Dragon's Dogma: The Kotaku Review

Reading about Dragon's Dogma, Capcom's latest title that ventures into open-world fantasy territory, is like viewing the game through rose-tinted glasses. Capcom is clearly trying new things that seem inventive. I want to love Dragon's Dogma. I want to be able to support a game that tries its hand at something new, and hope that other developers take notice of the potential for success that comes with being creative.

Dragon's Dogma, though full of potential, unfortunately doesn't end up being one to use as a shining example of said potential success. Capcom's uncharacteristic foray into the world of a Westernized, large-scale role-playing game has a ton of great ideas. But the game falls flat. Had it not been my obligation, I would have stopped playing within the first few hours when I realised that Dragon's Dogma was going to be a... well, a side-quest game.

Dragon's Dogma opens intensely enough. A gigantic, fearsome-looking dragon plunges down into your lowly fishermen's town and rips your heart out for trying to be heroic. But, somehow, you don't die. You are "Arisen." And that's what everyone will call you for the rest of the game.

Dragon's Dogma is a huge game. No, let me emphasise. It's enormous. If you're an exploration junkie, you'll feel right at home navigating the twists and turns and dungeons. However, there's a caveat when it comes to huge open-world RPGs. I prefer them to have a clear Main Quest versus Side Quest menu system, with ample direction for each, and a navigation tool that doesn't totally suck. Why? So I can play how I want. If you want to spend hours levelling up before advancing in the main quest line, so be it. But maybe someone else wants to plough through the plot, and then venture around to see what else is worth doing. For a genre that is typically open to everything from aimless wandering to quest hunting, it's not an abnormal request to want the option to choose.

Dragon's Dogma: The Kotaku Review

WHY: If you want an engaging open-world RPG with action combat to spend way too many hours playing, there are plenty that do what Dragon's Dogma fails to.

Dragon's Dogma

Developer: Capcom Platforms: Xbox 360 (version played), PlayStation 3 Released: May 22

Type of game: Open-world, action/role-playing.

What I played: Trudged through 30 hours of side quests and main story.

Two Things I Loved

  • Combat that introduces fairly unique concepts like a tradable companion "pawn" system, and scalable boss-like enemies.
  • An interesting mix of classes with abilities that grow to be quite powerful and impressive.

Two Things I Hated

  • A terribly guided main storyline that takes way too many hours to unfold.
  • Messy design in everything from the inventory, map and UI to characters and environments. It's plain ugly to look at.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • "Dragon's Dogma really makes you want to kill things. But it's usually your pawns because they won't shut up." -- Tina Amini, Kotaku
  • "I think I was supposed to go on a journey to get my heart back, but now I'm more concerned about my soul." -- Tina Amini, Kotaku

That may be one of the few RPG tropes Dragon's Dogma does not abide by. I found myself caught in hours of random, boring side quests. You're forced to abide by the game's decision to favour lengthy gaps between main plot points. There I was, my heart probably burning in the acid of some arsehole dragon's stomach, and I'm picking flowers for some lady and feeling like a jerk for kicking a poor family out of a nobleman's land. I have no context for much of what I'm doing, and I found it difficult to even care about my voiceless character. She was just an empty vessel that eventually gets some pretty cool abilities to kill people with.

Getting to the heart of the Dragon's Dogma tale feels like pulling teeth. But that's not only to do with the annoying amount of side quests and the hours that pass between main plot points. The game is also plagued with a messy map, UI, and menu system. Everything in this game, even outside of the zombies and dragons, feels like it's built to fight you.

A day in the life of a Dragon's Dogma player essentially plays out like this: You enter the main capital of Gran Soren and speak with the citizens to gain insight into your quests. They might offer some pieces of advice. You look at your map. No, you go back to the menu, go to "Quests", and then "view on map". Now you look at your map. You wonder why you can't view all quests on the map and simply hover over them to get more details. You shake your head, and move for the door. The same pattern and pile of bandits and goblins attack you on the path you've now memorised. Or maybe it's night, and undead, ghosts and wolves will haunt your paths. That sounds like fun for the first few trips, until you realise you've been rinse and repeating this formula for hours without feeling like you're actually getting anywhere.

