Why Does Dragon's Dogma Hate Me?
I'd already heard the warnings from friends and fellow writers. I'd seen the reviews and played the demo, but that only piqued my curiosity. For better or worse, there was something special about Capcom's attempt at an epic RPG, and I was determined to discover it for myself. Deep down I knew I was headed down a dark path, but I wasn't wholly prepared for how dark it would be. Dragon's Dogma, it turns out, hated me from the start.
Like the start of any abusive relationship, it had some promise. The character creation tool was quite flexible. I was surprised when my finished product, an attempt to recreate Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, not only looked decent, but nearly matched that character's tiny stature. Hell, if I wanted to, I could have played the entire game as a small child—how cool is that?
The game's opening cutscene featured stunning cinematography typical of polished Japanese titles like Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil, but rare in these kinds of fantasy RPGs. It set up an interesting premise in which the hero's heart is stolen by a dragon. The dragon challenges him to a battle to win it back. Shortly after, a black hole opened and spat out a pawn; a recruitable party member designed by another Dragon's Dogma player.
The opening hour of Dragon's Dogma lived up to all my bizarre hopes and dreams. I wanted something unconventional and I seemed to be getting it. It didn't help that for all the Skyrim comparisons, Dragon's Dogma clearly had more in common with games like Dark Souls and Monster Hunter, Japanese series that many Westerners tend to misunderstand. In those opening hours I used that knowledge as a barrier to shield me from Dogma's many questionable design choices. I was giving it the benefit of the doubt but its terrible truths would soon be revealed.
My first hint of trouble occurred as I made the long journey from the game's starting town to Gran Soren, the major hub city where most of the quests begin. A stamina meter turned that journey into an endless staccato of quick sprints and painfully slow strolls. Sometimes my hero would stop to catch his breath, head between his knees, right in the middle of a battle. As I collected items off of my dead foes, items whose importance was not yet clear to me, my character became encumbered at an alarming rate. Under the weight of a few flowers, rocks, and potions, my stamina bar was draining faster than ever.
This constant, imposing limit on my ability to travel and fight continued from that first journey through to the final moments of the game. My character never gained the strength to carry more than his gear and a handful of healing items. His constant travels didn't give him an ounce of additional cardio training. His three pawns helped as pack mules, but they had little issue with drinking all the potions themselves in a matter of minutes.