It takes a strong party of adventurers to take down a dragon, but an even stronger party to dissect a game as massive as Capcom's ambitious action role-playing game Dragon's Dogma. Do these six brave heroes have what it takes?
What a silly question, this is what they do for a living.
They play through a massive open-world game like Dragon's Dogma, filled with massive fantasy beasts that no sane person would ever cross paths with, trading NPC pawns with their friends and generally poking about with swords and spells. Then they go home and wind down with a little chartered accountancy or telemarketing, because they don't want to take their work home. Can't blame them.
Either way, here are six reviews of Dragon's Dogma, along with a fancy chart showing you review scores so you don't technically have to read the snippets below. I find it helps if you imagine each reviewer start with 100 hit points, and the final score reflects the number the game took from them while playing. Enjoy!
I have slain a dragon. I have walked the coasts of this land more times than I can count, treading upon the lives of creatures most foul. I have felled the beasts of the forest with arrows and steel and pillaged their leavings for aught. I have died, thousands of times, as have those who have adventured with me. And, in the end, I think back on almost none of it with fondness, or the nostalgic recollection given to hard fought, hard won battles. I am no hero.
Listen now, as I play for you the song of my heartache. Let me spin you a tale of confusion, anger, humility and bona fide bewilderment in the face of abject mediocrity. Let me tell of Seraphina the Arisen, her loyal pawn Josephine, and their stupid, stupid quest to save the kingdom of Gransys. Let me tell you of Dragon's Dogma.
Despite being developed in Japan, Dragon's Dogma is very Western in style. The lavishly detailed visuals reflect medieval high-fantasy while the non-linear questing structure allows you more freedom to explore - and to potentially get in over your head. Quests are the focal point of gameplay, and completing them advances plot threads and earns you ample rewards. Unfortunately, most are hit-or-miss: for every mission with a creative objective (like helping a family deal with a demanding landlord), you'll get a more conventional "kill these monsters" scenario. The quests that send you to new places - where you're exploring dangerous, uncharted territory - are the most exciting. So are the tougher encounters: it's incredibly satisfying to make it through a minefield of high-level enemies, or to beat a massive monster by the skin of your teeth.
Peel back the spectacle to look at the underlying rules and you'll see that, while these monsters have their allotted areas (and will often respawn there some time after defeat), encounters are otherwise dynamic and unscripted. There's a feeling that not even the designers know quite what's going to happen, and this sense of randomness gives the adventuring in Dragon' Dogma its exciting intensity.
Not that the game isn't familiar. It's constructed from a hotchpotch of borrowed ideas, both thematic and systemic. Tolkien's fingerprints are pressed firmly into Gransys' hills, castles and lore, while monsters and tics of terminology are taken from a range of contemporary Western fantasy and ancient Greek myth.
It's apparent that Hideaki Itsuno — the director of every Devil May Cry bar the first — has drawn upon his vast experience to craft a combat system that's instantly accessible and surprisingly deep. As you unlock the advanced Warrior, Ranger and Sorcerer classes, the urge to try a wide range of team combinations with different skills and equipment becomes a hard allure to resist. The game also features three hybrid classes in the Mystic Knight, Assassin and Magick Archer. These mix the fundamentals of the focused classes with unique tricks, including the Mystic Knight's ability to enchant their shield with elemental spells that trigger when struck.
But despite some inventive techniques, the spell occasionally falls apart when you have to rely on your Pawns. For the most part, they can take care of themselves and only need the odd command or resuscitation to keep things on track. But on one occasion when we equipped our hero with a flaming sword to tackle a horde of flammable undead, our supporting mage kept augmenting his blade with a less than helpful ice spell — completely ruining our strategy. Then when it turned out there was no way to change his mind, we had to show him the door before finding a less clumsy replacement.
One of my favourite parts of the game is how Capcom expertly layers skill progression, loot upgrades, and the pawns to sell the feeling that you're a powerful force in a brutal world. I was pleased to see how regularly my skills progressed throughout my journey, and they went far beyond the simple "+2 damage" type improvements I've grown accustomed to. I felt pretty slick the first time I fired ricocheting magic bolts of energy into an unexplored tunnel and heard unseen monsters squeal in pain. A few hours later, I was able to shoot three of those same blasts simultaneously. Character respecs are easy, which came in handy when I jealously watched a melee-based pawn in action. A short while later, I was exploring the world as a newly minted warrior.
Strictly based on the status quo, on dissecting a game through the standard reviewing procedure, Dragon's Dogma should be given four stars out of five, but it deserves more than that. I'm usually the critic who nitpicks RPGs for their storytelling and presentation because that's what I care about most, but Dragon's Dogma has forced me to set those aside. The level design and unforgettable bosses surpass even that of Skyrim. In that light, its noticeable hiccups become merely growing pains in the face of a powerful, new idea, one that's sorely needed in an industry saturated with sequels and spin-offs. Inspired by both Dark Souls and Skyrim in almost all the best ways possible, it presents an open world that's wrought with danger, yet begging for adventure, and shows that Capcom is ready to take a leap of faith. And so should you.
I bought it last night. At this rate I'll get to play it in 2014.