Dark Souls Magic Guide

I don’t know everything, but I wanted to give this a shot.  Dark Souls guide for Beginners Magic.

There are 3 types of Magic: Miracles, spells/sorcery, and pyromancy.  Miracles grow based on Faith Stat, Sorcery Intelligence, and Pyromancy is like a weapon where how many upgrades you’ve placed on your pyromancy flame, that 0 weight glove, governs it’s effectiveness.

Why use magic?

Many classes start with room for one spell, with just a few points you could begin adding ranged magic, weapon/shield buffs, or healing spells to your arsenal which greatly increases your chances in the challenging world of Lordran.

What is right for me?

Miracles are for those with faith, the sort of white mage identity.  Whether a paladin or a true white mage this class focuses more on survivability and slowing or moving the enemy over damage.   Though there are several useful exceptions.

Sorceries are used more for damage, whether a ranged “soul arrow” type spell, or a weapon buff.  Though there are many spells of circumstance that are very useful, though only in several instances.  These are spells like fall control or light, or even the spells around stealth.

Pyromancy is newer to the series and more controversial, while many will choose to boost faith or intelligence for their magics pyromancy only requires points into attunement and upgrading your flame.  Definitely considered the cheap man’s magic it can be a great benefit to players who have started creating a character and found they might not be getting as much out of their character as they wanted.  But, if you really plan ahead pyromancy is a great benefit and often favored by speedrunners.

What type of magic do you want?

Paladin’s are white knights, following a set of rules they are like a magic knight.  They love fighting the undead and entering catacombs, often wielding armor with great poise.

Magic knights are basically knights that use buffs or spells as an addition to their fighting prowess.

Spellswords, these are the real half and half, using sorceries like homing soulmass so they can keep up a shield and maintain pressure on the enemy close up or from a distance.

Pure mages-light/cloth clothing, using magic with a light shield, Big Hat Logan is a pure mage.

The Ninja, using magic to enhance their stealth, they engage in reconnaissance on the enemy first then might even use undead rapport to bring in a friend for a moment.  They use every “trick” in the book and don’t care.  Light weight, ninja-flipping ninja.

 

So, obviously these are sort of vague, not necessarily all of these classes can’t be considered part of another one-what really is the difference between a Magic Knight and Paladin outside of D&D style gaming? Besides paladins using miracles and magic knights sorceries in Dark Souls? Not much.

You can design a class however you want.  Black Knight gear with pyromancy? Fine.  Ninja style but only miracles? Cool.  But in reality the constrictions are what the game creates.

Levels and such

You might want to use a spell that requires 16 intelligence, if you spend any points on your character to get this state those points can’t go into miracles(faith).  This is the real thing keeping people usually on just one path, Obviously you can mix and match lower level spells-but people really want to use those powerful upper-tier spells.

The highest level magic spell isn’t worth it, so don’t upgrade intelligence over 40, kill the Hydra to unlock Dusk, and use the Oolocille catalyst, then the starter “sorcerers catalyst” when it’s scaling kicks back in at 27 or so.  Dusk’s catalyst weighs way less, but beyond low level intelligence it just get’s outclassed.  Eventually Logan’s catalyst is the real deal, but you might not even decide to raise your intelligence to that level.  Still-he drops it at the end of his quest line and you probably want to pick up all of his spells just for the trophy/achievement. He’s located in Sen’s fortress-sells spells at Firelink for a while, then you have to rescue him from the Duke’s archives-where he will then start selling the high level spells.  Obviously the wiki has more information.

Similarly miracles pull you into the Way of white early-a covenant trying to deal with an expedition to the catacombs.  There’s a low level spell dealer at firelink, then provided you save her during the catacombs/tomb of giants escapade a trainer in the church at the top of the elevator from firelink.  Warning-buy her spells all at once, or in two trips, this is worth busting those brave warrior souls out for.  She will be killed and you won’t be able to get the rest of her spells until the next playthrough.  Damn, way of white is harsh.

Pyromancy is started by a trainer you save in the building linking lower undead burgh w/ the depths-if you’re not-NOT- a pyromancer he will give you a pyromancy flame every playthrough-these can be upgraded to the point of being ascended 1 time and traded w/ snuggly for a red titanite SLAB once a playthrough….then the better pyromancy comes from Quelana of Izaleth in the area of blight town right before queelag’s domain(sp?). She only appears after defeating the flame-puking naked-spider woman.  As well the covenant of chaos, located past the 2nd bell, will give you pyromancies for leveling up via feeding the leader(spider woman 2) humanity.  Possibly the best pyromancies come from this covenant-as well as a short cut  but that’s not this post.

So there’s way more but not for this beginners guide.  Just Check the wiki any time your in an area to make sure there aren’t any spells you should find.  Great magic weapon is in Anor Londo during the beam walking part and it’s a great upgrade over the basic magic weapon spell.  However Logan’s Crystal Magic Weapon spell is the real thing-that’s the spell that decimates the first playthrough.

About buffs-these don’t work like scaling but are a base number added to your normal damage.  There are magic and enchanted weapon upgrade paths-I’m only just trying them out-but enchanted is for higher intelligence, magic for low level.  Weapon buffs are great because your scaling from upgrading dexterity or strength still kick in, but the buff gives an extra amount of damage.  While buffs take up an attunement slot, the ability to add this extra damage on the fly is a great value.  As well, of the rings the original magic trainer sells for 20k souls a piece, one boosts sorcery damage, one boosts the length of buffs or similar effects.  If you’re just using magic for buffs and circumstantial magic this is the ring for you.

