This shelf goes back two-deep by the way
While I love owning a grand and vast collection of games, it begs the question: "Will I ever play these again (or at all!)" Then I feel guilty about owning so many games in the first place. Why do I keep them? Because I'm a gaming scholar and academic? Because I might actually have time someday to play them to completion again?
Well, rather than waiting until I'm too old to hold a controller, I'm going to be playing through my gaming collection NOW. But since time is precious, I'll only be playing the first hour of them. This isn't a new idea - there are other "one hour review" sites on-line such as FirstHour.net and One-Hour Game Reviews but none of them look at the game from the game designers perspective or offer up solutions on how to make them better.
So, let's get started and I'm going to randomly pick a game...
Game: Dragon's Dogma
Developer: Hideaki Itsuno/Capcom internal team
I remember seeing Dragon's Dogma at E3 2011 and played it at the show. For some reason, it reminded me of old-school D&D and it was on my "keep an eye on" list. However, I never got around to picking it up. Too many other games to buy, I guess. This spring, my brother game me a copy of Dragon's Dogma. I forget the reason why he didn't continue playing it - whether it was too gory or too complicated. He either drops a game within a few hours of playing or finishes them to the end. Let's find out what made him stop playing.
First of all, I like the cover. A heroic knight wielding a sword against a Dragon who is about to breath fire. Exciting! The game's title is a bit odd, but since this is a Japanese game I've heard stranger titles. The manual is full-color - I appreciate that since it is a rariety in this day and age. However, we're not here to read manuals! We're here to play!
I fire up the game and after the obligiatory Playstation 3 update (surprisingly short for this game) the game checks my hardware for free space and something called "trophy installation" (?) The start screen features the game's logo, a traditional pan-around of the world accompanied by an orchestral score that oddly turns into a pop-rock song music video. This is my first clue that this game might be a bit unusual. If I were looking for a straight-up medieval actioneer or RPG, the wailing guitars might make me think twice...
After a load, I'm given a page full of community updates. A bit annoying since I rarely play multiplayer modes. Hitting the X button skips this big block of text to arrive at the Main Menu where the shadow of a dragon flits against a relief of a dragon. Flames (from a dragon?) spray embers across the screen. I get it. There is going to be a dragon in this game. I am offered to select the difficulty level (I choose Normal) and proceed. Now I have to connect to the Playstation Network. It's getting a bit old, all of this selecting and choosing... okay the loading screen with a quote about an army that was going to slay a dragon but was crushed comes up and then a quote is displayed and what's this? Ten minutes later and we're finally into gameplay...
OK, we're ready to play (this is after all the text has faded)
... Where I am barraged with a ton of information! A radar screen, a whole controller's worth of commands, text from a henchman who asks if I have a lantern? Do I? Before I can respond, the text fades away. How do I get a lantern? I assume select button (it might have been shown to me, but it went by so fast I didn't catch it) - which brings up another inventory screen with at least seven elements all flashing NEW on them. Whew. Too much info at once, developers. After two more button presses (one to use and one to confirm) I finally have a lantern equipped.
Controls are pretty straight forward - one stick moves character, other moves camera. If I hold shoulder buttons down I get a whole range of sword and shield related moves - from a charging attack to smacking my sword on my shield in some sort of taunt? OK, well time to actually start playing.
My AI partner smashes a box. I follow suit. (Time to crate? 1 second.) One day, there's going to be a game where the mighty hero isn't inflicting property damage on crates and jars in order to steal everything that isn't nailed down. The AI partner tells me we're at our journey's end. Wait, didn't I just start this game? Oh, it's a boss at the beginning. Great. That means I'm going to lose all my stuff aren't I?
We round a corner to see a dragon. Holy crap, that guy is big! Fortunately, he flies away before I can smite him. (or he eats me) We run down a side path where we find two goblins and slaughter them. I thought I was here to fight a Dragon? I jump down into a grotto where the AI partner tells me to touch a stone. Sorry, I was too busy smashing crates to see what you were talking about. My stone touching summons two more AI characters - an archer and a guy/girl with a funny hat. Must be a magic user. Now all three of them are telling me where to go. Great. A crowd. By using the d-pad, I can boss them around. More controls for me to forget. However, they do come in helpful. The wizard zaps goblins with lightning and Salde (my AI friend) holds enemies so I can brutalize them with my sword. For all the moves, the character has, combat is a bit too simple. I just mash the square and triangle buttons - both attacks seem to accomplish the same thing and there's very little need to defend. Also the player's weapon goes through anything making the world feel very insubstantial.
