Let me get one thing clear: Monster Hunter is one of my favourite game franchises. No role playing game has come close, in my opinion, to it’s depth in a combat system or the knowledge that needs to be obtained before you can win. Knowing yourself, is just as important as knowing your enemy. Dragon’s Dogma tries very hard to be Monster Hunter and these aspects can be seen within, but it ends up aiming for a more mainstream audience. It has a proper story for one. For two, it has an open world, which is what the kids are into these days, right?
Dragon’s Dogma tries and fails to emulate Capcom’s other hunter title in its strongest ways, whilst also failing to work as a competitor to Skyirm. But before you close down this review in anger or thinking that the game isn’t worth your time or dime, it is. Despite all it’s problems, it is one of the most entertaining RPG’s of the last few years. It all depends on your tolerance for long stretches of boredom and tedium.
In Dragon’s Dogma you play as the Arisen, you are the chosen one who must slay the Dragon that has come to destroy the world. At the very start of the game you confront this beast and have your heart taken out, which you would expect to kill you, but it doesn’t, you become stronger from it. Let me tell you, you will need this strength because most of foes you fight are far bigger and stronger than you.
Dragon’s Dogma is filled with most of the classic fantasy movie and novel creatures you’d expect in it. Griffins, chimeras, ogres, cyclopes, dragons, goblins and the sort. You’ll fight them using a selection of weaponry such as swords, bows and dagger which are all pre-determined by the class you pick. Classes can be switched once you have reached a certain point in the game and can be improved whilst you level up. Combat is by far the most enjoyable part of Dragon’s Dogma either when fighting enemies that are your size or ten times your size. You play from a third person perspective and like Shadow of the Colossus, you can climb all over the larger enemies, stabbing at them as you go. This is thrilling, even when you have fought the enemy before, there is always a strong element of danger. The beasts will throw you around on their backs, try and grab you, throw you or bite at you and possibly even butt stomp you. Combat isn’t as deep as it could be, relying on special skills rather than combos, like most RPGs, but still does more to make you feel involved in combat rather than sitting there watching the action unfold without much input from yourself.
As you explore you will meet allies in the world known as pawns. They are other worldly beings that look just like humans, however they have no free thought. They live only to serve the Arisen on his or her quest. This buddy system feels very similar to Dark Soul’s co-operative model with other players pawns walking around randomly. You are able to use other’s pawns with your own and once you are done, you can send them back to their owners baring gifts. It is a shame however that this completely replaces any sort of multiplayer or co-operative mode in the game. What made Monster Hunter special was being able to play with 3 other people, taking down something that seems un-killable. You knew that someone had your back and would do the best they could, now you have slightly dumb AI who do not always do what you need them to do, flailing around the battlefield. That isn’t to say that they are completely incompetent, they are just not as reliable as the real thing.
Capcom are known for making impressive looking games, from an artistic, stylistic and or technical stand point, this isn’t really the case with Dragon’s Dogma. Textures are generally blurry and muddy, there is a lot of pop in and screen tearing, though character models looking convincingly human, if not particularly detailed except for main characters. Monsters look amazing however, especially thanks to an animation system that seems to blend each movement together. The most unusual visual oddity or style choice, depending on how you look at it, is the forced letter box aspect ratio that the game has. At first this is extremely jarring and off-putting, but within a few hours you won’t notice it.
Your character and main pawn are heavily customizable, with what could be the most broad, though not in-depth, character creator out there. You can customize hair, all the ins and outs of face shapes, body shapes, but they are all pre-sets. This allows for better looking characters than what would be achieved with sliders. For the people who want crazy elephant man hero’s running around, you’re out of luck.
The sound design is mostly fine, with typical atmospheric music for when you are strolling the countryside and rock and metal for fights. The title track stands out far to much in its cheesy J-Pop sort of way. Every time you turn the game on you will hear it and with the start up time for the game being around 2 – 3 minutes because of all of the save checks and server connections, you may get sick of the song (and then fall in love with it because you can’t get it out of your head!). The voice acting is lackluster, only a few specifics standing out. This is mainly due to most dialogue being in ‘ye olde english’, though some might find it charming. Punctuating this, is the fact that your companions constantly talk at you, not to to you. This garrulous behavior becomes very tiresome, eventually you will just drown it out.
The first few hours with the game may feel like a trudge, but once you meet your first random epic enemy such as a cyclops you’ll forget all the games problems. The combat system is what saves the game, honestly.
It is unfortunate to say that what ultimately drags Dragon’s Dogma down is, it doesn’t understand what makes large, open world games fun. Between a majority of your quests, you will need to spend at least 15 – 20 minutes (if you are lucky), running across the landscape. Every time. This is extended further by frequent yet trivial enemy encounters. In other games travel such as this would be alleviated by a quick travel system, skipping this tedium. Because this is absent from Dragon’s Dogma, the game feels like it drags more than it should, which is a shame, as I often found myself not wanting to do side quests, to prevent long travel times. Not to say that was the only reason I didn’t find myself playing the side quests. A lot of them were fetch, kill this many enemies, or escort quests, the typical RPG drivel. What makes this even worse is that doing side quests changes parts of the game and can influence endings, so if you skip them, you might not get as good an ending.
Getting off the bad, while speaking of endings, Dragon’s Dogma has many. When you think you are at the end, it continues. Hit an ending? Why not continue further? Each ‘ending’ is more entertaining than the last, with the overall conclusion being the major high point of the game and all in all, rather unique. The story feels as though it is commenting on the role of a hero and what must be done and sacrificed to achieve victory. An interesting change from most by the numbers role playing stories. That’s not to say the story is perfect, by no means it is. Early plot points are simple and uninteresting, but how the game culminates is well worth sticking it out.
Dragon’s Dogma is a game of missteps. It tries to be open world, but doesn’t fill it with much to do. It tries to be a co-op style adventure game, but doesn’t actually have co-op. It tries to tell an epic tale, but fills it with boring tasks. It has a lot going for it thanks to its intense combat and amazing ending. Most will not get past the hours and hours of uninteresting filler. If you can? Well…