Dragon's Dogma (XBOX 360) Review
The story of Dragon's Dogma revolves around our player, who of course is the hero of the piece, and begins with a rather unfortunate encounter with a dragon. As the dragon appears to lay waste to our village the soldiers there to protect us scatter and our character takes up a sword to attack the beast, landing one blow before being thrown to the ground. The Dragon then proceeds to rip out and consume our heart, while chanting an ominous sounding incantation. From there we are revived as an Arisen and are then destined to find, and hopefully kill, the dragon that stole our heart.
Dragon's Dogma takes place in an open world fantasy RPG setting that includes classic hack and slash content as well as horror elements which should come as no surprise. It is after all developed by the team behind Resident Evil and Devil May Cry.
As we begin Dragon's Dogma it is clear that Capcom want to introduce us to what the game has to offer over time. This isn't a case of starting us off slowly with the bare minimum and building our skills over time. We are immediately dropped into a dungeon quest along with a team of assistants, pawns they are called, who are key to the game mechanic but more on them shortly... We are tasked with getting to the end of this short dungeon while picking up key combat skills before taking on an end of level boss, in this case a Chimera (part goat, part snake, part lion).
During this initial mission we find that fast paced combat is key to the game and it is more than just standing hacking and slashing. Our team is capable of ranged combat and spell casting (attack and heal) with our character having the ability use primary and secondary weapons as well as being able to climb onto the large foe and cause more damage.
Following the completion of this task we find ourselves in the main storyline, recovering from the dragon attack and are introduced to some of the main characters in the game. From here we begin our quest and start to pick up additional controls, and they are reasonably standard. We can for example jump with A, attack with X/Y and interact with B. The shoulder buttons can be used to perform additional actions such as swap skills and the d-pad assigns team orders.
We also choose a class of character to play as, with standard RPG elements present which allow us to choose whether we go with magical powers, distance combat or close combat and with each we can level various attributes with XP gained throughout. Items can be bought and sold and space used to carry and equip what we obtain.
As with all RPGs questing is key to gameplay and as well as the main story progressing as we play there are a huge number of side quests to take on and drop in/out of at our own pace. These can be taken through chatting to the vast range of NPCs we encounter, through quest boards that can be found in locations such as Inns (where we also rest to recover and tweak skills) or assigned as part of story based elements. Quests as well as being numerous are also varied and even in the first few hours we will have been through exploration, combat, protection, scavenging and more.
All pretty standard so far then... so what does Dragon's Dogma offer to make it stand out from other action RPG's? Well there is access to the Resident Evil 6 Demo... and Pawns.
As an Arisen, something we become after recovering from the loss of our heart, we are able to command a team of up to three Pawns. Other than the short intro quest our first encounter with a Pawn occurs early in the main story when one is assigned to us, appearing out of a portal in the sky. The Pawns offer basic levels of intelligence and all have varied attributes which suit them to different tasks. We also move on to gain our own Pawn who will stay with us at all times and their creation is very much the same as ours as we choose their class of character, appearance, attributes and even name.
With our main Pawn we can then enter the Rift, a portal to the Pawn realm and when there choose others to accompany us. This can be done at any time by finding a Rift stone and those who accompany us on quests learn as we progress, enhancing their skills and knowledge of the game world. Take a group into a battle with some low level goblins and they will learn which style of attacks is most effective against the enemy before using it next time. Pawns also offer constant commentary, dropping any hints they feel are useful to our currently active quests.
For many developers the wide range of bundled Pawns would be enough but not Capcom. As well as social media integration which allows us to share screenshots from our adventure and upcoming DLC we are also connected to the Capcom cloud. Here our companion Pawn is stored and it is updated each time we sleep in-game. At this stage it can be loaned out to other players across the globe, enhancing its abilities when away and often bringing back items to add to our inventory. We can of course also borrow other player's pawns that may be suited to helping with a task at hand, and of course this can mean sharing Pawns with our friends.