Combat is slow to start, with battles that are unrelentingly difficult. Think the crippling strength of enemies in Dark Souls in a world akin to Skyrim or Dragon Age, but not exactly as well done. You'll fight off packs of dozens of bandits that are significantly more skilled than you or your companions (more to come on them later).

But the slow start is slower than most games make you suffer through. For a game with such a huge map and no real substantial fast travel, save for expensive Ferrystones and port crystals, running into trouble so frequently along such long paths can feel like a chore. It wasn't until I was in my level 20s that I began to feel confident enough to roam around somewhat more carelessly. At that point my Mystic Knight was able to create flaming walls and whip groups of enemies with a lasso made of lightning bolts. But it took about 12 hours before that happened.

That really steep learning curve coupled with fickle targeting that often doesn't recognise your instructions makes combat for the first large chunk of the game incredibly cumbersome. Targeting is important in a game that requires you to shoot off certain limbs to render enemies weak, so you can imagine how quickly that gets annoying when shots are constantly missed. Exploding barrels strewn about the world can be picked up and thrown at enemies, but targeting on this is even more useless. You can only throw in a general direction. Throwing inventory items -- like poisons and oils -- at enemies is similarly useless because of a lack of aim.

Maybe if the world was as gorgeous as games it competes with -- namely, Skyrim -- I wouldn't mind being fated to walk the same path back and forth dozens of times over. I wouldn't mind peering over mountains canopying the ocean or exploring mystical-looking forests if they actually looked like they do in rival games of the same genre. Dragon's Dogma might have looked impressive say, five years ago on a previous generation console. I was genuinely surprised, for instance, talking to NPCs to find their expressionless faces and repetitive, puppet-like hand motions when speaking with me. Their voices and mouth animations are completely misaligned.

Dialogue isn't particularly interesting, anyway. If watching a doll speak to me wasn't enough to deter me from the conversation, their dull replies certainly were. The worst perpetrators of this were my companions.

Your companions -- or pawns, as they're called in the game -- were another great idea that was simply not executed well. The system itself is an interesting concept. Pawns both help you in battle and help shed light on quests, but you can trade them in at any time. Find one journeying on the road you like? Scoop him/her up to replace one of your current three. Or you can enter a "Rift" to recruit new pawns, and even borrow pawns from other players. Though Dragon's Dogma is not a multiplayer game in the traditional sense, being able to interact with others by trading pawns and sending off gifts with them is an interesting way to connect.

The pawns are more evidence that Dragon's Dogma gets significantly more fun after many hours in. Rather than pawns just dying and blabbering, they will eventually level to get to a fighting chance against strong enemies. You finally won't have to always rescue them from near death. Though they can pick up loot of their own accord, they often make unwise choices, picking up skulls and rocks as opposed to anything that might be useful in battle.

You can guide/sculpt your pawn by sitting them down to answer survey questions that dictate their behaviours, but in my 30 hours of playing I have yet to see the fruit of that labour. I find myself mashing the command buttons in combat almost as often as I do the attack buttons just to keep my pawns nearby and not spread out, vulnerable to flanking. Why am I mashing? Because the vague "come, go, help" instructions need to be drilled into the pawns before they listen to you. And they get easily distracted.

I mentioned that the pawns blabber. Their idle side chatter seems to be an effort to capitalise on BioWare's Dragon Age companions who offered their thoughts on the progression of the storyline, reflecting their personalities and unique relationships depending on who you had following you. It was great companionship while moving between quests and new areas.

Unfortunately, the lack of any substantial story progression makes what was enjoyable idle chatter in Dragon Age obnoxious noise in Dragon's Dogma. And these pawns talk a lot. It's to the point where they speak over each other consistently, mainly saying useless and redundant things. Yes, I know this road leads to the main city. Yes, you've told me that before. I like the concept of the pawn system. I just don't like how it turned out.

Dragon's Dogma still attempted to do new and interesting things, and I have to give it credit for that. Bosses and mini-bosses like hydras, griffins, chimeras and ogres are all scalable. You can grab on to the leg of a chimera to reach up to slash at the goat head to weaken the mythical beast. If you were a fan of the combat in Shadow of the Colossus, you'll have instant flashbacks of the greyer game's beastly fights. Playing mainly as a hybrid class of half knight half sorcerer -- known as the Mystic Knight -- this technique was unfortunately not very well-suited to my abilities. For a character class that holds all its weight in its weapons, however, it's incredibly fun to attack your enemies while hanging off their backs and watching them attempt to swat at you.