Basically all high level magic builds will have you pushing for certain things-headgear that boosts magic and rings that boost magic.  As well, the highest catalysts will halve your spell casts while doubling the damage power.  This causes a lot of problems for those that don’t understand well. So a bit about both.  I watched someone fighting Artorias, they had over 40 intelligence(already dumb) as well as a catalyst that doubled the damage but halved their casts.  The thing is Artorias is quick and when they missed a shot that meant they missed a lot of damage. It would have been more sensible in the long run to have used a normal catalyst because even if you missed sometimes it’s better to get some damage than none.  As well, if you are going to use the powerful catalysts for  a fight like that hang back, wait for a chance to strike, you don’t want to waste the chance.

As for the gear, dusk’s crown and Gwyndolyns head pieces raise magic damage at the cost of lowering magic defense.  I usually travel light at the point at which the numbers matter so much I switch to the head gear, but be careful about that.  I prefer to be able to roll and dodge the attacks, but if you decide to just put the crown of dusk on and try it out remember it’s effect because it does cause a lot of deaths.  A major part of offensive magic is making sure that when you can strike you do maximum damage.  In the beginning magic is about survivability, making sure you have health to keep fighting through ambush after ambush, or allowing you to kill from a distance with impunity not setting off these ambushes until you want to.

However, magic doesn’t automatically allow you to win.  You still need to understand the basics of timing and movement during combat.  Everyone’s seen the videos of a guy pulling up his catalyst and getting smashed by the enemy, or knocked off a cliff.  This is timing.  The only thing that helps is the dexterity stat, which increases casting speed.  This is why many who use magic choose a Dex based weapon, they get the most out of this boosted stat.

Spells of circumstance

There are times in this game when you need to disappear, or become somewhat impervious to flame, or create a noise to distract the enemy.  These spells are really useful, just make sure you pull them out of your attunement slots once you’re not using them, as there is nothing quite like pulling up a catalyst trying to get that soul arrow out and then noticing you’re glowing with a light on top of your head.  Yeah, that’s going to make running away harder too now, huh? The only other thing to mention about circumstance is the little white rings you see on the ground-that’s where somebody has cast a miracle recently connected to you in multiplayer.  Why does the game show that?  It allows you to cast a miracle there and get a 10% boost to power.  You usually see these before a boss fog, or right after, if you see one use it.

 

Covenant magic

Some covenants give out “powerful” magic, some of which only works while in the covenant.  Know which is which before going for that particular covenant because it can take a long time to rank up in some covenants.  Also a number of covenants give out the great faith based magic…If you have a character that is probably going in a faith way it would be of benefit to really spend some time researching which covenant works best and then attempting that group’s ranking process.  Almost all are based around multiplayer, or intended to anyways.  Sunlight blade is a very useful miracle, but do you want to spend the time on it?

 

Weapon selection

I am not a huge fan of new players trying to use builds, or trying to get specific weapons.  However, if you are going to be doing certain types of magic it wouldn’t hurt to know what the stat requirements are of the weapons you would want to use.  Though this all sort of rolls into the upgrade system in Dark Souls.  While not the best for experimentation, if you stick to the normal upgrade path for most weapons you can always throw a buff on the weapon.  If you try out weapons created with boss souls demon titanite will upgrade them, and there is a titanite demon you can farm in the game, so try these out if you want to.  Remember, in Dark Souls if a boss has a tail, cut it off.  If you are playing blind you can always look at these weapons after you pick them up/cut them off.

Final thought

Dark Souls can be punishing, especially if you create a character without putting some thought into it along the way, from accidentally using slabs on dumb things, to points in resistance you’ll never get back(every point will increase these stats AS WELL AS SOMETHING ELSE).  When you start a new character and haven’t tried magic, check out the trainers(or merchants) who show you what spells you can purchase.  If a low level one seems useful give it a try, and if you find an area is giving you a hard time early on see if one of these trainers might have a spell that could help.  While Dark Souls can seem quite a bit of a game without a guideline early on trying to figure out the magic system might be an easy way to figure out the rest of the game.  That said, in Dark Souls magic really is of the world, it fits with the setting and reading about the spells in the shops will give you a better idea of the world.  It’s fun to charge into battle knowing only your faith or intelligence stands between you and certain doom.

While learning the basics of magic might seem difficult in the beginning, it isn’t that much more difficult than the basic combat, and very rewarding if you crack this code.  That said, you might want to keep a bow handy.  Or several, poison arrows and everything.  using magic will make a lot of your damage be magic damage-some enemies are less susceptible to magic damage so a bow with a lighting upgrade or poison arrows can give you a different form of damage that might tip the scales since your magic output might not.

Rules-Always make sure you have physical damage weapons ready, experiment with what works for your.

Try to find what sort of magic works for you, then go after it whole heartedly.  It not only gives your character a sense of personality but another layer of survivability.

Finally, work with what you have.  This game doesn’t drastically change, you still have challenges you have to face and as always you need to figure out the best path-magic doesn’t change that fact, but it helps.  Know the rules, know the stats you need, and you have a goal to follow.  In a game as oblique as Dark Souls a goal can be a very powerful weapon.

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Dark Souls 2 & a little bit more Final Fantasy 7

I made it to the final disc(final dungeon, really) of Final Fantasy 7 and it’s drawing my attention to what people seem to say about the game: that it gave rise to a problem with visual fidelity being more important than gameplay, that cut-scenes were now a necessity.  I have to be honest these don’t seem to be why the game succeeded.

