Dragon’s Dogma

June 24th, 2012

I liked this a lot, overall, though not without its wrinkles.  An RPG that’s somewhere between the Western and Japanese traditions, maybe.  Kind of Skyrim meets Dark Souls without the loopy scale of the former or the loopy difficulty of the latter, and a little less atmosphere than either.  It reminded me somewhat of the open-world wandering and slightly strange pacing of the Gothic games, which I really enjoyed but don’t necessarily have a high profile, shall we say.  Where all those games give you in effect a single character against the world, Dragon’s Dogma offers you a faithful pawn follower, who you can design and equip with the same loving detail as your main character, instruct to behave in certain ways, and teach to fight different monsters more effectively as you go.  You can then take on two other pawns designed by some other denizen of the internet, and later let them know what you thought of their creations, while other players might make use of your pawn.  Quite a neat way of making you feel connected to the wider community without, ahem, having to actually relate to them in any way.

My enjoyment level was a bit patchy – way high initially and as I first started to explore the land and work out how things worked – dropping off somewhat as the plot lurched rather haphazardly towards its culmination and I found myself doing a lot of rather dull running around – then shooting up in the excellent final battle with the dragon – staying high as the weird post-game played out – and finally scratching my head in mild bafflement at the somewhat bizarro ending.  So often the way that as long as the possibilities are infinite it seems fascinating, but as the map is gradually revealed and you see the shape and extent of the world there’s a slight sense of – ah, that’s it? In many ways there’s not that much going on outside of a few key locations, though to be fair there’s a nice curve-ball at the end.  Things can unfold rather strangely, though, little is done by way of explanation so stuff just … happens, really, sometimes leaving one tantalised by the mystery, sometimes bemused by the inscrutability.  Incidental characters get very emotional about things and you’re left thinking – did I miss something?  Should I know what the hell’s going on here?  Better than a lot of infodumps, though, I guess.  And combat is pretty cool with a big range of available character styles, techniques, and equipment, and clambering up a cyclops to stab it in the eye never gets old.  Overall not quite in the league of Skyrim or Mass Effect, but a lot to like.  I’d play another.

Posted in games by Joe Abercrombie on June 24th, 2012.

21 comments so far

  • AntMac says:

    How long did you take to play it through, please. And does it allow for additional play throughs at a different difficulty level?.

  • arglactable says:

    That is pretty in line with my experience so far, and the comparison to Skyrim and Dark Souls are spot on (though I would say it’s not really as good as either of them). Probably the most annoying thing about the game is the way they laid out encounters in such a way that sometimes taking the left fork in a road would lead you to a hordes of pansy enemies and going right would get you immediately destroyed. It’s so arbitrary about enemy strength. And the autosave system is worthless, but overall it’s quite enjoyable and the combat is definitely superior to Skyrim’s.

  • Thaddeus says:

    I think it took me about 40 hours, and that was with relatively few side-quests. There’s no difficulty slider.

    I liked this quite a lot. The combat was very enjoyable and the high degree of customisation with character creation is very much to my liking.

    That said, the voice-acting was aught ropey (NB translators: the word ‘aught’ can’t mean whatever the hell you like) and there was a serious lack of lore/world-building.

    The single save slot also reduces replayability. I wouldn’t mind making a new character but I don’t want to kill my old one and her main pawn.

    The difficulty level was very good, challenging without being frustrating and I quite liked the pimp/pawn system (cf Yahtzee).

    Apparently Dragon’s Dogma 2 is already under construction.

    And now, a question for Mr. Abercrombie:
    If you could have a game based upon your First Law world made, would you prefer it to be in the format of Skyrim, Dragon’s Dogma or Dragon Age?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Dunno, I didn’t see a game time counter. 40-50 hours, I guess? It does allow for additional playthroughs, I think, there’s this strange after-game section which has some ultra-hard bosses in it I never came close to beating.

    Oh, yeah, I’d forgotten about the ridiculous ye olde dialogue. I guess I just somehow got used to it after a while and accepted it as some kind of alternate language. But the endless wrong use of aught was pathetic. Did none of the voice actors ask the question – what is this gibberish? You’d think if a writer had a really vague idea what aught meant they wouldn’t just shrug their shoulders and wing it. I mean, no one else really knows what aught means, do they? But hey. One slightly bizarre thing was that they obviously hadn’t really bothered to code anything different for a female main character, so my Arisen, unquestionably a woman, was constantly referred to as ‘Ser’ by everyone and, without any particular effort on my part, fell in love with the Duke’s wife and later rather randomly started snogging the witch’s grand daughter. I found that rather refreshing, actually – yeah, she’s a lesbian, obviously, and?

    Game based on the First Law? I’d want it to be a la Dungeon Master 1987. Now THAT’S roleplaying, biatches.

  • ColinJ says:

    Joe, have been tempted to check out that new GAME OF THRONES RPG? I hear it’s not great.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Haven’t really heard anything about it, honestly, but the sidebar ads I’ve seen do not fill me with joy, and a profound sense of worry always attaches itself to any game adapted from some other property for me. I can hardly think of one good one. I’ve no idea why that is – maybe the good developers are more interested in their own projects – but original game worlds generally seem to work way better.