The concept of hybrid classes is another commendable addition. If you're keen on magic abilities like I am, but miss the opportunity to wear hefty armour, the Mystic Knight class is the perfect marriage of the two. You can choose from classes that mix and match from archers and mages, as well as other combinations. It's an interesting mix to the otherwise rigidly cut character classes we're familiar with in most RPG games.

Capcom's effort to create a Western-feeling RPG with splashes of its own unique features makes the game feel torn. On the one hand, I appreciate an attempt to distinguish itself from other games of its genre. On the other hand, focusing on being different is a dangerous path. When Stephen Totilo interviewed the game director on Sony's PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (also known affectionately as Sony's Smash Bros.), Omar Kendall replied saying, "When I first started working on the game one of my initial hangups was: 'How can I make this as different as possible?' And that's kind of a dangerous mentality to fall into, because that might not lead to the best decisions for the game... It would be silly for us to purposely hurt the game just for the sake of differentiation." And maybe that's the trap Capcom fell into here.

Dragon's Dogma wants you to be invested in the world. It wants you to enjoy it as much as you did a game like Skyrim. It wants you to investigate, explore, talk with people and take on random side quests, but it's just not compelling enough in those areas to respectfully demand that attention from you. Other games can do that, and we appreciate them for it. Capcom's frustrates you for it.

At the end of the day, a few good ideas aren't worth wasting hours playing a subpar game when there are plenty others like it that manage to execute everything else phenomenally.


    Sounds a bit too close to some of those other 'its not Skyrim' middling reviews going around. Still hyped. By kind to me zavvi postal gods!

      +1 I don't think its fair to start using Skyrim as a bench mark for games there are people out there who didn't like Skyrim.


      That's all i read.

        People want the Skyrim battle system? Holy crap. I thought people who defended it were just trolling.

          I found Skyrim's combat really fun and engaging. I honestly don't understand how anyone could not like it.

            I should put as a disclaimer before I start that I do like Skyrim, but in a Jack of all trades kinda way. But the combat, oh god the combat...
            In truth, the combat in all Elder Scrolls games leaves a lot to be desired, the animations are stiff and absurd, but not in the intentional, mount and blade way, just obviously repeated movements with the occasional badly synced and unnecassary cinematic finisher.
            But the worst part is the lack of any real interaction with the opponent; there was no point of impact, your weapon does at no point enter the enemy, just swings on through with no feeling of weight or meatiness.
            I suppose the fact is I've been spoiled by games like Dark Souls, The Witcher 2, Overgrowth (even while it's still in Alpha) and even Ocarina onwards Zelda games, all of which have diverse but universally tight and engaging combat where there's a style or strategy to the combat that leaves you feeling both badass and fulfilled when you get it right.
            Despite this, Skyrim isn't a bad game, it was just disappointing that they couldn't have had something like Dark Messiah's combat, they got the first person swordplay and magic so well, I don't see how Skyrim couldn't five years later.

              Ennnhh. Skyrim swordplay can be pretty close to Dark Messiah's thrusts, parries, blocks and ripostes, but the controls don't always intuit what you intended 100% accurately, and much of your combat ability is gated by the levelling system. You only get a Dark Messiah level of combat finesse if you suffer through the "Pointy bit goes in the other guy, right?" swing-and-miss character practice.

    -plugs ears-


      I think I'm with you buddy, I was genuinely shocked to see that massive red NO when i scrolled down.

    Seems quite bias. Your first complaint is that the story isn't short enough? And too many side quests?

    So you do not enjoy long games or options. Maybe review Minesweeper next?

      Expert mode with 10 bombs takes too long to complete. Bomb explosions not satisfying enough. Dull graphics. Gameplay reminds me somewhat of Sudoku but without enough numbers to help you win. 1 star.

    I've said before how much I dislike this format of reviewing.
    You guys take the already flawed process of cramming an entirely subjective game experience into an out-of-ten score and condense it even further to a simple YES or NO answer.

