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Why Dragon’s Dogma Is Worth A Second Look
Let me give you a bit of history concerning my time with Dragon’s Dogma. Although it seems a bit odd now, I’ve always associated Capcom with RPGs. Why? One of the games that got me into the genre was their 1994 hit Breath of Fire. I obsessively poured over that game, spending hundreds of hours as a child with Ryu, Nina, Karn and company. When the sequel released a year later, it instantly became one of my favorite games ever. Capcom released a few more sequels, but by then I had moved on to other properties, and as the years went by, Breath of Fire was mostly forgotten about. I moved on to bigger and better RPGs, and Capcom moved on with their life.
Now, almost 10 years after changing my life, Capcom apparently decided to jump back into RPGs with Dragon’s Dogma. At first glance, it almost appears to be an amalgamation of a number of other hit titles. The art style is heavily reminiscent of Dark Souls; at one point I swore I was in Blighttown. The huge world evokes memories of staring at Skyrim’s panoramas. If you see a castle off in the distance, you can bet you’ll eventually make your way there. Combat is some of the best I’ve ever seen in an RPG; the real-time battles and skills wouldn’t be out of place in a God of War game, with a sprinkle of Shadows of the Colossus. Skyrim, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Xenoblade Chronicles are all legitimate contenders on my list for Game of the Year, but so far I’ve had more pure fun with Dragon’s Dogma than any of those titles.
It starts with the combat. Unlike a lot of RPGs, you are never just going through the motions in Dragon’s Dogma. Even forty hours in, I never feel at ease traversing the world of Gransys; death can await you around every corner. Fast travel is rather more difficult in this game than other open-world RPGs, so it’s important that scouring the world remains fun, and man, does it ever. It can become somewhat of a grind at times, but when you turn a corner and see a giant chimera blocking your path, the last thing you are feeling is bored.
Although you pick a class in the beginning, early on you get the opportunity to swap them at the inn in the capitol city of Gran Soren. Each class feels unique, and offers a number of weapons and abilities to try out. It feels a bit like the job system from Final Fantasy Tactics, and I mean that as high praise. In addition to your character level, you also gain vocation levels, which opens up new abilities, core skills and augments. The amount of depth just one class provides is impressive, and Dragon’s Dogma gives you nine to play with. It was always thrilling to see my vocation level up just to see what new skills I could buy, some of which carry over to multiple classes.
These skills that you are buying don’t fall into the +2% damage either, they are almost all game-changing abilities that require extensive thought. For example, let’s look at my current class: ranger. I carry a pair of daggers (I could also use a short sword) and a longbow. There are a number of abilities I can purchase unique to this class, and some that extend to all dagger-using classes. Ranger is the only one that uses a longbow, so they are all exclusive, like a particularly awesome ability that fires eleven arrows in a line. Yep, it’s pretty awesome. A number of core skills can be bought, that also apply to me anytime I’m using a dagger, despite my class. One of these is a double jump; another is a dedicated roll dodge. These may seem game-breaking (Must. have. Doublejump.), but many other abilities native to other weapons are just as incredible. Managing my skills is just as addicting as the combat, and Dragon’s Dogma is a blessing for customization junkies.
Have I mentioned the pawn system yet? This may be Dragon’s Dogma’s biggest innovation. Instead of a standard party, you get to create a pawn early on that travels by your side for the entirety of your journey. Pretty much all the customization you can do (looks, armor, weapons, classes, skills) can be applied to your pawn as well, on top of the fact that you can alter their personality by talking with them at a “Knowledge Chair”. Even better, you can recruit two other pawns, from real world players, to join you. While you are playing, people can also recruit your pawn, even though they will stay by your side the whole time. When they return, they can have gifts from the player that recruited them, as well as valuable information about quests, enemies and locations they experienced while away. I had my mind blown when I visited an area new to me, and my pawn busted out with something along the lines of “I’ve been here before. Why don’t you check up there?” Sure enough, a valuable quest item was lurking where she signified, saving me untold amounts of time.
It’s not just the art style that holds similarities to Dark Souls, though. In a way, the world recalled that magnificent title as well. With no fast travel, you are forced to learn the geography of the world, and how each area connects with the next. A unique health system that drops your max health as you take damage until you either stay at an inn or use certain items has an interesting effect on gameplay. Since the best way to replenish is to stay somewhere, you fall into a a pattern where you will go out on singular, lengthy adventures at a time, returning to the inn whenever you get tired…kind of like a bonfire.
All of these elements combine to form an exceptional game. It’s not perfect; the story is mostly a mess, voice acting is, at best, sometimes passable and the pop-in noticeably stalls the game at points, but it has hooked me like few games have recently done. I have put a lot of time into this game, and am still surprised by the amount of new content I keep seeing, and the amount of content I have yet to find (I now this because my pawn has knowledge of a number of enemies and locations I have yet to encounter). Needless to say, I won’t be stopping anytime soon.
Of course, there are still a number of great titles to come out, including a few that I imagine will shoot to the top of my personal list (GTA V, Rayman: Legends, Beyond: Two Souls). But as of right now, I can’t get enough of this game. Do you have an under-the-radar GOTY candidate you would like to share? Give us your thoughts.