When first turning on Dragon’s Dogma, I will be the first to admit that I was quite skeptical about what it was going to offer. When the release date was pushed back from last November, I was even more concerned. Now I can fully say with confidence that it was not only worth the wait, it is the perfect blend of action and exploration that I come to enjoy in action-rpgs. Of course this game is not perfect nor for everyone, but the experience that I had with it fully gave me confidence in this new IP from Capcom and I look forward to see what they can bring in the future.
You begin like many other games by being able to customize your character. What is unique about this is that depending on how you create the dimensions of your character will effect how they will behave in the world. For example, if you make a very small and fit character, they will be very quick on the map with a lot of stamina but they will not be able to carry much loot that you pick up. If you make the polar opposite they will be slower, yet they will be able to carry much more. When you create your pawn the same rules apply but what is interesting about the creation of your pawn is that you will have to make them appealing for other players of the game and I’ll get into that later.
The story revolves around your character, whose quaint fishing village is decimated by the evil UR-Dragon. When you decide to take up arms against it, you accordingly get your proverbial butt kicked and then the monster rips out your heart and eats it. The dragon then taunts you into coming to exact your revenge by inviting you to hunt him down if you want it back along with all of the other hearts that it had decided to snack on over the years and this is where your journey begins. You set out from that same fishing village in order to get your lifeblood back and rid the world of Gransys from that punk dragon who thinks that people’s hearts are a tasty snack and not just the primary organ of our cardiac system.
The game play out in the third person perspective, with your main character at the reigns. When you first begin the quest you are introduced to the increasingly popular pawn system which I will do my best to explain. Your character is an Arisen meaning that your heart was eaten by the dragon. The Pawns in this game are nothing more than ambition-less characters who do nothing more than obey your commands. You are given one who is to remain with you for your entire journey. This one will level up with you and be a consistent help to your party if you train (it?) right. Here is where the possibly confusing part may come in. They gain experience on the monsters that they fight which means that the more battles that they take part in, they more adept they will be at killing all of the different types of monsters. Not only that, they will also gain knowledge of the areas that you explore so when another person decides to hire your pawn, they might be able to provide information such as letting the other player know that there might be treasure chests in certain areas. You are allowed to hire up to two more pawns to assist you in your journey in the Rift.
The Rift is a purgatory like realm where the hundreds of pawn exist in order for you to summon them to fight on your side. If a pawn happens to be owned by your friend, you will be able to hire that pawn for free and as a bonus, you will be able to hire your friends pawns for free. I was able to hire my friends level 181 pawn for free and the balancing mechanics in the game made it so that he wasn’t overbalanced to make the game too easy for me, much to my dismay. If they are not on your friends list, you will have to hire them using an in-game currency called Rift crystals which can be obtained by drops and by completing quests. At first it seems quite difficult to get these pieces of money but Capcom had decidedly placed that currency onto the PS3 store and the Xbox live Marketplace. So it almost seems that they have incorporated a interesting Facebook mechanic where the more friends that you have the easier the game will be and if you want to progress in other ways, you will have to spend real-world money in order to achieve those goals. These Rift crystals can also be used to purchase items that will let you change your character appearance in the game by being able to dye your characters skin and other parts in order to make them more appealing to others in the Rift.
In order for them to be hired by another player, you have to create them to sell. In other words, there is an abundance of young girls running around the Rift in a g-string hoping that you will spend some of those hard to get Rift Crystals. You will have to be able to market your pawn to all the other players in the world here. This will best be done by always having the best armor on your character and always having their abilities updated and useful to other players. If you have a boring fighter with nothing going on for him, you might as well start over because people do not need or want him. At times I feel like a pimp because of this mechanic. I am constantly making my pawn more appealing to other players by always trying to upgrade her armor and making sure that at all times, her skills are maxed out and make sense to her character type.
Not to be outdone by other action-rpgs, Dragon’s Dogma has one of the most fun combat systems in the genre. You are treated with the most fun system I have been treated to in quite some time. When you fight the swarms of goblins and bandits you get a great sense of weight and connection when your blows strike. The action is fast paced and the AI constantly keeps you on your toes. For example, you might be walking along a quiet path and then veer off into the brush only to find yourself surrounded by a pack of dire wolves that you will instantly have to mitigate your tactics in order to survive that onslought. Dragon’s Dogma also features a strong day/night cycle so that as you march out into the darkness, you might accidentally come nose to nose with a chimera or a intimidating drake that you might just have to run away from in order to survive.
