Dragon’s Dogma is ten years old now, and frankly, the world has not learned enough from this gem of a game. Released a mere six months after Skyrim (we’ll get back to this), Dragon’s Dogma put the player into a dark fantasy world filled with necromancy, dragons, chimaeras, classes, and some of the best lines of NPC dialogue in existence like the mighty “they’re masterworks all, you can’t go wrong.”
Ow, My Heart
Dragon’s Dogma has one of the most absurd storylines going. There are time-travel implications, multiverse-potential, and also you don’t need your heart to survive for some reason. It’s hard to explain how you get from “I need my heart back” to, “I need to kill or become god” because frankly, while it makes sense at the moment, the second you leave that moment it sounds like a fever-dream.
That’s getting ahead of things a bit; let’s talk about the opening hours. After having your heart yoinked out of your body by a giant dragon, a dragon that you can climb on because Dragon’s Dogma is basically perfect, you have to set off to get it back. You immediately come across beings called pawns, creatures which look like humans but have no will of their own. You can send these pawns across space and time to learn about quests, areas, and monsters too, and they can bring that knowledge back to you. It’s a glorious system that works to make the game feel like you’re adventuring with a group, even though it’s a single-player game.
You venture out onto the open roads and fend off goblins, wolves, bandits, and whatever else you come across. While it is an open world, it’s a far smaller one than many others in that subgenre. It’s got a lot more purpose, because there are random chests to find, strange quests to stumble onto, and monsters to find. It’s not about getting a 0.5% increase to a stat or a weird currency for something you hardly understand. It’s about the joy of discovery, and the sheer ecstasy of getting stronger and stronger and having gigantic benchmark monsters to test that on, monsters you can climb on to fight, or summon meteors at.
One of the first quests you have ends up with you fighting off a damn hydra as it crashes into your camp, cutting off its head, and then carting that head off to the capital for props. Then you end up getting pranked by a weird little jester who puts a stupid hat on you. Do you know how unbelievably good that sequence is, or how good the characters are in general? If you don’t, then you need to go and play it.
Then there’s the class system too. You start off with your basic rogue, warrior, and mage archetypes. But you then unlock the ability to either specialise in those classes, or pick one that’s between two of them. The latter allows you to become a knight that summons a magical orb that spits out homing projectiles, or a magick archer that can shoot ethereal arrows to strike down their foes. It’s a joy to play around with, and the ability to take different passive buffs from different classes offers a great deal of flexibility and freedom when building your own character.
A Different Open World Philosophy
There’s a risk of this going off the rails here and just being a love letter to Dragon’s Dogma, and while it sort of is, I actually want to talk about the design of the open-world versus the likes of Skyrim, which I think we can all safely agree has been the inspiration for most open-world adventures in the last decade, especially every iteration of Skyrim.
Skyrim has a fairly good open world, but while it is replete with things to find, the end result of many of these excursions is a minor fetch quest or a marginally better sword. Frankly, the sheer scale of it means that you’re likely to find things you never use, because the scope is too big. This is a key part of a lot of bloated games now, where there are 3,000 things to do, but all of them give you essentially nothing, or a deeply dissatisfying stat boost. There are discoveries, sure, but they’re marked on your map, and they’re so rarely worth finding.
That’s been the case in so many games in the last decade, and I blame Skyrim. If Dragon’s Dogma had become more of an inspiration we’d be living in a different world. The open worlds would be smaller and denser, and every discovery would have a strange boss to fight, fun weapons to use, and respect for your time.
The only game that’s really followed the Dragon’s Dogma theory of worldcrafting in the last decade literally launched this year; Elden Ring. We could be living in a world that spits out new worlds like Elden Ring every year, and instead, we’re left with the weird hybridisation of Skyrim and Far Cry 3. Do not cry because of what we have, but mourn the potential wasted because not enough people have played Dragon’s Dogma. I guess that’s the message I’m going for here.
Could everyone just email Capcom and beg for Dragon’s Dogma 2, please? We nearly got that instead of Devil May Cry 5, and while DMC 5 is great and all, I need to be able to climb up some giant dragon legs soon.
Haven’t played it? Now’s your chance. Grab Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen for PC here, it’s like the original game but with a ton of bug fixes, some quality of life improvements, and a huge meaty dungeon expansion that’ll test your Arisen’s power. Get it for less when you shop with Green Man Gaming and embark on an adventure that’ll stay with you for the rest of your life.