As I hold the box for Dragon’s Dogma in my hand, I’m not sure how I feel. Now, granted, that doesn’t immediately sound promising for a review, but bear with me.
I came into this game very enthusiastic. It looked like a title that was injecting some actual progression, maybe even some evolution into the RPG genre, a genre which, if we’re being diplomatic is somewhat traditional and, if we’re being undiplomatic, has moved on less than me at a buffet. Games like Zelda are in core game mechanics more or less the same as back in the Legend of Zelda days, give or take some polish here or there (yes, I can feel the Zelda fans preparing bear-traps for my desk, but its true). Let’s not even speak of Final Fantasy, which is really a whole sub-genre on its own. A freakish sub-genre full of androgynous teenage cartoon characters with hair that would make Jedward blush…
Ahem, where was I… oh yes, Dragon’s Dogma and its potential. It may not seem a lot, but its combination of an open world sandbox approach, with Shadow of the Colossus –style giant boss fights promised much. The mechanic of having to climb up large enemies to get to vulnerable areas really gives a genuine sense of scale. It certainly beats the usual RPG tactic of ‘run up to the big thingy and hack at its ankles for 10 minutes until it falls down’ mechanic prevalent up until now.
The sad thing is that this mechanic, while brilliant, is drowned amidst a vast wave of problem upon problem. Where do I start? Ah yes, with the Pawns. During the game you recruit pawns from another dimension to fight alongside you. You have your own Pawn throughout the game which you create at the beginning and up to 2 others at any one time that you recruit from this other dimension. These Pawns you recruit are copies of other people’s Pawns you download. And they never shut up! At all! EVER! Even when you tell them to! I wouldn’t mind, but the usefulness of what they say is, at best, useless and , at worst, insulting. ‘Strike at the goblins with fire’ I can live with, even if it’s for the 30th time that hour. What makes me want to microwave the disk is when we have such gems as ‘this road leads to the city’ as we walk OUT OF THE CITY onto the road. Yes, I know it does Pawn, I’m close enough to the city to touch it! In fact, the city wall is blocking part of my camera view! (another technical issue at times I may add, a camera that wants you dead, like you offended its family).
Also, in a game with a map that takes at least 30 mins to walk from one end of it should be some sort of crime to not include a fast travel system. Fine, accuse me of being lazy, but come on, if you’re going to do that, don’t make every quest from the start require me to travel to bloody Mordor and back just to pick some flowers for a granny with the sniffles (an actual quest, more or less). Do you know the route from the starting village to the main city hub? Well I do, because I walked it over and over and over and over until my pixelated feet bled. And the enemies are always the same! No variety.
Also, character creation is a joke, which is just sacrilege in a fantasy RPG these days. No matter how long you spend tweaking the meagre options, you will in fact end up playing a game that should be titled ‘Mr Blandy Bland’s Eternity of Walking with Jabbering Idiots’. Maybe that didn’t focus group well, I don’t know. The whole silent protagonist thing doesn’t help either…
‘But what about gameplay?’, I hear you silently ask in my head. It’s a pretty standard action RPG fare, with each class having 2 weapon sets and 2 sets of 3 skill slots per weapon set to assign with your favourite critter murdering techniques. It’s really nothing ground breaking, but it flows nicely. Sadly the combat never really develops beyond button mashing and fleeing to hide behind a rock when you’re too hurt.
Also the storyline is about as inane and poorly told as you get, so I won’t even really touch on it.
So we return to the image of me holding the game and not being sure of what to say about it. Its hard to quantify this sort of blandness. The sad thing is, it really does have a few great features which could have amounted to something innovative. While wading through the turgid storyline, bashing your head against the wall as you suffer the jabbering of the Pawns, you get the odd moment were a big monster rocks in and the music swells and you realise you’re having a great time.
This game is like a big bowl of watered down gruel with a few large bits of honeycomb in. Yes the honeycomb is lovely, but its rather ruined by the vast amounts of tasteless gruel.
If you like RPGs, then this may tide you over between actually good games, but it will never really draw you in. I’m certainly not planning to play this again, but if you do decide to give it a go, I have one bit of advice:
Just play it with the sound off, whatever you do.
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Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org