Dragon’s Dogma Is Like Playing An MMORPG Full Of Wonderful Idiots

RPS has sealed itself inside a chocolate egg for the duration of the UK’s long holiday weekend, to emerge only when the reign of Mr Hops The Doom Rabbit has run its dread course. While we slumber, enjoy these fine words previously published as part of our Supporter program. More to come.

“A goblin,” shouted one of my moronic followers, before running across a field, away from a goblin to collect some bark. “I understand this place far better than before.”

She found a mushroom underneath the bark. What a time to be alive.

Dragon’s Dogma [official site], in my brief experience, is like an experimental art-game that takes on all of the tropes and mechanics of an MMORPG, and then replaces the other human players with deranged parodies of living beings. I am altogether pleased to have made its acquaintance.

My favourite thing about Dragon’s Dogma so far, and I’ve only played for a couple of hours, has nothing to do with the clambering Shadow of the Mini-Colossus style boss fights, or the (possibly) enormous world. For all I know, the whole world might be made up of a couple of fields, some trees and a tiny fishing village. Oh, I’ve seen a settlement with a magic rock in it as well, now that I think about it, but that looked an awful lot like the fishing village, minus the coast and plus a bit more wood, so it had slipped my mind.

I’m drawing your attention to how little I’ve seen because it’s entirely plausible that I’ll hate the game if I carry on playing. If you want to know what it’s actually like to play, as a whole, our review is here.

What I can tell you is that it looks ropey, the constant barks of my companions make me feel like I’m being pursued by a pack of excitably disobedient dogs, and it has already committed one of the RPG cardinal sins by filling my pockets and pouches with a load of shite that I’m scared to throw away in case I’ll need it for a crafting pop quiz further down the line. It feels less like a console port than a game that has magically landed on my PC having fallen through a timewarp at the bottom of a bargain bucket in an alternate dimension’s equivalent of CEX.

And that’s probably one of the reasons I’ve warmed to this ridiculous game so quickly. It’s ramshackle in a way that somehow seems accomplished – great energies and talents directed toward the creation of something that is rough around the edges and right through to its core, but packed with more personality and punch than many a perfectly formed and polished artifact. Dragon’s Dogma is an oddity and the main source of its weirdness and wonder lies in the pawns.

Pawns are NPC followers. Companions without a scripted personality and with artificial intelligence that is very obviously artificial but barely intelligent at all. It’s not that the actual ability to engage in combat, gather loot and do all of the other RPG things you’ll want your party to do is lacking, it’s that the behaviour of the pawns is so transparently mechanical and constructed that they act like automatons in an RPG-themed theme park attraction. They’re going through the motions and doing so in an exaggeratedly loud and broad fashion, such that you can’t help but notice just how very much they are going through those motions.

And what are those motions? Well, there’s the aforementioned cries of alert as enemies approach, the gathering of materials and the actual business of putting monsters to the sword (or spell/arrow/club). The brilliance of the opening hour or two of the game, from my perspective, is that it feels like a version of every MMORPG I’ve ever played, with hordes of newcomers rattling around the opening area trying to get to grips with the controls. Some of them are so ecstatic that they can jump and emote that they’re going to jump and emote until the cows come home. Some are so excited by the idea of venturing forth as a party that they won’t give you more than an inch of breathing space, crowding around you like flies around shit/sugar.

I love them, one and all. They’re so eager. How many games have you played in which companions are world-weary sellswords or fugitives from some nebulous justice that just so happens to tie in with your own grim backstory? The NPCs in Dragon’s Dogma are world-eager. They’re happy just to exist and as they hoover up resources, they’ll repeatedly tell you how bloody exciting it is to be on an adventure with you.

It helps that they’re an odd-looking bunch. Some pawns are imported from other peoples’ games and others are randomly generated. You make one companion to accompany your own character (both are created using a robust customisation suite that allowed me to make a tiny little man with a huge arse, an enormous nose and eyes that are permanently closed) and that companion can be summoned into other peoples’ games. You’ll find pawns lingering around the magical stone in the settlement I had forgotten about until I started writing. Lots of them look like someone’s best attempt to make Drizzt or attractive lady archer #2,026, but others look like they’ve wandered into the game straight out of some forbidden zone full of mutants and rejects. Those are the ones for me.

I might be bored with them by this time next week, these infinite idiot companions, but right now I love them. You can pick up almost anything in Dogma’s world, weight and strength permitting, and I’m sure I saw one of my pawns lugging a goblin corpse around earlier. There was no reason to. I assumed he’d just got overexcited and started to hammer all of the buttons until he ended up carrying whatever was closest to his character at the time. During fights, they’ll sometimes grab an enemy and hold it in place, expecting some kind of tag team takedown, but sometimes I’ll be half a field away when they do that. Again, they must have been pressing the wrong buttons.

