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While taking a stroll through the abandoned country side on my way to defend a fort on the frontier I stumble across a forest for the first time. Seeing my objective on my map is only a short way...
Fantastic Combat, Large Open World, Pawn system, One of the friendliest communities online.
Little variation in monster spawns, lots of back tracking, Pawns will not stop talking, Story is fairly weak until the end.
While taking a stroll through the abandoned country side on my way to defend a fort on the frontier I stumble across a forest for the first time. Seeing my objective on my map is only a short way off I decide to make a run for it... I barely lived to regret that mistake as a Drake ambushes me, I quickly find myself running for my life. This experience sums up Dragon's Dogma neatly, a relatively unforgiving open world action RPG from Capcom. Will you see the Dragon's Dogma?
Not much to say here, the game begins with a man named Sevan on his quest to slay a dragon. Just as he reaches it's Lair the game fades to black. At this point the player can create their own Avatar with an impressive set of tools. Once back in the game it doesn't take long to go from ideal afternoon to Apocalypse as what seems to be the same Dragon attacks your peaceful fishing village. Naturally, your character is the only one brave enough to stand up to it. After a valiant effort the Dragon easily swats you aside and upon seeing your strength of will, rips out your heart and eats it... Well, that didn't go as planned.
Your character awakens and soon learns that they are Arisen, one chosen by the Dragon. This leads you to embark on a quest for answers, and to reclaim your heart. Not long after that you meet a Pawn, a humanoid being with no Will of their own. He escorts you to a nearby encampment where the Pawn Legion tests you to see if you are worthy. Upon defeating the beast sent to test you the player now gets to craft their Pawn who will be their constant companion for the rest of their adventure.
From this point the story turns from being about finding the Dragon to doing odd jobs for various people, from dealing with a cult to doing tasks for the local Duke. The Dragon doesn't even show up again for at least 20 hours possibly even 50 hours depending on how much you explore and how many side quests you complete. I will say this though, what an entrance he makes, easily one of my all time favorite entrances in gaming, it is well worth the wait. The battle against this Dragon is on my top 10 boss fights of all time, it is that epic.
This is the heart and soul of this game, designed by some of the people behind Devil May Cry and it shows. Each of the game's Nine classes has their own unique styles and equipment. From fighter to mage and strider. Each class has an upgrade and there are three hybrid classes that combine various features of each. Stats at level up are determined by your current class, which adds some depth to planning your builds.
The real joy in this game are the boss fights, Hydras Chimeras and Griffins oh my, Dragon's Dogma borrows from Greek Lore heavily for it's boss fights. Many of these encounters happen out in the middle of nowhere, and you may not even know they are coming. Enemies hit hard, staying alive is entirely skill based during your first playthrough, staying mobile is key to your survival in Gransys. Thankfully, the combat engine is a step above most RPGs and action games, taking a page from Shadow of the Colossus, you can climb on any larger enemy and attack their weak points for massive damage! Sadly, there are no giant enemy crabs...
Exploration takes place in a fully open world, but it still has a few restrictive paths, don't expect to climb to every mountain you can see like in Skyrim. In the vanilla Dogma backtracking can be a real pain, with no reliable fast travel until much later in the game (and even then it is only one portcrystal during your first playthrough) Ferry Stones are a must when you venture away from Gran Soren (the main hub city) as they can return you there even in the middle of combat. Once you make it to a New Game Plus you can buy Port Crystals and place up to Ten on the overworld to make getting around easier, but it is a little late considering how long that first playthrough can take.
The Pawn system is a clever twist on co-op without actually allowing it. Players can rent the pawns of others by visiting a Rift Stone, if online, you can choose from Pawns around the world, each costing Rift Crystals based on how high their level is compared you your own. People on your friends list however carry no cost regardless of level. This allows you to have a party of up to Four in your adventures, with pawns earning Rift Crystals for their Master based on the experience earned while traveling with you. When you have no more use for a pawn you can dismiss them, this gives you the opportunity to rate the pawn and send their Master a gift as a thank you.