   The amount of time true cut-scenes as we think of them today, CG/no control/”directed”, take up in the game is probably less than 3 or 4 minutes at most.  Though there are longer sections where gamers watch the weird polygonal figures interact this was an outgrowth of where Final Fantasy games had gone in the past.  The real reason the game seems to have succeeded was the fact that you could play it however you wanted, as well as the differences in kind.  

   Whereas many games slowly raise the numbers on enemies and weapons/armor over time, which is a necessity to some extent, the game loves differences in kind.  From the variety of weapons to the different games found within the larger game the story constantly  pushes people to do things besides the main combat.  This might be the real problem with the game, you can only get people interested in towns or mini-games so much until eventually this original combat problem is recognized since many other games have moved on from turn based systems.  

   But I bred a Golden Chocobo.  I’ll never get that time back.  Seriously though my real goal is to beat the weapons, the optional bosses with huge amounts of health.  But the problem is that if you build your team up to take these optional bosses out you’re probably going to destroy the actual final dungeon.  Honestly, I probably passed up that possibility a while back.

   Though what I’ve been keeping up with is Dark Souls 2.  Eagerly anticipated, however you look at it, to either achieve or fail to live up to fan expectations.  While Demon’s Souls was really a dungeon crawler but Dark Souls expanded this idea into something better than it’s simple roots.  The parts of Demon’s Souls that worked were advanced into something quite unique but also all things to all people.

   Those that didn’t like it felt it was too similar, and too hard.  Those that liked it often had problems explaining to others why it was such a standout experience.  The game had it’s problems, from modded accounts ruining your day in PvP to trolls in PvP(notice a pattern) the real selling point of the game was the intriguing multiplayer component where summons could join your game(whether just for a boss or for a stretch in a level) to phantoms who invaded and caused havoc until someone died or the invaded bit the bullet and jumped through the boss fog.  Getting the game for the PS3 has been pretty stark.  Every time I’ve turned into a human, thus been able to be invaded, I’ve been invaded by someone with way better gear than me.  Low level invasions are the real problem with the game, since some people can fight through the difficult parts in the beginning and get to the better gear later in the game while others don’t even have their stats in suitable condition for multiplayer.   I’m more the latter, always willing to let my health slide so I can put one or two more points into magic or dexterity.  When I finally get my character’s other stats right then I finally pump the health, though this also allows for some real challenges on the bosses I decide to deal with before this.  

   However, when I first thought of getting the game I wondered if there would be people doing the weird, asymmetrical experience, would it just be me alone?  That’s been the real driving force behind this game, even months later people are still playing it, possibly for years.  I thought just because I didn’t play in the first 6 months the audience would dissipate like many other online audiences, but the Souls community doesn’t dissipate.  

   The community has in fact elevated, from the two English Wiki’s and at least one Japanese the community has spawned countless youtube videos and posts on every message board with even the slightest gamer culture.  This is a game that came out in 2011 and it’s still growing.  

   Part of this is due to the PC release, which when tied to a magical mod that allowed the game to run well, compared to how it ran on consoles, the people who had been posting youtube videos could now make really good looking videos meaning people could appreciate more about the experience of the game.  From actually being able to appreciate the environments to the games few NPCs, there was a renaissance in the souls community as more people realized this game was something they would like.

   Who were these people though?  Part of me thinks they had my path, Dark Souls coming out in 2011 one of the biggest years in gaming ever, it was easy to miss coming out within a month of Skyrim.  But the “slump” that was 2012’s first 2/3 allowed for some much needed re-examining of less popular titles from the year that brought us Skyrim, and I think Dark Souls really stood out in that market.  The audience that had played things like Skyrim were looking for something different, nothing would ever really get at what Skyrim could do, but the field was open when dealing with what Skyrim got wrong.

   Dark Souls was everything Skyrim got wrong.  From fast and fluid combat with real danger, to sparse and atmospheric areas interspersed with dungeons.  The first few minutes of Skyrim were all fanservice to Elder Scrolls fans, more or less, the first few minutes of Dark Souls showed an entirely new panteon rise, and then fall, before the player has any control.  Yet, this information has very little context within the first 1/3 of the game, basically not being brought up.  As well the game purposefully tries not to give players too much information about the world, allowing for a picture to form somewhat but not fully realized.  Though there are only a handful of NPCs in the game each is in the last legs of their journey, all approaching their death, or undeath if you will.  

   To hell with the Nords of Skyrim, a gamer might say having tasted their first well tested victory against a difficult opponent in Dark Souls, this is the real Viking bezerking.  But like I said, most of this audience grew over time, and over time the game began to be hailed as a classic, not a game that was too difficult but something for a select set of video game fans, those with time and possibly youth.  However, I really wonder if Dark Souls 2 can handle this new audience. 

   Are the first few minutes of Dark Souls 2 going to be full of fanservice to their community?  From the first advertisement played during the VGAs last year the Souls community has been mirred in tiny debates about tiny things.  Some dumb-like the fear that the player character won’t be a blank slate- some actually bothersome-like that the game is going to falter with a new director or that the ending of the original game might not really leave much room for…well…that’s not the type of blog I’m writing.  What matters is that this community that usually spends their time figuring out what katana is best in the game, or how to defeat a boss at the earliest possible time, is now dealing with something much tougher to talk about-there’s a game being targeted for at them.  

   It’s easy to decide you’re the “alternative” person.  TV and other media designed for most people leaves you feeling like an outsider, your views don’t fit with the majority, but those who are outsiders tend to find each other.  In some ways that’s what happened in the Souls community, everyone was connected because at one time or another they played these games and felt something, whether a charge of energy from defeating a difficult boss to noticing the little details developers scattered through the environment.  

