Dragon's Dogma

My Heart Will Go On, Somewhere

The chatty Dragon’s Dogma is a better fit for a mercenary than a Galahad.

By Drew Toal • May 30, 2012

In the 1996 film DragonHeart, Sean Connery lends his distinctive Scottish lilt to the character of Draco, the world’s last dragon. Draco saves a dying prince by lending a piece of his actual heart. The kid is lucky to find a dragon in 10th-century England who doubles as a thoracic surgeon. Most dragons tend to be more like the one in Capcom’s open-world role-playing game Dragon’s Dogma, who’s more of a heart-taker than a heart-giver. After your character unleashes a foolhardy attack, the dragon plucks your heart out of your chest, mutters some dragon mumbo-jumbo, and takes off, leaving you dying on the beach.

He should have finished the job. When your character comes around, you’re looking pretty hale, considering. The only thing to mark the encounter is a badass scar on your chest and a noticeable lack of basic circulatory functions. People now respectfully refer to you as the “Arisen,” and you embark on your new career. What, exactly, is the Arisen required to do, beyond defying biological imperatives? Slay the dragon, obviously.

Hmm, an open-world game and prophesied, dragon-marked champion. Yes, this does call to mind the Dragonborn, the hero of Bethesda’s hit 2011 game, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The comparisons are inevitable. The atmosphere of Dragon’s Dogma, though, feels less like Skyrim and more like its predecessor, Oblivion, down to the unflattering facial renderings and death cultists run amok.

Dragon's Dogma

Players can choose to begin play as a mage, fighter, or “strider”—a ninja-like rogue class. In addition, you are responsible for designing and outfitting your main “pawn” ally, who is to be your constant companion for the game’s duration. The pawn system is Dragon’s Dogma’s main contribution to the genre. In similar dragon-themed games—like Bioware’s Dragon Age—players get stuck with the same list of polished companion characters, each with his or her own pre-loaded personality and agenda. In Dragon’s Dogma, it’s extremely unlikely that any two people will quest with the same pawns. This is because you’re allowed to recruit into your party any pawn you meet in your travels. Better still, each player’s main pawn is saved to the server, and is thereafter available to any other person playing the game.

This system creates an amusing dynamic, reminiscent of the sillier aspects of character creation in traditional role-playing games. For instance, one of my initial companions’ skills overlapped a little too closely with my own. One day, while loitering outside the tavern in the capital city of Gran Soren, I met a hulking barbarian named Dan. I quickly gave the old pawn her walking papers and recruited Dan into the team. For all I know, Dan was conceived by a 10-year-old girl in Sheboygan, but this giant, violent man with the suburban name rounded out my party perfectly. He reminds me of Norman, the Richard Moll-voiced bodyguard in the short-lived 1993 cartoon, Mighty Max.

The longer they travel with you, the more pawns adapt themselves to your style of battle and play. Unfortunately, their personalities don’t likewise evolve, and none of the characters are voiced by anyone close to Moll’s caliber. This wouldn’t be a huge problem, except the pawns never shut up. In Skyrim, you can play in blissful silence for days without interacting with anyone (both within the game and without). The pawns don’t understand that you can’t talk a chimaera to death, and the idle chatter is as ceaseless as it is grating.

Dragon's Dogma

The story, too, is a throwaway, even by the cookie-cutter standards of the genre. The main quest—to recover your vital organs from the dragon and put an end to its back-alley-surgeon ways—doesn’t really inspire one to the heights of heroism. The journey’s momentum is often disrupted by unrelated side missions, like recovering dusty books of dark magic or rooting out a goblin infestation. It’s fine if you’re more of the wandering sellsword type, but less so if you have a single-minded, point-A-to-point-B Galahadian focus.

The fighting, on the other hand, has a lot to offer. Even from the outset, striders can do some pretty slick takedowns with twin daggers, and upgradable combos let you tailor your methods of murder. Fighters can develop defensive tactics that make them increasingly difficult to kill, and Mages can acquire new abilities that form a sort of elemental artillery, useful against larger foes. You’ll need all of these, as some of the bigger mythological enemies you encounter are downright fearsome, and the dungeons are dark and winding. It’s easy to nitpick Dragon’s Dogma for its failure to measure up to Skyrim in many ways, but as you’re running up the back of a Cyclops to get a better stabbing angle, appreciate that there are things the Dragonborn can’t do so well, either.

