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Dragon's Dogma Review

Greg Tito | 1 Jun 2012 20:30
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Does the prospect of climbing up the back of a multi-headed chimera, hacking off the snake's head before jumping to the lion and stabbing it in the face, excite you? Would you be interested in recruiting a party from characters created by other players? What if I told you you'd be spending most of your time trudging across bland landscapes, struggling to land blows with a nearly non-existent targeting system, and cursing every time a character says the word "aught"? For everything that Dragon's Dogma gets right, there's something to drag down the experience. If you have the patience to sweep off the frustrating bits, you will find there's a solid action RPG shining through.

The story starts off with a bang: A huge red dragon attacks your village and just when you think it's going to finish you off, it snatches out your still-beating heart, mutters some words, gobbles it down, and flies away. Despite the massive chest trauma, you do not die, and the people of the village call you Arisen, believing you are the only one who can defeat the dragon. It's a fresh twist on the admittedly tired trope of a player character with a destiny. There are no elves or dwarves underfoot, other than an actual dwarf serving as court jester, and the story owes more to Arthurian legend than Tolkien. The writing is generally entertaining, but the characters are weak and the overly flowery language can be grating. Seriously, you don't have to do aught to make a setting seem archaic; the knights in shining armor are enough.

Open-world games can struggle with keeping the character moving along a strong narrative, and Dragon's Dogma loses that fight once you get past the brilliant opening. For each compelling story quest, there are ten requests to kill X amount of wildlife that you must complete in order to gain precious experience points. And because there's no indication of how difficult a quest is, you will often try one and die repeatedly before you realize that it's time for the Arisen to grind levels. It's not that the game's too hard, just that it does a poor job of funneling you to enemies you have a chance at slaying.

When you are in the right area at the right time, the third-person combat action is enjoyable. I mostly played a mage, and it was a fun challenge to survive the casting time and loose a fireball in the face of a charging bandit. Melee fighters can swing a sword or block with a shield, and rogues switch between a bow, daggers, or devastating special moves like Cloudburst Volley. The targeting is a problem, though. You can aim timed spells or attacks with a big circular reticule, but quick abilities will hit the wrong target often as the game tries to determine where you should attack. Success depends on mixing up your light and heavy attacks with the weapon skills you unlock through gaining levels, and there's more than enough customization with specialties, hybrid-classes and upgradable builds to keep the strategist in you happy.

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