Review: Dragon’s Dogma (PS3)

Title: Dragon’s Dogma
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: May 22, 2012
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Dragon’s Dogma is also available on Xbox 360.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

Skyrim and Devil May Cry walk into a bar together, but alone. Devil May Cry has his eye on Skyrim, but Skyrim likes her men a bit more complicated. She really isn’t interested in the action-oriented guy, even if he does boast about having a few leveling up features as well as options for multiple-weapon use.  Still, Skyrim hasn’t been having much luck with love as of late, and Devil May Cry does seem charming, if nothing else. She decides to give the hyper-action game a try, and a few months later the two are happily married.

But it isn’t the romantic ending that one would hope for, as Devil May Cry turns out to be a bit imposing, and Skyrim finds herself a victim of verbal abuse. Regardless of these mishaps, the duo seeks couples-counseling and eventually finds themselves the proud parents of a little baby video game: Dragon’s Dogma.

This is my convoluted way of saying that Dragon’s Dogma might appeal to you if you are a fan of either one of the above games. But not so much if you hate one of these games, because quite honestly, Dragon’s Dogma has an enormous world to explore (not to mention larger towns than some RPGs’ entire worldmap) but it also has a strong action-oriented presence, allowing players to build up their character with a serious amount of moves surrounding various play-styles and character classes.

When I first watched Dogma in action, my immediate thoughts went to Monster Hunter. And I immediately grew excited about the possibility of playing a Monster Hunter-style game with a more-fantasy-oriented theme (Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, for example). So my disappointment came fast, when Capcom revealed that the game was not multiplayer in the traditional sense.   So we were shown videos of a party of four character taking out a giant monster, with fighting tactics that reminded one of Shadow of the Colossus, but we weren’t watching multiplayer gameplay. What the hell, indeed!

But there was my problem. I was prematurely judging the game, simply because it shared a visual style with a game I myself associated with a multiplayer experience.  Reviewers for the old shooter, Black, made the same mistake. I decided to play the sit-and-wait approach and find out what Capcom had to offer when the game was actually released.

While a part of me still wishes that I could be taking-out these monsters with my fellow PS Nationers, I realize what Capcom meant by “a different multiplayer experience.” There is a multiplayer element to this game, but while it’s not the gameplay style we were expecting, it is certainly an unique one. Going back to my lead-in anecdote, it’s almost as if our newborn video game baby, Dragon’s Dogma, might have had another father, as it’s sharing a little bit in common with Little Big Planet. Ok, so no, you can’t make your own level in this game, but there is a similar “play-create-share” element to Dragon’s Dogma that made my playthrough more interesting. But a bit more about that after I introduce the story a bit.

Despite the game having been released a month ago, I’d still like to stay away from major spoilers, in the event that anyone reading might still be on the fence about purchasing this. That said, the game begins with your character’s small town being attacked by a giant dragon.  I don’t mean Draco size. I mean larger than an aircraft carrier, size. Your foolhardy character charges the dragon in an effort to defend the town and his loved ones. In the desperate attack, he actually manages to wound the dragon’s toe. And by wound I mean “annoy.” The dragon is still amused by this and decided to use it’s small-home-sized talon to tear your character’s heart out and consume it. With this (or perhaps because he was bored by the entire destroy-the-town thing) our giant dragon retreats from his slaughter-fest. Later, you awaken heartless, and through this process, your character receives the name “Arisen”.  This is probably also the game’s way of giving you an audible name, should you decide to come up with a unique name for yourself like “DAWG THE KILLA’”. In any case, your quest begins here, and it takes you across a vast environment as you take on multiple side quests and, of course, the main campaign.

Dragon’s Dogma does not sell itself short when it comes to customization. It’s packed with a robust system of character-creation that allows you to alter just about every feature you can imagine in your hero. This level of customization also applies to the creation of your Pawn.

Yes, the Pawns. This is the multiplayer element I was referring to earlier. When you begin playing Dragon’s Dogma, you not only create your own personal avatar from scratch. You also create a personal Pawn. This NPC travels with you everywhere you go in the campaign. But here is where things get rather interesting. In my travels I encountered many other Pawns. When I approached them, I’d noticed that they had stats listing their level, and class. Later in the game, I learned that there is a hub where a lot of these Pawns hang out, waiting for you to recruit them. The “interesting” part I was referring to comes in to play when I realized that these Pawns were created by another player for his or her own game, and that they are available for you to take on your journeys. Similarly, your Pawn can also travel with other players. If your Pawn is used by another player, they return to you with items-collected, not to mention “experience” in the game world itself. I don’t mean experience-points (you are still responsible for growing your own Pawn).