  • Chris says:

    As a person with a severe novelty complex, I loved some of the weirdly original touches that DD incorporated into its core mechanics. Character design for example? When have you EVER been able to make an absurdly fat, 7 foot female Wizard in a video game? And the scaling involved with the “bigger” monsters (and resulting challenge in battle) was simply fantastic. And the Dragons in “this” game would gorge on their impressive looking but underwhelming, cookie cutter brethren from Skyrim. I would have to say that DD could easily go toe to toe with Elder Scrolls for comparison’s sake, and it was made with a smaller more practical budget. Game innovation in the rpg world has become depressingly stagnant, and as much as like both titles, I would have to give the edge to DD for trying something new as opposed to endlessly refining a good idea (regardless of how good that past idea is). Thoughts Joe?


  • Chris,
    Well, I admire a lot of what they did with Dragon’s Dogma, but I’m not sure it was all that stunningly original. Felt more like mixing in different bits of different games to make a newish formula than bringing anything particularly innovative to the table, but then I’m not necessarily a huge fan of innovation for its own sake anyway. Skyrim for me felt like a vastly more detailed, convincing, and coherent world, with all kinds of stuff going on. Dragon’s Dogma’s world felt very artificial (which maybe worked with the notion of the world being a sort of false invention of its gods), and although it had some pretensions of free-roaming and maintained the illusion of scale for a while early on, it was actually pretty small, made to feel a lot larger by the need to run everywhere, frequent monster encounters, and confusing night occasionally curtailing your exploration. Big monsters were, as you say, very good, though those reminded me of shadow of the colossus rendered in a slightly more accessible and fantasy 101-ish way. Not to be unpleasant, I thought it was good overall, some excellent boss fights and a nice system for character development and equipment, good action, but it lacked the boggling scale and freedom of Skyrim, the crazy headfuck atmosphere of Dark Souls, and was nowhere near the characterisation and dialogue that makes Mass Effect work. Maybe they need another couple of games to refine the formula.

    As for the RPG world being stagnant, I’m not sure I see it, it’s certainly maturing so innovation is less, and the big titles tend to stick within established parameters, but then it’s big business now, Skyrim, Fallout and Mass Effect are huge core sellers, and the innovation tends to be in the form of refining proven formulas, which is what you’d expect. You’ve got more innovative and unusual stuff at the periphery like Dark Souls or Dragon’s Dogma. I think Dragon Age gave a different slant for all the second game was pants. Surely the sign of a mature genre? Plus RPG elements continue to leech into more action-y titles, and vice versa.

  • Thaddeus says:

    Chris, you’re spot on about the dragon comparison. Alduin was a big pansy, and the dragon in Dogma would kick his arse.

  • Chris says:

    Thanks Joe for taking the time to reply, and that’s well cool of you to be corresponding in the comment section with your fan base!

    Concerning originality: I would say anymore that the concept is at least a partially subjective measure, and is also dependent on the past experiences of the user? DD worked for me because it had subtle flavorings from major contemporary rpgs and other notable Capcom titles without ever being a direct rip off or a clone of previous games. Someone there in strategic planning must have said “lets try mixing the combat mechanics from Devil May Cry and Resident Evil 4/5 with world/adventure building of Skyrim and the mature story telling found in Dragon Age!” Did it work entirely? Of course not, for a lot of the legitimate/solid reasons listed above from others. Still, I guess I am really applauding the gumption displayed here to even pull the trigger on such an idea in the first place.

    And finally maybe stagnation was the wrong word to describe the state of the console rpg? I think I was aiming at more of a generalization for the gaming industry as a whole, and from a formula standpoint, I feel that developers are starting to take all the wrong cues from Hollywood in making sure that a vibrant tomorrow for their craft even exist.

    PS: Right on Thaddeus, I think we enjoyed this game for similar reasons. The big ass/bad ass boss moments in DD made it absolutely worthwhile!

  • AntMac says:

    If you think his comments section is cool mate, you should read his insane novels.

    Man is a mad monster genius. :tongue:

  • Aaron Tomey says:

    Thaddeus, all the bosses in Bethesda’s games are pansies (Fallout and Elder Scrolls). When I faced Alduin, I expected some climatic battle where I’d frustratingly die fifty times, but you know what happened? I killed him with TWO FUCKING POWERS ATTACKS! TWO! Fallout’s even worse. It’s like the developers actively strive for shitty, anticlimactic boss battles.

  • Will says:

    Hey Joe I was wondering what type of character you have in Skyrim and what quest lines that you have completed.(thieves guild,dark brother hood ect.) my personel favorite was the thieves guild quests. The city of Riften was done particularly well and is my favorite place in the game. They nailed the shifty atmosphere of it. Riften is actually what I image sipani to be like. Did I get that right?

  • Mike G says:

    For me, this game gripped me like no other (including Skyrim) even though there are big faults.

