The current generation of console gaming has seen a lot of criticism being directed Capcom’s way thanks to an acute case of sequelitis; not to mention its newfound dependence on third-tier western studios to create said sequels. There just wasn’t enough quality original content coming out their Japanese development dens, which were once the toast of the videogaming world churning out mega-IPs that shaped the industry.
But Capcom, quite evidently, isn’t one to ignore its detractors. Dragon’s Dogma is their second new IP this year (the other being Asura’s Wrath), and it’s also the more ambitious of the two – and that’s saying something given how mental Asura’s Wrath was. Helmed by a super-group of Capcom staff who’ve worked on the likes of Devil May Cry, Resident Evil and Killer7 and led by experienced hands such as Hideaki Itsuno and Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Dragon’s Dogma was clearly a project that received a huge internal push.
You are the Arisen, a commoner whose chance encounter with a dragon ended with the beast stealing your heart and yet leaving you somehow alive (in a manner of speaking) to tell the tale and seek revenge. There’s a lovely prologue that introduces you to the basics of combat and a smattering of lovely pre-rendered cutscenes sprinkled throughout the 60+ hours you’ll be playing the game. But Dragon’s Dogma’s story is unfortunately its weakest feature. It’s standard fantasy fare, which honestly wouldn’t have been bad in itself if the characters had been emoted and voiced better. You’ll have to work to invest yourself in the goings-on, but it’s to the games credit that the story doesn’t detract from the overall gameplay experience.
A game that’s bigger than anything Capcom has ever attempted before, Dragon’s Dogma straddles multiple genres. Under the overarching umbrella of a sprawling action-RPG, it also mixes in elements of classic Hack-and-Slash and Survival Horror to create an experience that’s quite unique and refreshing. The world of Gransys in which the game is set pushes Capcom’s MT Framework engine to the absolute limit, reducing it to bouts of unsightly rendering hiccups, clipping, and pop-up issues thanks to the breadth and scale of both its inhabitants and its geography.
As sizable as the world is, there’s always something new to see thanks to randomly generated boss battles and enemy skirmishes. You’ll never really know when these epic moments will show themselves so you (and your party of three) will have to be on your toes, well stocked up and equipped for the surprise cave troll or Cyclops encounter. A well-deserved pat on the back to Capcom for making the world as filled with colour and spectacular vistas as it is. Even the prerequisite RPG dungeons are well laid out and aren’t a chore to play through.
Lemme at 'em...
There’s also a lovely day-night cycle at play, with nightfall adding more than a cosmetic wrinkle to proceedings. You’ll want to make sure you’re well leveled up and kitted before you venture out in the dark thanks to all the more-powerful-than-usual enemies that are out in force. There are lanterns and such that’ll brighten things up a bit, but dusk is generally when you want to head into town or set up camp in a safe spot with plenty of fires lit around you.
A lot of the variety also comes from varying not just your characters class and vocation, but also from doing the same for your primary pawn and picking the right secondary pawns to travel with you – pawns being hirable emotionless humanoids from the rift dimension that are at your beck and call. The game also lets you edit your own physical characteristics as well as those of your primary pawn. While Dragon’s Dogma lacks traditional multiplayer, the pawn system lets you hire pawns created by other players for a fee.
The more experienced of these pawns are invaluable to have around for their advanced combat prowess. Interestingly, they also come with knowledge they’ve picked up on their travels previously, so they’ll have interesting bits of info about a particular quest you’re on if they’ve completed the same quest in another game. This also means they can be quite a talkative lot, often adding a steady stream of conversation over the environment ambience and grand orchestral score.
You can also modify their behaviours to an extent, although there’s no directing them with any specificity aside from a quartet of basic squad commands. To their credit, they’re very useful in combat. You can mix your party up with a couple of mages for instance, and watch them support you by casting absolutely stunning looking active and passive spells that light up the skies (or dank caverns).
It'll take more than that...
In addition to the economy of the pawn marketplace, there’s also a wider economy with stores and traders spread across Gransys and its many towns. As much as a looters paradise as Dragon’s Dogma is, you’ll still want to visit your local merchants to see what they’ve got on their shelves. There’s also an encumbrance system that limits how much you can carry, as well as the ability to craft new items by combining existing junk in your inventory. You’ll also chance upon inns where you can rest and store loot. Your health bar does recharge, but large chunks of it do disappear for good if you take significant and repeated strikes. You’ll then need to rest up to restore your bar to full capacity. There are tons of healing items as well, including meat and greens you find on your travels, so you’ll usually not run short unless you’re a tardy planner.
But the best parts of the game are when you’re lost in its fantasy world. Walking along idyllic paths, trees rustling in the wind, and chancing upon all manner creatures of all sizes. You’re constantly reminded that straying from the path and into the growth can be risky, but you’ll still want to. It’s what fantasy role-playing is about, and Dragon’s Dogma nails it, so much so that the lack of a fast travel option (barring rare ferrystones) isn’t really an issue.
Combat is satisfyingly chunky and every encounter feels like a new challenge. The lack of a lock-on and a few uninterruptible animations surprisingly don’t hinder proceedings much. There’s also a grab button than lets you (or your pawns) hold enemies in place, and also to climb onto some of the games larger beasts à la Shadow of the Colossus. This leads to more than a few epic moments where you’re slashing at a monster's noggin high above ground and hanging on for dear life, all the while hoping your stamina bar doesn’t run out. Your party of pawns in the meantime provides able support from below. Bringing something like a Chimera down after a 30-minute battle is beyond satisfying.
The game is in fact quite challenging
The game does pose a challenge (even if your enemies don’t scale with you), and as the pawns themselves remind you often, there’s no shame in making a run for it if you feel overwhelmed. You can always revisit regions once you’ve leveled up. In fact, you’d do well to complete as many side quests as you can initially so you can beef up your character.
Dragon’s Dogma is a hard game to dislike provided you’re the kind to let your imagination run riot. What you’d do then, is substitute the game’s generic story with your own stories of exploration and combat in a fantastically believable world, and with top-notch game mechanics to back it up. And while its come out at a cynical time for videogames, it’s also a game that’s destined to garner a well-deserved cult following.
Published Date: Jun 23, 2012 10:11 am | Updated Date: Jun 23, 2012 10:11 am