The Online Community
This is what makes Dragon's Dogma truly shine, the core fanbase is easily the most friendly and generous group of people you will meet. They think nothing of gifting rare equipment to even new players. Seriously, go check out the Dragon's Dogma boards on various forums, the generosity and pleasantness defies the internet. This community is truly a joy to interact with, I just can't state that enough.
The global dynamic lighting is very impressive, even with it's lower quality shadows, it is easily the high point of the visuals in this open world. Being in the darkness without light will truly frighten you, as there is no moon to help out once the sun goes down, better remember that lantern. Textures are nothing to write home about, NPC character models are bland and some are downright crummy. Lots of pop in when exploring, even with the digital version. The game uses a unique method for cutting the resolution. Instead of running at sub 720p and scaling it up, instead the game is rendered at 720p with black bars akin to a 2:40:1 movie. It is a clever tactic that keeps resolution issues to a minimum (well, a minimum for 720p) and reduces the workload on the GPU, I wish more games used this instead of rendering at sub HD. Even with this clever method, frame rate drops often even when simply exploring and can drop to the single digits. It seems that once the framerate drops below a certain point, the game also adds slowdown instead of simply frame skipping everything. Better than having the game update 2 seconds later and wonder how you died I guess...
The music is well done, and a few tracks truly stand out. I still get chills when listening to the tracks from the Dragon battle, and Eternal Return is a very fitting main theme for the game. Voice acting ranges from acceptable to cringe worthy for most characters, one exception is The Dragon, fantastic voice actor that truly captures the tone of an Ancient Beast of Destruction. The soundscape is passable, audio cues at night let you know when danger is near, and ambient noise is serviceable.
New Game Plus
Dragon's Dogma's NG+ is fairly straight forward, beat the final boss, watch the credits and jump right into a new playthrough with everything you had being carried over, from items to levels. With a level cap of 200, this is very handy. Once you have finished the game for the first time you can purchase an item from a rift shop that allows you to customize your character's appearance at will from the main menu, handy if you are like me and have to make your characters exactly to your vision. You also unlock a Hard Mode and a Speed run mode (both added as free DLC) which have their own rewards for finishing them.
This is an expansion pack for the core game that was only available as a Complete edition (much like Super Street Fighter 4) there is no way to upgrade your core game to the expansion. Many fans were not happy that Capcom did this, even if it did include all previous DLC from the original. Dark Arisen adds a new high level dungeon to the game as well as several UI tweaks to make the item management easier. Dark Arisen also fixes the annoying fast travel by making Ferry Stones much more common, and adding an extra fast travel point to your starting town. The new area also has a fast travel point. It also adds a few more portcrystals throughout the main story, making back tracking much easier even on your first playthrough.
*Beware going to Bitter Black Isle before finishing the game at least once, major ending spoilers are dropped throughout. The final boss of this dungeon is also story related.*
Dragon's Dogma is a deeply flawed experience, but I found myself addicted to the gameplay, something about the combination of the combat and exploration made it hard for me to put it down. It scratches an itch that I have had since 3D RPGs were first released and I truly hope that Capcom continues the series going into the Next Generation of consoles. The improvements brought by Dark Arisen go a long way towards fixing the flawed original, but still fall short in many areas. As much as I enjoyed it, the technical issues prevent me from giving it a glowing review.
For those who are curious about the game, there is a demo on the PSN that covers the first few hours of the game and your progress carries over into the final game.
The game runs at a Letterboxed 720p with some form of FXAA at a very unstable 30fps, 15fps in combat is not uncommon in large encounters.
The game allows you to take screen shots in engine, but the compression is terrible as seen above.
Install 4621MB (happens as you play)
Dark Arisen Digital Download 12GB
Game played to 100% completion (Platinum Trophy) and Dark Arisen was completed multiple times, no new trophies to be found.
Total playtime is at over 200 hours.
Gaming Display is a Sharp 70LE732 using stock speakers.
Purchase Date and Price
Dragon's Dogma - July 3 2012 $37.49 Retail Disc
Dark Arisen - April 23 2013 $39.99 Digital Download PSN