Review

Dragon's Dogma Review (PS3)

Dragon’s Dogma seems like a strange, bold project for Capcom. Combining a Japanese development team with concepts widely associated with Western RPGs, it’s shooting to hit that lucrative market that’s been getting into titles like Skyrim and Dragon Age whilst keeping the Japanese game design sensibilities Capcom’s famed for.

It’s not just about east-meets-west, though - it’s also pushing together elements from different genres. It’s an RPG, but the team behind this game includes names who worked on Devil May Cry and Resident Evil - and so it pulls elements from the action genre to make its real-time combat more engaging.

The world of Dragon’s Dogma is pretty, even if performance sometimes isn’t

It’s an enticing, interesting little package, and it works - mostly. While the core of the game has a lot of heart, issues in some minor errors stop this from being quite as good as some of the titles it takes its DNA from.

From massive games like Elder Scrolls comes the concept of Dragon’s Dogma’s massive world. It’s pretty, one of the best uses of Capcom’s in-house MT Framework engine to date - but parts of the game also betray that performance in the open world was something the team clearly struggled with. The frame rate is mostly stable in ‘normal’ situations, but a particularly hairy scene with a lot of monsters will see it shudder and struggle to retain a firm grip on a smooth number. The decision to have the game’s visuals letterboxed also screams of an adjustment made to cut down on rendering rather than being a cinematic choice.

With all that said, the world of Gransys is a beautiful, sprawling place with a wide variety of types of environment to visit. There’s a great Elder Scrolls-like sense of exploration instilled in the spirit of this game - if you can see something off in the distance, you can head off the beaten path and try to reach it. Doing so might lead you into the path of overpowered enemies you’re forced to run from or lead you into optional side-quests. It feels great.

An interesting world is always welcome, though it’s a shame the story of the protagonist is one that’s so simplistic. It may be so to encourage heading off the beaten path, but the main storyline has you hunting down a dragon - who can speak, by the way - to exact revenge on him. It’s a far cry from the character-driven epics one usually gets from Japan, but that may also be due to Dragon’s Dogma’s impressive customization system.

Putting most games I’ve seen to shame, Dragon’s Dogma lets you create a character down to impressively small details. Height, weight, hair, voice, eyes, facial structure, skin tone - all these things are customizable in a deep and nuanced system.

Most interesting of all is the decision to make this impact on gameplay. A character generated to be bulky and muscled is going to pack more of a punch in close-up combat than one who is lithe and spry, for instance - but they’ll also become tired more quickly and not be able to jump as high. Larger creatures in Dragon’s Dogma can be mounted, and while light characters can certainly mount enemies more easily, heavier characters stand a better chance at holding them down once they’re atop them. It’s a clever system and a great way to link the deep character customization back to gameplay.

That gameplay is where the influence of the Devil May Cry creators is keenest and most obvious, the combat snappy and responsive in a manner that more closely resembles a character action game than an RPG. With the right load-out you can even perform combos and juggles on enemies, pulling the combat that much closer to action experiences.

There’s a decent range of enemies you’ll battle, though you will find yourself meeting the same types repeatedly later in the game. There’s some great enemy types that require really specific approaches to take down, though, and that’s satisfying.

You never venture alone - always with AI allies

There’s a lot to combat here - more than can be fit into this review - but it’s great fun and encounters with larger beasts in particular become extremely satisfying when you’re not only pulling off skills with your created character but getting a great deal of mileage out of the ‘Pawns’ - AI-controlled allies who are another vital part of the experience.

Your created hero isn’t a longer in exploring the vast world - from early on they’re accompanied by between one and three ‘pawns’, ethereal beings that gain a physical form and aid you in your quest. Constantly present is your ‘Main Pawn’ - and that’s a character that you can customize to the same level of depth as your protagonist.

It’s a good idea to spec your ‘Main Pawn’ to compliment your lead - so if your lead is a heavy-set brawler, consider a distance-battling spellcaster for your main pawn - but the choice is yours. Your main pawn will learn about the world as you travel it, and information learned comes back into play when your pawn heads back into the ether - and online.

Your created main pawn heads into the tubes of the internet automatically if you’re connected, and while still in your game can then go and join a friend’s adventure as their third or fourth pawn. Nobody but you can customise your main pawn, but it’s a way to allow players to share their builds and experiences automatically. If your pawn runs into a quest you’ve already done while in a friends world, they may warn them about the weak point of an enemy or a difficult upcoming battle - and you get the same benefits with the pawns you pull down to accompany your party.

When your pawn syncs with the online servers, information on quests they’ve done in others’ games returns to you - meaning they can impart learned knowledge to you. It’s a neat little system, and a very clever way of socially connecting an otherwise entirely single-player experience. Pawns are talky beings, and while you’ll hear a bit too much repeated dialogue it’s almost worthwhile for all the knowledge they impart.

Both the protagonist and the main pawn are levelled up in the same manner through pretty typical RPG skill progression. The rock-paper-scissors of different magic types and weaknesses is present here, and while three of the core archetypal RPG ‘classes’ are present progression is open-ended enough that you’re not going to trap yourself in a dead-end skill set.

From here it’s a matter of building a solid party with a damaging load-out of skills and gear. The right selection of pawns and well-thought-out load-out on your protagonist and main pawn can quickly make combat incredibly gratifying and involving.

You’ll battle and climb atop of a lot of these dudes

Dragon’s Dogma is a game with incredible combat that’s marred by a few flaws that leave it a little lacking. It has performance issues, a rather run-of-the-mill story and a strangely spiky difficulty curve - but it’s hard to forget just how fulfilling and fun that combat is.

With awesome character customization and the impressively bold approach the pawn system takes to storytelling and online connectivity, that makes this all the more worth exploring, even in spite of its sometimes conspicuous faults.

Best Game Moment: The first moment you mount and clamber up a giant enemy like a miniature version of a Shadow of the Colossus boss. Awesome.

Platform Played: PlayStation 3

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Comments

By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on May 21, 2012
SirRoderick
A shame this has no PC version, I'd wager they'd have less trouble in performance. I might pick this up if I get a good price.
By danfreeman (SI Elite) on May 21, 2012
danfreeman
Sir Roderick there is a petition to port this to PC but i can`t remember the link,i`m definetly interested in this but since there is no PC version...