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Dragon's Dogma Review

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Capcom has delivered an open-world game with tremendously fun combat, a hilariously crazy ending, and not much else.

The game is at its best when fighting and climbing beasts.

You have to admire Capcom’s ambitions with Dragon’s Dogma. Monster Hunter, a series that’s single-handedly kept the PSP alive in Japan, just hasn’t caught fire anywhere else. Dragon’s Dogma feels like Capcom taking the most outwardly appealing part of Monster Hunter--big, meaty fights against monstrous beasts with a team of friends--and putting that into a sprawling world that goes on and on for miles.

The bummer: Capcom built this huge place to run around in but didn’t fill it with anything interesting. The saving grace: Capcom’s expertise in building robust, customizable, and super fun combat systems pays off.

The game opens with a promising enough premise. A dragon has suddenly appeared in the land of Gransys, and attacks your quiet, idyllic waterfront town. Pretty stupidly, you pick up a sword and “attack” the dragon, who responds in kind by tearing your heart out keeping it for himself. You’re still alive, though, and are now one of the Arisen, which means you're special and technically alive but not quite whole. The dragon says your heart can be reclaimed if you defeat him, and so your journey begins.

You gain some pretty sweet powers by becoming the Arisen, including access to Pawns, a human-like race of beings charged with following the Arisen. Pawns are AI support characters, and their roles are crucial in dealing with the game's endless supply of mobs. It’s probably possible to solo Dragon’s Dogma, but I wouldn’t recommend it--you need these guys and girls. You have one main Pawn, who you design early in the game. The other two are (largely) created by other Dragon’s Dogma players, which makes for some goofy allies (I had a high level mage named Ladypants with me for most of my 37 hours) but makes the experience enjoyably personable. For me, my daggers-n-arrows focused archer was balanced out with two support mages--one attacking, another buffing--and a fighter who largely focused on drawing aggro. All of the Pawns can be customized with equipment, but since all but the Pawn you created does not level up, it’s not worth it--it’s better to just recruit new Pawns every few hours.

The system is perfectly set up for other human beings, but Dragon’s Dogma doesn’t feature multiplayer. It’s an unfortunate omission, especially since you have very little influence over the Pawns themselves. This leads to more than a few frustrating scenarios where, say, healing spells are badly needed but everyone is focused on casting lots of fireballs. There are some built-in solutions to help address this, such as potions that temporarily change the attack patterns of your Pawns and the ability to set some generic action recommendations ahead of battle, but there’s nothing as simple and elegant as pulling up a menu and asking Ladypants to cast a holy spell on your daggers to help in crippling the undead.

The real core of Dragon’s Dogma is combat. Thirty-seven hours later, a pile of bodies the size of a mountain in my wake, I was still having fun slicing up goblins and direwolves. The game has a terrifically fun and dynamic combat system that constantly encourages players to experiment. Tapping shoulder buttons brings up adjustable modifiers that give you plenty of options in battle. You gain experience and level, but rather than worrying about assigning points to strength and other attributes, that’s in the background, with the focus on earning and assigning new skills. Like Monster Hunter or Dark Souls, many of the skills lock players into animations (though there is a skill for some classes that can actually break the animation), so combat becomes a shifting risk/reward proposition. Do you enable your supremely powerful dagger attack but chance missing and being stuck flailing in the wind for a few seconds?

Dragon's Dogma's world is certainly big, but big isn't enough.

And though you choose a class upfront, it’s only a few hours before you can swap to something else. There are even advanced and hybrid classes, such as the magic archer I ended up playing, that aren’t available upfront. It’s easy to switch classes, and if you come to regret the change, it’s a simple matter to go back or try another one. Some skills are even compatible across classes, which means you can begin to craft your own super hybrid that brings the best of several classes under one roof. By the end of my 37 hours, I’d maxed out two classes for both myself and my Pawn, opening up a robust set of skills. Combined with the other Pawns that have their own powers and magic and combat options are vast.

The big payoff is when Dragon’s Dogma introduces its slew of screen-filling creatures--dragons, hydras, griffins, ogres, etc. It looks a little goofy, but the key to defeating them is climbing on their backs and stabbing them in the face/neck/eye. It’s a brutal, bloody Shadow of the Colossus, and it’s intensely satisfying. There’s nothing quite like hitting a griffin mid-air with fire-infused arrows, watching it crash to the ground, straddling its neck just before it manages to take off, being lifted thousands of feet into the air and stabbing the hell out of it, as it maniacally tries to shake you off. It’s these moments, with you and your Pawns working in tandem to take down these towering enemies, that Dragon’s Dogma shines. It never gets old, and the ability to perpetually switch around your set of combat skills means fighting the same enemies manages to feel fresh, since your approach to it changes.

