You and your companions can clip into a monster's geometry, and the camera can get somewhat unwieldy when you're crawling up a hydra's waving tentacles. But considering the ensuing thrills, these are minor blights on a fantastic combat system. You choose from three initial classes, but six more open up later, each with its own particular skills and weapons. Whichever you choose, there's a great sense of impact. You feel sword meet flesh, and when you unleash a particularly powerful move, the game slows down to highlight your feat. Firing a bow feels fluid, and you hear and see the arrows hit their mark.
6378994In case you forget that you should chop off the saurians' tails, never fear: your pawns will always be there to remind you.None
The excitement is compounded by the sensation that anything can happen, because it so often does. In one early mission, you shouldn't stay and fight the tentacles that rise from the ground: you need to sprint away as fast as you can. (Your companions all the while helpfully proclaim how there seems to be an endless supply of tentacles, prodding you to get out of there posthaste.) You find yourself donning a party hat at one point, unsure if everyone's laughing with you or at you. And in the final hours, new concepts, new enemies, and new visuals are introduced. At this stage, not only does Dragon's Dogma not feel like a typical role-playing game, but it doesn't even feel like the same game you had been playing just a few minutes before.
If only the brilliance weren't surrounded by so much tedium, and so many conceptual missteps.
Most of the frustrations come from Dragon's Dogma's structure. The game wants you to earn your victories, which is not a bad thing. But it also refuses to give you a helping hand, even if it means making your adventure feel like work rather than fun. For several hours, traveling the world of Gransys is more annoying than it is adventurous. There is no travel-on-demand system, so you spend many hours traveling the same brown canyons and winding paths you've seen countless times already, fighting the harpies and saurians that prowled there before. There are items to help you get back to town, but these one-use items are expensive--and the items that let you choose your own destination are even more so.
Questing can also take some time to get a handle on. An early quest might send you up a hill, where the wolves are thick but manageable, and then straight into a coven of bandits--which are anything but manageable. Even in a large, freely explorable game like Dragon's Dogma, you expect the enemy placement to have a certain flow. The abrupt shift from easy to impossible is disheartening when it comes just after a long trek from town, and leads to a long trek back. The lesson: there is no shame in turning back. But the time spent on the journey can end up feeling like time wasted.
Do you know what happens when a lizard gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else.
The monotony of travel is compounded by the grayness and brownness of the roads and canyons. For too long, you crave visual variety that doesn't come, especially if you're used to the visual diversity of a game like Skyrim, where you might cross snowcapped mountains and survey lush caverns in the same hour. Yet there's more to Dragon's Dogma's art design than initially meets the eye--it's just that the variety is easy to miss when environments are painted with subtler brushstrokes than you're used to.
In other words, "art" means more than "color," and Dragon's Dogma makes excellent use of its earthen tones to bring Gransys to life. Explore to the north, and you discover a valley where you struggle against the wind, and then emerge to a cragged stronghold looming above the sea. Elsewhere, lifeless trees rise from the waters that pool amid the surrounding plateaus. Explore at night, and the sense of mystery intensifies. Your lamp illuminates only enough to aid your journey. Other bright orbs may appear, but these glowing visions are hardly friendly beacons of light. Tension is not exclusively a nighttime visitor, however. Snoozing lizards sun themselves on rocks, their snores warning you away--or perhaps inviting you to pierce them with arrows. And danger is consistently communicated by a cymbal undulation that you may never consciously notice but that instills anxiety each time.
Unlike its landscapes, Dragon's Dogma's story is hardly subtle, with its broad portrayals of cult leaders and crazed royalty. It tries to pull you in, but some events are so laughable that they effectively break the narrative. For instance, at one point, another man's betrothed professes her love for you, though you may have met her only once prior. After a twist, a turn, and a big fat lie, you face individuals who should--in theory--react very differently to you than they did before. Yet the event goes unmentioned, no love is lost, and you're left wondering how the game could fail so profoundly to acknowledge vital developments. Multiple quests can result in similar head-scratching inconsistencies--including outright mission failures--depending on the order in which you perform them.
Bash on that ogre long enough, and you reduce it to a quivering lump of flesh.
That doesn't mean that Dragon's Dogma is always ignorant of your choices, only that you are at the tale's fickle mercies, as if it is tolerating your presence rather than welcoming it. You occasionally face decisions that might cause you to miss out on entire quests. The same decision, however, might inspire a newfound ally to make a welcome appearance during a challenging battle. Toward the game's end, it's hard to know what consequence your decisions might even have, considering all the vague high-fantasy soliloquies that ultimately communicate so little. Yet one choice stands out, and may even leave you horrified. You don't just choose: you act. And those actions are shockingly final, even cruel.
These are the moments that stand out in a role-playing game destined to be remembered by anyone who plays it. Dragon's Dogma takes chances, and it's that riskiness that makes this role-playing game so unique among its peers. Of course, some of those risks will have you groaning. Dragon's Dogma is many things: a flawed classic, an exciting disaster, a triumphant mess. One thing it isn't is a generic rehash. Dragon's Dogma will remain with you, frustrations and victories alike, when your memories of other games have long since faded.