Then I had to remind myself that there were no buttons to hammer. Their erratic behaviour is entirely a result of their programming and learned traits from their original creators. And what wonderfully rickety programming it is.

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34 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    Oh wow, this sounds like the joys of Breaking Madden jammed into an RPG! My computer arguably meets the minimum specs, too. Hmmm…

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  2. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    There are an awful lot of “Dream Girl” pawns around.
    Personally, I’m currently running around with Lemmy.

    And weirdly, while reason and logic dictate that I should have gotten bored and irritated by pawn stupidity a long, long time ago, it often results in moments of inadvertent hilarity, such as pawns warning me to watch my step around cliff edges and promptly throwing themselves off.

    I think that it comes down to how remarkably well they actually perform in combat once you’ve got them properly trained. They’ll buff according to enemy weaknesses once they’re familiar with those enemies, and just occasionally, they’ll unleash a devastating spell that saves the day.

    And as I’m a Strider with mostly physical damage output, I am entirely reliant on my pawns to dispatch of a Living Armour’s secondary form.

    Although I am going to have to take Lemmy’s lantern away from him, as if he gets wet in combat he’ll actively run away in order to put it away and pull it out again to dry it out.

    Still, when all’s said and done, the duke really could stand to commission some new roads!

  3. Anthile says:

    One of the remarkable yet easy to overlook mechanics of the game is the character creation. By that I mean that every creature, NPC and even most objects have a certain weight. This includes your own main character – the taller and more muscular you make your character, the higher your carrying capacity, while creating a leaner character leads to a higher default speed and improved stamina regeneration. Bulkier characters have more natural knockback resistance and smaller ones climb faster. This calculates your inventory weight as well so you can purposefully overload yourself in order to make yourself harder to knock down.
    Dragon’s Dogma is the only game I know where your character’s appearance actually matters.

  4. Premium User Badge

    amateurviking says:

    Honestly this game is just kind of adorable. Great combat, apparently perfunctory story (BUT! That last act. Wow). Shonky as hell everywhere else, but it’s an accomplished shonk. And because the core is genuinely fun and engaging the oddities on display elsewhere are secondary. Found myself genuinely caring for my pawn by the end. Despite her insistence on jumping in the town fountain and then loudly declaring she was wet.

    • ckyrkinox says:

      the dumb ass who tried to diminish this game because of the pawn is a non loved bastard …not loved by his parents …this game is good as fuck ..is he a kid or something ?because if he never played games like this in the past his “GAME PARAMETERS” are too high …making him upset about simple stuff ..this game is good an its still god even with the robotic pawns ..I don’t care ..that is second plane ..next to this game that is very entretaining ..I’m playing and having fun man ..really pretty game.

  5. thekelvingreen says:

    an MMORPG, and then replaces the other human players with deranged parodies of living beings

    X-Box Live, then.

  6. Fenixp says:

    The pawn system in Dragon’s Dogma was actually pretty cool – I kept tweaking my pawn to properly adjust his behavior and priorities in order to get him as good at his job as possible, that was actually a lot of fun.

    Still, I abandoned the game after about 10 hours or so – storyline was fairly meh, and the world to explore was not particularly interesting (well, it wasn’t interesting enough for me to suffer trough the typically Japanese “You get automatically stronger at everything as you level up!” approach, coupled with weirdly leveled ares.)

  7. Hawke says:

    The pawns are adequate and helpful, if the player invests time in them. Also they stay optimistic most of time (being optimistic, when the player gets instakilled repeatedly, is important on BBI), don’t eat, don’t sleep, don’t disconnect in the middle of game session.

  8. airknots says:

    I like the pawn system, although I hate how I had to chug potions to re-align their inclinations once in a while. I love picking up items, so my main pawn always turns into an Acquisitor (pawn that will search the area for items regardless of the situation), which isn’t what I want my Sorcerer to be.

    • Razumen says:

      I believe you can sit them down at certain tables and they’ll ask you questions on how they should act in certain situations, though they don’t always seem to ask the same questions each time.

  9. Gwilym says:

    HUMAN BONES!!! BONES THAT MOVE ON THEIR OWN!!! SKELETONS!!! SKILLED INDEED. WALKING BONES!!! BONES!!!!!

  10. GWOP says:

    One of the greatest joys of DD are the vocations. Changing to various vocations, trying out the variety of abilities for each class and changing your playstyle accordingly is a great way to play the game.

