After my long hiatus, I’m finally back and ready to talk about games. I thought I’d talk today about one of my favorite games: Dragon’s Dogma! Hope you enjoy!
I’ve discussed many times the importance of a strong narrative in Video Games. When I say this I don’t mean that every game needs to have an epics worth of dialogue and exposition but just enough of a thread to keep me engaged. But, sometimes there’s a game that is so mechanically component and enriching that any type of narrative link that I usually require ceases to become relevant. Some of these games include Kingdoms of Amalur, Painkiller, and the subject of today’s article, Dragon’s Dogma.
I remember my first encounter with Dragon’s Dogma, I was watching G4 TV and saw the trailer for this Action/Adventure game by Capcom. It’s one claim to fame was the scalable enemies ala Shadow of the Colossus. I understand that I’m a member of a very niche subset of gamer that did not enjoy the Team Ico games. I tried desperately to understand what attracted people to that style of game, and with each subsequent playthrough the realization only further eluded me. So, looking at Dragon’s Dogma I was thinking “Wow, this looks badass!” but as I gushed about the game flashbacks from Shadow of the Colossus rushed to meet me. A gnawing skepticism began to build and soon the game became a skip.
Right around the release of Dragon’s Dogma I had received a free trial to Gamefly. The free trial included two games in the one month trial period. My first instinct was to look for any newly released title that was still available. Gamefly had a limited quantity of disks that they could send out and most of the games I had wanted were already shipped out and had a back order of a few weeks. I scanned over the items, frequently passing over Dragon’s Dogma, and eventually concluded that nothing that I actually wanted was available. So, in a moment of weakness and desperation I ordered Protoype 2.
What a mistake that was.
Fuck Prototype 2.
It’s a piece of trash.
So, after that horrid mistake I had one last opportunity to get a game. Every game that I wanted was still on back order. At this moment, I gave up. I lobbed my head back and groaned, there was only one option. With intense trepidation and hesitation, I grudgingly ordered Dragon’s Dogma. A week later, waiting in my mailbox was Dragon’s Dogma.
In retrospect, I regret this decision. I’ve played through Dragon’s Dogma several times and I’ve never had a bad time with the game. It is one of the most thoroughly enjoyable and breathtaking games I have ever played. The genuine sense of openness and scale is what sets Dragon’s Dogma apart from most other games of this caliber. As opposed to other open world games, Dragon’s Dogma plops you into a sandbox and allows you to go wild with the tools at your disposal. There is no hand holding, no ease into the game mechanics. You are just a person that has been dropped into a scenario, what happens from there is up to you.
The opening hour of Dragon’s Dogma harkens back to the fundamental make-up of old school open-world games. Morrowind is a prime example of this particular school of Game Design: here’s ten minutes of set up, after that it’s up to you to find the content. It’s open ended which in turn makes the fun part of a game reliant on the player to find. That’s a significant amount of trust to place in the hands of the player. If a player doesn’t find the quests or the npcs, the cool dialogue and such, are you as a developer hindering their experience? This question is the essence of modern game design. It’s something that the industry as a whole has been wrestling with for some time. Trying new methods to tell gripping narratives that combine the great story and stellar controls. For some time we saw the industry moving in a direction that directly contradicted the core components of old school game design. Now, I’d like to point out that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s obvious that the essential gameplay loop would be revamped over time but there was a radical shift from open-ended to linear design which was rather troubling. So, in an era that was dominated by this linear formula, Dragon’s Dogma waltzes in and completely flips the traditional school of thought on its head.
Dragon’s Dogma is an homage to the JRPGs that defined the genre while still retaining its own identity. Undobtedly, that identity is lifted from some of the most popular high fantasy works of all time such as Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, and Wheel of Time. It’s the enthralling culture clash of east meets west over a high fantasy setting and it absolutely captivates me. Somehow the greens and browns that would visually repel me from most titles serve a purpose in painting a lush and majestic landscape that is still threatening and terrifying.
The combat is one of the greatest real-time action combat systems available. Every cut, slash, jab, and bolt feels exceptional. One of my favorite games of all time, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, has a phenomenal combat system and even still, based purely on the combat, Dragon’s Dogma takes the cake. The ability to scale enemies allows for tactical variety and distinctive play styles. Every battle is a unique, heart-pounding experience that never waivers and is always exciting. I found myself clutching the controller, mashing buttons, and working with my pawns to defeat whichever foes lie before us. The pawn system is another fantastic element that diversifies the design and spices up combat encounters. Their ability to grab hold of enemies, heal, and actually deal damage is a refreshing change of pace from the concept of “You’ve got a team to help you but you’ll really be doing all the work.” There’s a wide variety of systems on display in Dragon’s Dogma, all of which are intrinsic to the gameplay and allow the game to be such an open playground.
While it may have sounded like I was ragging on the game’s story towards the beginning, it really wasn’t what I was trying to get across. Dragon’s Dogma’s story is delivered in an especially unconventional way. Opting for item descriptions and the likes rather than full fledged cut scenes and exposition. This allows for a greater field for which to explore the narrative and it leaves a lot up to the interpretation of the player. Dragon’s Dogma is reliant on the player and their ability to interpret and conclude. This is what I meant when I said that Dragon’s Dogma wasn’t interested in holding your hand. There is a level of trust that gradually builds between the player and the game, and it’s a wonderful experience. In an age where certain games basically require the player to move forward, it’s refreshing for the game to expect something out of the player. It’s a lot like the Dark Souls mentality to game design except a great playing game was built around that.
Dragon’s Dogma is a rare but beautiful example of a game that exceeded beyond my expectations ten fold. It played wonderfully, had an interesting story, an enchanting world, and engaging combat. Dragon’ Dogma was a game that was quietly swept under the rug and forgotten, leaving a niche audience clinging to it and spreading the word of it’s brilliance to all who enjoy games. Even if you don’t like this style of game, I implore everyone to go and play Dragon’s Dogma.
Like right now.
Like stop reading this and go play the game.
If you don’t own a copy of the game you can pick it up for a decent price on Steam or the Xbox and PlayStation Store.