Graphics & Audio
Dragon's Dogma uses Capcom's MT Framework game engine, the same used in recent titles such as Lost Planet 2, Resident Evil 6 and Marvell Vs. Capcom 3. Those games are known for being rather impressive graphically and there are aspects of Dragon's Dogma which impress. Lighting for example is used well; dark and compact dungeons also look great with some outdoor environments offering good view distance and a vibrant world. Comment was also made that many of the character and enemy models were also suitably detailed and the larger mobs were impressive as were the large bosses.
That said there are also some disappointing aspects. The one which stands out the most are tree shadows which flicker distractingly and there are framerate issues. Many of the textures lack detail too and while trying to add some life to the world with moving grass and the like our developers have been restricted to 2D grass which doesn't look great when foraging.
Dragon's Dogma also features a large amount of voice acting with interaction between our character and Pawns being done with extensive scripting. Having said that as we travel back and forth through similar areas the same voice cues are hit and repeat.
In terms of soundtrack the music in the game sits well, blending into the background of our questing and never being a distraction. Special note also has to be made of the title theme which plays on the main menu, a very classic 80's rock style piece which makes us think back to action movies of the past.
With the game beginning in a more advanced combat situation it is clear that Capcom added this area to demo the combat, Pawn and Grab aspects of the game which they were proud off. They couldn't wait to show off their new toy's and to be fair it works well, although when the game properly starts it does have the impact of us wishing we had all those skills and pawns already.
The game does reward us reasonably frequently in the early stages though, introducing quests and enhancements in a steady stream. By the time we have played for around 4-5 hours the key aspects are in place and we have a full team, ability to change members when we wish and have completed a decent range of tasks, enhancing our characters and not necessarily the main story which we can progress at our own pace.
With so much to do it can be hard for a developer to ensure the game flows smoothly and it is this area, and also in visual/audio quality that Dragon's Dogma has its biggest issues. There are occasions where it could be clearer where we should be heading next to progress and the answer is found through guessing the right path or by heading down the wrong one and getting ourselves well and truly beaten up by enemies we are not ready for yet. Added to this with the game having day-night cycles where some quests can only be completed in one or the other it isn't obvious with some which time period we should be in. There is little more infuriating than wasting time in an area, where the Pawn vocal hints are kicking off with wording that seems like we are doing something right only to find we should actually be there later. And that's before we consider that often more than one pawn will speak over another, hiding information which could be important in the mix.
The shadow and grass issues are also a problem which should have been resolved during development. Key items which are on the ground tend to be highlighted/glowing but when you have shadows flickering in and out during long periods exploring and grass which looks pretty rough it reduces immersion in the game world. We also noted numerous occasions where needless conversations took place, it was as if NPCs had never met us despite us speaking to them because we were returning from a quest to report our success, or had them one of the items they had requested.
That said the positives far outweigh the negatives in Dragon's Dogma and for every area of iffy shadows and repeated dialogue there is an impressively large foe or mob lurking to be taken on. Also key to the games success is a great combat mechanic which is one of the best we have seen in an RPG. It never feels like we are just button mashing and the number, variation and size of enemies is always pushing us to adapt our own approach and the mix of Pawns we have with us. The Pawns too are an excellent twist on the RPG genre, more than a bunch of NPCs as we might find in other games, these have a huge bearing on the gameplay and our chance of success. The decision to assign our own, main pawn keeps the game feeling personal and the additional two slots at the same time allow the game universe to feel that bit bigger than expected.
As with all epic RPG's Dragon's Dogma is huge and allows us to play through at our own pace. We can take on the main story, playing through the side quests after its completion or mix up the two. There are some issues with visual and audio polish that should have been resolved with some extra time in development though.
Elevating Dragon's Dogma to a title all action/RPG fans should look at are combat and Pawns. Through their own approach to both Capcom have made an accessible and engrossing game that feels unique to each user and always entertains during the challenging action sequences.