After playing ESO, I got in a mood for an open-ish world RPG that was actually fun to play. As it turns out, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisin (DD) is precisely that. Minus the relatively garbage console port job the devs did.
For the most part, DD plays like Dragon Age: Inquisition with a more Action RPG feel. Or maybe it’d be better to just compare it to something like Darksiders. You run around in 3rd-person left/right-clicking your basic weapon combos, or holding Ctrl/Alt and selecting a few more abilities from there.
Which, really, is my number one complaint: the controls and UI getting in the way. Running around with WASD while having to hold Ctrl and then pressing E is not fun. I can move the ability to Left or Right-click rather than E and that makes things a bit better, but why is “Ctrl/Alt Toggle” not an option here? Why does the mouse-wheel not work half the time (and never in menus)? Why does Inventory have its own specific button, but Map not? Why can I press Esc to back out of every conversation piece except the final “Goodbye” comment? Ugh.
Typically, fighting with the controls and such would be cause enough to drop a game, but everything else about DD is real fun.
There are nine classes in the game, each with their own Active abilities and passives called Augments. Actives are generally specific to a class and weapon, but some carry over. Meanwhile, Augments are character-wide once you unlock them, leading to a fun little optimization puzzle where you try and snag the best Augments from each class to bring to your “final” one. This also encourages you to try out each of the classes, so you don’t get stuck with an unfun class on the character select screen.
Pawns are really interesting take on traditional party members. Basically, you have one main pawn and two pawns that you borrow from other players. Your pawn stays with you all the time, and you can change their class and Augments just as you change your own. You can also customize the pawns you borrow in a roundabout way via Searching for specific traits you need. Borrowing pawns of your own level costs nothing, but you can spend Rift Points or whatever to get higher level ones.
Since the borrowed pawns don’t level, you end up having to cycle them out along the way, but it’s still kinda fun seeing all the ways other people have customized them (since they are copies of their main pawn). Plus, since you can borrow new ones for free at pretty much any town, you can radically change your team composition at your leisure.
The biggest draw though, is combat. Specifically, combat with large creatures. I doubt DD is the first RPG-ish game to feature clamoring up the legs and back of huge-ass monsters on a routine basis, but it’s here in spades. Most mobs are typical goblins or bandits, but Ogres, Golems, and Dragons (thus far) are way more frequent than simple boss fights. And you know? It’s fun pretty much every time. Gimmicky, maybe. But fun too.
Amusingly, DD appears to have been fairly hardcore on release in regards to the open-ish world it developed. The PC version (which I have) gives you an Eternal Ferrystone right off the bat, which allows you unlimited teleporting powers to specific Portstone locations. The console version apparently had Ferrystones with just a single use. Traveling one foot is still a pretty big issue thus far, as I have only discovered two “destinations” at near opposite ends of the map. I think I’ll be getting consumable items that will allow me to create my own endpoints, but they have not appeared in-game yet. This might get more annoying later though.
Overall, I have about 15 hours into Dragon’s Dogma and am eager to play more. Maybe I’ll get tired about scaling Cyclopsi and stabbing them in their stupid eye, maybe not. All I know is that, right now, I’m having fun. A pretty ridiculous amount of fun, to be honest.
I am hoping things get better than this.
Granted, I do not consider myself “in the game” quite yet; given how prominently Elizabeth displayed, I’m guessing everything up to her will still be considered tutorial. Of that tutorial though, some things are becoming more and more clear to me:
1) Fantastic visuals have the opposite effect on me.
The visuals, objectively, look awesome. The visuals are also immensely distracting. When I am trying to shoot a guy with a pistol, seeing a particularly well-done cumulus cloud in the background adds nothing positive to that gameplay experience. I had the same issue with Battlefield 3 in the beginning – it was difficult to “see” enemies amidst the Ultra-High settings – so this is something likely to get better over time, e.g. when I start tuning out the visuals.
Incidentally, I never had this problem with Borderlands 2, and I think that is because the moments of cel-shaded beauty are more spaced out, and act as breaks inbetween more functional battlefield back-drops. I don’t want ugly games, of course, just games where you are not overloaded with visuals at time when precision and quick reflexes are called for.
2) Thus far, the theme isn’t all that compelling.
In the original Bioshock, the theme was taking Libertarianism to its extreme conclusion – a gaming subject matter particular novel for its time. Bioshock 2 introduced the opposite, showcasing the nefarious side of Collectivism. While it is still early yet, Bioshock Infinite’s theme of religious extremism slash Isolationism slash historical fetishism is… somewhat rote in comparison.
Bigoted religious cults in videogames are right up there with zombies, Nazis, and demons when it comes to stereotypical bad guys. This might be the first time we have seen such (intentional) overt racist imagery in a game, but I feel like I can already plot the rest of the story from here. There is still plenty room for surprises… yet Bioshock Infinite is going to have to surprise me, lest its thematic message be no different than the one you have seen dozens of times in the 32-bit era, or watching Glenn Beck for more than ten minutes.
Also… aside from some nice clouds and sunsets, so far the underwater motif of the original Bioshocks feels worlds better than open sky of Infinite. There was implicit danger at all times in the ocean, along with a sort of fantastic plausibility; underwater buildings are more impractical/expensive versus impossible. Conversely, in Infinite, sometimes it is not especially noticeable that you are in the air at all. Just look at that screenshot up there again.
3) Console Port
The very first sign a game is a console port is when it is Checkpoint-based. My dismay at discovering there was no Quick-Save was both immediate and visceral. Technically Borderlands 2 is also Checkpoint-based, but the difference is that A) those Checkpoints are a known quantity (you know where they are), and B) you can still save at any time when you Exit the game.
I am going to trooper on, of course, and perhaps it is a little unfair of me to expect brilliance from Minute 1. But given that I broke my Day 1 Embargo for Bioshock Infinite, I am a little bit weary of Buyer’s Remorse. I mean, I passed on Far Cry 3 for $30 for god’s sake!
Here is to hoping that I get blown away in the game proper, instead of musing as to whether I might have more fun playing Recettear like I was two days ago.