Okay, so when I stepped away from Dragon's Dogma last year I had upwards of over 100 hours logged into the game. I think it was actually nearing 170-ish as I played through the entire game nearly 3 times. At this point I thought I was done with Dragon's Dogma. I was wrong.
Late last year Capcom released a teaser trailer announcing what everyone thought was a bit of DLC called "Dark Arisen". They went dark and then earlier this year it was revealed that Dark Arisen would be a entire re-release treatment similar to Super Street Fighter. The rest as they say is history as I'm staring at a clock counter 90+ hours deep on a new file on the PS3 version this time of Dark Arisen.
Whats funny is for a game that I've put this much time into I nearly didn't bother with it at all. When I saw capcom was doing this I thought it looked so generic and boring and well... kind of awful. I'll admit even as a fan now from the outside Dragon's Dogma isn't a very appealing game. It does nothing visually to catch your attention at all. I owe my entire discovery of this game to my friend.
He hounded me for weeks on end to try out the Dragon's Dogma demo. I played it once died a few times and turned it off. I always feel guilty about dismissing a game after I play poorly so I tried it again. I managed to climb on the Griffin in the demo and was slashing the crap out of it holding on for my life as it thrashed around. The mage in my party lit it wings on fire and music kicked up as I rode this flaming monster as it crashed unceremoniously into the ground. I was hooked.
So as I've been playing Dark Arisen and enjoying both the new content and the main game again I've been trying to pinpoint what exactly is so appealing about this game to me. Its a game that isn't without its fair share of quirks and problems but I think I actively regard it as one of my top 5 RPG's of this generation. So join me as I try to take a thought journey into Dragon's Dogma.
C-C-Combo Breaker! : The Combat of Dragon's Dogma
If you've followed or played Dragon's Dogma at all you've undoubtedly heard talk about how great the combat was. Its really the main pillar of the game and one that really holds it all together. So, I don't want to assume everyone here has thrown multiple hours into this so I'll give a brief overview of how it works if you've never played the game before. Basically you can choose initially one of three vocations Mage, Fighter and Strider. The controls are pretty simple basic light and heavy attacks along with a modifier button that acts as a modifier allowing your basic attack buttons to activate skills/spells instead.
What makes this so fun to play around with is that at level 10 the world really opens up to you with the addition of six more classes. There are three advanced classes like Warrior, Ranger, Sorcerer and three Hybrid classes Magick Archer, Magick Knight and Assassin. The thing I really love is this allows you for really customized classes. You CAN be every class and viably play the game. What is better many of your passive skills known as "augments" can be learned on one class and still used and applied while being an entirely other class.
On top of the behind the scenes stuff the actual combat in motion is great as well. The combat itself works very much like Monster Hunter in a few ways. The animations are very deliberate and all of the classes play very differently. You really need to not only build a party that complements your abilities but know how to engage enemies properly. If you're a mage that gets too close to the ogre swinging around wildly you're going to pay. While on the other hand if you're a tank who isn't in there pulling aggro away from your healer she might get smacked off a ledge and then you'll be up a creek.
Targeting body parts on monster and enemies is also a big focus which is really fun to do. Hitting a Cyclops in the face will result in its tusk breaking off not only causing damage but providing a extra bit of loot. The thing that really sets the combat apart though is how it lets you clamber and climb on nearly EVERYTHING in the game. As I mentioned before in my story of my fight in the demo with the Griffin clambering onto monsters is a thing. This can lead to some crazy moments. The risk and reward of these moments is one of the great thrills of the game. Clambering up the back of an Ogre could lead to you being able to get to its head allowing you to really get some damage in. However, the Ogre could simply jump on his back killing you or run off of a cliff taking you with him. Controlling and shaping the fights to your advantage is a huge part of the combat as well.
