Dragon’s Dogma, Capcom’s take on a Western-style RPG, sees you take control of a heartless chap known as the ‘Arisen’. Now that might sound like a bit of a personal attack, but the poor man literally has no heart. The opening cutscene shows a rift in the sky, out of which flies a huge dragon before descending on Arisen’s home town. Most people run, but he picks up a sword and cautiously heads off to face the dragon.
Unfortunately it’s not nearly cautious enough, and the dragon easily takes the plucky man down. Rather than burning him to a crisp, the dragon seems to sense something and decides to pierce Arisen’s chest, pluck out his heart and eat it (seriously). Rather than being killed, he awakens some time later with a huge scar running down his body. Touching this scar causes the dragon’s voice to sound in his head, almost taunting him to come and take action.
Despite this rather action-packed opening, the pace of Dragon’s Dogma drops drastically, with the story slowing to a crawl. Although at times it may feel like a chore, those who put in enough hours will find the story eventually heads off in some interesting directions.[drop]Those used to RPGs will initially find themselves in familiar territory. The first thing the game does is allow you to create a character. It’s an impressively deep system, allowing you to set normal parameters such as height, weight, muscle tone and voice samples.
However, you can go several steps further because if you really want to nail the look of your character there’s all manner of cosmetic tweaks you can do – even altering eye spacing!
You then get to choose what skill your character specialises in. I choose a fighter, but could just have easily picked a mage or one of the other vocations. Once your character hits a certain level you can reassign this skill, however it’s worth mentioning that the lighter characters are better at scaling enemies, which is an incredibly handy talent to have.
In terms of combat, the fighting all occurs in real-time with attacks mapped to the controller buttons. It’s all fairly standard stuff, with new moves made available as long as you can afford them. As mentioned above, the ability to scale an enemy is useful even if it’s just to put the enemy off-balance, giving your team an opening to launch a counter attack.
Notice I just said “team”? That’s where your Pawns come in. The Pawn system is one of main hooks in Dragon’s Dogma. They are essentially AI comrades bound to carry out your bidding, as well as provide useful advice in and out of battle. You can hire up to three at any one time, although you get given a main Pawn towards the start of the game that you can customise. This customisation isn’t just looks and skills based, you can also determine their mannerisms and how they will react in battle.
I made my main Pawn aggressive, and when faced with a huge Cyclops he charged forward, jumped onto the monster’s leg and started to hack away with his sword, causing the Cyclops to take a tumble and allow us all to get a few digs in.
Whilst the two lesser Pawns will frequently need to be swapped out for those of a higher level, your main Pawn can be hired out to other online players and not only gain experience, but knowledge of areas and enemies you may not have encountered yet. To be clear, you can still use your main Pawn even if someone else is as well – they are basically getting a clone of it. It’s a clever system, and one that sets Dragon’s Dogma apart.
The Pawns are incredibly proactive too, and most of the time will fight strategically, or heal when necessary. Their advice is also extremely useful, rather than the inane babbling one might expect. It also allows for a great deal of flexibility, as if you are having problems defeating an enemy you can hire different Pawns with more effective skills.[drop2]Unfortunately there are times where the AI has a bit of “a moment” and will stand and watch you get your face eaten instead of enchanting your weapons with an effective spell. There were also times where they would completely trash the house of a friendly NPC (and I mean completely trash), making you feel like the leader of a gang of ASBO owning yobs.
Those who enjoy collecting loot will be pleased to hear that Dragon’s Dogma is stuffed with it. There’s all manner of items to pick up, although this leads to a cluttered inventory system, with menu after menu to make your way through.
It all sounds promising, but it feels like for every step forward Dragon’s Dogma takes, it also takes one back. I’ve already mentioned the extremely slow-to-get-going story, but a large chunk of the side-quests are also on the dull side, and for me that’s a real killer. Despite being his creator, I also found it incredibly difficult to form any sort of bond with my character; he’s just a bit lifeless. The same can be said of the majority of the characters I came across.
It also looks very ropey in places, with a fair amount of pop-up and some pretty major slow-down in places. In fact, there were times where the entire screen would freeze up for a moment as the game seemed to catch up with itself. The camera can also completely lose the plot in some of the more intense battles, switching to some ridiculously obscure angle or zooming in far too close.
There were points where I hit some pretty big difficulty spikes, even after recruiting a decent team of Pawns. There’s an odd lack of fast travel too, instead relying on an expensive item to get you back to the main city.
The world Capcom has created is also a bit of a mixed bag. Yes it’s vast, but at times it feels that there’s not enough inhabiting it to warrant such a big area. However, the boss fights are pretty damn awesome. Not content with having set bosses, Capcom has also chucked in a load of random bosses that you’ll stumble upon if you stray off the beaten track.
Taking on these mythical beasts is an exhilarating experience and each one has their own individual traits to learn and overcome. It’s something Capcom should get a huge pat on the back for. Whilst these battles aren’t flawless, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
- Brilliant boss battles.
- The story eventually heads in an interesting direction.
- Good customisation.
- Strong combat.
- Pawns are a great idea.
- Uninteresting characters.
- Fussy inventory and map system.
- A lot of dull side-quests.
- Normal enemies lack variety for such a big game.
- Looks ropey for the most part.
Dragon’s Dogma feels like the start of something big. It thrills and frustrates in equal measure, and whilst it’s not up to the level of those at the top of this genre, one can’t help but wonder what a Dragon’s Dogma 2 could be like if Capcom act on all the lessons learned from this game. An exciting thought indeed.