Review by geminidog07

"Too much Dark Souls; not enough Monster Hunter"

So I just want to start off saying that I fell in love with the demo and I told a lot of friends about the game. When I actually got the game I noticed that it wasn't quite as "fun" as I thought it was going to be. One of my favorite Capcom franchises has to be Monster Hunter Freedom; Capcom just says, "here is a huge monster... and go!" and you kill it, make armor, rinse & repeat until you're ready to go after a different monster. It's very smooth, satisfying game-play and you can go a really long time before it gets old. But I noticed it was getting compared a lot to Dark Souls; while I play Dark Souls, it's a tad frustrating to me and I can only go a few hours without wanting to throw my controller through a window. I've even heard it compared quite a bit to Skyrim... but frankly that's like saying Double Dragon is like Mario Brothers. This game has an all new dynamic, it's basically kind of like an MMO but instead of worrying about finding a group to tackle a dungeon, you go and recruit AI players to help you. Basically, I'll just say this: in Dark Souls, you get the feeling the game totally hates you and never wants to succeed. In Dragon's Dogma it's kind of like Dad on a long road trip; you are going to get there but at a certain point the game really doesn't care if you're having fun or not... but you are going to get there hell or high water. So I guess I'll just break it down piece-by-piece:

The Good:

AI "PAWNs" steal the show - Watching a lot of the promotional material in anticipation for the game, I noticed it had been playing up the PAWNs angle quite a bit; after playing it's easy to see why. The PAWNs aren't clunky "protect this donkus from getting himself killed" AI's that you used to see a few years ago. At their best the PAWNs are just as effective as you, at their worst they still don't get in the way too much. The PAWNs have a learning system, the more you encounter a certain enemy, the better they get at fighting them. Similarly they can do it with quests too; you may be thinking, "why does it matter if they learn how to do a quest when you get done with it?" Well that's the best part, other players can enlist your main PAWN to help them with quests and all the experience they gain helping them comes back to you. So as I said, you can do class specific play without having to worry if the other players know what they're doing, you don't have to worry about getting ninja looted (if it happens you can simply take it away from the PAWN that took it), and best of all you aren't spamming "looking for a healer" for 2 hours. The PAWNs are there 24/7 and you can inspect them, make sure they have the abilities you need and hire them for extended periods of time. If the PAWNs have what you want they will mostly be effective; but by the same token if you hire ones that are the same level as you, they will rarely be so overpowered that it isn't fun. If the PAWNs you hired have done the quest you are doing they are (for the most part) very helpful; sometimes you even see them rushing ahead of you eager to show you where to go. All you have to do is set the quest you want to do as active and the PAWNs will talk to you about the quest.

The environment is very expansive and rich - While you aren't going to have a lot of "oohs and aahs" it is kind of cool to see that going to different climbs bring different items to gather and usually different monsters to fight. There are beaches, forests, ruins, and even areas with tough weather-related problems you must cross. But this almost becomes a fault later in the game, but I'll get to that later...

Fighting big monsters is pretty fun - Fighting a big monster can be fun; but I would say 1/3rd of the time you are simply too weary from the road to want to fight them. It is kind of sad when you are hobbling from fight after fight and then seeing a big monster that you wanted to fight but you are just too beat up to give them a try. In this respect it's not like Skyrim at all where you walk a few hundred yards before finding a hostile force; in Dragon's Dogma you are going to be going from one encounter to the next, to the next, to the next, to the next until you are just kind of sick of fighting. While items have no durability there is an almost even more sinister method to keep you from exploring. Every time you get hit you lose HP (obviously) but a certain amount of that HP you lose can't be healed back by the healer, they can only be brought back with curatives. While low-level curatives are pretty abundant, you are going to need to combine rarer materials to make curatives capable of healing your higher level characters. That being said, it's pretty rare to see a big monster right outside the city where you can easily rest up after killing them. Not only this, but if you waste too much time fighting a big monster it will start to get dark outside, when it's dark outside you come into much more dangerous encounters on the road.

The Bad:

Where's the loot? - While not everyone will admit it, nearly every person who would play a game like this is interested in one thing; the loot. There is nothing quite like having super-sweet armor, and when it's online especially, you like to show off your epic gear to the world so they know how awesome you are. But in this game loot drops and chests are pretty few and far between; not only that, but rare loot is very hard to come by. Occasionally you will come across a traveling merchant with rare equipment or find a chest with an item that you can't buy anywhere; but for the most part you are going to be buying your gear, leveling, questing, and waiting for the Gran Soren merchants to have new things for you. Fighting big monsters will drop materials for you to upgrade the armor, but really you can only upgrade 3 levels. I've found that you either have 20 of an item you only need 3 of to upgrade or you have no idea where to find the item you need to upgrade. This begs to question, what is the point of fighting tough monsters and gathering materials if you don't need very many to upgrade your stuff? When you get to level 60 plus you kind of wonder why you are even grinding out the rest of your New Game +; you don't really need XP because you have already probably maxed out many vocations you have reached the limits of the gear you can get for a few levels, and materials from even the rarest beasts are filling up your treasure chest... What else is there to do? Not to mention that there aren't any fabulous stat upgrades available on the armor pieces so you may not even be in a rush to upgrade your armor anyway. It has been said that the Ur Dragon has good loot drops but he's not only hard but most of the time he's impossible to kill. When I say impossible, I don't mean it's a reflection of skill, I literally mean he has a ton of health but if you do a certain amount of damage he leaves, giving another party a chance to beat him, so on until someone finds him with enough health taken off to finish him. With the skill and luck involved, that's basically like having to shoot a free-throw in order to buy a lotto ticket.

