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Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Man, That Thing's Gonna End Up Eating Us!"

"Well then. We'll just have to eat him."

Dragons in video games are pretty awesome, but dragons that provide a physical presence instead of a pile of stats hidden under an art asset? That's even better.

Dragon's Dogma is all kinds of neat stuff. I played the demo and the crunchy physical interaction with your enemies makes for some fun combat, but around ten minutes in I found something about the game I really didn't like: I was not playing the role of a hero.

That's something I want in a fantasy game with dragons and shit (or just about any action game): put me in the lead role, gimme a sword, and I'm almost guaranteed to have a good time.

But in Dragon's Dogma you're given this small team of pawns (yes, they're literally called pawns) and these guys' main reason for existing is to distract the giant monster trying to squish you by throwing themselves into the line of fire; so while your pawn is being eaten alive you have the opportunity to do the heroic leap onto the hydra's back and land the killing blow.

"Okay, Dupre is getting his skull crushed, so he's no use to me, anymore; but if I stand behind Iolo then I can get in a few more shots with my bow while he dies horribly."
That's the kind of logic you need to survive in Dragon's Dogma, and I can't say that I like it. I don't feel heroic when I de-humanize my inhuman AI buddies.

I had the same problem with the old Call of Duty single-player campaigns (way back when those games took place during the Big One). You'd be fighting in these set-pieces where a ton of AI soldiers would be shooting at each other from each side of the battlefield, and they pretty-much never ran out of dudes until you passed some sort of kill quota or reached a certain point on the map, or whatever.

But the thing that bugged me was when I realized that, since reinforcements never stopped coming in, it was always more effective for me to wait until my own guys were getting shot to hell, then I could pop out and get some good hits in. The Allied soldiers became my meat shields, and for some reason that made me feel less like a soldier and more like some guy manipulating a game's AI so he can get to the end of the level; which is sort of exactly what was going on.

"Everybody run in front of me! Take point! Catch those Nazi bullets!"

And whenever I'd need to leave cover and run across open ground, I'd wait until one of the soldiers was going to do the same thing and then I'd literally run in tandem with the guy so I could use him as cover.

On the other hand, I'll throw pikmin right into the jaws of death and I won't feel a thing. Not even when those sad, little ghosts float away. They served their purpose. I just wanna get off their stupid planet.

And Advance Wars? You cost me 1,500 credits, soldier. That's what your life is worth to me. I trained and outfitted you pretty-much to gum up the treads of the enemy tanks, so I hope you don't have any dreams or aspirations for the future, because your future is going to be over in two turns.

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