    There are so many variables to a game, so many different aspects that greatly vary an individual's experience depending on their tastes, to dumb down you review to a single word recommendation is to ignore all of that entirely, and it gives the impression that you want to cram your entire audience into the one pigeonhole.

    I doubt Tina or anyone else at Kotaku-US who is in charge of this review format will read this, but it just needed to be said.

      I REALLY don't like this new review format at all... the "yes" and "no" things are utter pap.

      The way user reviews here are done is the best way, with the "loved" and "hated" - it just seems so much more constuctive

        No trolling...but let's be honest, other than the cool looking boss battles, the game doesn't look that great overall.

          After trying the demo it looked like good fun, not a triple-A title by any means but definitely worth a look for action-RPG fans.

            Mm...I didn't try the demo, so my impression is just going off the videos I've watched. Q - do warriors continuously spec-up with nicer armour etc. as you progress? I've only really seen goofy looking farmers clothing mostly.

              I'm pretty sure you spec up, look up some videos like the Gametrailers review and you'll see there is some decent depth there. It's clumsily handled at times but if you can look past that there seems to be a fun game there in there.

                Très Bon. Will do.

      Hey, didn't they have a third option? The "Not Yet" for games they think are good, but need a patch or a price drop before buying?

    Indeed, I've noticed that negative reviews here and on Joystiq had the same core criticism: I wanted to run through the main quest and the game didn't let me do that. But most players that go for open world RPG like the Elder Scrolls tend to do quite the opposite - whenever I talk with anyone playing Skyrim, they tell me that just like me they do bazillions of side quests without even pushing pas the few first main quests for dozens of hours. There's also been a lot of grumpiness with mobs scaling to character level, so you can't fault Dragon's Dogma for delivering that. The only thing that annoys me is the absence of convenient fast travelling here - having to go again and again through an area you know and don't like is no fun.

      I should re read my post before submitting, cafein hasn't kicked in yet I suppose. I meant: people have been grumpy about auto leveling mobs, and now reviewers bash Dragon's Dogma because it delivers an experience with no scaling. Personnally I really enjoy exploring and finding out that an area is extremely dangerous - it makes more satisfying when you finally make it through it alive.

      "I wanted to run through the main quest and the game didn’t let me do that"

      I suppose that sort of makes sense since reviewers only get a short period of time to review a game. Especially if they get paid per review or something, you wouldn't want to waste two weeks on an RPG when you could get through a couple of 'normal' games.

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

    Fanbois are out in force today! Ah well ... Capcom shot themselves in the foot by not making it available for the PC.

      ...and you're the one calling people fanboys???

        Defensive much? Im simply pointing out that to ignore a major gaming platform is stupid. Why not release it on consoles and PC? Geez!

          Development time, certification, modification of control schemes, etc etc.

          PC isn't a major platform like it used to be. a game can still be profitable from just xbox and PS3 sales. this is because the adaptation to PC is time and cost prohibitive considering that the consoles are a larger market

            Wait... PC isn't the larger market for video games? How... Oh.
            Oh no.

            I don't think I actually survived that car crash...

    The reviewer compares the game to Skyrim (in a 'not as good as' way) but most of the gripes she has about Dragon's Dogma are prevalent in Skyrim such as the sheer number and irrelevance of side quests, map objectives and their clumsy interface (tuning them off and on and showing them on the map/compass), difficulty spikes with main story line missions, combat is slow.

    It just seems like elements of other games that she lauds are seen in a negative light when talking about the same elements of Dragon's Dogma.

    If this was on PC it would be a day 1 purchase for me.

    As it is not it will wait until the Christmas sales.

      Isn't everything on PC a day 1 purchase for you?

    Screw you Kotaku! You've spent the last few months hyping this game up as a "hidden gem" that needs extra support for being a new IP and now you're telling me to just ignore it?

    Seriously? Someone doesn't like a game and people go off the deep end AGAIN. I guarantee if they did like it there'd be an equal amount of people complaining they were too soft or something. Just enjoy it! They didn't like it, whatever. I can't see anywhere where I'd say the review was especially badly-written because it wasn't, it was just negative. Barely any of you have even played the game yet! Oh mannn.