Darkness is a big deal in Dragon's Dogma. And I don't mean in the good versus evil sort of way. Night is DARK and when I say dark I don't mean its sort of uncomfortable but hey I can still see dark. I mean... DARK you can't see dark. To this end the game gives you a lantern but here is the catch... the lantern also runs on fuel and can also go out if you splash around in the water. There is nothing like fighting an Cyclops on a perilous ledge near a cliff when all of a sudden your lantern goes out leaving the giant beast swinging its club through the darkness. Not only does the game put you in positions that are uncomfortable and perilous its just straight up more dangerous at lower levels to go out after dark. Goblins are replaced on the roads by the undead, skeletons and if you're really unlucky a Wight.
This premise is really exciting at least at the beginning of the game its a shame and one of the biggest things I feel the game failed on delivering consistently through the game. It would have been great even as a beefed up level 100 to be terrified to be caught in the dark. The tension of the early hours of Dragon's Dogma's combat is fantastic. Much like Dark Souls you'll find yourself being very cautious. Too much exploration could lead to a chance early encounter with a wandering Chimera.
Even though the feel for the combat takes some getting used to and some of the aspects of the tension of the combat only work for so long the entire package of all of these things is what is so fascinating about the combat. You're just not getting stat boosts and mashing an attack button you're actively seeking out weak points on monsters and engaging each of them in different ways. You're mixing and matching abilities to make custom classes. Its active combat that really allows you to show off your reflexive skills as well as getting better through new gear and stat boosts. And its absolutely a blast.
You're My Bitch: Dragon's Dogma's Pawn System
One of the most innovative and original things that Dragon's Dogma puts forward as a game in its genre is the pawn system. What is the pawn system you say? Well, to put it bluntly your pawn is your side-kick. He or She accompanies your main character on their journeys around the land. What is unique about this system is how this system connects players from all over the world.
So, say you are a Strider and you decided to make your pawn a Fighter. You're now sorely lacking a healer aren't you? This is where the pawn system comes in. The game allows you to hire other players pawns. Which allows this single player only game to have a unique take on multiplayer connectivity. If your pawn is hired out you get rewarded with Rift Crystals. There is nothing better than seeing your pawn being rented out on a regular basis. Its weird too outside of some light in-fiction justification of the pawns there is no real story to speak of between you and your pawn. I however at least have on both of my characters I've made gotten actually kind of attached to my pawns. I've been happy when they save the day, concerned when they are in a perilous situation and even felt bad the few times I've not been able to save her.
Even if Dragon's Dogma doesn't get a proper sequel I hope they actually use this feature in other single player games. Like Dark Souls its a interesting way to add connectivity and multiplayer without making it nothing but death matches and standard Co-op and I find that interesting. Its pretty cool to be making tandem progress in the game with a friend and seeing how their pawn updates and changes over the course of the game. But no seriously... this game better get a sequel...
I'm just going to borrow your heart for a bit you're cool with that right, bro? (a.k.a the story)
So, the story in Dragon's Dogma is a peculiar thing.... cause like for most of the game there is none. The setup for your adventure is clear enough. A dragon appears and attacks your small fishing village. Your character inexplicably tries to fight the thing single handedly. Needless to say that doesn't go to well and the dragon decides to eat your heart. And there is your entire setup for the story. Oh, you ask about the whole being alive without your heart thing? Oh uh well that gets explained...just play the game.
Thing is for what turns into a lot of quests that end up not having a entirely a lot to do with actually making narrative progress on this front the last third or so of the game is NUTS. See, I'm at a impasse here now. I really want to talk in detail WHY the ending is as crazy as it is but If you haven't already played it you would be robbing yourself of a rather mind blowing few series of events.
Needless to say the story is ultimately is one of the bigger failings of Dragon's Dogma for what ends up being such an incredible premise they sure to take their time giving you anything to chew on plot wise. The other thing is that while I do adore what they do with the story and where it goes the characters aren't all that memorable. Which, again is sort of a shame. I'm really hoping again like with the pawn system Capcom learns from all of this and makes the story in a possible sequel even better. But no, seriously you need to see the final bits of this game its pretty crazy....
