What matters

Heart theft

Monday, May 28, 2012 | 01:37 PM | by

My friends and I are trucking through Diablo 3's Hell mode at the moment, and enjoying every painful minute of Vortex/Arcane/Desecrator or Vampiric/Extra Health/Health Link. However most of my free time has been spent tearing through Dragon's Dogma.

I was prepared to enjoy the game after having played the demo, but I was unprepared for how good this game really turned out to be. Sure, it's rough around the edges, and it has some areas that could be improved upon for a sequel, but the core of what's here is a real diamond in the rough.

The easiest way to describe Dragon's Dogma is as the game you'd get if you put Demon's Souls, Monster Hunter and Skyrim into a blender. The deliberate, powerful action combat and difficulty/danger level is reminiscent of the what Demon's/Dark souls offers. Take that and put it into a gorgeous open world with a day/night cycle and tons of places to explore, and various quests similar to Skyrim. Finally, toss in the huge roaming monsters that take 15-20min to down, and drop pieces you can use to upgrade your gear like Monster Hunter. That's Dragon's Dogma.

I'm going to start by addressing the biggest complaints I've heard in other reviews, and why they don't hinder my enjoyment of the game one bit. First up: The talkative Pawns.

In Dragon's Dogma, you create a personal adventuring companion that will always accompany you on your adventures. You can also hire up to 2 additional "support" pawns to join you. These can be characters created by the game, or they can actually be the primary pawns that other players created, if you're connected to XBL. So you're generally always traveling in a group of four, and your pawns can be fairly chatty.

First of all, disabling "Pawn Subtitles" removes perhaps the biggest pawn-related nuisance, which is the dialogue boxes that pop up on the side of the screen everytime they say something. Remove that and all you're left with is the actual audio. I ended up turning the volume for "Voices" down a bit, to help them blend into the background anymore.

That said, your pawns do talk a lot. And a lot of what they say gets repeated. I didn't find that it really bothered me all that much... usually what they say is relevant to what we're doing, even if I've heard the line before, and it isn't difficult to ignore for the most part. However, the pawns do actually have a lot of useful information to offer. If you've rented a pawn from another player who is further ahead in the game (or has simply done stuff you haven't), their pawn will have knowledge of the quests they've done and the monsters they've fought. They'll call out directions or battle tactics to help you, so it pays to listen to them sometimes.

The next biggest complaint I see regards the long travel times. I get it. In this day and age we've been pretty spoiled by our fast travel option (re:Skyrim). And fast travel is nice, but it also really trivializes any open world the developers create. It trivializes any actual sense of adventure or danger. I understand its appeal, when everyone is so impatient these days, but there's value in not offering it as well.

The land of Gransys in Dragon's Dogma is beautifully crafted, but dangerous as well. Especially at night. At night your visibility is limited to the range of your lantern, and all sorts of nasties come out that you won't see during the day. The lack of simple fast travel means you need to plan ahead before you leave the city on an adventure, because the further you're traveling, the more dangerous the trip. You'll want to have an idea of which direction you're heading. You'll want to be adequately stocked on curatives. And you'll want to leave at first light to get the most traveling done as possible before the sun goes down.

I found there was little more ominous than trekking through a forest or mountains, and realizing that the sun was setting and I was still a good distance away from my objective. Knowing that the skeletons and phantasms would start to come out soon, and I could either continue forward waiting for the inevitable fight, or try and find an abandoned fort or cave to hole up in for the night.

Additionally monsters in the game don't scale to your level. So certain enemies that were tough opponents early in the game will become easy foes later, but also if you wander across something that's far too strong for you, you're in big trouble.

Your health doesn't regenerate out of combat. On top of that, taking damage will eventually lower the amount of your health bar that can actually be healed by magic spells. You'll need to rest at an inn or use potions/herbs to supplement your healing. What this means is that every fight you come across in your travels (and there will be many bandits and goblins) is essentially making it more difficult once you actually reach your destination. You may have set out from the city with a full bar of health, but whether your can actually make it to your quest area with full health is an entirely different matter.

You can fast travel back to the city using special ferrystones, but they're expensive if you have to buy them. You'll come to cherish these items, especially when you're way, way out in the wilderness.

