Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Thanks to Capcom for providing a copy of this game for review.
JRPGs that try to appeal to a western audience are, unfortunately, often laughable at times. There’s over the top acting, strange accents and dialogue and, more often than not, female characters in laughably skimpy armour that’d do well to protect them against a sun tan, nevermind a fifty foot dragon. That doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyable though, but there are just some things that never change. Dragon’s Dogma falls into this category. Despite the dodgy Shakespearian dialogue and sometimes strange characters to boot, Dragon’s Dogma deserves a spot in any RPG fan’s heart.
Brought to us by the masters of Westernised Japanese titles, Capcom has created a masterpiece. From the start the sense of both adventure and epic battles to come hits you like an ogre’s club. After a rather confusing section that sees you battling harpies and a Chimera as an unnamed knight you’re shoved into the real adventure. The character creation is excellent, catering to all levels of experience and tastes. Don’t care what you look like? Pick one of the preset people, give them a name and off you go, but for those wanting a little depth to their character there’s so much more going on.
After doing the aforementioned preset appearance picking and and naming of your character you can go into a more detailed customisation that would put Skyrim’s to shame. With nearly a hundred different options to choose from for each of the appearance options, from noses and mouths to facial hair and scars the system is both intricate and simple to use. Each option has its own picture so you know what you’re doing before you change it, unlike Skyrim and many other games slider systems which make character creation more a guessing game than anything fun.
One thing I will say however, as a bearded fellow myself, there just aren’t enough beards. Unless you want to either look like Orlando Bloom, a Lumberjack or a hipsterised version of Tony Stark you’re a little stuck for options on that front…
Regardless, once you’ve created your fat green bearded lumberjack who happens to sport a rather dapper pink mohawk you’ll be ready to start your adventure as [insert name here], the lowly fisherman/woman! But as with all heroes, they have to start somewhere.
Luckily for you, it just so happens that a pretty massive dragon just fell from a vortex in the sky and is on the way to fuck up your day. After he gleefully burns down half the village you have a sudden stroke of bravery, pick up a guardsman’s sword and start slashing away at the scaled fiend as it lands. Mr Dragon doesn’t like you tickling his scales so proceeds to flick you away like a fly, stabs you in the heart and then proceeds to eat it as you die before him.
It’s an epic sequence, allowing you to actually grab hold of the dragon and climb it. This is one of Dragon’s Dogma’s greatest features. The ability to grab hold of enemies, either on the ground or flying, and climb them, slashing at their weak points for massive damage (Unfortunately I’ve yet to find the giant enemy crab…) and severing vital parts such as a Chimera’s goat head or a lizard man’s tail.
As you lay there dying, the Dragon speaks to you, challenging you to combat and giving you a chance to live as an arisen. And so you set off, with a massively cool scar on your chest where your heart used to be which will no doubt impress the ladies, destined to fight the dragon that stole your heart.
As opening’s go it definitely prepares you for the game ahead. You see, Dragon’s Dogma prides itself on not only its character customisation, pawn gameplay and epic story but also in its unforgiving difficulty. Apart from the various safe zones such as cities and encampments that you can enter there’s nowhere outside where you’re ever truly safe from real danger. Monster spawns are almost completely random with only a few of the larger monsters being confined to spawning in certain areas. However, pretty much every area has its own dangers.
And that is what makes Dragon’s Dogma’s adventuring so exciting. You never know what you might find as you explore the lush countryside and eerie forests of its living world. Alongside this, monster ‘levels’ are also relatively random. While there are no invisible walls in the game, it seeks to confine you to certain areas for your level by allowing you to freely wander into fights you have no chance of winning. While initially frustrating when you realise you can be given high level quests you can’t complete and with no ‘bread-crumb’ trail telling you how to get to your next quest objective it’s easy to get lost in high level areas. However, it all adds to Dogma’s charm.
It’s as if adventuring adhered to real life rules. You can’t just wander into that nest of flesh-eating giant spiders wearing nothing but rags and not knowing which end of your bow to shoot with. You’ll often find yourself running from fights you can’t handle or even, for the foolhardy amongst you, wading in an attempt to prove your skills against monstrous beasts that will literally tear you limb from limb.
If you find yourself wanting to adventure into parts unknown but can’t be bothered with all the politics’s behind leveling up your character and so on you can hire the help of pawns. Pawns are Dogma’s way of enhancing what would be an average RPG into the realms of tactics.
As well as your main pawn, a fully customisable character that you create much like the main character, who will follow you around and assist you in quests you’ll also be able to hire two extra pawns from various points around the world. These pawns are either randomly generated or, for those connected to the internet, other people’s main pawns.
