As a big-time RPG gamer, I have very high standards for what I consider a good role-playing experience to be. I don’t believe in shipping a game that is full of bugs, using the excuse “It’s an RPG so it’s okay if it doesn’t work properly,” nor do I condone when a company ships a game with elements that, frankly, suck and are a pain to play.
So how does Capcom’s new IP Dragon’s Dogma stack up against my ridiculously high standards?
This may come as a shock, but Dragon’s Dogma is a first-class gaming experience that I can’t get enough of.
Surprised? Me too! So let’s start from the very beginning of my legitimately epic journey.
The three starter classes – Warrior, Strider and Mage – may appear at first glance to be a generic RPG setup. This isn’t the case. The three basic vocations are only a stepping stone to the advanced variants you can switch to later on in the game. What makes the class system even more badass, is that many of the advanced vocations are hybrid classes.
Want to use magic and a bow? You can! Instead of pressing a button to fire off a special bow attack, you can cast spells on the bow itself. This applies to every class. The warrior mage hybrids are fantastic. I loved being able to use a staff and a shield. Mages always get picked on and singled out by mobs. My response to a group of enemies that charge me is to cast a spell on my shield, so that if anyone dares to try and hit me, they end up connecting with my shield and get a nice surprise in the form of a shield-based-fireball.
Shield-based-fireball. How awesome is that!?
There’s an attention to detail present in Dragon’s Dogma unlike anything I’ve ever seen. When I first started, I played as a Strider. I had a bow, but it felt more like an elastic band attached to a piece of wood which made a popping sound when I let loose an arrow. It was fun to play sure, but lacked a certain power or skill. I then upgraded and became a Ranger. My bow doubled in size and let out a thunderous boom whenever I fired a shot, the perfect fit for would-be archers. Later, I decided to mix it up and change vocation to Mystic Archer. Instead of a fully-functioning bow, I’m presented with just a bow-frame, and instead of normal arrows, I conjure them out of the air and pull on them and not the drawstring. Three similar classes, all of which feel completely different to play because of the way in which they handle. The little touches like the sound of the drawstring demonstrates just how much love and care Capcom has taken to craft such an authentic and stellar experience; from unique and worthwhile classes, to the way enemies don’t just disappear when killed. When a larger enemy dies, it goes through the sped up stages of decomposition. Every time I fell a Cyclops, I can’t help standing next to its corpse, watching as its skin disintegrates, showing the layers of flesh before it slowly melts away until only a skeleton remains.
Honestly, the decomposition of a festering corpse is quite beautiful.
Another way in which Dragon’s Dogma defines itself is through the Pawn system. Pawns are so far removed from the sycophantic lackey, seen in most RPGs, that follows you around occasionally saying something inane and then getting stuck in a doorway. The whole ideology that went into creating the concept of pawns can only be described as unbelievably ground breaking.
During the opening moments, you are tasked with designing a pawn to aid you in your travels. You design your own right hand. From the get-go, if you’ve spent more than five minutes making a secondary character, you already care about them more than you would if they were a character who has been thrust upon you.
Pawns act as not only a combat partner, but as a guide. With no glowing breadcrumb trail to follow, you might get lost. With a pawn by your side, the chances decrease. Your pawn will often give you advice like “We’re on the right road” or “Turn left here.” They may even point out useful treasure, which is always a plus in my book.
One of the weirdly-brilliant aspects of pawns is that while I sleep, my pawn doesn’t. As I recharge, my pawn goes off into someone else’s game, helps another master on quests and brings me back Xp to spend on skills, loot and best of all, knowledge. I’ve found myself on a quest that is new to me, but as my pawn has already completed the quest, she can offer me advice on how to proceed.
Think about it, your pawn knows what to do because they’ve played a part of the game you haven’t. Not only is this unsettling that a character of my creation plays the game without me, but it’s also ingenious. The whole pawn system is a very bold and awe-inspiring concept that sets Dragon’s Dogma apart from other open-world RPGs.
The world of Gransys is home to a wonderful sense of exploration. When you’re out and about in-between questing, you can’t help but wonder what lies over the horizon. More often than not, the urge to explore kicks in. Some of my fondest memories come from travel and seeing what mythological creature the game wants to send my way. Fighting a chimera, gryphon or a roc offers a delightfully tough and satisfying boss battle for those in need of a break from the main story.
The difficulty is another point that deserves high praise. There is no Easy, Medium or Hard. In place is a world which evolves based on how you decide to play. If you want a Dark Souls difficulty, don’t buy health potions and go it solo. It’s nightmarishly hard but hugely rewarding. Or if you’re after something that doesn’t want to make you cry, grab your pawn and two companion pawns from other players and you’re good to go.
One of the greatest moments is when you realize the world is not your enemy, it’s your friend. I recall being low on health having faced two trolls back-to-back. I was out of health poultices and miles away from anywhere to restock, so in a bid to cheat death, I stopped and looked around for some form of help. Before me stood an apple tree, holding shining red rubies to replenish my health. So with a bow in hand I shot down four individual apples for me and my party so we could sit around stuffing our faces until we’re safe to move on.
It doesn’t just stop at helpful plantations. I was attacked by, what felt like, forty direwolves. At around level 20, they owned me and I needed a quick exit. I couldn’t face them head on, so I waited for them to get knocked down, ran over and hoisted one of them onto my shoulder like an evil-wolf giving Santa. Then I proceed to sneakily run over to the cliff face and send my wolf sailing over the edge. The best part being that I still get the Xp for the kill.
This tactic may make me sound a little wet, and I am I know. But this tactic is a legitimate way of winning. Trolls will always get excited when a female is present. So instead of fighting, try positioning a female near a cliff and watch as the bounding monster take a dive head-first to its demise.
The world itself is a weapon, a weapon that the best of us will always find a way to use it to our advantage.
This is a sprawling epic that at no point feels like a new IP. There are no glaring mistakes or rushed development that is ever present in today’s RPGs. Every aspect, from hard hitting, fast paced combat, to pawns and how they behave, to a real sense of world, has been given thought and careful consideration to make sure it’s the best it can possibly be.
Dragon’s Dogma is not only the best RPGs I’ve played all year, but one of the best games I’ve played all year, and the biggest compliment I can give it, is that this is a game I’ll be playing for a long time after the review is finished.
If you’re after an RPG that sets itself apart from the competition, without compromising itself, then you’re in for a one-hundred hour treat.