Overall, yes, you're going to spend a lot of time in Dragon's Dogma trekking across the country, back and forth a lot of the same roads and forests and valleys. But it puts you into the world in a way that magically zipping around at the blink of an eye doesn't. And when the game sends you on a huge quest to tackle a griffon at a tower far, far away from the city, you feel the gravity of the task ahead of you. You know you have a big and dangerous journey ahead of you, rather than just teleporting to the waypoint nearest your objective and walking five minutes to your new quest.

If that sort of adventure doesn't sound appealing to you, then yeah, Dragon's Dogma may not be your cup of tea. But then, it's likely that Demon's/Dark Souls weren't either.

The final major complaint I've heard about the game is the story (or lackthereof). And yeah, I've got to agree with this one. Dragon's Dogma sets you up with a pretty basic premise (a dragon rips your heart out of your chest, and challenges you to come get it back). It's not the most gripping story, nor does it even take the driver's seat for much of the game as you run around completing a variety of side quests for other purposes. It does give you a basic purpose in the game, but I wouldn't recommend going in to Dragon's Dogma looking for any amazing narrative. Again, it's sort of like Demon's/Dark Souls in that way; you're mostly playing for the experience of actually playing.

I could honestly go on and on all day about the many cool little details that they've put into this game, all of the reasons I've been repeatedly impressed by some of the things its done. Ultimately, though, it's a game best experienced first-hand. If what I've said about the game, or what you've seen or read elsewhere has at all piqued your interest, I will leave you with this one thought:

At this point, I'd take another Dragon's Dogma over another Skyrim any day of the week, hands down.

Actually...

Monday, May 28, 2012 | 02:05 PM | by

You know what, I lied. I am going to list a few of the little things that overall make Dragon's Dogma a really neat game.

If you get afflicted by a "blind" spell, your screen is covered by a dark, inky smoke that actually hinders your vision. You can still hear, and move around, and catch glimpses of action through the smoke, but it's REALLY scary to get blinded in the middle of a fight.

If you get drenched in water, not only does your lantern go out but you're also soaked, which means you're more susceptible to being frozen solid by ice spells (and subsequently shattered by an attack).

If you exhaust your stamina while running, you'll get winded and be forced to stop to recover. However your pawns will rush to your side to lend you a hand, which gives you a little boost in stamina.

If one of your pawns dies in combat, and you're far away, your other pawns may pick up the fallen pawn and try to carry it to you, so you can revive it.

Enemies actually feel like they live in the world. You don't come across goblins just standing around with their thumbs up their asses waiting for you to show up. They'll either be ravaging through a destroyed caravan, sitting around a fire, or even stretched out on a big rock soaking up the sun.

Certain quest objectives may appear or move based on the time of day. People can wander.

Escort NPCs actually run when and where you run, instead of casually walking straight into enemies. Also you can pick them up and throw them out of the way of danger if you need to.

Certain ability combos can be really cool... my warrior has an ability that knocks enemies up into the air. My ranger pawn can pin enemies to the wall with arrows. Once I flung an enemy up and she pinned him to the ceiling of the cavern we were fighting in. Or you can throw a water flask at an enemy to soak them, and then have a mage imbue your weapons with ice to freeze them. Or throw a flask of oil and shoot them with fire arrows to watch them burn.

Your choices matter. The decisions you make on certain quests may mean that some options or NPCs are or are not available to you later in the game. You can screw yourself a bit, but that's what New Game+ is for!

There's an NPC that will make forgeries of your items for a price. You can create forgeries of powerful quest items so that you can turn in the fake and keep the real one for yourself, or vice versa. This can come back to bite you in the ass though.

Not every quest gives you an objective marker on your map. Sometimes you actually have to explore for yourself.

Also

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 | 11:08 AM | by

I remember there was one more thing I wanted to recommend to you. If you do pick up Dragon's Dogma, and if you pick it up on the 360, I suggest installing the game on your hard drive before you play.

I've heard people talk of some annoying loading issues with the game (quest NPCs taking a few seconds to pop into view, etc), and it was recommended to me that I install the game to get the best performance. I've seen very, very little of the problems I heard talked about, so I have to guess it helps.