Dragon’s Dogma looks like it’s over almost as soon as you start it. Following a short tutorial, your village is attacked by a dragon who promptly rips out your heart (still beating, Temple of Doom-style) and then flies off. That would be enough to stop most would-be adventurers, but you survive and proceed on your quest for vengeance. In addition, you are now treated as a savior by “Pawns” who are willing to follow you and aid you in your quest. It’s a novel twist on the RPG genre and Capcom’s latest take on a genre that recently saw gems such as Dark Souls and Skyrim. How does Dragon’s Dogma fare among titles like that?
Dragon’s Dogma’s plot is, like many similar titles, moved forward through quests you have to complete. This creates a linear element within a seemingly open gameplay world and presents developers with a lot of design challenges. Capcom has tackled some of them brilliantly, but stumbles in other areas. I’ll address these flaws later, because the prevailing feeling here is that of grand fantasy adventure. The game delivers on the promise of epic battles with giant monsters, as could be seen in the trailers released during the past couple of months. It also crafts a convincing fantasy world clearly inspired by locations that are commonplace within the genre, including dark forests, ruins and caves. All these locations are beautifully rendered and create an atmosphere that fits the storyline well and keeps you immersed in the story as long as you don’t run into some of Dragon’s Dogma’s roadblocks.
These roadblocks usually aren’t of the literal variety, but involve storyline developments that see you backtracking to areas you’ve already seen before (sometimes several times). No matter how good the environment looks, you become less involved with the story when you feel like the story’s progress is dragging a little bit as your character slowly makes it back to a previous location without a whole lot to do during his trek. I don’t consider this a major issue as any open world game will have some inevitable amount of backtracking, but during my gameplay sessions the game’s pace seemed to struggle because of it. However, the game has some of the best moments you can think of to make you forget about these pacing issues. A lot of these involve dramatic storyline twists and seemingly overwhelming odds during a battle with a giant monster or dragon. It’s moments like those that keep you moving forward and coming back, even when you’re sometimes wishing you could turn your experience into a highlight reel instead.
Fantasy RPGs these days have a tough nut to crack when being compared to the likes of Dark Souls and Skyrim, so Dragon’s Dogma tries to be different in a few ways despite the fact that it draws on so many staples within the genre. The most important gameplay element that sets the game apart from competing titles is the use of the “pawns” I mentioned earlier. You can recruit them to aid you in your quest, but you have very limited to no control over the way they behave. They seemingly have minds of their own, despite their sole purpose in life being to serve you. Capcom has infused these humanoids with a small dose of personality as well, as their remarks breathe life into your party of adventurers. Carefully balancing out your party is also an important part of succesfully completing your quests, and you can change the composition of your party at many points in the game to improve your odds. However, in this gameplay dynamic also lies a small dose of frustration, as the lack of control over your friends means that they may at times perform actions that are the exact opposite of what you want them to do.
When all is said and done, Dragon’s Dogma is still a worthy addition to the fantasy RPG genre. It’s not the next Skyrim, but if you’re done with your third playthrough of Skyrim and can’t wait for the next Elder Scrolls installment, you could do a lot worse than to check out Dragon’s Dogma. Much like a lot of blockbuster movies, it’s epic, it’s grand in scale, it has some quirky characters that you’ll either love or hate and at the end of the day you feel like you were entertained despite some obvious flaws that keep it from being a masterpiece.