Dragon’s Dogma
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $60
Rating: M

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50 Responses to “My Heart Will Go On, Somewhere”

  1. ShrikeTheAvatar says:

    Sounds interesting enough, though I’m not sure I’ll pick it up.  I have too many single player games to finish already.

    In any case, the creator of the webcomic Ctrl + Alt + Del recently put up a couple posts that go into some interesting details about this game: 

    • Enkidum says:

      I’m in the same boat – also liked the look of Skyrim and Amalur, but yeah, I gotta finish my hundreds of hours of backlog, and maybe do some work or something ridiculous like that.

      • dreadguacamole says:

        I feel kind of bad saying this, especially after the troubles its developers are going through, but this game outdoes Amalur in pretty much every respect except for polish.

        • Enkidum says:

          Huh. I liked a few of the reviews I’ve read, but I’m just now realizing how extensive grade inflation and refusing to acknowledge extensive problems really is.

        • dreadguacamole says:

          @Enkidum:disqus: A lot of people really like it, so by all means, give it a try. I liked it a fair bit in the early going, but after a couple of hours it wore very, very thin; it feels like a game designed by committee around buzzwords, with precious little to keep you going in the long haul; it was originally conceived as an MMO – and that shows through, unfortunately.

    • RussFischer says:

      I’d been on the fence about using my limited time to dive into DD, but those CAD posts, combined with some of Drew’s comments, have tipped me towards it. Thanks.

    • dreadguacamole says:

       Heh. I should have read those blog posts first and just pointed towards the article and said “this!”
       I’d defend the flaws of the game a bit less, but still, they’re niggles compared to just how good the game is.

    • root (1ltc) says:

      “A miscarriage is definitely not a joke, and I have no intention of making light of it. And it can be a tough and emotional thing for couples to go through, speaking from personal experience. And I know that it’s often much harder on the woman than on the man. However, I also know that it doesn’t necessarily turn you into a sad, depressed sack of tears for the rest of your life. People can move past it, and heal.” – Tim B^Uckley

      Good on him to have opinions about the game. Better to do that than to send pictures of his own genitalia to minors.

      • Enkidum says:


        • root (1ltc) says:

          CAD is a horrible comic and Tim Buckley is a horrible person. The above quote and mention of genitalia picture sharing are things he actually wrote and did.

          Neither the comic or its author should be acknowledged in public.

        • Girard says:

           This is a poorly written, subjective account, but it details a number of controversies concerning Buckley, including the miscarriage and photo stuff alluded to above.

      • Enkidum says:

        Huh. I didn’t know any of that (never really read his comic much either). I won’t invite him to my birthday.

        • dreadguacamole says:

           Me neither. Looks like I’ll continue avoiding a comic I never particularly liked. Easy to do, I guess.

      • The_Misanthrope says:

         I’ve never really read the CAD comics all that much; The little of it I’ve read in the past has always struck me as another lazy “gamer webcomic”, more insular jokes about video games and the idiot man-children that play them.  So take that into account when I honestly ask:  exactly what is the big deal about his miscarriage comic and the attendant post?

        I read the sub-Encyclopedia Dramatica article Girard posted about him, so I get most of the hate directed at him.  The whole dick-pics to minors debacle, the draconian forum banning, creative theft, wiki vandalism–I get all those offenses.  Having read the miscarriage storyline (“Loss” to “Someday”) and the newspost accompanying “Loss”, all I see (out of context of any knowledge of the strip’s history) is his attempt to weave a bit of his personal experience into his comic.  So please elucidate a bit how I am missing something or how I am secretly a horrible person…

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          I always think of Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff when I see boring webcomics like CAD and then I laugh way too loud.

          For the uninitiated:

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          Yeah. I just read all the miscarriage issues out of curiosity, and I fail to see how these, or the quote above, paint this man in a bad light. I don’t like the comics personally, but that’s just taste.

          The pictures are another story, and that’s clearly wrong, but I don’t get how that plotline is a bad thing. Can someone explain?

  2. doyourealize says:

    This I think is a game that can wait for the bargain bin, but it definitely sounds like something I’d play.

