Scattered Thoughts: Dragon's Dogma

I haven't written much here lately! Mostly I've been busy being sick over the last six weeks or so. I've never been sick for this long before! Probably the wasting disease or consumption or maybe just a general sense of malaise. Getting better now, but still coughing more than I should be. We'll see how things go.

i like games
i like games

Anyway, I've been meaning to write more in this blog, but I generally tend to set out to write something short, and then it balloons to some crazy-long thing that I have to have saved in Google Drive because I'm afraid of losing it all. I somehow have 1,500 words on GTA V's sense of humor that hasn't cohered into anything worth reading, for example. But maybe if I just type stuff directly into the field I can post more often with less stress. We'll see.

A lot of my gaming time lately has been spent in Dragon's Dogma, which I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to play by various people. I got it for "free" from PS+, and that's my kind of price when it comes to buying a game! I had tried it a while back on the Xbox, but was playing Dark Souls at the time and had a hard time shifting back and forth between the control schemes - the lack of a lock-on feature made it a bit difficult to shift between games, although that was mitigated somewhat when I found out about Blink Strike. I mostly played through the game as either a fighter, mystic knight, or assassin, which was fine, since Blink Strike and Tusk Toss were by far my most-used abilities.

Once I got the hang of it, the combat quickly became second nature, and refreshingly enough your AI teammates aren't complete idiots. They're not great, of course, and you spend a lot of time reviving them in tougher boss fights, but hey: at least the game lets you revive them for free. One thing that I noticed, though, is that a significant number of players have no idea what to do with their pawns. Browsing the online lists, there are more than a few people that never assign their pawns any skills (like, at all), have starter-level equipment on them, or otherwise just seem unable to grasp the idea of there being a party member you should be paying attention to. It's not an uncomplicated system, to be fair, but it's still odd to see people unable to grasp such a core concept in a game. They probably should've offered some kind of auto-pawn system that would assign your main pawn a selection of skills to complement your own, or even giving you a one-button solution to make your party a healer/mage/bow/warrior setup. Like everyone else who's ever played a D&D PC game, I wouldn't touch such a system, but these days it probably would've made it a bit more accessible to a more general audience (like, e.g., the people who randomly downloaded it because it was free).

hellhounds!
hellhounds!

There's definitely a weird difficulty curve, though; wandering off the main roads into a pack of bandits early in the game feels like a real challenge, but since there's no enemy scaling, by the time you hit level 40 or so, you mostly wander around steamrolling everything you come across. Come to think of it, I died fairly rarely; I didn't realize that I didn't have to fight the ogre in Lure of the Abyss, who stomped me a couple of times, and an archer in the Bluemoon Tower managed to hit me with a knockback arrow that sent me down a big flight of stairs. And there was a room full of Hellhounds in the Everfall that was complete bullshit.

I suppose there's a sense of satisfaction to murdering ogres and gryphons that were almost impossible earlier in the game, but I can't help but feel that just a leeeetle bit of scaling, even if only on the huge enemies, would've made the combat later in the game more threatening. (Please hold your death threats.) Perhaps I should've just bumped it up to hard difficulty, assuming that's even possible. But for the most part combat's really fun and probably worth the price of admission alone.

That story...well, it feels like the kind of thing where a team was given a mandate to make a game about killing a big old dragon, then smoked a bunch of pot and decided to write a super-weird epilogue about the nature of existence and tack it on. It's weird, and not entirely satisfying as a conclusion to the story, but I give these guys a lot of credit for boldness, at least. I would've liked to see more Dark Souls-ish implied backstory, but it didn't feel like there was much of that, leading to some weird unanswered questions. What's the deal with pawns? What was up with the Duke's wife? What exactly is the Everfall? Etc. Maybe the unanswered questions are meant to reflect your status as a woefully underinformed Arisen, but still.

what is death i do not know
what is death i do not know

I haven't felt all that compelled to delve into the DLC all that much, although it's nice to know that there are some challenges waiting for me if I choose to do so. I got thoroughly rolled by Death on my first visit, and then I later ran into a room with a Gorechimera and a Chimera, so that...was fun. Maybe I'll try to tackle it a bit over the holidays.

A few caveats: the crafting and item system seems a bit...overdesigned. I picked up pretty much everything I came across, but outside of pure curative items, you mostly seem capable of making a bunch of random, weird junk that you don't really need. (And having random quests suddenly deliver 60 skulls or seven-pound armor sets into your inventory and weigh you down was also a bit silly.) Is there really a point to carrying around blindness or sleep cures when you can simply have a healer with high-priority Halidom in the party?

The stat growth system also seems pretty silly, in that different classes get different skill allotments at level-up, requiring min-maxers to plan far ahead to get the best skill levels at max level. Granted, that's a bit of a silly goal, considering that I really doubt there's much in the game that can even scratch you when you hit level 200, but at the same time, level-up systems that require you to jump through hoops to obtain maximum efficiency are a bit of a bête noire for me (FFXIII-2 had a similar issue). An incredibly minor thing, to be sure.

All in all, I like this game. It's good and fun to play. More than anything, though, it makes me really excited to see what's going to be happening with the next generation of open-world games. Graphics aren't the only thing to worry about, but I'm hoping that a game like this is going to be truly jaw-dropping when the sequel rolls out for the PS4 and XBONE.

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