   When Dark Souls was developed the success it was following was Demon’s Souls, a sort of advancement on a known quantity, but Dark Souls 2 is something else entirely.  Expanding on the core design components of the first game won’t necessarily mean this next game has the same popularity as the first, or that it’s considered a classic.  And I think there are a lot of people in the Souls community worrying that somehow any shortcomings of Dark Souls 2 will reflect back on Dark Souls.  That’s what I’ve been wondering about, obviously the adage that “George Lucas ruined my childhood” doesn’t make sense-if you have good memories in the past they can’t be unmade like that.  But I think some people are worrying that what was great about the game is a bit like a ball of yarn, they’ve built it up and if the new game starts pulling at it the whole fantasy of the first might come apart.  

   Honestly, I had a lot of problems with Dark Souls.  People have said that the game has a story, it doesn’t.  Hear me out, please.  Video games aren’t books.  They don’t work like a novel, needing certain things like characters and plotting and a world.  What Dark Souls has is meaning.  The game is a “mechanics as meaning” story, while I already stated I won’t spoil the game the 2 Souls games have final bosses that are that sort of thing.  These villains have stories, they have a world, our character supposedly comes from that world and spends the entirety of the game encountering and experiencing the problems of that world, but the story isn’t really changing you’re just defeating obstacles-most of which exist because the main villain created them/put them in motion.  

    This is what really makes Dark Souls stand out against the backdrop of so many other games.  Skyrim has a story, you’re the dragonborn, you meet up with a former member of the blades, go to the greybeards monastary, pick up an older guy who takes you to the blades old diggs, the Dragonborn holds a summit for the civil war in Skyrim, then captures a dragon and uses it to enter the afterlife to party with Olaf One-eye.  Yet, as a role playing game there are problems, you don’t really see the world change that much, nobody really realizes you’re different, you just don’t feel things change that much.  Yeah, you get way more powerful, calling a dragon whenever you want pretty much ends any conflict you get involved in.  But the point of the matter is not that much changes, dragons continually try attacking the character, and the realities of life in Skyrim continue.  Dark Souls works because you aren’t doing that much to change things, NPCs move from place to place, you enter into covenants, but the game doesn’t force any of this down your throat.  I remember in the Witcher 2 there’s a decision you make at the end of the first chapter that completely changes what happens in the game and the world actually looked completely different, a hint would be that it was on fire.  But your choice drastically affected the outcome of this section.  While Dark Souls didn’t give the player as many options as Skyrim, it didn’t pretend to either.  

   The other great aspect of souls games are the quests.  While Skyrim(not to pick on them) had a tab just for all the quests you’ve picked up a souls game doesn’t really tell you you’ve started a quest.  Often they take a long time to finish, but really they’re stories.  By keeping tabs on characters and seeing what happens to them you finish the quest, often rewarded with unique gear or upgrade materieals.  Though Skyrim has a plethora of very well done quests, and great quests that were stories, Dark Souls had some really interesting quests.  Exhibit A: The Onion Knight.  

   Siegmeyer of Catarina is is a knight.  Though most laugh at the “onion-like” shape of their armor, Catarinan armor is very sturdy.  The man is first noticed waiting outside a giant gate, a very stark image as every path in the game so far has lead to a lot of danger, but next to a church is a path that leads to a giant closed gate.  You can tell on your first game this is important.  When you ring the second bell the gate opens and you continue to run into him from time to time, every few time you meet he gives you something.  However, when you are in the Duke’s Archives you find a golden crystal golem, these are unique because people are imprisoned in these golems.  Breaking it open reveals Sieglinde of Catarina, his daughter.  She is on a quest to find her father, and this begins the B-story of this quest as you keep running into his daughter.  While Siegmeyer has a way of seeming at once ready to tackle the problems of this world and at the same time expressing a need to be very careful, Sieglinde is all business as finding her father is important.  The reality, as you come to understand, is that he’s going hollow, he is slowly losing his humanity.  Expelled from these knights his daughter is chasing him down, possibly to spend some time with him before he’s gone, possibly to end his plight, possibly on a blood mission for the knights of Catarina.  However, Siegmeyer has progressed to Ash Lake, the entrance to the Way of the Dragon covenant, joined by those attempting to find the secrets of the immortal ancient dragons.  Presumably Sieg was going to lay himself before the Dragon if possible, and find a way to survive.  But when you make it to Ash Lake Sieglinde sits next to his corpse on this likely last leg of her journey too, now, if you’ve been as helpful as possible to Siegmeyer you get her Titanite Slab and can now smith the highest tier of weapons or armor.  I think it’s a double meaning, not only is she giving you this as a reward for paying attention, but she’s giving up on using it herself, without any family, and far from home, she’s possibly not going back to Catarina.

   That’s the type of story you get from a quest that happens in Dark Souls, and it’s entirely interpretation, I am right about some of it, but so many things, like where is Sieglinde going and why Siegmeyer ended up in this game, leave you scratching your head.  I really hope Dark Souls 2’s development team understand how important stories like this were in giving meaning to the original game.  That would really have me excited.

 

Dragon’s Dogma

So I was wondering about Dragon’s Dogma back when it came out, the reviews were mixed to be sure, but I was instead moved to get into Dark Souls and Fallout: New Vegas.  Great games, games changing how I thought about games, but I saw a video recently that made the game look good(the DLC on the way didn’t hurt) and decided to purchase a used copy.  