Simply put, your Pawn in Dragon’s Dogma is like your level in Little Big Planet. It is your customized creation that you can share with the world. You also receive ratings on your Pawn, so if another player had a great experience running around with your character, you will know about it.  It certainly inspires a level of pride in your creation. You can even affect how chatty and/or arrogant your Pawn is.  So I assume that if someone creates a loud and talkative Pawn, they probably won’t be receiving a lot of praise. My Pawn, Shahndrel, is certainly confident, but she knows to give advice from time to time and trusts that the player knows what they are doing. I’ve received some decent ratings on her capabilities, and she has returned with some pretty handy goodies from her journey with other players.

This multiplayer system might not be what almost everyone was hoping for, but I have to give some props to Capcom for creating something that incorporates online in a way seldom used in a game of this type, if at all. The Pawns become more than just an NPC that you created to help you on your quest. You begin to pay more attention to their growth, when you know that other people might be using them on their quests, and you feel a level of pride when they are well-received.

As I previously mentioned, Dragon’s Dogma plays like a combination of many different games. While the large environments and open-ended world definitely paint an Elder Scrolls portrait, the elaborate combat system are more akin to something like Samurai Warriors or Devil May Cry. Combat is not a walk in the park either. Fighting enemies on the road might prove simple enough, but when you face your first giant (anything) you will have to rely on your team-mates and some serious strategy. Running around and hacking will end your game quickly, and heeding your team’s spoken advice is the first step to victory. They might recommend a weakness in the monster’s defense, or advice in using a certain element against it. You are not limited to hacking, slashing and the standard magic affair. Dragon’s Dogma’s creatures can be towering at times, and here is where the game borrows from Shadow of the Colossus in allowing you to cling on to larger enemies and stab and hack as they thrash around in an effort to toss you from their bodies in order to prevent further harm to themselves.

All of this makes for some seriously-intense battles, ones that left me breathing heavily in relief when I emerged victorious. I do have to admit that forward-thinking in game-development is not overrated, and a lock-on system would have kept me from taking some unnecessary damage. I craved for it when surrounded by 4 goblins. I craved it when trying to maneuver through lesser enemies to focus on the larger target. Alas, such an option was not present, so I was constantly having to adjust my camera while moving constantly in order to avoid damage. Take heart in knowing that this is not a game-breaking oversight, and the game is still very playable even without this. I simply wonder why some developers choose to not include these game-play mechanics. It seems as if the game would be just as challenging, while not becoming annoying.

Traveling from place to place in Dragon’s Dogma is initially a rewarding experience but soon becomes an absolute chore. If there was a way to fast-travel (like in Skyrim) it was not made evident in the tutorial, thus every quest involved walking across vast areas (some previously-traveled). There are abilities further along in the game to help with getting around, but be prepared to do a lot of walking initially. You will get the opportunity for some leveling as a result, but I’d still rather have the option to fast-travel, particularly when I only have a few hours to play and it takes 30 minutes to get to my destination.

Overall, the mixture of exploration and combat blend smoothly in Dogma, taking your character across some beautiful scenic locations, while providing you with adequate, and satisfying, means of defending yourself.

Capcom’s new fantasy universe might seem a tad-bit shallow when compared to something like Skyrim, but that’s not to imply that it is not a magnificent environment to behold and explore. The visuals shine especially bright in the monster department. These baddies borrow from the Monster Hunter book with grandeur and beauty. Size is something I continuously marveled at when running into these wild creatures. And the game’s engine held tight as I crawled around their bodies while watching my archer Pawn laying waste to them with rain of arrows, complimented by the lightning spell my personal Pawn was casting upon the battleground. Considering the type of game this is, I was equally-impressed by the character models. Nothing kills the suspension of disbelief in an RPG than ugly-looking NPCs. Dragon’s Dogma’s folks are fair people, a component that I was grateful for, as I would be staring at their mugs in every town and every Pawn-recruitment zone.

Standard fantasy practice of orchestral music, but I should also note that your pawns all speak their mind with their voice, thus combat becomes especially-exciting when shouts of encouragement and advice are heard alongside the blaring music and combat sounds. I have no real complaints in this department as the sound was handled extremely well, and nothing stood out as a sore spot to the otherwise excellent sound.

I wouldn’t have issues handing Dragon’s Dogma an A, because there is a lot of enjoyment to be found here, particularly if you are done with Skyrim (or waiting for Microsoft’s exclusive deal with Bethesda to be done for Dawnguard). But even in writing that last sentence, I immediately realized that I was being unfair to Dogma by comparing it. As a huge fan of the RPG genre, I have to crown Dragon’s Dogma as having some of the most intense combat scenarios in any RPG I’ve played. I found this extremely rewarding. I still feel that the developer could have created a smarter method to gauge enemies’ distance and move between them (lock-on), and I truly wish that a fast-travel system was either available (or made more-obvious) from the start, because part of the delay in my review was wanting to give the game a fair play-through and half the time I’d spent walking to my quests. If you are looking for a satisfying role-playing/action experience to get you through the rest of the Summer, and you’re still holding out on this game, give it a shot. It is certainly one of the better games I have played this year.


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