      Who's going off the deep end?
      Sure, maybe one or two people have said the ever stupid "screw this" - but what i see is more people who are excited for this game saying things that add up to "ok, but i'm still going to try it for myself and am holding out hope", or to that effect.
      That's certainly what i'm saying, at least...

        On a side note - both Puppylicks and myself have at least played them demo, which, as puppylicks said, while flawed was still a lot of fun and quite interesting.
        So it only makes sense that we would still be keener to judge it through our own eyes.

          The demo is what sealed the deal for me. After months of Kotaku praise.

    Bought it today and am enjoying myself thoroughly.


    Ever since David Wildgoose left, Kotaku has lacked quality game writers who understood what games are about. Instead they hire casual hacks who don't realise you can turn off the pawn talk. I wonder if these "writer/gamers" actually know how to navigate menus that aren't made by Rockstar or Bethesda.

    this review is the worst

    Should anyone else bother reading this review? NO! What a load of dragon doodie.

    I played almost 300 hours of Skyrim, I am a level 61, female Nord BattleMage, I am the archmage, head of the brotherhood, won Skyrim for the Legion, killed Alduin in about 10 mins, head of the companions have 5 houses, thaned all over the place and I REALLY love it...However, I spent hours of that game making sure "Lydia" didnt die or get lost somewhere and the load screens KILLED me. Fast travel, swimming and the more fully created world (albeit prone to glitch) is really great in Skyrim and the things missing from DD.

    With that said I have to agree that this reviewer is too obessed with Skyrim, right now I am a Level 21 Magic Archer and my pawn is a totally BA Mage. I think the Pawn system is AMAZING. Especially when someone uses your pawn and they return with a brand new set of awesome armor or a ton of RC. I also like sending friend requests to the random pawns walking aroung the world who are mostly Japanese which is always cool. Being able to bring them back to life is also great because it was annoying whenever "Lydia" died and I had to start over with no way to revive her. The jumping and scaling walls is MUCH better than it is in Skyrim, you have a little warning before you fall off the cliff and you can grab onto stuff sometimes saving yourself. I love the various and interesting attacks like the 6 bolt and the sunburst. The lack of fast travel and very few resting areas are really the only thing that is totally irritating me about this game.

    My PSN gamertag is krhisthesh!t ! = i, look us up if you are cool enough to play :P

    So I would give Skyrim a 9.50 then I would give Dragon's Dogma an 8.75. I think the next one will be more polished, no one plays games for the story anymore (we just want a chance to KA) and I hope they were smart enough to TM the Pawn system. If you like RPG's you will like this game.

    Sorry but I thoroughly disagree with this review and the "back of the box" quotes. This is a great game and the developers did a fantastic job for a first attempt at a Western RPG. It's not perfect, but hey it's got a better ending than Mass Effect 3, at least it's properly explained and doesn't contradict itself.

    You should play this game ? DEFINITELY YES.

    How come ? This review is the worst non-objective bunch of "pseudo-journalism" i ever read. This game is fun, and that is what a game should be. Story ? ok, there's no one. Have some problem ? Yes, BUT is damn funny all the time.

    Wow, what a terrible review(won't read this site again), this game is amazing , don't let this review scare you away.

    Tina...you suck...but I don't blame you, I blame the atrocious amalgamation of hand-holding, do it the easy way games we get FAR too much of nowadays...

    Why doesn't anyone complain about the game's ludicrously easy difficulty after level 30-ish? Why? You guys into easy shit that much? THAT, in MY opinion is what kills the game for me. I mean...what's the point of new game+? Gear? Sure, gear that you'll be using on enemies you can kill in 1 second with gear 10x weaker...

    Your complaints are entirely subjective...I think limited fast travel is immersive...and with the expensive ferry stones requires financial sorting...I think that the talkative pawns are charming too...my bro is playing right now behind me and has my pawn...she own't shut the hell up and I don't want her too....

    Reviews should be objective, not subjective...why? because there are consumers who look to your "reviews" to warrant a purchase. This leads to finely-crafted games going unnoticed because ONE person didn't like it, and other...less respectable games (namely CoD, God of War and the like) getting ALL the praise...leading to gargantuan sales to the masses of casuals (which is dine...up until we start losing all the charm and heart we had in video games a while back).

    YOU (Kotaku, among many many others) are shameless.

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