DD comes from CAPCOM who are infamous now for creating DLC which is partially on the disc you bought, but for DD they seem to have waited on fan opinions to create the DLC.  For one thing the new DLC, Dark Arisen, will apparently deal with the travel problems.  That’s kind of a big deal because this game is uneven to say the least.  

I’ve been watching a lot of videos lately about game design, AI, and more and I’ve gotten into a new space when thinking about games-I don’t want to just think about gaming as a narrative and gameplay but about choices the developers created for you.  The way devs shape these choices would be the closest thing to an auteur theory in gaming.  While story is definitely an important aspect of a game, it’s nowhere near as important as mechanics and gameplay and player choice or agency-all of which are design decisions as compared to story.  Story seems to be something less important to games in many ways.  For one the game is in flux for much of the development so creating a great character doesn’t matter if his entire area has to be cut due to memory or performance issues.  And plot has a similar problem in that many elements are coming together at any one time so set pieces or events or areas might have to be changed which screws up any plans from before development began. 

So when one begins playing Dragon’s Dogma there is an opening salvo where you are a fully formed arisen, the player character, with a full party-more on that later-going after a dragon.  And before you realize it your fighting monsters, and eventually getting to a big part of the combat-fighting a big monster you can climb on.  Grappling onto your monsters is a big part of combat.  This game can allow players to attack from far away, but also to jump right on the monster and go for the critical areas-or throw your party members onto the monsters while maintaining distance yourself.  This sort of gives a Shadow of the Colossus feel-though never really that epic.  But most games won’t be that epic ever.  

But before going to fight a dragon the story moves on to the actual player character creation.  Once you’ve designed you’re character it’s time to watch a cutscene, where flying monsters and a giant dragon explode from a void opened up in the sky.  The player character lives in a fishing village, the duke’s men are looking for soldiers to help in the wyrm hunt, but the dragon shows up.  The action is now interactive and for a few seconds you get to use those grappling skills to fight the big boss-but the cutscene soon pops back up and the dragon flings the protagonists onto the shore.  To add insult to injury, or just injury to injury he spends the tiniest amount of effort to pierce the heart of our here-a super bloody act.  There’s now a goal to get your heart back.  Yeah, you survive.  It’s not a second opening scene that’s unconnected, you play the arisen, a prophesied figure who can slay the dragon-and get their heart back.  

Once you wake up in your village of Cassardis you pick your class and start picking up simple quests and getting urged towards the capitol of Gran Soren.  So the next hour of the game spins you through the motions of getting to Gran Soren and learning combat and weapon skills.  Though the innovation for this game is the pawn system.  Just like you created your character you can create a character AI will control that will forever be in your party and you can pick up 2 other pawns from other gamers(or created by CAPCOM).  

People technically rent pawns using a specific currency, any pawn under your level is free and a level or two above is still cheap, but the best way to get currency for better pawns is having a pawn people want to rent.  When you let  a pawn go you not only give the creator a gift item but a rating(if you want) so that good pawns get to a higher level of notice via rankings.  You want your pawn wearing the best gear possible, using the best spells or skills, just like you want your character optimized.  When the game came out people posted videos about how to get hundreds of thousands of Rift Crystals(currency for pawns) by creating pawns people would choose.  However, now that the game has been out for a year it’s been pretty hard to get those sorts of rewards for my pawn, interest is down, people have given up the game, and if nobody is renting your pawn those rewards won’t come.  This doesn’t mean I haven’t had the best pawn possible, or that I didn’t get lucky once and get over 150,000 crystals once, but I imagine there would have been better numbers if more people were playing.  Why aren’t people playing then?

The game is really uneven.  There’s no great travel method in the game, though once you beat the game you get more options.  Fast travel, which Skyrim will let you do for free and opens up in Dark Souls about 1/3 the way through, costs a lot of gold, especially in the early game. You can only fast travel to a Port Crystal-and you only get one on New Game. New Game + the number goes to 10, so you can travel to Gran Soren and 10 other spots at ease.  At ease so long as you get a ferrystone, 20K gold(or less but that’s involved).  So you’re first game you spend a lot of time just walking around, running until you’re out of breath, fighting camps of goblims, the occasional big monster, and then getting to your destination. Then, you walk back the exact same way, through the big monster, the goblins, and finally back home to hand in that quest.  Unless you want to wast the gold you need for upgrading your weapons you are going to walk everywhere-heck you walk everywhere from the capitol until you get your first Port Crystal about 2/3 through the main story.  If the terrain was more varied, if the capitol was actually centrally located, if there was just some other way to travel that was unlockable at some point this process of fighting the same monsters you are obviously more powerful than after the first few levels wouldn’t be such a big part of the game.  But it is, dealing with traveling and fighting these basic monsters will take up so much space between the main quests.

The other thing between the main quest chain are the side quests.  Fetch quests, escort quests, just fairly boring stuff for the most part.  Having gotten through my second run of the main quest I’ve found that if one of these quests isn’t easily doable, forget about it.  You’ll end up getting people killed who sell things-like cheap ferrystones, and just reload from a save.  Otherwise they’re the types of quests that just get completed-kill 10 of this, 3 of those, 1 of ????…good for XPs but not really interesting or fuelling the narrative’s complexity or depth.  

