Platform: PS3, Xbox 360
ESRB: M for Mature
Release Date: Out Now
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game
The sandy beaches of Cassardis, a local seaport in Gransys, are beautiful. As fishermen walk the streets of the town and seagulls fly far overhead, it's hard not to want to take a stroll through the picturesque town. Enjoy this wonderful view while it lasts. In the first few minutes of Dragon's Dogma, a huge dragon tears your hometown apart, kills a bunch of people, and rips out your heart for consumption. Oh yeah, it's payback time.
Dragon's Dogma wastes little time in getting you off on your way to slay the evil wyrm. The first thing you get to do as an Arisen (a super-legendary dragon hunter) is build your character's body and general vocation. The three starting vocations - the Mage, Strider, and Fighter - are basically the bread and butter of RPG tropes. It may not sound like much to choose from, but each combat-specific vocation will entirely change how you engage in the game's deep combat system. Each vocation also has an expert and hybrid type, so trying out the different playstyles will help acclimate new players to the more complex classes available later on.
For my dragon hunt, I started out as a Strider. The Strider is a dagger-wielding archer, capable of lightning-fast combos and long-range kills and is also quite vulnerable, favoring speed over armor. After having my heart ripped out, I head out from Cassardis, but not before I'm handed a random support Pawn. This guy, who happens to be a Mage, is from a race of beings known as Pawns, slaves to the will of their masters. The only ones who can command these will-free, nomadic warriors are the Arisen. Players will get to create their own Main Pawn who levels up at the same time with the player and will be the Arisen's constant companion. The Main Pawn can also be 'rented' by players from other dimensions. While away, the Pawn will learn information about new enemies and undiscovered (loot) locations for your game. While the Pawn never truly leaves your side, you'll reap items and Rift Crystals once your Pawn 'returns' from another player's game.
The process of renting Pawns comes courtesy of the Rift Stones, where you can spend Rift Crystals to buy powerful Support Pawns. These Pawns are typically player-created Main Pawns that can't be leveled up in your game; any equipment they wear or are gifted is permanently locked in their inventory. The great thing about Support Pawns is that you can hire up to two at a time, creating a total party of four members. I created a basic setup with my Strider, two Mages, and a Warrior. We worked well as a team, tearing through goblin hordes like crazy. Once I got tired of my party setup, I simply swapped in two higher-level, new Support Pawns and resumed monster-hunting. The Pawn system is a fun way to experiment with different play-styles and is one of Dragon's Dogma's most unique features.
Dragon's Dogma is also unique in its approach to combat. While this may be a Western action-RPG, the combat system is unlike anything seen in an RPG. Take Skyrim, for example. Everyone said the improved combat was a big plus, with brutal melee finishers and exciting battles against massive dragons. Dragon's Dogma takes that one step further and creates an action-centric hack n' slasher that has grapples, powerful sword slices, walls of explosive fire, and more.
The combat is a joy to watch thanks to the great effects system and stellar monster and human animation. Having a troll realistically cover its eye as I fired arrows straight into it helped to ground the creature in reality. It felt like I was really tearing this beast apart piece by bloody piece, and the procedural damage (like severing horns and appendages) really cements the concept of visceral, exciting combat. While the human models aren't quite as impressively detailed, the landscape certainly is pretty. It lacks the visual variety of Skyrim's world but more than makes up for it in scale and sheer beauty. Dragon's Dogma almost has a painterly look to it, and I dig the visual artistry at work.
The audio is fairly strong but if you don't like chatty Cathys accompanying you on 40-50+ hour journeys, you may have a problem. The Pawns just don't shut up. Ever. Even if they've said the same line 30 times already. Imagine, if you will, a fish swimming about the castle. It passes a point of interest and notes it with an, "Ah! That's cool!" Then it proceeds to do so every time it passes said point. The Pawns are exactly like the fish, though their vocal input can prove useful when facing tough enemies. However, the musical score here is serviceable, if typical RPG fare. Nothing revolutionary, but it does kick in at just the right times to add a touch of atmosphere.
This is one of the most engaging, action-packed RPGs I've played in a long time. But Dragon's Dogma isn't without a few flaws that may turn off newcomers. The first issue is the lack of a fast-travel system. While I have no problem with hoofing it to locations, some gamers may lament the fact that there is no affordable way to travel between discovered locations. The only (effective) system in place is the Warpstone, an expensive item which transports you back to the Capital. While I found them easy enough to obtain with enough credits, it still stinks that I can't choose where to go. Again, I had no problems with this as I enjoyed taking in Gransys's sights and sounds. Others, however, may be turned off by the hardcore style of the game.
The other issue is the organic nature of monster hunting. Since encounters are, for the most part, location-based you'd expect to have a good idea of how difficult it is to kill a beast. Not so. Traveling to a dangerous location known as the Shadow Fort, I easily rended goblins to pieces. Just a scant 100 yards from the fort's entrance was a drake, a relative of the dragon. Since there was no indication of just how infuriatingly powerful and difficult to kill the drake was, I moseyed on over and plucked an arrow into it. Big mistake.
Needless to say, stumbling into unresolvable danger is quite easy since Dragon's Dogma is all about limiting on-screen RPG tropes like enemy levels and detailed stats. Rather, the screen is filled with buttons that point out how to tear a monster in half. While I typically figured out how best to approach each encounter after trial and error, it can still be frustrating when I'm plucked 600 feet in the air to my death, with nary a chance to kill my attacker because the enemy is 20 times stronger than I am. But this is likely in tune with Capcom's laborious approach to Dragon's Dogma; in order to beat this game, you have to earn it.
In the grand scheme of things, these complaints are only minor. I've been drawn back to Gransys time and time again to harvest more ore, slay more bandits, and hunt more chimeras. The reward of loot, gold, and rift crystals makes the exploration and combat worth it. Dragon's Dogma is always throwing things to kill and collect at you; all you have to do is embrace the dogma of Capcom's action-RPG and you'll find a lot to love in this massive package. Above all, surrender yourself and let the game take you on the journey it wants to take you. While the narrative may be as cliched as they come, few games offer experiences as engaging and entertaining as Dragon's Dogma.
With rewarding loot and plenty of craftable items to be harvested, Gransys is a world you'll want to lose yourself in. Constantly upgrading weapons and armor with the bones of griffins and ogres is addicting; you can feel the progress you've made when you wade into battle with a griffin-claw enhanced sword. Likewise, earning enough gold to completely outfit you and your Main Pawn to your liking allows you to become attached to the avatars. This is a game that really grabs hold of you and doesn't let go.
Capcom has crafted a wonderful new IP in Dragon's Dogma. While it's practically brimming with all of the normal RPG tropes and elements you've come to expect, it also shakes he genre up with a full-fledged combat system and great party mechanics. The plot won't win any awards but the game is fun to watch in motion. It has that epic, grand feeling missing from so many titles. Don't miss Dragon's Dogma if you're a fan of RPGs and, well, good action games!
+ Strong, deep combat system
+ The brilliant use of the Pawn System
+ Great amount of loot to reap and sell
+ Killing the monsters
+ Strong artistic style and great animations
- Travel can take a long time
- Easy to wander into deadly situations
- The Pawns never shut up....
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
There's a lot to love in this slick, deep open-world action RPG!