Each pawn can be from one of the nine classes in the game that fall under three different basic trees, the melee Fighter, the ranged Striker and the Mage. As you advance you can eventually spend points to change your “Vocation” to any of the nine classes. As well as the basic vocations there are also advanced versions that combine two together, such as the melee ranged class the assassin or the mystic mage knight. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy there’s then three more classes on top of that which focus on each of the main three’s distinct abilities, making the fighter into a two-handed specialist or the striker into a longbow wielding sniper.
In all the class diversity is astounding, giving you a unique playstyle and experience no matter which you choose. Each has a wealth of skills to choose from but unfortunately you can only choose to use three for each weapon that can then be changed out at will by heading to an inn. Again, this makes Dogma into a distinctly tactical experience making planning ahead a top priority.
Classes play a major part in choosing your pawns. While you can recruit pawns of any level granted you have enough “RC” points to do so, each class has its own unique skill set to help both you and your fellow pawns in battle. For example, hire a class that can equip a shield and they might have the “Shield Spingboard” ability, able to launch you into the air as you run at the ally’s shield, allowing you to grab hold of flying monsters such as a dragon or griffin.
It’s a great system, meaning that it’s not just the main character doing all the hard work. In order to succeed you need to bring the best pawns for the job into battle. On top of this, the pawns are also extremely vocal, which can both be annoying in the down time when, as you travel from place to place, you’ll often hear them repeat themselves a lot, but can also be very useful as they shout out tips in battle. As Pawns advance they grow their knowledge of quests, locations and monsters. This means that while a new pawn might know nothing about Lizard men an experienced one can shout to you to sever their tails to stop their health regenerating.
Not only does this give an incentive to hire the right pawns for the job but it’s also a very rewarding experience as you see your main pawn go from a wet behind the ears noob to a complete adventuring monster hunter pro.
And while your pawns will be leveling up alongside you you’ll also be grabbing all kinds of sweet loot to either pawn for gold or equip on both you and you three pawns. Giving loot to pawns other than your main one will bind it to that pawn, meaning that if you give a cloak to a friend’s pawn, they’ll give it to their creator when they next come online. It’s a good system but you’ll often find people reluctant to part with their hard-earned loot so easily.
Unfortunately, this level of ‘multiplayer’ doesn’t extend to anything solid. There’s no co-op play to speak of which would have been an excellent and more than welcome addition. A drop-in system similar to Fable 2’s where the second player acts as a hired mercenary or even a pawn would have been a great step forward and add even more depth to the already stellar singleplayer experience.
While we’re on the subject of gripes with the game I’d like to mention the lack of fast travel. This is more a personal choice but the distinct lack of fast travel except for finding very rare gemstones that teleport you to the game’s capital is a minor annoyance. Having to travel twenty minutes to another town to hand in a quest, without the aid of transport, often gets tiring especially if you didn’t plan for the journey back.
Which is probably the biggest tip I can give about Dogma. Always plan ahead. You’ll do a lot of travelling in this game without the aid of horses or carts and without the right amount of healing potions or disease cures you’ll be in a whole mess of trouble. Pawn selection is especially vital when it comes to planning out how to complete a quest.
But, apart from those little niggles, Dragon’s Dogma is an absolute gem. Dogma is a rare experience that doesn’t come around often. With it’s in-depth character customisation, intricate pawn gameplay, immense open world and epic story Dogma is a distinctly westernised JRPG worthy of any RPG fan’s attention.
+ Immense Open World
+ Epic Storyline
+ In depth Combat and customisation
– No Fast Travel
– Difficulty can be annoying at times
– More multiplayer options would have been welcome
The graphics, while having a distinct Asian style, are fantastic. The monsters look suitably monstrous and the spell effects and beautifully rendered world are a joy to behold.
A wealth of battle sounds and immersive ambient noises give way to sometimes hard to understand Shakespearian dialogue and strangely unfitting rock music.
Suitably epic for a fantasy RPG experience. The story won’t necessarily win any awards for the script but the promise of an epic final battle and the battles between the humans and the many monsters the Dragon bought with it always keeps you interested.
In depth combat and tactical pawn gameplay make Dogma a great experience. The ability to
map more skills would have been nice but unfortunately, we can’t have it all…
While there’s no real multiplayer to speak of the singleplayer boasts over 150 hours of questing and with a wealth of monsters to discover and slay as well as an expansive open world to explore there’s enough to keep any loot obsessed adventurer occupied.
The Verdict: 8.5
A truly fantastic experience all round that I can’t help but recommend to any RPG fan. The lack of fast travel and multiplayer as well as some strange dialogue and script choices unfortunately lets it down but the positives ultimately outshine these minor faults.