    The story in general is too light, and what is there is largely non-sensical and confusing, the world is largely a generic medieval fantasy setting with nothing unique, and no real sense of place, lore, or anything gripping.

    After the nifty opening introducing my quest to find and kill the dragon that ripped my own heart out, and about 20 hours of random questing for townspeople, fighting monsters, and exploration, I finally get to my next “story” cutscene honestly, I have no clue whats going on given the intrigue thats hinted at, other than I know I still have to kill that dragon.

    Now the good part- that before mentioned 20 hrs of just random questing, fighting monsters, and exploration that came between the story cutscens. Right here is where the game just clicks- its just pure fun.

    The game is challenging but not stupid hard like Dark Souls which will kill you easily when you are leveled, if you don’t have supreme skills.

    Here the unprepared (or underleveled) will fail miserably, but with some strategy, good equips, and leveling, any fight is beatable. The controls are great, I love all of the loot and equips, the interchangable job classes are nifty in that you aren’t limited to one skillset the entire game.

    The monster fights themselves are inspired- having one guy hang on an ogres leg to limit mobility while other climbs hit head to hit its eye, while my mage strategically sets various body parts on fire never gets dull.

    I was worried the whole Pawn party system would result in a boring, soulless party, but I love recruiting other players creations into my game, and I love how they are fully AI driven, and improve their strategy based on their own experience with certain foes, and offer up constant chatter which is knowledgeable or not again, based on their experience in their owner’s game.

    All in all, while the reason I’m doing anything is uninspired, I am having a blast nonetheless, and from a pure gameplay and fun factor perspective, this kills recent rpgs for me like Kingdoms of Amalur and Skyrim.

  • The Shrike says:

    I’ve been playing this game while sipping whisky and listening to Rush’s new album Clockwork Angels.

    All in all, an excellent experience.

  • Gary says:

    I absolutely love Dragons Dogma, but in terms of storyline and actually giving a damn about the characters, Skyrim pulled a few more strings and is in my opinion a better overall experience. As fun as DD is to play, I don’t feel any emotional connection with any of the people in that world, which as has been pointed out, doesn’t really help with the olde English dialogue, I ‘aught’ to give a shit about them, but I don’t. Having said that, I think the actual combat mechanics in DD are more fun. I prefer the storyline and people in Skyrim, but prefer the fighting and action bits in DD.

    I agree about the comments about Alduin. After all the build up, hours invested, blood sweat and tears, it turned out to be a little bit of a wet fart. Although, after playing it for way too many hours, I just wanted to get it finished so wasn’t too upset about how easy it was. Phew! It’s over, I can have my life back!

    The thing to remember is that the developers of Skyrim have had years of experience in developing that type of game and this is the first proper Western style RPG that Capcom have done. It’s no secret that a sequel has been commissioned, so I’m sure they will make great improvements to what is already a very fun game to play.

  • Gary says:

    and on the subject of DD2, I really hope they don’t do a Dragon Age 2. The people responsible for Dragon Age 2 need to be beaten repeatedly with print outs of their friggin copy and paste dungeons and caves! The Bastards!

    I’m sure Capcom won’t make the same mistake with DD2 🙂

  • James says:

    [quote]Game based on the First Law? I’d want it to be a la Dungeon Master 1987. Now THAT’S roleplaying, biatches.[/quote]
    DM is my favourite game ever – finished it on Atari ST, Amiga and PC.

    Have you tried Legend of Grimrock? While it doesn’t *quite* live up to DM, it does a good job tugging the nostalgia strings, looks lovely, and has some nice ideas. Well worth a play.

  • Shaggyd says:

    Hey Joe!
    After the recent poor reception to the Thrones games, if approached, would you consider yourself to have a strong input to a game so that it was developed to your own satisfaction?
    Also, how about a Union: Total War style game?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Never say never. That said, I’m not a game designer, so there’s only a certain amount I could bring to the table. Likewise with a TV or film adaptation, in the end, you need skilled, enthusiastic and motivated people who are experts at their business working on it. That’s what makes it good.

  • Curt J says:

    All you kids with your fancy console games…Up in the far north where men are men and the moose are nervous we still roll DICE. That’s a muthaflippin RPG! Warhammer Fantasy RPG in fact. I found it funny that the following Warhammer forum exchange happened regarding a certain author…

    I cannot recommend enough Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes as a really great take on a Warhammerlike clash of two armies (northmen vs imperial). Its got Saving Private Ryan elements but with swords and arrows flying. Check it out for some PC’s in the army ideas:


    Yep, I read The Heroes back last summer, which is where I got the idea for this campaign. I figured, heck, the maps are already there, and the Northerners are a lot like Vikings or Norscans, and the Empire are pretty close to the Empire. I even inserted The Bloody Nine (from the earlier books) into the tail-end of TEW (as the Noble PC’s bodyguard), so that now the players will be familiar with him when his name comes up in the North. The new campaign begins about six months after the events of TEW, and starts out in the village that was rebuilt from Wittgendorf, which became the PC’s home base. I’m going borrow liberally from ol’ Joe Abercrombie as I craft the various characters in this campaign. They are just too good not to use!


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