I only really got excited for Dragon’s Dogma around 2 weeks prior to it’s release, having not heard much about it before that. It was those 2 weeks before that piqued my interest and I started watching all the gameplay footage and such online, which ultimately led to me purchasing it on release day. It is epic.
The game starts off with a kind of tutorial mission, getting you familiar with the control scheme and the mechanics of fighting, while providing a nice little prelude to the game. After this you are able to create your Character. 5 minutes in and you’re greeted with a plethora of differing features you can give to your hero, this being one of the best and most detailed character creation systems I’ve seen in a long time. After appearance you are required to pick a Vocation, the options are Fighter, Mage and Strider. These are pretty self-explanatory, Fighter is a melee based class, proficient with swords. Mages use staffs and have the ability to cast spells and Striders use daggers and bows. I chose Strider to begin with as I’ve always had a soft spot for playing the Archer in RPG’s and who wouldn’t want to be like Legolas from Lord of the Rings?! Don’t worry too much about what Vocation you pick though, as you can change later on in the game.
A cutscene then follows showing a Dragon attacking your small seaside village, laying waste to everything within the town’s confines. Being super heroic, you pick up a rusty little sword from the ground nearby, and charge the Dragon head on. It doesn’t end well. The dragon then plucks your heart from your chest, eats it and then departs. Obviously this is not game over, as I wouldn’t have even bothered writing a review, due to the game only being 15 minutes long. You wake up, nursing a large scar across your chest, and putting your hand to it causes you to hear a voice. The Dragon’s voice, telling you if you want your heart back then come and get it! And thus the game truly begins.
Arguably Dragon’s Dogma’s most defining and impressive feature is the Pawn System. Shortly after the above introduction you are required to make your very own Pawn, a being very similar to humans aesthetically but one with no real goal in life other than to serve it’s master. You can make your Pawn look how you like, name him/her what you like and also choose his/her class. I went with a 7ft Warrior called Beefcake! Happening upon a riftstone is when the Pawn System gets even better, activating it will cause you to enter a realm where Pawns reside. Here you can apply certain search criteria to find a specific pawn, or just wander around until you find one you would like to recruit. You can hire up to two additional Pawns to your party, and they will stay with you until they perish in battle. The cost of recruitment is paid for in R.C ( Rift Crystals) and these are earned by your main Pawn when he is loaned out to others. Just as you can loan other people’s main Pawns, they can loan yours as well. Upon resting in an Inn Beefcake would always approach me afterwards saying he had been away, gained some items and also gained quest knowledge. Pawns remember details about the quests that they have completed with their master, or with other people. This is a brilliant feature and it means that when you are stuck in certain parts of the game you can search for a Pawn who has already done your current quest, and then he will give prompts and advice throughout. One other thing to mention on the Pawn System is that you don’t have to be at a riftstone to acquire a new Pawn, most of the people around you are all willing to take up arms against the Dragon and will join your cause for a small fee.
There are a wide variety of enemies in Dragon’s Dogma each with their own weakness or method to fighting. Again Pawn knowledge plays a big part in this as Pawns who have vanquished vast quantities of wolves will know how to fight wolves more effectively. Within 2 hours of starting the game I had fought; a Chimera, a Mountain Giant, a Dragon, a Troll, a Hydra, a pack of Goblins and lastly a pack of wolves. Enemies like the Troll are weak to fire but strong against melee attacks, so you will have a distinct advantage if you are a Mage or have Mages in your party. ‘Boss’ enemies, for lack of a better term, are very well done as well, some fights last up to 20 minutes long, they are very epic and so ridiculously satisfying upon victory!
The controls are very solid and work extremely well for an RPG. ‘X’ is light attack, ‘Y’ is strong attack, applying ‘LB’ or ‘RB’ to these attacks allows you to perform skill moves decided by your vocation. ‘RT’ will prompt your character to grab at the enemy, this is mostly useful when you are facing large opposition like the Trolls. By grabbing their leg you can hack away with your sword while holding on (causing stamina to drain) or you can attempt to climb up higher and higher, until you find a more appropriate place to hit, for example the head! A lot of the time during battle your Pawn will grab an enemy and restrain him for you to hit, this is cool and very helpful when overwhelmed! My only gripe with the controls, and it is a minor one, is you sprint by clicking in the left stick, which is very draining on your stamina, and the only way you can stop sprinting and revert back to jogging is if you stop first. Like I said, only a minor gripe!