It’s a good thing the combat holds up, too, because that’s the biggest thing Dragon’s Dogma has going for it. Dragon’s Dogma doesn’t do much with its premise until the very end, at which point the game unloads an hour of completely unexpected, totally batshit crazy exposition. It almost makes the entire story better in retrospect, but such feelings only come after the insane revelations the ending brings, and not a moment sooner. Prior to crazytown, the story is utterly banal. None of the quests have captivating stories behind them, and add zero color to the world at large. Characters are introduced but never given any substance. Bizarre plot twists are wedged in and then completely forgotten, as if they never happened. At one point, you’re jailed for witnessing something very bad, but moments after escaping, the world forgets you were ever jailed. Even when you talk to the character that put you in jail--no response. The utter lack of consequence is littered throughout, and applies directly to the game world, too. Nothing has permanence. The same set of goblins and bandits just outside the main capital are there every time you leave. Every. Single. Time. There is no variation. No matter how often you kill them, they all come right back. Building a world that feels as alive and random as Bethesda Game Studios did with Skyrim certainly isn’t easy, and while it’s easy to respect Capcom’s ambition in what it tried to create with Dragon’s Dogma, the bar has been set so high, and Dragon’s Dogma isn’t close.

The most imposing enemies can take you out in a single swipe.

Compounding the issue is how often Dragon’s Dogma asks players to experience the same locations over and over again. There is fast travel in the game but it’s not very useful. Players can purchase magic stones that enable teleporting back to the main capital, though it’s not until halfway through the game that it becomes possible to transport out of the capital. Even then, you can’t choose a location and be whisked away--you have to physically go to a location and lay down a “portcrystal.” It’s especially infuriating when the game asks you to spend 20 minutes running to a quest location, then come back to the capital, and immediately asks you to head to that location again. It’s one thing if the game had dropped a “hey, maybe you should drop the portcrystal here--wink!” hint but it never does.

There’s so much to like about what Capcom gets right with Dragon’s Dogma that it makes the missteps utterly heartbreaking. The combat has enough depth and variety to keep you interested for the duration of the story and beyond, but in terms of what might have been, what should have been, Dragon’s Dogma falls gut-wrenchingly short.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
124 Comments
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Edited by Sooty

Does Skyrim feel alive? It feels very rigid I thought. Witcher 2 did it better.

Posted by Nate

About what I expected. I'll pick it up on the cheap some day. Looks kinda cool.

Edited by Ruggles

And no one will ever know.

Posted by Peanut

Really enjoying it so far. I really hope they get to work on another one of these and iron out some of the bigger issues, because they're really got the core of something special here.

Posted by zombie_bigdaddy

Damn it !!

Posted by Brendan

Technical foibles aside this is a well written review, Patrick. Thanks!

Edited by fargofallout

Is this only your second review, Patrick? Sort of funny that you've said you aren't a fan of fantasy games, yet the two you've done (that I can think of) are this and Skyward Sword.

Posted by Nekroskop

I half expected a review like this after the quick-look.

Posted by patrickklepek

@fargofallout said:

Is this only your second review, Patrick? Sort of funny that you've said you aren't a fan of fantasy games, yet the two you've done (that I can think of) are this and Skyward Sword.

It's good to push yourself into trying things that, upfront, you don't think you'll care for.

Staff
Posted by Brendan

@Sooty said:

Does Skyrim feel alive? It feels very rigid I thought. Witcher 2 did it better.

When people discuss Skyrim as a vibrant world I don't think they're talking about depth and characters, but the sense of place that one gets from such a unified and distinct art style. There may not be any one memorable character, but they're all memorable as a part of the environment they blend so well into.

Posted by flasaltine

Why doesn't Patrick have a picture?

Posted by Fram

Thanks for this review Patrick. Based on my time with the demo, I think I'd really enjoy this game, caveats be damned.

Posted by nikopeters

Patrick doesn't have a caricature yet! Who does the giantbomb caricatures and art anyways?

Posted by Enigma777

Will give it a rent when it's cheap.

Posted by Phatmac

Weird that you don't have a cartoon portrait for the review. Other than that solid review tricky.

Posted by fargofallout
@patrickklepek Very true – I didn't think I would care for Half-Life 2 (I didn't play it until last year and I didn't think it would hold up), and I thought it was incredible.
Posted by ERoBB

I think the skeleton of Dragon's Dogma is one of the best open worlds ever created. The realistic environments and ecosystems and day/night cycle. It's just a shame there's not much going on within the skeleton human-wise. Not enough story or characters or events. Maybe an expansion or Dragon's Dogma 2 could pick up the slack?