We make our way though a castle filled with dead guys and another cutscene (the dragon saunters by) plays. We save a dude from some goblins, but unlike these others, he doesn't follow us. ??? Once we pass through the castle, we are attacked by a snow harpy. We knock it to the ground (somehow my sword is now flaming) and beat the living crap out of it. After blowing myself up by hitting a red barrel, we come across a room full of goblins and harpies. We are joined by more knights who fight along side us. (I am picked up by a harpy, but shake the analog stick to break free - supposedly that shield smash gets the harpie's attention) All monsters are killed by the AI, leaving me plenty of opportunities to smash more crates. Wheeee!
I have to admit, these AI companions are much more useful than many I've played with, even Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite. They don't bug me for attention, heal me without me asking and even set up kill shots for me. And they kill and the bad guys for me and show me which way to go. My posse of six dudes lead me to the Dragon's Lair. Have fun with the dragon guys, I'm going to smash more crates. Instead of a dragon, a Chimera bursts through, eats half of my group and we set upon it, bashing the hell out of it while it tries to do something...
Chimera tries to eat me while I read all the screen text
Honestly, there is so much going on here, I'm not quite sure what to do other than hit the Chimera. We chop off it's snake tail, kill it's goat head and light the Lion on fire. I am honestly feeling bad about killing this thing at this point. In the end, we kill the Chimera and just as we approach the door, another cutscene plays - this one shows the dragon falling through a magic portal like a meteor. I kind of feel like this should have played earlier in the game. I guess it's good to know where the dragon came from.
Now, instead of fighting the dragon, I'm taken to a character editor where I have to pick a sex, name, nickname (An interesting way to avoid naughty on-line names - I had a friend who always named his RPG character "Penis" - and he would cackle with delight everytime a character said "Hello there Penis" in the game.) The nicknames are bizarre btw and Capcom-fanboy-centric. Mega-Man and M. Bison being actual choices - hello? Where's Maximo? Maximum doesn't count.
The editor, while not to the resolution of say the editor in Saint's Row Three is still pretty robust. I spend a good ten minutes playing around with body types, scars, makeup, facial hair, nose shapes, and whatnot until I get my character the way I want him.
Porn star-staches are still cool right?
The game finally starts with my character living in a greek isles town. There are kids, a girlfriend and other towns members that will probably all be dead by the end of the cutscene because a dragon has just landed.
The Dragon is BIG! Here I am assaulting it's foot
My hero valiantly tries to stop him (I spend about two seconds wanging on the dragon's foot - yeah, that's gonna kill him) before his heart is ripped out and eaten by the dragon!
Bastard...Dragon... Ate... My... Heart....
The I get the game's title (In case I have forgetten it in the hour it's taken me to get to this point) and I am informed that my characted is still alive, despite missing a heart. I wake up in my house where I get another sword (actually, I can choose between a sword, bow and staff - an elegant class selection system) and immediately start smashing the hell out of the crockery.
And at this point, I reach the hour mark. So, did I like Dragon's Dogma? What would I do differently?
What would I do differently: Too many little cutscenes that didn't add to the experience. I didn't need the quotes, the redundant title or seeing the dragon fall from the sky. I get it. There's a dragon and it needs to be dogma'd. Or slain. The player should be given the option to clear informational text (there were too many times where I was like "What did that say again?" and I would want to be introduced to the moves at a slower pace. I was splattered with information (Too much text!) that I really didn't need early on. It's OK for a player to learn as they go, even to be learning all the way until the end of the game. A player can only process so much at once.
Would I keep playing it? Yes. While the combat felt simple, I did like the variety it pointing towards and the AI characters were interesting. I wanted to see how they came into play later in the game.