    Question about the pawns: You said the new pawn “Dan” that you picked up might be a 10-year old girl in Sheboygan. So he must obviously be “her” main pawn. At some point, could Dan also turn into your main pawn, or is the main pawn a character you and only you create?

    • dreadguacamole says:

      Nope. Your pawn is permanent, though it’s fairly easy to do a complete makeover (you have to begin anew if you change his class, but he doesn’t lose anything he already had)

       It’s a pretty flexible, very cool system. The thing I most like about it is that any pawns you take with you learn stuff from your adventures – location of loot, ambushes, what you need to do on a quest or tactics to take down monsters. They then carry this information on to their masters when they next rest at an inn. I’ve gone into dungeons I hadn’t been to before, only for my pawn to point out some chest a previous player had found.
       It’s not quite as useful as it could be, but it’s still great.

    • Drew Toal says:

      Sorry. Yeah, so the main pawn you create is always with you, but will also presumably turn up in another person’s game. Likewise, Dan is someone else’s main pawn, and now a secondary pawn of mine. That’s my understanding of it, anyway.

  3. dreadguacamole says:

     Glad to see it getting a positive review. To be honest, I’m loving it – combat has an extremely tactile feel and a fair amount of depth and challenge. Exploration’s great, with a very cool-looking (if a bit generic), sprawling landmass to wander on and plenty of stuff to find hidden away. And though it wears its influences on its sleeves, there’s a fair bit of cleverness and originality to be found in its systems.
     The magic effects look pleasingly powerful at higher levels (you can rain meteorites and summon tornadoes on your foes), and any fight against a bigger monster becomes a pretty spectacular setpiece. Most of all, it’s fun to play.

     It’s also kind of hard to recommend; mainly because it’s punishingly old-school in some ways; while it’s not as hard as Dark Souls, you can easily get killed if you go after a monster that’s too powerful for you, the quest design is not great, with a lot of back-tracking and poor signposting, and the travel times make getting to your quest destinations a chore. The game suffers from a severe lack of personality in its storytelling – the quests and characters, despite some occasional neat bits, are bland bland bland bland.
     There’s also a lot of stats tracking, for both yourself and your minion, so if you dislike that kind of thing, well, you probably won’t like this game.
     And Capcom has already started milking the DLC cash cow offering weekly quest packs, including one on day 0.

      Wow, that came out a bit negative… seriously, the first paragraph far outweighs the second one. It’s a pretty damn good game that, more importantly,  has a fair amount of new ideas to try out and is willing to take some risks.

    • Xtracurlyfries says:

      hmm…well if i could trouble you for your insight:

      i liked Skyrim okay but have an issue with the lack of immersion in Elder Scrolls games.

      I played the Witcher a little and liked its old school influences but found it completely boring to play.

      I haven’t played Dark/Demon Souls or Amalur.

      Do you think I’d like this game? I promise no wrath if you say ‘yes’ and that turns out to be wrong.

    • Xtracurlyfries says:

      Should also say that I loved Morrowind – the only Elder Scroll game that seems to be set in a real place.

      I have to say, darkness being scary and monsters not leveling up with you sounds delightful to me.

      • dreadguacamole says:

         It’s a pretty different beast from the elder scrolls games, despite them both being open-world RPGs that are better if you deviate from the main quest and do your own thing. The world feels to me a lot more similar to Gothic 2 & 3, or Risen, if you’ve played them.

         The main threat to immersion in this game would be the writing – it’s poorly written ren-faire cheesefest all the way, I’m afraid.

         But wandering in unexplored woods in the dark, with half your permanent health gone and not easily replenished until you rest again, and a very real chance of running into something you wouldn’t be able to take on even if you were fully prepared for… well, that completely makes up for it.

         The other main concern would be busywork – backtracking, rpg stats and equipment management; but if you loved Morrowind then maybe that isn’t that much of a problem.
         I’d default to recommending a rental first, simply because this game falls so squarely into the type of thing I enjoy, I can’t be sure I’m being objective or not. There’s a demo out there; I’ve heard it’s not really representative of the full game, but at least it will give you a taste for the combat system and the feel of the moment-to-moment gameplay.