Some classes have huge drawbacks - So anyone who has played a class-based RPG knows that every class does some things well and somethings not so well. Anyone who has had a heal spec'd priest will know that killing bad guys is pretty painful, wanding them to death takes forever but, hey, you will eventually kill it. But on this there are certain quests you literally can't do with certain classes (even certain character genders). For instance, you are a warrior with a two hand weapon, you pick up a quest to kill 45 crows... No problem right? Wrong! Hitting a bird with a melee weapon is just as challenging as it probably would be in real life. What's worse, your PAWNs (even with the quest active) are not at all interested in killing non-hostile enemies. In some games with AI players you can switch to them to accomplish tasks you character can't do, but not in this game; if you can't do it, and they won't do it, it's not going to get done. I've found myself sticking to bow classes, not necessarily because I want to, but because I pretty much need a ranged weapon and my PAWNs seldom take advantage of the ability to snipe a bandit at 300 yards (even though sometimes you can, usually they don't).

The Ugly

You're always a long way from home - This game doesn't have a fast travel, or if it does I haven't figured it out and I've put 50+ hours of agonizing walking into the game. Now I understand realism, you also want to have the players experience the entire world you have laid out for them; but seriously I shutter when I think about going through that STUPID HARPY CANYON ONE MORE TIME! There are basically 2 cities and I've found 2 or 3 littler encampments you can rest at. Would it kill Capcom to have a wagon that goes from one city to the other and to the camps? That's maybe 5 or 6 way-points you can travel to; what is killing me about this game is that if I want to simply check to see if there are new quests in the smaller town, I have to wind my way up a canyon and fight wolves, bandits, and harpies until I'm blue in the face. While not hard, wolves, harpies, and bandits run around a lot and are annoying to fight when they do that. You can buy Ferrystones which will transport you to Grand Soren or to a place you set a special crystal but Ferrystones are pretty expensive and are generally slightly less expensive than the reward for the quest you did. That being said, you will be walking around for at least 99% of the game.

Questing can be PAINFUL - Do you like escort quests? Do you like really super crazy long escort quests? If you are one of the 5 people out there who do, you are totally in luck. The quest progression has very little rhyme or reason and there is no indication that you aren't quite ready for the quest. I first noticed this when I (a level 6) picked up an escort quest that ended up taking 4 HOURS before finally getting crushed by a chimera that was walking around. Capcom: how dare you let my stupid noob character even pick up a quest like that! Sad but true if you haven't explored and revealed places on the map you will have no clue where a place is, so you need to just roll the dice and accept the quest and hope it isn't on the other side of Gransys (hint: it ALWAYS is). It's almost a 1:2 ratio of crazy long escort quests to non-escort quests. The purpose of this is to increase your affinity with the person you are escorting. What maxing out your affinity does, I have no clue. Shop keepers give you a minimal discount but other NPC's who don't even sell anything I can't even figure out why I would care if they like me or not (they don't give you any kinds of tokens of gratitude or anything). There are even a couple that I have escorted and never even come across again until I started a New Game +. You also put yourself at a huge risk escorting them, because if they die, they're dead and there is very little you can do. Another problem is that if you don't have a waypoint in the quest, the game doesn't do a great job of explaining it to you. For instance in one quest you have to find Valmero, you ask around and get 4 pretty different answers. Even if you totally pull a Batman and figure out who is telling you the right information they are still pretty vague, "he's to the south," "he's on a beach." South is like saying he's somewhere in California and there is plenty of coastline to check. Then you find him right outside on the beach a few steps away; he tells you he's going back to the camp, but he doesn't and you have to find him again... yeeesh! Sometimes you can't even tell if the PAWNs or quest helpers are being unhelpful or if you just don't understand what they are saying. The way they talk isn't like the way Thor talks, "verily, I say nay" it's more like the way Beowulf and Canterbury Tales English is. For example: if you don't know that, "There is aught of use in the crags that litter this place" means that you can mine here, you will have a tough time. On the positive side they are putting out DLC like crazy... mmmmmm buuuut since they don't give any worthwhile rewards I can't really see why you would buy them...

This game could have easily gotten a 9-10 rating, instead of a 6-7 rating from me if they just gave a little bit more thought to creature comforts like fast travel or having quests that don't take multiple sittings to complete. Or hey, how about the ability to craft rare pieces of armor (heck, they may even have one but I haven't figured it out yet). I find it difficult to believe that Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on the PSP has hundreds of unique pieces of armor but this expansive 360/PS3 game has like 20 different sets. I mean just some kind of carrot to dangle at the end of the string for crying out loud!

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/08/12

Game Release: Dragon's Dogma (US, 05/22/12)

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