Posted by Carlos1408

Hmmm.... this game sounds like fun. I usually go for something with an engaging story, however, a deep and fun combat system is just as good! Might purchase it. :D

Posted by gamefreak9

What I expected.

Posted by Stimpack

Boo. 4/5. Skyrim? Come on.

Posted by Yummylee

I'm around 12 hours in and yeah, the lack of any reliable sort of fast travel is really getting to me. Plus the world truly is as dull, generic and utterly lifeless as Patrick said. But the combat is fortunately just that good, that I'm still having a lot of fun regardless. And even though the Pawns themselves don't really have much of a personality--their dialogue is so laughably awful and is often repeated; they'll even start to say one thing only to then quickly switch to saying another they're so eager to speak whatever it is that's currently on their mind--I've grown an attachment to ole Fire Beard because we've been through so much and slain so many Cyclops.

I'm now very curious to find out what the ending's all about. I was planning on seeing Dogma to the end anywhoo, but now I'm doubly sure I'm going to invest the many hours needed to reach the end if it's as crazy as Pat says.

Posted by rcath

@nikopeters: They will be redoing the site and no one will be getting pictures anymore.

Posted by project343

This game is my favourite RPG since Skyrim. Enjoying it a lot more than Amalur and Diablo 3, that's for sure.

Posted by ComradeCrash

Great review. I'm enjoying my time with it!

Edited by Roger_Klotz

Nice review Patrick! Can you review Dark Souls now?

Posted by MeatSim

This game is no Skyrim but the combat sure is satisfying. So far I am enjoying it's odd quirks and how different it is.

Posted by TheHT

"tremendously fun combat" and a "hilariously crazy ending" sounds like more than enough for me.

Posted by Fram

It's funny how Jeff and Brad hated the "high animation priority" combat controls of Lost Planet 2, yet Dragon's Dogma's combat is receiving almost universal praise.

I for one really enjoyed the deliberate pace of Lost Planet 2's combat. There were other structural issues with how that game was put together, but there's something distinctively Japanese about how these games feel, and I don't think it's a bad thing at all.

Edited by Winsord

Three stars seems like a reasonable score, though I'm having a ton of fun with the game myself. There isn't some great story narrative, sure, but I really don't need it. I thought the story and characters in Skyrim were pretty bad, and in cases downright awful, but I still played 100+ hours of that game. What I've been enjoying the most is really just ignoring quests and story stuff all together, and instead just exploring. I like setting a goal to reach an outpost way far out in the map during the day, generally having it reach night just as I'm getting there, and really struggle to make my way back to an inn.

Though I wish it was clearer about enemy difficulty and what time of day it is, I also kind of don't because it makes the world feel a lot less predictable to me. I'm not minding the absence of quick travel because I'm never in a rush to get anywhere, and there are so many different paths to get to the same towns (generally equal in length too) that I'm just not getting bored of that stuff several hours into the game. The difficulty is done exactly how I'd like it to be done in this game as well; I feel like when I get hit and killed, it's never cheap, it's always my own fault. The big problem I had with Demon's Souls was that the main challenge for me was just wading through the entirety of the level again because I died two feet from the boss or a campfire, and I just didn't find that to be a fun challenge. I'm really not getting tired of the combat though, even with seeing some of the larger, more interesting monsters a few times over. I find that I can still enjoy killing one of the big ogres just because there are so many ways to do it. For anyone who's getting annoyed or bored with the quests, I can't recommend enough that you just go and explore the world for a bit.

The one thing I really do wish they'd update though is that your stamina shouldn't drain when you're not in combat; having to stop every fifteen seconds when just running along a path doesn't make the game any more challenging or fun, it just feels like an oversight in design.

Posted by Totori

that's higher than I thought Patrick would give it.

Posted by prestonhedges

@TheHT said:

"tremendously fun combat" and a "hilariously crazy ending" sounds like more than enough for me.

Nope, sorry. It's made in Japan. By Japanese people. That means it's obviously terrible. Sorry. The gaming press has spoken.

Edited by mariussmit

Hopefully the game does well enough that they can stick the combat system into a more cohesive whole when they develop a sequel. I almost feel like buying it for that reason alone.

Posted by Xeirus

@project343 said:

This game is my favourite RPG since Skyrim. Enjoying it a lot more than Amalur and Diablo 3, that's for sure.

More than Diablo 3?! Blasphemy!

Posted by Xeirus

@Fram said:

It's funny how Jeff and Brad hated the "high animation priority" combat controls of Lost Planet 2, yet Dragon's Dogma's combat is receiving almost universal praise.

