Dragon’s dogma is an open world, action adventure role-playing game from Capcom. It popped up on my radar around E3 and touted strategic battles and a unique party system where you build up and swap characters in an online community. I liked the sound of it but with quality action RPG franchises already established, was it good enough to stand out or fall by the wayside with so many ho hum examples.
You begin as a simple fisherman in a village, when all goes to hell as a dragon attacks. As you attempt to strike back, the dragon takes an interest in you and decides to tear your heart out to swallow. You are somehow magically repaired and come back to life as the Arisen, now destined to track down the dragon and end its tyranny.
The controls are fairly simple with light and heavy attack buttons, jumping, grabbing and the use of the shoulder buttons to bring up skills and magic. You form a party but not in the traditional sense of other games. There are beings from another realm known as Pawns. Early on you get to design your own Pawn, choosing attributes such as sex, height and weight, appearance and class. This Pawn stays with you permanently, but on the way you can hire other Pawns, made by other players, to join the party. What’s interesting is that there are incentives to develop your pawn. Other players in the online community can hire your pawn in the game giving you bonuses on its return. You can seek out other people’s Pawns and do the same. However, when you hire a Pawn they do not level up so you must constantly go back and hire more powerful ones.
This system isn’t particularly well explained or intuitive at first, but after some exploring and some trial and error it comes into its own. Your party will attack enemies dutifully and support each other with joint attacks, offensive and supportive spells, even collect items, but you have limited control over what they do in battle specifically, and at times it really hurts. The AI of your companions just doesn’t respond often enough to keep themselves and the party alive. Particularly early on in the game when you are low level and have limited equipment upgrades. A lot of the time is spent reviving your group, despite the fact they all have healing items. To add insult to injury, if they die they can be revived by running over and hitting Circle, but if you die its game over and back to your last save. This becomes very frustrating and makes no sense. If you are a team, why can’t your team revive you? Fortunately, as you progress and the characters become more versatile, the team works together brilliantly. Watching your party systematically take apart an army of goblins or strategically cut off parts of some mythical beasts bit by bit is a thing of beauty.
In fact one of the highlights and unique aspects of Dragon’s Dogma is taking on the larger beasts such as a chimera, griffin or golems. They are formidable opponents that put up one hell of a fight and require a well-prepared party. They each have crucial body parts to take out first that make the job easier (but still not easy!) The quest system could have been far more user friendly. When you select quests if they can’t be completed they direct you to a certain area but don’t tell you where exactly you need to be or what you need to do to make the quest appear. Also, you can’t look at the location of all the quests and map out a pathway to be efficient and knock off several in one trip. When you have multiple quests it would be so much better if they appeared when you were close to them or could set filters in some way.
This frustration is made worse by the fact that travel in Dragon’s Dogma gets tedious. Traveling through the same canyon thirty times back and forward between quests and towns gets old quickly. There was limited ability to fast travel with crystals, but not being able to quick travel between towns/encampments really laboured the experience.
Draw distance is lacking with the general landscape in place, and textures popping in as you traverse not that far ahead. Character design is well detailed, with reasonable customization of your character. There are slightly limited numbers of weapons and equipment compared to other RPGs but they look the part. All typical environments are present and accounted for; they look good with nice textures on rock, wood, sand etc. One stand out is the lighting effects. There is 24hr lighting and the pacing is really well done so you get a sense of the day passing. The light in terms of visibility and shadows is believable and really adds to the experience. On more than one occasion I just stopped on my travels along the coast or at a fortress to admire the sunrise it’s that well done.
The voice acting is good enough to get the job done, but it won’t win any awards. The range of comments from your party becomes monotonous, as helpful as the contextual tips are, you don’t need to hear the same ones again and again. The music sets the mood well, changes pace appropriately and never distracts from the experience. The sound effects are solid as well, with loud clashes of metal, magic crackling and fizzing, and best of all the deep roar and screeches from the huge mythological beasts.
Dragons Dogma keeps company with other action RPGs in terms of length, with a large land to explore, a plethora of main and side quests, and some tough enemies to take down that will need a well-developed party from pumping in the hours. There is also downloadable content, but I don’t think the adventure will warrant many people playing through the game from the beginning more than once.
This is a game that starts a little clumsily but endears itself with time. The quest system needs to be more user friendly, the excessive travel on foot gets tiring and the Pawn party system takes some learning. Once you get your head around all that though, what opens up is a satisfying adventure. The party dynamics work really well in battle, with good progression of skills and abilities, and best of all you get to use it all to take down some bad ass mythical beasts of lore. It’s certainly no Dragon Age, but if you’re looking for something new in an action RPG it’s worth taking for a spin.
AAG Score: 7.5/10
+ Strategic battle requiring clever dismemberment
+ Party Dynamics Work Together
+ Novel Party Building Pawn System
- Quest System Not User Friendly
- Pawn System Confusing Initially
- Needs True Fast Travel Between Major Checkpoints
Reviewed and Written by Khye Davey