The battles being as fast paced as they are also allow for a variety of ways to go about your battle. Within this combat system, you are able to climb atop some of the larger enemies and are alble to pick up the smaller enemies to toss into other parts of the area. I found it quite fun to pick up those battered pigs and bandits only to toss them over the nearest cliff edge to their demise. In one part of the game you might come across a friendly-ish cyclops that you can just climb on for fun while he just lounges about. You are not only limited to picking up enemies, but you are allowed to pick up townspeople too but be warned, if you do, you might just be tossed into prison where you will have to break out by either paying a fine or using a helpful skeleton key to get your freedom.
The quest system in the game some might find a tad confusing though. When you begin the game you have a general idea of where you are to go but at the same time, you are able to pick up other quests that are placed on bulletin boards in various inns and shops in the towns. Many of these quests are escort missions where you are tasked with helping person A get to location B. Be forewarned though, if one of these dopey travelers get themselves killed, there is no redo button and you will have to restart from your last save point in order to finish the job. At 30 hours in, I found myself somewhat lost with a bevy of unfinished missions and not real direction of where to go. Instead, I just found myself running around the world of Gransys gaining area knowledge and gold while completing simple tasks such as thwarting ambushes or eradicating a rabbit problem that seems to happen right outside the doors to your little fishing town.
Even though the story at times feels that it comes to a standstill, I never got the feeling that it was something that I needed to focus on. I was simply enjoying the activity of going to new areas and just fighting everything that I could see. I do wish that the main quests were separated from the side ones but that just made my exploration that much more fun. By making the end goal mix into the dozens of quests on my board, I became more focused on what the game was instead of what I needed to do, which is exactly what the developers were trying to obtain. They wanted to create a world that is rich with exploration and action. I seemed to fall right into that trap.
Some pesky things that I found with this game being the non-linearity of the story and the amount of running around that you have to do in order to do anything. It would have been nicer to see travel more expedited withing the world but since the world that they had created was lush and ever changing, I did not find too much fault with that. The game at points might seem very pretty and hospitable, but when the sun goes down, you are treated with an entirely new feel of the environment complete with monsters even more ferocious than before. At the inn’s you will be able to stay till evening which will change the cycle and you will find yourself doing that to gain more experience and money from your constant battles. One of the things that I would have like to see more is the inclusion of larger monsters to fight. At times there only feels like there are a few to hunt down and challenge. As you progress in the game they will appear more often but you will have to hunt them down more often than they will find you.
In DD, even though you find yourself running around the world with just your pawns, you at least get the sense that you are not alone unlike in other games. The beauty of it is that if you don’t like one of your pawns, you can always send them away or my favorite, throw them off a cliff. If you choose to do that however, make sure that you take all the loot off of them.
Speaking of loot, there is the familiar loot mechanics that we have seen in other Capcom games like Monster Hunter where you will find yourself hunting down certain beasts in order to get materials that will help you upgrade your weapons to make them the best that they can be. With hundreds of weapons, armor pieces and combine-able items, expect to spend a lot of time trying to navigate the menus which can tend to be annoying not only to the amount of menus to go through, but the pestering comments that the shop owners have to say every time you go to the main item menu.
With all of this exploration in the game it only fails to give you a sense of where you need to be going and for those of you who need your hand held, you might find yourself lost in the piles of quests that you take on. In order to make this even more ambitious, Capcom has also released down-loadable content on the day of release in order for you to access content that is already on the disc. Many of you will still be playing the hundreds of other quests in the game even before this would become relevant for you but if you happen to complete them all, the are in the stores for you.
At the end of the day, I found this a very addictive game that has taken the best parts of what Capcom is known for (Action) and took a stab at a genre that has had a lot of success in the past year with other games like Skyrim and Dark Souls. Not to be confused with the two, this is NOT like those games, It is an entirely different experience that draws you in and forces you to take a second and appreciate what the world of Gransys has to offer.