They aren't the ones who reviewed this game, so what in the hell are you even talking about.

Posted by Detrian

No mention of the New game+ huh? Might wanna look that up (obviously contains spoilers).

Posted by White

Patrick needs his own review portrait.

Posted by Fram

@Xeirus: @Xeirus said:

@Fram said:

It's funny how Jeff and Brad hated the "high animation priority" combat controls of Lost Planet 2, yet Dragon's Dogma's combat is receiving almost universal praise.

They aren't the ones who reviewed this game, so what in the hell are you even talking about.

I didn't suggest that they reviewed this game at all. I'm just contrasting their points of view. I'd be interested to hear what Jeff and/or Brad think about Dragon's Dogma if they get around to playing it.

That is what is inside the hell that I'm talking about.

Posted by deox

I think I'll pick this up once the price drops. It sounds interesting enough to warrant giving it a try. Thanks for the solid review, Patrick.

Posted by MistaSparkle

I was kind of off and on with the demo, so maybe I'll pick it up when its a tad cheaper.

Edited by MiniPato

@Fram said:

It's funny how Jeff and Brad hated the "high animation priority" combat controls of Lost Planet 2, yet Dragon's Dogma's combat is receiving almost universal praise.

I for one really enjoyed the deliberate pace of Lost Planet 2's combat. There were other structural issues with how that game was put together, but there's something distinctively Japanese about how these games feel, and I don't think it's a bad thing at all.

As someone who loves Monster Hunter, the Souls games, and other games that have deliberate styles of gameplay in that manner, I did not like Lost Planet 2. No single aspect makes or breaks a game. It's a combination of issues. So just cause someone might not like Lost Planet 2 does not mean they will hate Dragon's Dogma because while they share a deliberate style of gameplay, they are wildly different games. Cause you know, one has guns and one has swords and magic.

And Jeff and Brad did not review this game. If they had I imagine it would have gotten two stars instead of three.

Posted by TentPole

The exploration is great.

Posted by Fram

@MiniPato said:

@Fram said:

It's funny how Jeff and Brad hated the "high animation priority" combat controls of Lost Planet 2, yet Dragon's Dogma's combat is receiving almost universal praise.

I for one really enjoyed the deliberate pace of Lost Planet 2's combat. There were other structural issues with how that game was put together, but there's something distinctively Japanese about how these games feel, and I don't think it's a bad thing at all.

As someone who loves Monster Hunter, the Souls games, and other games that have deliberate styles of gameplay in that manner, I did not like Lost Planet 2. No single aspect makes or breaks a game. It's a combination of issues. So just cause someone might not like Lost Planet 2 does not mean they will hate Dragon's Dogma because while they share a deliberate style of gameplay, they are wildly different games.

And Jeff and Brad did not review this game. If they had I imagine it would have gotten two stars instead of three.

I agree completely. I shouldn't have implied that if you like one you'll definitely like the other, that's my bad. Though I do remember a recent bombcast where Brad said that LP2's controls basically broke the game for him.

Either way, I hope Dragon's Dogma does well sales wise. I'd love to see a sequel with a more fleshed out world, and 4 player co-op would be INSANE.

Posted by algertman

So MK Vita is better than this?

Posted by GioVANNI

@Sooty: To be fair, the Witcher 2 did a lot of things better than most games.

Edited by MarkWahlberg

Goddamit Patrick, you can't just say 'ending is insane' like that, now we have to play the game. And I'm nowhere near an Xbox. Ugh.

Posted by Sammo21

Personally, I think that since the combat is so reliant on your pawns and your pawns are so incredibly stupid that the combat becomes moronic button mashing while you hope your pawn does the right thing.  Which they typically don't. 

Posted by beard_of_zeus

I was hoping you'd do a review for this, Patrick, thanks for your thoughts. Seems like if Capcom gets a chance to iterate on this game, it could be pretty awesome. I feel like I'll probably want to check this out at some point down the road to check out the interesting parts of the game.

Posted by Winsord

@Sammo21 said:

Personally, I think that since the combat is so reliant on your pawns and your pawns are so incredibly stupid that the combat becomes moronic button mashing while you hope your pawn does the right thing. Which they typically don't.

They do if you spec them appropriately and learn how to use the commands. If you're just button mashing, even if it might work for fighting wolves and harpies, you're going to fail any time it comes down to fighting an enemy that's stronger than you or if it's a pseudo-boss monster.

Posted by dk3691

Trick needs his own series of pictures.

Posted by upwarDBound

I'm still going to play this, just not right away.

@MarkWahlberg:

Search Dragon's Dogma ending on youtube. Problem solved.

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