Michael loves Dragon’s Dogma. He loves it so much he gives it pet names. I call it “That Dawgma or “Dawgma” for short. Dawgma came into my life and I gladly sacrificed 85 hours before I finally finished it, and I don’t really finish games very often. I tend to grab an RPG, sink a bunch of time into it, experiment with the mechanics, put it down, and start over a lot, but I seldom murder whoever caused all those problems in the kingdom. I did this with Final Fantasy 7 – 10, Oblivion and Skyrim, and even Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana (which I SWEAR we’re gonna beat, Lee). All quality games, but I’m terrible.
… but I finished Dragon’s Dogma.
This is why I was so terribly excited at the announcement for the next game in the franchise called Dragon’s Dogma Online. It’s like Capcom heard the collective prayers of its fanbase and decided to give us the multiplayer we wanted, the lack of which was the most heartbreaking thing about the original game. Rather than giving us something we could play with friends, we got pawns; customizable NPCs who would fight with you throughout your journey. You could build and teach your main pawn while using the pawns of friends and other players, but Dragon’s Dogma always felt like it was meant to allow for more particularly with multiplayer
It wasn’t the plot or graphics that managed to entice me enough to actually finish the game; it was the mechanics. When you fight a dragon in Skyrim, you swing wildly at his wing or leg until he dies stupidly. When you fight a dragon in That Dawgma, you leap atop his scaly hide as he attempts to gain altitude, hack or cast spells at his wings until he careens into earth at which point your pawns dog pile him in an attempt to keep him grounded long enough for you to attack at his exposed heart.
Fights with giant monsters like griffins, manticores, and the dreaded cockatrice were complex, nuanced, tense, and satisfying as was fighting the variety of bandits, wolves and lizard men that would dare stand against you. Combined with excellent an excellent and diverse class system, survival horror elements, and a solid equipment system, Dawgma was a great and expansive world to ruin with medieval superpowers. To exist in this world with friends would have taken the experience to incredible heights and deliver an experience even more unlike any other RPG I’ve ever played.
Because multiplayer couldn’t happen, it almost feels like Dragon’s Dogma Online is meant to rectify its absence in the first installment. However, the more I learn about it the less excited I become. First, there are no English trailers yet or announce dates for the west. Secondly, the graphics look pretty much identical to the first game. In some ways, the look worse. Look at the way the Princess’ mouth moves in the latest trailer. Thirdly, while it’s not much to go on, the trailers make the game seem more derivative than I’d care to see. There are a few cool locales, interesting monsters, and cool set pieces, but plot is not Dawgma’s strong suit. Aside from the brain bashing, postmodern finish, Dragon’s Dogma’s story was largely uninteresting and nonsensical. Finally, Dragon’s Dogma Online has been announced as Free-to-Play, and this was the piece that pretty much killed much of my excitement.
Maybe I’m too much of an old head. Maybe I’ve been burned too many times. Maybe I’ve watched too many Jimquisition episodes. Either way, Free to Play games always come off to me as attempts to addict players to the point we give up more money than a game is “worth.” Worth is relative of course, but rather than thinking about all the fun I’ll have with the thing I bought, I’ll instead keep wondering how much more fun I could be having if I just spent more money. With free to play on the table, I suddenly get why DDO doesn’t look as good as it could and why it’s not being actively promoted in the west. A free to play console game from Capcom seems more like a test to get things set up for future current gen only release Deep Down, which is also announced as free to play, as well as a future current gen only version of Dragon’s Dogma.
While I ultimately have high hopes for Dragon’s Dogma Online, I can’t help but remain skeptical. I’ll enjoy it if it manages to come to the west. As it stands, DDO is not shaping up to be the experience I want. What I want is smaller than an MMO. I want just 3 of my friends to be able to build characters and play through a world filed with giant monsters and dangerous thieves. The mechanics would be tight, the action tense, and there would be a real need for us to work together and use our powers and skills in concert to win. It would be tight, fun, and fast. I worry that a world filled with 96 other PCs all out to do the same thing may diminish the overall experience in ways I often felt with the (admittedly few) MMOs I’ve played such as DC Universe Online, Destiny, Final Fantasy 14, and Warframe. While I liked those games, none of them were as enjoyable for me as the simple player experience of Dragon’s Dawgma. Plus I feel that being asked to spend real money on new armor, weapons, classes, and a game will definitely cut into how much fun I have with DDO.
While I’d like to trust that Capcom, they’ve hurt me too much in the past to just assume they’ll get it right. This is the same company responsible for killing the Mega Man franchise, several blatant cash grabs, and continuing to flood the market with fighting game re-releases and sequels without adding any notable new IPs to the genre and community. But dammit, I want That Dawma Online and I’m going to give them money off the strength of the first game alone. I just want to enjoy myself when I do.