Dogma Debacle: A Look at the Microtransactions in Dragon’s Dogma 2

Ferrystones, Rift Crystals and Microtransactions, Oh My!

For fans of Dragon’s Dogma Dark Arisen, the release of Dragon’s Dogma 2 relieved over a decade of waiting. The first game went from being a failure to cult hit to mainstream recognition as a classic ARPG. Happily, critics — including myself — were universally impressed by Dragon’s Dogma 2. Some called it an early Game of the Year contender. Dragon’s Dogma 2 is immense, complex and challenging. The day before launch, everything was great. The critics were pleased and the players were poised for fun.

Good Will Hunting

Then launch day came, and players learned that the game had a cash shop and microtransactions. The reaction was the usual mix of misinformation and apocalyptic vitriol. Some gamers were angry that a full price, $70 game would try to squeeze even more cash out of the customer. Others, more ominously, accused some well-known content creators of using their good reviews to shill for Capcom. Then there was the matter of game design, and whether the developer made the game punishingly difficult to encourage pay-to-win microtransactions.

There’s probably a kernel of truth to all of these concerns. But none of them really impact the actual quality of the game. As usual, the internet has taken some genuinely unfortunate decisions and hyperbolically turned them into Pure Evil.

For sure, the cast shop and presence of microtransactions took everyone by surprise. For starters, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a strictly single player game. A lot of free-to-play action games sell cosmetics and even gear so players can impress their friends or even be more competitive. What’s the point in a game like DD2? The truth is that nearly every item sold in the shop — which range in price from 99 cents to $4.99 — are available in the game, in better versions. For example, the shop sells a one-time-use jail key, but an unlimited use key is part of a very early quest. The shop sells a document that randomly changes the personality of the player-created NPC pawn. In the game, however, players can buy an item that changes the personality in a specific way.

Devious by Design?

However, there are a few items that seem to push against the developer’s publicly stated design decisions. Director Hideaki Itsuno said that when games have fast travel, it means their world is boring. Dragon’s Dogma 2 has intentionally-limited fast travel. Players need to find or drop port crystals as points of travel and ferry stones to use them. Both are relatively rare and expensive in game, which means players usually travel by foot. The exposes them to the amazing world, but also to constant danger and conflict.

The cash shop sells both a single port crystal and ferry stones. So, did Hideaki Itsuno make the game intentionally difficult in order to make the microstransactions more appealing? The cash shop also sells rift crystals in various amounts, up to 2500 for $4.99. One of the uses of rift crystals in the game is hiring pawns that are higher level than the player. Spending cash early on to hire over-leveled pawns is a shortcut to plowing through combat. It’s pay to win. But of course, it really only impacts the player’s experience. Like every other item, it’s entirely ignorable and in the game already.  But it’s impossible not to at least consider the director’s purity of vision.

In the end, there are many ways that other action RPGs have tied extra rewards to game play, whether through quests or exploration or combat. Those are all part of Dragon’s Dogma 2, making the cash shop feel unnecessary, the product of corporate greed, or both. Then again, nearly every Capcom game, from Devil May Cry to Monster Hunter, has a cash shop far more expansive than that in Dragon’s Dogma. Why be surprised?

Critical Failure

In the last few days, a lot of content creators have been the subject of backlash, accused of coloring their reviews positively for cash. It’s absolutely true that many content creators are paid and sponsored, which has to be acknowledged by FTC rules. It’s up to the consumer to be aware of this and realize that, at least when it comes to early impressions, some of that glowing pre-release praise might be essentially paid advertising. Many have been trashed for not “revealing” the microtransactions in advance.

When it comes to reviews, the vast majority of critics have integrity and place great importance on having objective opinions. Nearly every critic receives free review copies of a game. It’s simply the way publishers get their products out to a wider audience. And while companies are often disappointed by reviews or even reach out to factually correct them, they don’t expect a quid pro quo good review. Personally, I’ve been reviewing games for over 24 years and only once did a publisher step in and ask me to re-review a game because they didn’t like what I said. That’s out of thousands of games.

When Good Vibes Go Bad

Set aside the hate, exaggeration and faux-outrage. The gaming community is toxic and that’s not news. The bottom line is that Dragon’s Dogma 2 doesn’t need microtransactions and probably shouldn’t have them. Capcom should have let people know they were going to be in the game. I suspect — but certainly don’t know — that Hideaki Itsuno didn’t advocate for them in his game. And if he did make a decision to inflate the difficulty in order to sell easy-play trinkets, that’s a real creative disappointment in an otherwise incredibly good game and great gaming experience.

The consumer makes choices, of course, but it should be on facts, reality and not misinformation or exaggeration. Annoyance with Capcom’s ongoing greed is valid, of course, but the microtransactions don’t make or break the game. They’re ignorable. However, it’s genuinely sad to see so much good will and excitement turn sour so quickly, overshadowing one of the best sequels ever made. It was avoidable and hopefully, publishers and developers will take note, and Capcom will explain.