Dragon’s Dogma, which released in the summer of 2012, is one of my favorite role-playing games. It has some problems, like an uninteresting story, odd looking character models, and ‘pawns’ that never shut up, but it does a few important things so well that I enjoy every minute I spend in its world. The first two things the game does well are thick atmosphere and making the open world feel open; adventuring around in the world of Gransys is exciting and I will delve deeper into these elements in a future article. In this article, I will discuss the third element that Dragon’s Dogma aces: micro-narratives.
As I said in my Elegy for a Dead World article, almost every action in an interactive narrative creates a story. Apart from the central narrative, subplots, and side quests, which are all scripted and designed by the development team, the micro-narrative is a story created through the player’s interactions with the game-world. These narratives are not scripted and play no part in the larger narrative of the game, but with a well designed world and fluid interaction options (i.e. often expressed as a dynamic combat system) micro-narratives can be more memorable and engaging than the main story.
Dragon’s Dogma, has a massive world populated with bandits, goblins, harpies, and giant creatures that attack without warning, to turn the simplest quests into life and death struggles. DD’s story and side-quests are mostly forgettable, but it is filled with the potential for unforgettable moments that keep me playing the game.
For instance: Relatively early in the game I took a quest to a fort to the west of Grand Soren (the central city). I do not remember what the quest was but the fort is on a ridge that requires the player-character to walk down a narrow forest trail. At that point in the game I was a low level Mage and thought I was prepared for anything. I fought my way through the female bandits and took down a cyclops with my new lightning spell. At the start of the mountain path, I ran into another group of bandits who got the drop on me, because I was looking around at the beautifully designed world and not paying attention.
Since, I had three companions who were mostly centered around close combat, I backed my Mage into the forest grove just under the mountain ridge and focused on healing spells and fire magic. What I was unaware of: A chimera called that particular grove home and was not fond of guests. The large creatures of DD, like the cyclops and the chimera, are very powerful creatures that basically serve as boss fights. The cyclops was easy enough to handle because I had fought a couple already and had some familiarity with their abilities and behaviors. However, the chimera is a much stronger monster that has three ways to kill you- a lion head and paws to claw you and eat your face, a goat head which casts powerful spells, and a snake head to poison everyone. Though I thought I was prepared for anything, I was not prepared for a chimera to attack me from behind. It did not kill me but my companions and I fought the beast for several in-game hours. By the time we killed the chimera, two of my companions were dead and I was down to my last few healing items. Oh, and night fell, for those unfamiliar with the game, it has a day and night cycle, and at night the zombies and skeletons roam the world.
At this point in the game, I have only one live companion, almost no healing items, I was unable to complete my quest, and I was far away from home. So, my remaining companion and I donned our lanterns and fought our way back to Grand Soren. It is one of the most exhilarating experiences I have had in any game.
Micro-narratives are important to game design for open worlds because they reveal a world that is alive and vibrant, in addition to creating spectacular and unforgettable gameplay experiences. Games like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Resident Evil 6 can try their damnest to force spectacular and memorable moments, but structured moments are not always as memorable or exciting as that thing that just happened one time.
If you have not yet played Dragon’s Dogma, I highly recommend you check it out. I plan to return to this game in future articles because there are so many great things to talk about with this game, but for now consider some micro-narrative moments that you have encountered and tell me about them in the comment section.
Both images came from the Dragon’s Dogma wikia page: http://dragonsdogma.wikia.com/wiki/Dragon%27s_Dogma_Wiki