Leveling up, a very important prospect in an RPG. If it’s done right it can make the RPG so much more, but if done wrong then it can ruin one. Dragon’s Dogma gets the leveling right in my opinion, although it could have been a little bit more thorough in parts. When you fight as a certain Vocation, let’s say Strider, upon killing a certain amount of enemies you will gain a Vocation level. This allows you to unlock skills locked to that Vocation, and you unlock them by spending discipline points. These are also unlocked by fighting enemies. Around 2 hours into the game you are given the option in Inns to change your Vocation for a set number of discipline points. Now this is a really good thing, as not only can you change to the other 2 starting Vocations, but you can mix and match in a way! There are new Vocations to try out, things like Magic Archer which is a Strider with the ability to perform magic. One thing to mention about before I finish on the topic of Vocation is that equipment is locked to specific Vocations. Thus meaning a Fighter cannot equip a bow, and a Strider cannot equip shields. This is good as it offers clear boundaries between classes and how you fight with each of them. Like in most RPGs you have an equipment load threshold, a weight of stuff that you can carry without being over encumbered. Weight slows you down in Dragon’s Dogma and also drains your stamina faster when running or fighting, you can counter this by offloading all your unwanted gear on one of your Pawns!
The Heads-Up Display (HUD) is very overwhelming and I had to turn off Pawn Subtitles in the end. Your combat button layout is in the bottom right, your minimap in the bottom left along with you health and stamina, and anything your Pawns say (don’t forget you can have 3 of them!) scrolls up the left hand side of the screen. It gets a bit too much to say the least, and I think its unfortunate as if they’d just toned down the Subtitles it wouldn’t have been that bad.
The sound in Dragon’s Dogma is a mixed bag. The song on the intro screen is absolutely epic, the music throughout the game is good at getting you pumped up for big fights but it is let massively down by the voices. By this I don’t mean the voice acting, I mean the lines they have been asked to say and also the amount of times said lines are repeated. Being constantly hammered by ‘Ye Olde English’ is a bit annoying, add to that the fact that NPCs when approached say exactly the same dialogue. The worst for me is the shopkeepers. Talk to him, “These are all Masterworks”, click on BUY, buy a few things, exit out to menu “These are all Masterworks”, click on SELL, sell a few things, go back to buy “These are all Masterworks”, leave shop and refuse to use them throughout playthrough. Every time I wanted to use a shop I’d be greeted with the same monotonous dialogue at least 5 times! Also if you have 3 pawns, and are attacked by wolves, all 3 of them will shout about wolves and how they know how to fight them. This also gets tiring if you fight numerous pack of wolves in quick succession.
The graphics are good, a lot of detail has gone into the surrounding environments and even more into the monster detail. The dragons look spectacular, especially in flight. There is however the occasional glitch, where monsters won’t appear properly and then they will just phase into existence behind you. This seldom happens but when it does it is annoying.
Death is the most frustrating aspect of Dragon’s Dogma. Not quite on par with death in Dark Souls but in it’s own way. Saving is not possible when enemies are nearby and auto save only works when you rest at an Inn or enter a riftstone. So forgetting to save regularly is an absolute killer, I would say I spent around 5 hours doing one single quest, due to the fact I kept dying and having to repeat the last hour of my playthrough. Upon death, you can use a wakestone if you have one to revive, or if not then you just revert to the last time you saved. Now would probably be a good time to mention that Dragon’s Dogma is a very challenging and brutal game but it is very rewarding.
The best way to avoid death is by stocking up on as many consumables and potions before departing on your travels. ALSO AVOID NIGHT. More enemies come out at night and it gets incredibly dark so movement is difficult. Consumables can be found anywhere, and they are essentially food. Grapes can be picked from bushes, apples from trees, meat can be salvaged from wolves or boars that you have killed. The cool feature with consumables is that they decompose, just like in real life. I think this is a brilliant addition and one that works well in an RPG as item maintenance is vital.
Overall I think Dragon’s Dogma could have been the best RPG on the xbox 360 but a few flaws and the feeling that it was rushed a little have let it down. If not for the graphical glitches, the tedious voice acting and the slight lack of story, I think this would have been phenomenal. To shy away from the negatives though, Dragon’s Dogma is a great game with it’s excellently inutitive combat, a brilliant Vocation system and a wide variety of foes to face! It just seemed like you needed a bit more time Dragon’s Dogma but I would still recommend it to any RPG fans, as despite not being fully polished, its a great effort from Capcom.
Gameplay – 9/10
Sound – 5/10
Graphics – 7/10
Longevity – 9/10
APII* – 2/2 P 1/2 I – 1/2 I – 2/2
Dragon’s Dogma – 8.2/10
*A- Accessibility, P- Presentation, I- Innovation, I- Immersion
This review is based upon a release copy of the Xbox 360 version of the game. A copy of the title was acquired by winreview for review purposes.