That said it can’t really be expanded, the dragon is come, and a group called Salvation is ruffling up the people of Gransys with spys and espionage and cultism.  Gransys and it’s neighbors are a world where monsters exist, and the several countries that do work will come to each others aid if a big monster-dragon-shows up.  Though normally they spend their armies on fending off the monsters at the edges of their realms.  With the dragon(or wyrm as the game calls it) having come back these monsters are moving into the area people live in and the only way to bring the world back is to banish the dragon.  Moving through the main quest sees the hero grow to a big monster hunter with him and his pawn having great knowledge of every kind of monster-but also learning more about the intrigue of the local government and what being the arisen means.  And yes, it is Chrislike though the game attempts to hide it.  You are a fisherman, you come back from the dead.  It’s not terribly hard to see.  The problem with the quests is aside from the main quests and a few key side-quests there isn’t much in the way of learning about the world. 

This game has so many NPCs and I don’t want to talk to any of them.  They’re awful and all speak in an awful faux Olde English using “aught” and “naught” way too much.  And to be honest the pawns in your party will talk way too much.  I don’t need to hear about how aught grows in the forest, I’m level 100 I know forests are full of curative agents.  One of my least favorite NPCs is the guy in Gran Soren you use for lodging.  Nighttime is important in Dragon’s Dogma as where wolves might have populated an area by the road after dark skeletons and zombies will show up, where once bandits stood now phantasms and sorcerers appear.  This would be pretty fun if night time wasn’t super dark.  You carry around a lantern, but this doesn’t help much beyond about 2 yards circling you.  While you can give a lantern to everyone in your party that would require a lot of fuel which is a lot of weight.  Its just a bad lighting system inherent in the game, and something designed possibly to create difficulty and tension just becomes a muddy and confusing mess the more you actually deal with it.  While the trip to Gran Soren the first time should have you dealing with the darkness just as you get to the castle gates, and thus the zombies surrounding the place, extended time in the dark isn’t as spooky later but it’s so tiring.  The mechanic could have been so much more interesting.

So when you find someone who allows you to rest for the night on the road you use them, but I really felt like I should have been able to make camp. You can actually collect kindling during the game, I feel making camp could have worked, but then you might not get the second benefit of these hostel keepers-changing your vocation.  As a JRPG there are vocations, classes.  Unlike a game like Skyrim where you choose what you want to advance each class has specific growth stats, striders get way more stamina but warriors more health.  Though one of the great things about the game is the class system which lets you switch back and forth, using great gear you find that’s only applicable to specific classes or advancing classes to get their rewards, something the game doesn’t make clear is that these choices won’t change your stats later.  If your character has been a mage for 40 levels, but you decide magic isn’t for you at all you will never get those points back for health and stamina.  Though this does create that sort of improvisational feel if they would have provided more information on this upfront I think people would be much more focused to how long they play as certain classes.  However, this does allow for interesting builds to form.  Though there are only so many high end weapons and I learned the hard way that even with 22 levels of magic before level 100(where all vocations growth drastically drops off) my character would never really get the most out of magical weapons.  Which wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t already have the best pure damage weapon.  D’oh.  

And these vocations aren’t even, though the warrior gets the best growth for health they have a severely limited move set of 3 fighting skills, which means you are super limited.  I wish there was a more visceral type of warrior with better moves, but it just doesn’t exist for DD-warriors are purely tanks designed to soak up damage and aggro.  But each class allows for purchase of specific skills and augments-skills are always active once purchased, and augments are somewhat more limited with only a handful turned on at any time and yet usable with any class.  So even if the warrior was a fairly boring character it gives players some great augments useful to whatever style they want to use later on. But at what cost?

These augments and weapon skills can be changed anywhere you can sleep at basically, with vocations only changeable in Gran Soren.  The problem is every time you speak to that NPC he wants to say something, every single time.  Having to skip through his conversation is incredibly tiring the thousandth time, and all the NPCs are that way.  You can talk to them but you don’t have any choice in what to say, just whether you want to take on the sidequests they might provide-and giving them gifts as well to increase their affinity for you.  There is a romance aspect of the game, but whoever has the highest affinity is chosen, so even if I’ve done everything to raise my relationship with the girl with a rapier that a princess from another country if I talk to the guy who sells ferrystones after her that guy shows up as my romance.  Yeah, kind of weird and un-romantic.  It’s like Japan heard Bioware has these intricate romance relationships within their games creating a romantic metagame and somehow the signals got crossed.  So while the game has way more characters then something like Dark Souls, which also doesn’t give you any option in what you say to NPCs, the actual relationships and connections are much more superficial.  What sets these characters apart in Dark Souls is over time you piece together the story of their NPCs, each a dark and tragic saga of a world going mad, whereas DD just makes you mad that you’re expected to listen to the same things over and over.  Once again it’s like they just didn’t test elements of this game enough with different people.

Though the equipment enhancing is another story, as weapons get better the amount of gold required to upgrade them rises but also the materials required become more rare.  So if you really want to upgrade an item you will begin scouring the DD wiki looking for where the items are found.  When you fight a dragon there’s a chance your equipped gear might get upgraded to the highest level-Dragonforged.  While any gear upgraded once has a chance, unless you’ve upgraded the gear 2-3 times already there’s really a small chance the gear will get upgraded, however when you defeat the dragon who stole your heart you get every piece of gear dragonforged, as well as high level dragon versions of whatever you’re wearing just asking to be dragonforged.  And while upgrading gear wouldn’t be a problem normally, considering ever item uses different materials to enhance you never sell materials since they might be used in upgrading something down the line.  This means the random system keeps you kind of poor.  However eventually the need for XPs and the need to dragonforge your equipment has you running around hunting the biggest monsters you can find.

