It feels strange playing Dragon’s Dogma again given that I don’t really have to cast my mind very far back to remember the original. You won’t find me complaining though; I don’t need an excuse to revisit this game.
Given this is mainly a visual remaster it makes sense to talk about the aesthetics first. It looks good. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the best I can say. Everything looks a little more polished and there are nowhere near as many technical issues [played on PS4]. The playable character looks very sharp but everyone else still seems a little off. It’s strange but it’s almost as if the protagonist received a complete remaster while every single NPC received barely a touch up. The general feel is good though and everything from the main characters clothes to his/her abilities have benefited from the remaster. It’s also worth pointing out that the cinematics looks stunning, but the smaller (less grand) cutscenes only look slightly improved.
As before, the exploration in Dragon’s Dogma is interesting. I say interesting because there are things the game gets so right, and things that it gets so so wrong. The world here is rich and varied with everything from tumbling waterfalls to dense forests. You likely won’t be raving about how beautiful these landmarks are but they’ll never look so bad as to pull you out of the experience either. I also really like that it never tells you when you’re out of your depth. One moment you’ll be walking along some winding road slaughtering goblins with ease, only to stumble upon a dragon that you literally can’t even scratch. It’s a set up that encourages preparation, tactics and caution, and while this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea it’s a breath of fresh air compared to other action RPGs.
There are two major aspects of exploring the game that I really didn’t like though. The main being the lack of a suitable fast travel system. While it is better than the original due to the possession of a teleport stone which allows you unlimited uses (previously the cost a hefty chunk of money), you can still only teleport between major locations. Even ten hours into the game you’ll likely only be able to travel between two points, both at totally opposite ends of the map. This means that most of your time will be going back over terrain you’ve already crossed. The only big issue is the day/night cycle. Night time is much more dangerous for the protagonist and their party. This isn’t necessarily an issue (it’s a mechanic used in a lot of games now), but the cycle lasts a very long time and the only way to skip time head is to sleep in an inn (which are few and very far between). It essentially means that if you’re caught outdoors you must stand a wait for morning somewhere safe or face the very real possibility of dying.
Considering how badly some of the previously mentioned mechanics hold up now it’s a wonder that the combat still feels so fresh. At the end of the day, this is solid action RPG and if you play for nothing else, you should play it to experience the combat. Enemies range from huge to tiny – from cyclops’ and trolls to chimeras and (obviously) dragons. The whole thing really comes into its own when fighting these larger creatures. Depending on your choices you’ll approach these beasts in different ways. Warriors and rogue type characters can climb atop the creatures’ backs to get closer to home whereas archers and mages could keep their distance and aim for weak spots like the eye of a cyclops. Either way, these encounters are challenging, nail-biting and tremendously fun.
Alongside the combat, there are a couple of other things that make this a great game. The first is the class system. At the beginning your character will only be able to choose between the three basic classes, but as your skill with these classes grows, new hybrid classes will open. I began my playthrough as a strider (basically a rogue) and enjoyed getting stuck into my enemies with dual daggers and a bow. I eventually left this class and switched to be a mage, another basic class. Once I’d levelled them both sufficiently, I found that I could become a ‘magic archer’. My bow was replaced by a magical construct, my arrows locked on and hunted down my enemies and I could channel power into my daggers to inflict massive damage. It’s a great way to progress your character and give a sense of achievement to the player.
The other great thing about the game is the pawn system. Pawns are essentially people, but without emotions or lives outside of battle. When you start a game, you’ll be asked to create your own pawn from scratch – even their class is for you to choose. What makes this great though is that other players can use your pawns and you can use theirs. You’re allowed up to three people in your party at once so one of your pawns will almost always be from another player. These pawns can even offer quest advice if their player has completed the quest you’re already doing. It’s a great way to make a single player game feel interactive with other players.
Sadly, the story in Dragon’s Dogma never strays too far from standard fantasy tropes. It relies very heavily on you being interested in a story that really doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. It won’t move you or touch you and you won’t feel invested in it in any way. Even the final crescendo and final couple of mission doesn’t evoke huge emotions in players and it’s sadly the weakest aspect of the whole game. There are high points (as there are with any game) but you’ll likely find yourself racing between conversations and cutscenes just to get to the next fight.
All that said, I do think the combat makes up for the weaknesses elsewhere in the story. Considering the game is now over five years old, it’s a pleasant surprise that the gameplay holds up as well as it does. In some ways, the combat in Dragon’s Dogma feels even more contemporary than the visuals (despite them being remastered).