  11. GWOP says:

    Oh, and I wonder what you guys prefer playing as? I have settled quite comfortably into the magic archer vocation: the ricochet hunter turns every narrow claustrophobic passageway into a swiss cheese factory, and vortex trail + shadow shackle + explosive rivets do wonders to mobs.

    • RedViv says:

      That one, or alternatively Mystic Knight – because giving your party ALL THE ENCHANTMENTS and additionally bouncing back everything enemies throw at you is fun.
      Plus, the heavy armor in this game actually looks really good.

    • Razumen says:

      Magic Archer is actually one of the most versatile and OP classes I’ve seen so far, he can deal with any encounter in the game pretty easily.

      Personally, I had more fun with the Ranger and Assassin vocations before I switched to MA. I like some of his abilities, but the auto-aiming arrows are just plain overkill.

  12. djplotfellow says:

    “It’s ramshackle in a way that somehow seems accomplished – great energies and talents directed toward the creation of something that is rough around the edges and right through to its core, but packed with more personality and punch than many a perfectly formed and polished artifact.”

    If you’re already appreciating this about the game, you’ll likely continue to enjoy it. It’s a rare game in which nothing is quite as well done as it could have been, yet taken as a whole is so much better and more delightful than it should be.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Cvnk says:

    I tried searching for videos demonstrating said funny NPC behavior but unfortunately only came up with videos of “YouTube personalities” making annoying comments using annoying voices (usually while having to look at their annoying faces floating in one corner).

    Are there any worthwhile videos showing this stuff?

    • Josh W says:

      This video should give you a glimpse of what they’re like, what the game’s like really, just imagine that in between this stuff, you’re dangling off the back of a wibbly monster’s tail.

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  15. Robert Post's Child says:

    There is an earnestness to the game that is definitely part of the appeal, I think. It helps smooth over a lot of the stilted goofiness that runs through the whole thing. It commits in a way most games either can’t or don’t.

    The constant turnover in pawns, coupled with changing your own class, helps keep a lot of the action fresh, too, so on your first run through it’s never going to be quite the same thing for more than a few hours at a time.

  16. geldonyetich says:

    This is probably the first time I’ve been sold on a game due to the reputation of a delightfully schitzo companion AI.

  17. fish99 says:

    Tried playing the first few hours of this today. It really didn’t grab me. The opening to the story is poor, the NPCs look awful, the controls are weird and the visuals are so dated. It manages to look worse than Demon’s and Dark Souls but was released after. The interface is a mess too. The pawns did make me laugh a few times but that’s about it.

    Dunno if it’s worth it with DS3 just around the corner.

    • UncleLou says:

      I think it looks fine – it’s not the most technically accomplished game, but there’s something authentic about the landscape that I find enormously attractive. Also, the animations of monsters are stunning, and the gear/loot is extremely detailed. Like the game itself, the graphics are more than the sum of their parts. Do check the settings though, it tends to default to low or so.

      And it really needs to be played with a pad, where it’s pretty much the genre’s gold standard, imo.

    • haldolium says:

      DD has great ideas (mainly the pawn-system) executed quite okay in a horrible JRPG world with the worst graphics and an awful story which though is a lot more relevant in your progression as it should be.

      The A.I./pawn system was really refreshing, but over time outbalanced by the rest of the games not-so-greatness to say the least.

      • UncleLou says:

        I find “JRPG world” rather misleading – it’s a Japanese game, but it has absolutely nothing to do with JRPGs as a genre. Or do I misunderstand you?

        Still don’t quite get the comments about the graphics. It’s obviously a game from last gen, but it also was at the time the most expensive game Capcom has ever made. It’s not like it’s some low-budget affair. It’s clearly better looking than the Souls games, for example.

        • fish99 says:

          I don’t agree. It’s only a few months since I last played Dark Souls on PC and to me it has an art style, world and enemy design that I found lacking in Dragon’s Dogma.

    • Razumen says:

      Neither Demon Souls or Dark Souls had an open world design like Dragon’s Dogma. For what the game did, on PS3 hardware, it looks great. I’m not sure either DS could pull off better fidelity in in similar circumstances.

      There’s nothing really wrong with the controls or interface, so I don’t get what you’re talking about there. The game’s biggest flaws come from it’s lackluster story, relatively small (or alternatively, empty) worldmap, and the ability to chug potions instantly at any point in battle.

      • fish99 says:

        Don’t suppose you’re likely to read this but….

        The two attack buttons are the left and top button, i.e neither of the buttons your thumb rests on. It’s probably because the playstation button layouts in japan are different than the west but they didn’t account for that when porting. There’s no way of changing it either without a 3rd party program.

        If we’re talking xbox360 button placements, then attack is on X, heavy attack on Y, and B does nothing in combat. That’s kinda crazy.