Dragon’s Dogma is an open world title by the creator of Devil May Cry, and it’s a little bit of a strange beast. You start out designing your character in a way that is very Western in origin, choosing a class which will determine what weapons you get when you start the game and not much else, similar to Dark Souls. From there, a dragon attacks your little fishing village, and when you take up arms against it, it swats you like a fly, rips open your chest and eats your heart. This turns you into an Arisen, your fate tied to the dragon and destined to seek it out. With that in mind, you set out on your merry quest to get your heart back from the dragon and live a normal life. It’s weird, straight up.
I want to be frank with you for a little here. I previewed Dragon’s Dogma twice before it came out and the first time it felt ridiculous. Admittedly, I had no context for it as there was no-one explaining the game to me, no tutorials (and the game is decently complex) so I fiddled around for fifteen minutes trying to kill a set of cyclops and goblins with my pawns being of not much help and it was a middling experience. The second time was in a private hotel room with Hideaki Itsuno himself explaining the game and it made a lot more sense, whether it was just a later build or more polished , when I took down the golem it felt great, really awesome. That was when I really felt excited about this title.
Along the way you’ll get the assistance of ‘pawns’, a not-quite human set of humanoids from a different plane of existence with no emotions, but more than willing to help the Arisen on his quest. Each pawn is tied to a single Arisen with a maximum of four in your party at any one time. Your own pawn (or ‘main pawn’) is customisable however you need to, changing clothes, abilities, vocation and even haircut if you are so inclined. The other two pawns in your party are brought in from other players of the game, which is where the online component comes in.
The other pawns do not level as you do and your main pawn do, so you’ll often be swapping them out, filtering through the thousands of pawns online to find something that’s vaguely useful to you and your party. There’s a lot to consider when doing this too, as quest knowledge, skills, level, area knowledge and most importantly, monster knowledge all plays a big part of the pawn selection process. If you get a pawn that’s not as useful you can swap them out, but they will be a hindrance until you do.
The world of Gransys is around half the size of Skyrim, and that’s nowhere near as many dungeons or quests to do, but the world does something that Skyrim didn’t, and that’s actually have a feel that it’s lived in. Peddlers and soldiers move between towns along the roads, and avoid travelling at night (as you should too!) due to the scary monsters that lurk at those hours. There’s a lot of wildlife (mostly trying to kill you) and lots of things to collect and combine to make many other materials. All of this is important though, so make sure you collect everything.
One of the great things about this game is the way that classes work. If you’ve fully levelled a class, you can change it at many ‘rest areas’, and some of the skills will come across too, so you’ll unlock great classes with a wide variety of skills, allowing a good level of customization. You’ll need it too, because every monster has a weakness, but it’s not always easy to spot until the pawns work it out and tell you. If your pawn does gain knowledge with a quest/area/monster, when you visit that place/fight that monster/work on that quest they will advise you on actions you can take more efficiently. It’s a great system and really encourages the sharing of your pawn to other players. They can be extremely chatty though, so watch out for that because you can’t decrease their chatter.
It’s the combat where this game shines though. The larger monsters are always exhilarating to fight, and when you and your team take down a Griffith, a drake or a wyrm (to name a few), there’s a huge sense of accomplishment. If you’re a melee fighter you can run up and jump on the monsters, climbing over them to stab them in the weak spots or trigger behaviour such as making them fall over to allow easier access for your party. Personally I’m a mage at heart though, and conjuring a whip made completely from lightning is one of te most badass actions I’ll do in a game for a while.
It’s not all fun and games though. Dragon’s Dogma has flaws, and sometimes they’re very obvious. The game isn’t optimised greatly, so you’ll see a lot of pop in of monsters and characters, not so much on landscape which is good, because those can be truly stunning, but the NPC’s appearing randomly can be quite off-putting. The quest system also isn’t very exciting. Most of the quests are based around “Go here and kill X of these” which are very bland. The pawns also barely ever shut up too, and they don’t have a lot of dialogue, so expect to hear lots of that.
Dragon’s Dogma is a fun game which surprised me a lot. The social aspect of pawns adds a really great layer to the game, and whilst the DLC hasn’t been exciting so far, I hope they take it a long way in the future as this world is begging for more exploration, monsters and items. It’s a pretty long haul, even for an RPG as I’m around sixty hours in now and I’ve only just started “New Game+” but I’m more than keen to jump right back in, summon a whip and beat the hell out of a dragon.