Article first published as Xbox 360 Review: Dragon’s Dogma on Blogcritics.
At their booth at the 2011 E3 Expo in Los Angeles, Capcom had quite a few playable games on display. The problem with these demos is that they are usually a very small portion of the game and are sometime not representative at all of what the game is really all about. Kind of like movie trailers, demos can be terribly misleading. Capcom’s “Dragon’s Dogma” demo wasn’t deceptive but it did make it tough to get a bead on what the game was all about. After playing through this action RPG, I can tell you there is much more to the game than what they showed.
What sets “Dragon’s Dogma” apart from other RPGs is the pawn system Capcom has designed. Pawns are your companion NPCs in this open world adventure. Your main pawn you are allowed to customize in the same robust way you are able to create your own character. Male, female, tall, short, fat or gaunt are all choices as well as the fine details and even makeup, scars and voice. Make sure you pick a voice you like though, as these pawns tend to babble like young children. You will also choose their class as you chose your own class after the prologue. In addition to your main pawn, you can hire two more to round out your party.
Apparently, Capcom has taken former boss, Keiji Inafune’s criticisms of Japanese games to heart. “Dragon’s Dogma” was developed in house with many that had worked on “Devil May Cry” and “Resident Evil” games but, except for the scoring choices, it would be tough to identify “Dragon’s Dogma” as a Japanese game. “Monster Hunter” and to a much lesser extent “Demon and Dark Souls” are the only Japanese series that bear much resemblance to this effort. The “Elder Scrolls” series is a much easier comparison to the more western styled game for many reasons, although there is much that differentiates the two games.
“Dragon’s Dogma” immediately throws you into the action, pawns and all, giving players a small and somewhat linear taste of what’s to come in the prologue. The beast you’re forced to slay is beautifully drawn and animated and much larger than your character. This is typical of the monsters in the game and where comparisons to “Shadow of the Colossus” come from. From there, the game cuts to a dragon raiding the fishing village of Cassardis and you, a brave but foolish hero try to fight it off. You of course fail and for some strange reason the dragon starts talking to you before it, daintily cuts open your chest, removes your heart and eats it.
Though much of the footage of the game shows what looks like more of an action adventure game, “Dragon’s Dogma” is a deep RPG with deep character customization. Unfortunately, the story of the game does not adapt the story for your character. There are other choices that will impact your experience but, your character isn’t one of them. To further bolster its RPG pedigree, the game features a robust crafting system. A weighted inventory system, shops and skill trees for your “Arisen” character and your pawns give players plenty of opportunity to play the way they want.
The initial character editor only allows for three classes; Fighter, Strider and Mage but as the game progresses your character can change classes to one of those or the nine classes you can unlock. You have quite a bit of control of your character, so much the left and right bumpers offer secondary attacks or skill sets. The face buttons, in combat serve as hot keys for those skills or attacks except for the A button which is used to jump. There aren’t many real RPGs that let you jump and climb but, “Dragon’s Dogma” is one and there are enemies you will have to leap onto and hold as you attack them.
Your sandbox in Gransys is large, not as large as “Skyrim” or “Fallout 3” but large enough you will wish there was a fast travel system. Some players may in fact get frustrated with having to traverse the world so frequently. Of course it’s not just the tedium of walking, in “Dragon’s Dogma,” travel is dangerous and auto-saves can be a ways apart. So, walking a long way to die and then having to do it over again is the real frustration. Much of the combat is difficult and like those Bethesda open-world RPGs, it’s easy to wander somewhere you have no business being at your level. Many times the combat is attacking, running away, regrouping, and then repeat. Luckily, the menu does pause the action.
“Dragon’s Dogma” is a lengthy adventure, more than doubly long with the side quests and offers some extras besides the new game plus at the end. There are a lot of really cool things about this game but at the same time it feels a little unfinished. NPCs for example, there just aren’t enough of them particularly in the cities. There are also some technical graphics issues and missing animations which is so strange since, other animations are done so well. The story is also a bit weak but stands taller than other open world RPGs that all tend to suffer from a light narrative.
Some people will like the more tactical realism of this game better than “Skyrim,” its closest competitor but others may find it too tedious. It is easier than “Demon Souls” due to the more open nature of the game but don’t expect to be led casually along a story. Everything you achieve in “Dragon’s Dogma” will feel earned and while Gransys never seems quite real, the adventure will leave a stronger impression than most other RPGs.
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