        • Xtracurlyfries says:

          Thanks! Sounds like a good idea to rent for a few hours and see how I feel. I don’t mind the story being cheesy, I just want to feel like the world is a real place that doesn’t consist of monolithic wooden people and creatures that stand around drooling until I come along to talk to and/or kill them. 

          Being able to do more than wave my sword at something in one of three possible motions, not be able to fast travel to safety (at least when I’m not being told that the universe won’t let me because “enemies are nearby”), and to not become all-powerful in a few hours because I happen to find a godlike weapon just sitting around would be nice.

        • dreadguacamole says:

           @Xtracurlyfries:disqus: The world is fairly standard tolkien, but well realized and complex to navigate. It’s full of tropes like highly monster-infested areas steps away from the capital city, but what can you do…
           Monsters and NPCs wander about a little and sometimes fight each other – it’s fairly shallow, but does a good job of it (I love that the lizard people spend the days sunning themselves on rocks).

           It’s from the team that made Devil May Cry, so there’s tons of  ways to use weapons and spells, along with a lot of little flourishes to the system – missiles that inflict status effects, very short aerial juggles, impairing monsters by cutting off various bits of their anatomy, quick switching to a bow, that sort of thing. You can grab some enemies, and clamber onto larger ones – Shadow of the Colossus style – and that hasn’t gotten old for me yet. Combat in general is very varied and a huge amount of fun, which is lucky since there’s so much of it.
          The difficulty curve is nicely managed; it’s a bit too easy for my taste (in the sense that it doesn’t force you to learn the system as, say, bayonetta would – it’s still a lot more difficult than most RPGs out there) but there’s always something nasty ready and willing to cut you down to size, and even monsters which you normally have no problem with can surprise you; for example, a cyclops, which I can now take down fairly quickly, threw me off a cliff last night.

           There’s no fast-travel at all; there’s only a fairly expensive item that can take you back to the main city in the game.

           From the sound of it, I think you’d like the game, but it’d be remiss of me not to recommend Dark Souls over it. It’s not really an open-world game (it’s not linear either, but it’s closer to a network of nodes than an open area), and its difficulty is a bit too much sometimes, but it’s got an incredible sense of place.

        • Xtracurlyfries says:

          I appreciate your input immensely, and hope that you are soon pleasured in a manner of your choosing.

      • dreadguacamole says:

        Also immersion breaking: the title song, performed by what sounds to be the Japanese version of Dream Theater. Fortunately, it only plays in the splash screen.

         Here it is!:

    • Drew Toal says:

      Yeah, I was afraid some of my complaints would come out a bit negative, too, but overall I’m pretty bullish on the game. Glad that came through.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

      I am starting to wonder if this subtle trend toward what I’ll call–for lack of a better term–“hardcore” action-RPGs (Dark Souls, Legend of Grimrock, Dragon’s Dogma, Witcher II,etc.) is ever going to really become a bigger thing.  Mind you, I liked Fallout 3, F: NV, and the Mass Effect games for the most part, but I’m glad to see some developers starting to buck current RPG trends–fast travel, streamlined, shooter-style control, regenerating health, etc.–that have started to worm their way into Western RPGs, likely to accomodate the modern, on-the-go gamer.

      • dreadguacamole says:

         Here’s hoping! They’ve at least proven that there’s a market for it, which is always a good thing.
         I only really see low and mid-budget games taking this road, since the megabucks lie with accessibility. I’d argue that’s actually a good thing, since those are the games that are likeliest to have more… personality, I guess.

  4. caspiancomic says:

    Is the whole “dragon as organ thief” thing some element to their mythology that I just haven’t encountered before? Between this, Skyrim, and Drakengard, dragons in games seem keen to collect human hearts for their mantels, but I’ve never heard of a dragon stealing a human heart anywhere outside of games. Is there a pre-gaming precedent here or is this just a popular gaming trope?

  5. 3FistedHumdinger says:

    The comparisons to Skyrim are extremely baffling since the game is basically Dark Souls Lite.

    • John Teti says:

      If only it were possible for a game to be compared to more than one other game. Perhaps someday!

      • The_Misanthrope says:

         I’ll add Shadows of the Colossus to the mix as well, since the climbing onto a beastie and repeatedly stabbing it seem to be a core part of the combat…at least from the demo anyway.

