It’s pretty rare you can remember the moment you fell in love with a game. But for me, it happened at a random encounter, where we were fighting a griffin, and one of my pawns asked me if I wanted to be thrown at the griffin.
Which I did, and after grabbing onto it and stabbing it repeatedly, I jumped off because its wings had been set on fire and it was dropping like a stone. And then I cut its head off.
It was a moment that should be enshrined in van art. And it was just a random encounter. This wasn’t a quicktime event or a cutscene; this was actual combat.
This isn’t to say “Dragon’s Dogma” doesn’t have flaws. It does, and what makes them frustrating is that they’re basic stuff in the genre, put right up against mechanics that either substantially add to the game or are just so refined it’s glorious. But it also has moments that absolutely soar, and not just when you’re getting chucked at a monster to stab it in the face.
The basic problem that some Western gamers are going to have is that while this is an open-world action RPG, it is Japanese in some very clear, and sometimes off-putting, ways. The game announces this with an awful symphonic metal track that’s the opening theme, and it just gets more schizophrenic from there.
For example, the game wants you to grind experience, and it does it in both elegant ways and annoying ones. One of the elegant ways comes from tasks you find on notice boards: kill a certain number of X, which you probably will anyway, and you get a gold and experience bonus on the spot once you finish the task: no returning to the notice board, for example. It’s essentially in-game achievements with in-game rewards, fetch quests without actually having to bring back the bear asses.
The best example of an annoying way is the fact that there’s, at best, a limited and expensive fast travel system, and the game is full of backtracking. This wouldn’t be a problem as much if the game world weren’t massive and enemies, including the gigantic mythological monsters that will be huge fights, didn’t respawn. Oh, and you’ll be driven into the woods to fight these creatures on a fairly regular basis: make sure you’ve got plenty of healing herbs.
It’s full of both little frustrations and little streamlined moments like this. For example, if you hit Start, and select “equipment” from the Skyrimesque pause menu, you’ll be able to access your weapons and armor…but not your tools and potions. That you have to press Select for. But you don’t need to buy healing potions: you can easily find lots of healing herbs on the ground.
Or the fact that the game has both a sometimes punishing difficulty curve, but the level cap is set at triple digits, so you level up quickly and smoothly, meaning once you finish a few more quests and upgrade your gear, you’ll be able to come back and kick ass.
Or the fact that there are escort missions, and more of them than should really be acceptable in the modern day, but this is again balanced by the fact that your party members and your escortees are not (usually) total idiots (Madeleine the vain, annoying peddler being a notable exception).
Which brings us, though, to the best part of the game: the unique mechanics that make it sing.