic buildup and fear. While it does build the tension that the game is trying to create, it does throw casual gamers under the bus, and makes their travels in particular a nightmare. After putting in the time the world does shrink a little as the game starts to get easier for the leveled-up player, but overall, this game will need a couple dozen hours to complete, and far more to master.
The biggest let down of the game must come in its single player format. The ability to use other player’s Pawns is cool, and you can even give items to Pawns when you are done with them that make it back to the player, but in the end it feels lackluster. The game is centered around building a team to survive a harsh world full of monsters, but it fails to deliver a co-op format where teamwork can thrive. There are even combo skills available, such as a shield move that can launch another player into the air, that falls flat because the AI is flaky at best when it comes to strategy. In the end it makes this amazing game seem like a missed opportunity when it comes to cooperative gameplay.
- Great Battle System
- Big Open-World Gameplay
- Amazing Replay Value
- Unique Pawn System
- Travel is Slow at Best
- Lack of Co-Op