You got your dark souls in my Dragon's Dogma - The Dark Arisen Expansion
This next part is for people who are interested in hearing how the new content is so if you're interested in that... then continue reading! So, one thing that kept running through my head over and over while playing this expansion. Someone at Capcom really likes them some Dark Souls. The entirety of Bitter Black Isle is oppressive and ominous in nature. Also, like Dark Souls the Isle is a linear affair unlike the open world of Gransys. You will unlock shortcuts after bosses that all connect back to the main hub area with a rest spot and a NPC called Olgra who will let you access your inventory etc....
I dunno, does that sound familiar? Yeah? Glad we agree. But this expansion isn't all about aping Dark Souls. It brings a few new mechanics to the table. First off the base enemies in BBI are fucking brutal as is. I really suggest not even attempting anything until you are at LEAST level 50. Even at level 50 I found my self struggling a little bit with some of the enemies. So right, new mechanics. One of these you'll be introduced to pretty early on. You know Death right? Oh you know... carries a Scythe reaps the souls of the dead that whole thing? Yeah? Good. So you totally fight Death in this. What is interesting isn't necessarily that you fight him but that fighting him is a tall task. He is by far one of the most dangerous enemies in the game period.
What is more interesting is this is a fight that you aren't going to win right away because death will randomly appear and disappear assailing you when he sees fit. All the damage you do to him is permanent as well. So next time he appears he will retain any damage from your previous encounters. And when I say he appears at random he will absolutely appear at the worst possible junctures making crazy fights even more perilous.
The other thing that is new but well sort of along the lines of the Death fight but in another way is the introduction of "Carrion Creatures". Carrion creatures are extremely powerful beasts that will take the form of either a Garm (a giant dog like creature) or a Elder Ogre (he is a fan of drop kicks). The basis of when they appear depends on how much you kill. They are attracted by the rotting corpses of the enemies that you kill. So, the more you kill the more you have the chance of ironically putting yourself in even MORE danger. These monsters are no laughing matter either especially Elder Ogres even at level 90 now the things are still a pretty tall task for me to take out.
In addition to all the new enemies and stuff the game packs in some cool new mechanics with how you get the new weapons, armor and items that have been put into the Dark Arisen Expansion. In the main game you open a chest and you find a weapon right? Dark Arisen puts a tweak on the treasure hunting in this expansion. Instead of flat out finding a weapon or a armor you'll find what is known as a "Cursed Item" the description will tell you what kind of item it is Cursed Weapon, Cursed Armor etc...
However, you won't know WHAT weapon or armor piece you are going to get until you take it Olgra and have her purify it. Once you purify it its basically like opening up a pack of trading cards you have a chance to get some really killer weapons and armor but then again... you could also get something you have 4 or 5 of sitting in your bank. All in all I'd say if you ran straight through Bitter Black Isle would take you around 2-3 hours to get through. There is plenty of optional fights and quests to be had though. I'm really having fun with it. As is evident by me putting off writing this for days because I could hardly tear myself away from playing.
Okay I'm going to quit writing so I can play some more. - The End?!
So I dunno what I really accomplished here. I know I've just felt like writing something about Dragon's Dogma for awhile (oh and using this awesome screenshots I was able to take!) so hopefully I might have encouraged a person or two to try this game or if you have and quit give it another go. Despite much of its chunkiness its a game that has real heart (pun intended?!). And to those who might be on the fence on coming back for Dark Arisen I at least think its MUCH worth coming back for. They even fixed a ton of things in the base game (hey how about that new roll animation!) which is a much welcomed addition. I'm kind of running low on things to say at this point so I suppose I'll wrap it up with this. Dragon's Dogma is really one of my favorite games this generation and I hope we see a sequel. I'll be excited to see what Capcom does with this.
If anyone is playing and wants to hire my pawns both my PSN and Xbox Live is "Demoskinos" my pawns "Risty"(360) and "Momiji"(PS3) will be glad to help you out. Although, I'm playing currently on PS3 so....Risty will most likely not be updated any time soon but by all means still hire her. Now...to go play some more.....