Capcom definitely stepped out of their comfort zone with Dragon’s Dogma. After several entries into their top series such as Street Fighter, Resident Evil and Devil May Cry, the new IP seemed to come out of nowhere. It also boasts a unique and complex combat system and a different take on adventuring with your friends online, along with a massive world to explore and tons of creatures to topple. The release of the demo a while backed piqued my interest as I got to experience this new combat system and take down a couple of big beasties myself. While it wasn’t much to go on, it had me excited nonetheless. However, I had my doubts about whether or not the full package could live up to expectations. Gameplay-wise, it turns out that the demo doesn’t even scratch the surface for what Dragon’s Dogma has to offer. While the game can’t be completely forgiven for all its flaws, there is a great deal of fun to be had.
Strategy is key when surviving in the world of Dragon’s Dogma, but luckily the players are given plenty of options. What elevates it above your average action RPG is the unique combat system. It’s visceral and rewarding, but most of all it’s fun and easy to master. These complex combat mechanics are the heart and soul of Dragon’s Dogma. There are monsters wandering this game world — big monsters — and it’s your job to take them down, which you can do in a variety of ways. Hacking and slashing, spellcasting, and archery are your basic choices, along with ability to scale large monsters à la Shadow of the Colossus in the process. Take into account the hybrid vocations (magic warrior, assassin, magic archer) as well as the dozens of different skills at each vocation’s disposal and the possibilities seem endless, each one as rewarding as the last. This is good since each monster requires a different strategy to be brought down, as most will shrug off your hasty charges and attacks and result with a trip back to your last save point.
The combat itself is utterly addicting in its thrilling execution. You have your standard heavy and light attacks that can be strung together to create hard hitting combos. Beyond that, you can map special skills to three of the four action buttons. Six are able to mapped in all, three while holding down a left shoulder button, three more while holding the right shoulder button. With all of these skills available at one time, different approaches to combat come into play and the skills themselves are very enjoyable and simple to execute.
The other highly-discussed aspect of Dragon’s Dogma is the pawn system, which is a very interesting take on online play. Along with your created character you put together at the start of your adventure, you also create a pawn. You choose their appearance and vocation, just as you do for your own character. This pawn will be your sidekick throughout your adventure and will be your primary backup in combat. They will level up as you do while getting better and smarter in combat. Your pawn is nearly as rewarding to invest in as your own character.
The created pawns can also be recruited by other gamers to assist in their adventures, and you are presented with the same option for other people’s pawns. When your pawn helps out another player, they return with knowledge of the quest they assisted with, the area the ventured into, and the creatures they helped defeat. This puts the game’s pawns a cut above the average NPC you are forced to babysit in most games. They learn from their experiences in the world around them and become better for it. They are helpful in battle and can take care of themselves, while never hesitating to share advice or information with you. Capcom did well in giving gamers a useful NPC to follow them around. Sadly, this is a very single-player focused alternative to the option gamers really wanted, and that is to be able to actually play online with their friends and slay these monsters together.
Aside from the rewarding battles and the intriguing pawn system, Dragon’s Dogma is beautiful and expansive, and always seems to be teeming with life. Goblins, bandits, and other baddies litter the landscape and force you into confrontation around most corners. The large monsters look terrifying and are a sight to behold when first encountered. The landscape itself, though not as vast as something like Skyrim, feels more alive and is never boring to admire or explore. The day and night cycles add a nice little nudge of stress to your adventures, as more dangers lurk at night than in the day. If you don’t have your lantern’s four or five foot radius of light, then you are blind to the hazards that await you. Aside from the ever present pop-in of smaller pieces of scenery and some NPCs, the world given to the players offers more than enough excitement to keep you occupied.
Sadly, while Dragon’s Dogma’s high points are of the best quality, it’s overlooked, unpolished elements are almost unforgivable. The battles may be fun to participate in, but the quests that get you from fight to fight are poor. Most of them are no more than arbitrary fetch quests that lead you from one end of the world to the other, only to have you running back again for something else. Though backtracking may not seem like a very problematic aspect, it is maybe one of the most annoying aspects of Dragon’s Dogma and you will be doing it a considerable amount, especially with limited instant travel options. While it is fun to kill beasties and baddies across the countryside endlessly, killing the same ones in the same spot on the way to and from a mission is just frustrating, especially since you will most definitely have to trek at least half of the journey at night, which, as I mentioned, is terrifying.
The tedious nature of the quests and backtracking come out in full force towards the end of the game. It seems Capcom was really pushing for a longer story, but ran out of things to do. The difficulty curve spikes within the last few hours and will definitely cause a bit of frustration for most, and the wonky climax does little to aid the already shallow story. While not bad, the plot’s progression simply feels like it was tacked on to get you from one exciting battle to the other.
Dragon’s Dogma leaves a lot of things overlooked and a few more lazily constructed. Your pawn’s constant babbling about the same tactics during the same monster encounters, and the same trivia about the world around you in the exact same spot every time will shred your patience. The character models are very unattractive and look like something from the PS2 era, as does the horrid lip syncing for the dialogue from all characters. The constant backtracking will frustrate you to no end.
What it does right, though, it does so in spades. The combat is without a doubt, the best of any action RPG I’ve gotten my hands on. Needless to say, I had fun with Dragon’s Dogma and will be playing it for quite some time out of sheer enjoyment. Capcom’s latest foray into this genre may not be anywhere close to perfect, but it steps it up where it counts and gives gamers plenty of reason to play it and plenty of reason to enjoy it.
FINAL GRADE: B+