Polygon 2012 Games of the Year #9: Dragon's Dogma

I’m a vocal proponent of games that have love for the player. I like to champion games that realize the most valuable commodity we have is time and, as such, work to never waste a second of the player’s time. Dragon’s Dogma has something far different, perhaps even more aspirational than love for its player. Dragon’s Dogma has faith.

Dragon’s Dogma has faith that you’ll wander for miles trying to unearth its secrets. It honestly believes that you’ll journey to a remote tip of an island to fight a wounded griffin and then make a return trek when the story leads you there. It’s bizarrely certain you’ll be willing to play beyond a false ending to find the best hours of the game and the weirdest ending of the year (Frog Fractions notwithstanding).

I doubt that faith was well-founded for every Dragon’s Dogma player, but it certainly was with me. I, the guy who gets grumpy when he doesn’t have a mini-game to entertain him through a loading screen, found myself absorbed in a vast open world where “fast travel” is so cumbersome and expensive it scarcely deserves the name.

At some point, I had decided to meet Dragon’s Dogma halfway and somehow opening my heart to it allowed it to worm its way in and become my favorite gaming experience of the year.

Dragon’s Dogma has something far different than love for its player. Dragon’s Dogma has faith.

This isn’t Stockholm Syndrome, not really, Dragon’s Dogma has plenty of legitimately great facets. The combat is fluid and the wonderful way you can attack boss weak points while holding on to them for dear life is like streamlined Shadow of the Colossus. There’s also a cool advancement system that allows you to float between “jobs” like fighter or magician, take a few skills from each as you go and build a really unique character.

Then there are the pawns, AI partners that are the core of the game’s bizarre asynchronous multiplayer. With nary a word, Xbox Live friends could spirit away my diminutive mage Specialboy and add them to their own party. After these little sojourns, he would occasionally return with a gift and a note of thanks, though that was certainly the exception to the rule.

Of course, I could do the same and the more well-traveled pawns would not only bring an impressive skill set but knowledge about the world or quests that they’d previously completed in their own dimension. Capcom didn’t perfectly nail the execution, but it’s a wonderful idea to build off of.

That last sentiment is pretty representative of Dragon’s Dogma, actually. It’s a stridently imperfect game, a willful child that that simultaneously challenges and invites the player to love it. For that reason, Dragon’s Dogma will always hold a place in my heart as the game that taught me that more rough edges can make a game that much easier to hold on to.

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