Which isn’t a problem because this starts the post-game, not New Game + but post-game, an area called the Everfall is now open and the world drastically changed, higher level monsters are everywhere, many more dragons just roaming around for dragonforging that new gear, or attempting to.  But the Everfall is the big attraction, a multi level dungeon full of end game gear and weird combinations of enemies.  This is the most fun part of the game.  Though each dungeon looks almost the same the sheer ease of getting to the enemies makes it so much fun.  Now you don’t have to run around if you don’t want to, place that ONE PORT CRYSTAL in the right spot and you might now be able to hit up 2-3 big monsters in one run, and after that jump through the Everfall when you stock back up on healing items and fight 4-5 more.  The game finally feels like it’s opening up, and it’s over.  

Though the Everfall has one more treasure in the Ur Dragon.  A giant dragon(ok just as big as the final dragon) that when beat gives you really good gear. However if you’re playing online there’s a tougher version that gives even better gear just for hurting it and surviving. The Online Ur Dragon has so much health that everyone on the server fights him at once, not together, but the monster has to constantly check the server to see what everyone is doing to it.  On top of that every time the Online Ur Dragon is defeated a new generation arrives with more health.  When I first fought the Online Ur Dragon it was the 200th generation.  Landing the killing blow gives you the best gear in the game, dragonforges every item you’re wearing and gives you pretty great bragging rights since each generation is tougher whoever finished off the last dragon is the king of the hill.  

But all this is post-game, yeah the post-game sets up the true understanding off an arisen, it explores how the actions of the main quest culminated, and sheds some light on Gransys, but not that much.  I wish I could say the explanations for the world, for the arisen were interesting but not so.  I really felt it was too little too late in an attempt to make sense of this world and why you would want to be here.  

A big part of RPGs is abnegation, playing a game where you get rewarded by raising your level and stats, by having things like side quests that create easily definable goals to tick off.  Over the years the RPG in Japan grew very different from the RPG in the west.  Though both came from table top roots in role playing success of narratives in Japanese games meant their industry trended towards games with clear and defined protagonists.  While in the west it was much more like a game of D&D: you created a character and role played with them.  These developers focused on creating compelling experiences by giving variety of play based on expecting gamers to perform as such.  In Japan after Final Fantasy VII, the Playstation game that rewarded players with cut-scenes for completing challenges(something new at the time), their entire industry trended towards that sort of story telling.  However, this became very expensive in later cycles and western developers could expand to include also good combat, interesting worlds and characters, even good stories.  Final Fantasy games are now just a collection of cut scenes with battles along the way that play very similar to the original games that are around 30 years old-only with better graphics.  

In recent years both branches of the RPG genre have been created by various different regions-western style RPGs now coming out of Japan.  Dark Souls is an example of this, and CAPCOM seems to have wanted to follow this trend but without putting the money or time into the process.  I can’t really say, but with the new DLC supposedly responding to fan feedback I hope this has been a learning experience.  Though the tech demo shown at the Sony PS4 conference appears that they’re moving more towards copying Dark Souls, if the demo is to be believed.  Dragon’s Dogma though is worth a play, maybe wait for the version to drop containing the expansion on the disc, no need in wasting money on a used game that’s probably priced the same.  

When I finally finished the Everfall I decided I wanted my character to build up some magic skills, that meant a New Game +.  New Game +, NG+, is an interesting phenomenon.  Basically you keep your first character and their equipment and start the game over.  On Dark Souls this means the enemies get tougher, and progressively tougher on each subsequent NG, though some games try different things out.  For Borderlands and Borderlands 2 NG+ is for building your character up to MAX level, once the game is completed a second time all the chests in the world switch to MAX level allowing for versions of guns way better than anything previously as well as all enemies moving to this status allowing you to use those guns for fun to kill enemies to get better guns at that level(yeah, BL is confusing that way since you just beat enemies you’ve already beat building up a weapons cache for no real reason).  

Dragon’s Dogma uses NG+ basically as a chance to start a class you haven’t prepared for at all.  If I had just switched to a mage in my first game every enemy would have killed me-but NG+ let me run around fighting enemies I had a chance on(though my health was way too much for these guys now to stand a true chance).  Also that whole problematic traveling changes since you can buy those extra Port Crystals and set up easy travel.  You’re second playthrough is a fraction of the time of the first-all the gold from those endless dungeons post-game means ferrystones and upgrades are a binary choice.  Also the Port Crystals cary over to any more NG+s so you no longer have the same travel problems ever.  

This is whats weird about the game’s final design.  The dungeons are so fun in post-game but the main game world is basically dungeon-free.  They’re obviously good at creating this sort of stuff they could have figured how to make it work.  All the walking and the day/night cycle would work if monsters randomly spawned-if there was a chance the 30 minute treks wouldn’t be the same but they basically always are.  Yet post-game ups the challenge why not have more random events to make the walking interesting?  In Skyrim people just show up as you walk, maybe a guy hands you a sword to hold then a guard talks to you and says he’s looking for that criminal.  Or monsters fighting each other and bandits in Borderlands-Dragons Dogma basically fills the world with pawns walking around waiting to be rented.  Yeah, it feels like there’s people populating the world, but they’re just going to tell you about aught in the forest if you enlist them.  They won’t help you out if a monster shows up, and monsters jump right past them to chase after you.  The world is littered with outposts full of guards and military, but most won’t have quests for you, or even much story info-wheras most games have gotten to a point where they know how to use environmental storytelling.  There was basically none of that with pawns piping in to tell you things every so often.  That’s really quite lazy.  There is a religion in this world, there are old gods, there are other nations with political intrigue, but none of it gets explored.  And for a game where the entire country is surrounded by water you never unlock any sort of boat or shipman to help you get around.  Even if it just cut 15 minutes off a walk that would have helped so much.

