What`s wrong with professional game reviews today?
So, here`s another RPG, which released right when I felt quite over-saturated by the genre. It currently has a metacritic score of 77, not bad, but noticeably lower than most of the (over-) hyped recent RPGs. This makes it the most under-rated RPG in my memory, actually if the review scores were inverted it`d much more reflect my own opinion.
Btw, if you want to look up a good review of Dragon`s Dogma I recommend reading/watching what Gamespot had to say. They don`t forget to mention the flaws, but they also do a good job describing the game`s strengths.
Now what`s so great about the game?
First of all, they do a lot of things very different than other RPGs, and they are ruthless on that, no compromises. It feels like the game was build following a clear vision from passionate developers, as opposed to many other games which seem to follow the visions of statistics and market research.
And the game assumes the player was an intelligent, self-determined being who is able to learn, explore and cope with problems.
Examples for this: A very sparse quick-travel system, which forces you to actually travel through the huge world.
Not the slightest indication about quest/opponent levels, you just have to try and find out on your own.
A night time which, quoting Game of Thrones, is actually dark and full of terrors.
I especially like how the game systems support each other.
The quests, for a change, deserve the term “quest”. We got used to spawning right next to a Quest NPC, who gives us a task which takes place 20 meters or one quick-travel away and can be solved in about 15 minutes by killing some monsters till the red X on the map disappears.
On Dragon`s Dogma most quests are a huge thing. Well, not so much the quests, but getting there. Pretty early on they will send you across half the map. You have to prepare for a long journey, often filled with really tough fights, occasionally so tough you will be forced to give up and start doing something else. During such a journey you kinda feel threatened by nightfall, because darkness really ups the difficulty through very limited visibility and some extra-monsters.
And that`s one of the things which just come together in such a nice way. What would be the horror of night if there was the usual easy-going quick travel system allowing you to evade it? What`s the point of a lantern or illumination skill when you see just fine during the night anyway?
And, first and foremost, what`s the point of a huge open world, when it is not filled with exciting stuff and the game offers you to skip it anyway by quick travel?
Now, to be honest I am not particularly a fan of unforgiving or complicated games, rather the opposite. But playing this really made me realize what was missing on so many other games recently. They are just too easy, too clean, too stream lined for a mass market, too concerned about not challenging the player too much. It bores the hell out of me.
Today it`s all about production value, impressing customers with shiney but shallow experiences, and scripted (not in a technical sense) events.
Dragon`s Dogma on the other hand really gives me a feeling of freedom. It offers an incredibly solid and well thought-out game system, places it in a huge world and gives me reason to explore it. But that`s pretty much where the hand-holding ends. From there on it`s my problem to hire the right pawns (party), to do the right quests, to make the right decisions, to continue or retreat, to fight or run.
And the world starts to feel like my home. Yes, of course the system has back-tracking built in. But it`s not boring since there is always something happening, and I get to know the ways and places.
Memorable moments? They just happen, often in a way the developers most likely didn`t even think of. And when they happen it feels like my very personal experience, not like a moment I was forced into by game design.
This is not meant to be anything like a review, but for the sake of completeness, a few things should be added:
-The fighting is downright the best action combat on any RPG I know (This excludes Mass Effect because that one is basicly a shooter combat-wise)
-The pawn system (hire other player`s sidekicks) is great and grows on you over time.
-The graphics are good enough, but not as good as one would want it to be. It certainly has it`s highlights, but in general there are a lot of games doing it better.
-The animations are awesome, and the character movement is another thing that ties you to the world.
Allright, now if the game is so great, why didn`t it score higher?
This is basicly the point that enrages me a bit. I don`t give a crap about scores and reviews, I read them for information and entertainment, but they have no influence on which games I buy. I have enjoyed games which scored well below 50%, and I got bored by 95s.
However, I found the reviews for Dragon`s Dogma somewhat irritating, and telling much about the state of the industry.
There are reviews where the person doing them just didn`t get the game. That`s ok, each to his own.
Still, I have a nagging feeling those reviewers mostly had problems with the lack of polish, lack of hype, lack of player direction, lack of pre-digested promotion and lack of time to discover the game`s system. Cut short, it`s not Hollywood enough, not easy enough to get into it. Like I said, each to his own, but I don`t have to be happy about Michael Bay being more appreciated than Shakespeare either.
But it`s another type of review that worries me, reviews like the excellent Gamespot review.
Reviews where the guy totally got the game, saw it`s flaws, but in general loved the hell out of it. Where the text is full of excitement, some would say stuff like “most memorable experience in years” or “I didn`t have that much fun in a long time” or “best combat on any RPG” (Ok, no direct quotes, but that`s the tone).
And how do they rate it? 75 to 85 max ? WTF? Why?
A Modern Warfare game will score around 95 with a short been-there-done-that single player campaign, for what? Fancy graphics, high production value?
An Elder Scrolls game will score around 95, for what? Being unplayable for some customers due to bugs? A built in level-cheat system? The worst animations since 1980? Real time combat so stupidly delivered it basicly changes to turn-based combat?
Mass Effect 3 will score around 95, for what? Being a copy of it`s own prequel, just done worse?
Don`t get me wrong. Those games all certainly have their own strong traits, and I am actually a huge fan of the Mass Effect series.
But the way media stopped focussing on the inner values of games, and seems to solely rate by production value, the shiney surface and the company name kinda bugs me.
Especially when a game like Dragon`s Dogma comes along, a courageous effort, trying to do at least a few things differently, offering exciting gameplay, but ultimately under-appreciated by the press.
It`s easing me though, that user ratings are much higher than press ratings. It seems to mean that players are not as stupid as media and developers like to think.