I finished Dragon’s Dogma yesterday. I’m unsure at this point whether I’ll go back and finish off the expansion, Dark Arisen. I’d largely enjoyed my time with the game, but the ending really wasn’t much fun at all.
I dislike cutscenes where my character literally stands, mouth agape, as villains monologue. I could accept a villain somehow briefly paralyzing my character, or something like that, as a plot device to allow time for plans to be explained, threats made, etc. I can’t accept when my character, who is (as I expected and later verified) quite capable of killing this villain in a matter of mere seconds, just stands there with his mouth open watching dumbstruck as the villain flees slowly/enacts a painstaking ritual/taunts me with minions that I can kill in literally one blow each. So naturally this happened, not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES in the half-hour or so of the game’s ending (which featured probably 10 minutes of gameplay and 20 minutes of cutscenes). Yay! And it was three different NPCs monologuing, too, which doesn’t make it any better.
The real disappointment is that Dragon’s Dogma could have been an A+ game. The art is fabulous; the world is interesting and very fun to explore; the character customization was quite well handled and allowed for a great deal of flexibility; the combat is fast paced and often quite intense; the music is sweeping and enjoyable; and the henchmen/pawns were fun to build up and hire. Sadly, the story was atrocious. I mean to say it was pathetically bad. Really awful.
Here’s the plot [SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP]:
There’s this dragon, see? He is very powerful, and he sometimes attacks people and is thus disliked. Fair enough. He attacks the village where the protagonist lives, and for some reason, instead of killing the protagonist, he rips the protagonist’s heart out, keeps said heart, then animates the protagonist somehow with magic. I am unclear whether the stolen heart was kept inside the dragon somehow, or was in another dimension, or something else entirely. The heart continued to exist somewhere corporeally, anyhow, or so it appeared. Having a dragon rip one’s heart out then animate one’s body makes one into an Awakened. That’s a title; apparently this has happened several times before. No convincing reason is ever supplied for why the dragon does this, but I suspect it’s boredom, or perhaps more accurately the need to make a video game. The dragon’s powers and motivations are at best obscure, at worst nothing but transparent plot devices. We meet some other Awakened people during the story; they don’t have any answers about what the hells is going on or why. Fairly late in the story, we learn that the dragon offers each Awakened a choice: fight the dragon (and apparently die, unless you’re the protagonist), or accept a sacrifice (someone you love) in exchange for the dragon… leaving you untroubled forever, and at least in one case, making you ruler of your own kingdom. Tough choice! What was the first option, again?
I chose to fight the dragon, and killed it as quickly as the game would let me do so, only to learn that the Duke of the local kingdom (and our patron) had been given the choice years before and had chosen the sacrifice. Killing the dragon saps the mystical powers from all remaining Awakened, killing or aging them. Oh, except for the protagonist, for reasons unexplained; he keeps his powers as a reward. The now-ancient Duke accuses the protagonist of taking the same deal the Duke had taken, only now that’s apparently treasonous and evil (o hypocrisy). Guards attack the protagonist, then monsters attack the town.
Oh, but there’s more, and also far less. The dragon was apparently a former Arisen, so there’s a cycle to this whole thing, albeit a nonsensical one. There’s some gibberish about people turning into gods and a lot of spewage about destiny. Also, some pawns turn into people, sort of.
Satisfying, eh? Bet that touched your heart. I know it changed forever how I will view video games as a medium with which to express Art.
There’s a pretty decent expansion called Dark Arisen, which came bundled with the game purchase. I played through most of the expansion before returning to the main game, so my character was vastly more powerful than the game planned for. Frankly, I’m very glad I did so, as it made the ending considerably less painful. I just ROFLstomped all the bad guys in between interminable cutscenes.
Having complained about the many things I disliked, to be fair I ought to mention some of the things I quite enjoyed. The pawn system was a clever take on an old idea. Essentially, you get one main pawn (henchman), whom you can train in any combination of vocations (classes) and skills you like, and can outfit in whatever equipment you prefer. You also have two spaces in your adventuring party, which can be filled with pawns (either premade ones supplied by the game, or ones other people have designed and outfitted). If/when your main pawn is hired out by someone else, the pawn learns about quests/locations/foes and will bring that information back to you, along with some currency. Overall, the pawns were quite intelligent and were both fun and useful.
Character customization was also well handled, allowing the player to change vocations and skills in use at any time for free. Each vocation has 9 ranks, which are gained by earning experience while using that vocation. Ranks unlock new skills, as well as skill upgrades. Ranks are however distinct from character levels; levels range from 1 to 200. It’s quite possible, by the time your character is lvl 30 or so, to have achieved rank 9 in several vocations.
There’s a nice broad selection of equipment, as well as different damage types to keep track of (fire/ice/lightning/holy/dark), and different monsters are weak to different damage types. I found that new equipment came fast enough to keep things changing regularly, but not so fast that it was meaningless; a difficult balance to strike.
The large monsters have multiple strike zones around their bodies, which allows for some targeted attacks. This helps give fights a bit more in the way of tactical interest. Also, the large monsters are really, really LARGE, and generally look fantastic.
If only the story sucked less, this game would have been magnificent.