So in the end Dragons Dogma lacked a focus.  While some systems were quite polished others were just lazy.  I remember fighting the Ur Dragon and clinging onto him, but the camera couldn’t see me because it was caught on his wing.  Yeah, that broke the immersion of what was supposed to be a big deal of the combat in all the advertisements, but also that meant I had no control of my character moving around his body since up and down would just feed back and forth as the camera got caught on the wing no matter how far I pushed in either direction. I mean that’s the games big go-to technique on its main boss and they didn’t have any way to deal with the camera on that?  To be honest you really can’t control the camera, not in an options menu anyways. As well there are moments in the story where they take the camera control out of 3rd person and find a fixed point in front of you so that you run towards the camera with a monster behind you.  The problem is the game knows that the monster would get in the cameras way, yet this ruins the tension that the chase is supposed to create.  When designing things like that developers need to stay away from these “lose lose” propositions.  Same thing with quick-time events in general: even if it allows for doing things not within the games systems or controls drawing attention to what the game lacks is not the right way to deal with these issues.  It’s a person designing based on what they want to do instead of what they can do, like I was saying about story you can’t create the story but you can create a game then allow a story to work with it.  

Dragon’s Dogma really suffers from the things it gets wrong, the NPCs, the weak world-creation, the lame world design, and not planning ahead enough. Also the game doesn’t quite nail down what it wants to be.  Is it a super-hard Dark Souls game, is it a true open-world RPG, is it a party based MMO-like?  Though the influences are obviously there, and the blends are unique and rewarding at times, they also allowed some of the worst parts of these games to come over.  Dark Souls can have boring interactions with NPCs because the NPCs have great stories, Skyrim also can have the same because some NPCs are more dynamic and every story at least has decent writing and crafting behind it whereas no NPC in Dragon’s Dogma is worth the time of day.  If they would have thrown in a few more dungeons, re-thought the world map, and maybe even put more energy into weapons and vocations and combat-all of which they more or less did excellent at-this would be an incredible game.  

Instead CAPCOM is trying to sell gamers DLC that probably should have come as a patch, and more dungeons that should have been in the original or on DLC months ago.  However, if they did listen to reviews and criticism, fan feedback from people who really enjoyed the game and found a rewarding experience amongst all the disparate shards of experiences, I hope they continue to support games in this manner.  Specifically this game.  I know it’s far-fetched but I bet they could make challenge dungeons as DLC and people would buy it if the new content really does fix the games deficits.  And with everyone eying the future, optimistic at new consoles and new IPs, I hope this game gets another chance.  Yes, there are lots of problems that will drive you nuts at times in the game, and the story isn’t rewarding at all, and NPCs(just NPCs), but the combat is excellent.  The feeling when your pawn has come back with all 5 star ratings and you know you influenced another persons game positively, it’s really cool.  

Oh yeah, one last thing.  The game has 1 save file.  Released in 2013, if you select New Game and selected a save device with a loaded save file it gets overwritten.  Yeah, you could create a save on another drive(probably should every couple of days if I think about it) but that’s not very likely.  I know this is supposed to be a design choice focused on experience in some way but its just awful.  Like the loads of walking it’s just all bad.  The game doesn’t save super-often and I don’t think you can change that.  It has what are called checkpoint saves, leaving the city or entering it count, entering or exiting a cave or dungeon-but beyond that you have to save if you want to protect your progress.  However, if you realize you messed up you have to quit without saving and re-load.  If that load didn’t fix whatever mistake you made you need to go into the save menu and load up the checkpoint save-if that doesn’t work you are screwed.  However, when you move on to post-game you are given a sword which is used entirely for killing yourself.  Seriously.  If you’ve ever played a game where you have to get loot from chests you might recall saving in front of a chest and opening the chest-then quitting and reloading to open the chest again.  In Dragon’s Dogma you can save yourself so much time buy using that sword to kill yourself, selecting retry on the death menu and re-opening the chest.  This technique doesn’t screw with your stats either.  It’s interesting that the game did something like this which really does think about the end-user experience.  One of the worst parts of Borderlands 2, probably a big reason why I quit playing that game, is that so many times the developers didn’t think about that sort of stuff.  Yeah, that suicide technique doesn’t force good gear to appear in chests, but it does save you a minute or so ever time re-loading would have happened meaning you can be saved an hour worth of time if you’re looking for any 1 item-that’s hours and hours of time if trying to get multiple pieces of end-game gear.  And it’s a good thing because if you are playing a game for abnegation and just opening chests b/c you don’t feel like fighting a dragon right now you might as well spend that full time getting gear and not loading and re-loading.  

That’s something that really says to me that they’re thinking deeper about this game, yeah the overall experience suffered from a few decisions not really thought out-players didn’t need filler quite so much or at least better quality-but there are a few gems of ideas in the game.  Play it if you get a chance and want to see those ideas and build a party to take down monsters.  There’s definitely some strategy in this game.  However, don’t go in expecting too much from the elements that aren’t fleshed out-you’re not wrong in the first hour of the game about those things they won’t get fixed any time soon.  But hopefully in a year or two the company throws fans of this game a bone, because there really needs to be a version of this world that’s more evenly developed and the people who sat through 20 hours of walking when this game came out deserve to play that game.