      • 3FistedHumdinger says:

         Sure, but comparisons should probably be drawn to things that are actually similar in some fashion.

  6. It bother when people compare this negatively to Skyrim. 
    What Skyrim does (open world exploration) is only one small part of this game, to reduce it to “not quite Skyrim” doesn’t do it justice at all. The core gameplay, especially the combat, is completely different…which is a plus, since combat in Skyrim is awful. Combat in Dragon’s Dogma is highly enjoyable and fighting monsters big and small is a lot of fun. The animations are also great, which is really never the case in any Elder Scrolls title. Dragon’s Dogma is an RPG, but the combat has more in common with Devil May Cry than Oblivion, whereas Skyrim still has clunky RPG combat syndrome. And despite the similar fantasy settings, Dragon’s Dogma has its own look, feel, and atmosphere. Not to mention an excellent roster of creatures which all have their own styles of combat and require different tactics to defeat. And come on, complaining about story in a review where you look to Skyrim as a shining example of game design? The story in Skyrim takes a back seat to the expansive world, and rightfully so. It’s nearly as dull and tired as the combat. 

    It’s just silly to say that this game doesn’t “measure up” to Skyrim when it offers a completely different experience that is more akin to Dark Souls, Monster Hunter, or perhaps The Witcher (with less emphasis on story, obviously). If you’re looking for more Skyrim, you’re playing the wrong game. Don’t blame the developer because you want to game to be something completely different. Dragon’s Dogma does what it does very well, and it’s one of the most immersive, rewarding, and distinct games of the year.

    • hastapura says:

      I gotta say – fuck Skyrim. Klepek over at Giant Bomb was complaining that Dragon’s Dogma doesn’t offer a world as rich as Skyrim‘s, but that game didn’t do a thing for me. It was Bethesda-as-usual with a nicely rendered environment. I’d be hard-pressed to name one character from Skyrim and I don’t understand why it’s become the benchmark for fantasy RPGs.

      I can’t slam the combat or story any better than you did. DD makes fighting giant creatures fun, while Skyrim makes fighting dragons dull as shit.

      • TaumpyTearrs says:

        I’ve been saying this for a while. I actually enjoyed playing Skyrim for about 40 hours just seeing what I could do, but apart from the Daedric Quests it felt empty and repetitive.

        I was quite upset with how many GOTY awards Skyrim got when the actual gameplay is shitty. It shows whats wrong with games that one of the most praised games out isn’t actually fun to play, just fun to experience.

        I started playing Dark Souls after that 40 hours of Skyrim and never went back. The tight combat and often genuinely scary surroundings run laps around Skyrim’s 90s PC game combat.

        • TheReclusiveMan says:

          Agreed, the Daedric quests were about the only interesting and unique thing in Skyrim.

        • frogandbanjo says:

          Whenever Skyrim comes up, I always say that it was a game with ambitions as tall as a mountain but narrow as a toothpick. Utterly failing to provide any substantial improvements or innovations to its predecessor, it instead made a devil’s bargain with the player: we can only do this, but we will give you 150 hours of it, and you also qualify for the once-every-few-years graphical upgrade for your trouble.

          Seriously, learn to make a game with a cipher main character. Don’t make them a destined hero only to have them sit around for 100 hours making iron daggers, and then having that not have any impact on the game world. Jesus. I’m making myself mad just reminiscing about how bad I thought Skyrim was. I need to keep all that rage directed at Diablo 3!

  7. Penis Van Lesbian says:

    So no one’s going to mention the giant chicken?

  8. TaumpyTearrs says:

    Woooo! Mighty Max!

    I loved that show. Not enough kids show open every episode with murder-by-monster.

    And Norman was the shit. “They used to call me The Hurler!” And he was Thor!

    • Remember the episode where they hunted down Norman’s big archenemy? Some kind of big troll dude? I recall one scene where they came upon a cabin, and Norman wouldn’t let Max look inside, presumably because the corpses of the cabin’s residents were scattered inside.

      And then the episode ends with Norman defeating his enemy, who begs for his life with the “If you kill me, you’re no better than me” line. Norman responds “I can live with that,” and shoves him off a cliff to his death.Pretty hardcore stuff for a kids’ series.