Dragon’s Dogma Review

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Much like 2010’s Vanquish, Dragon’s Dogma showcases one of those rare occasions in which a Japanese developer takes on a traditionally Western genre. Despite slight nods to Capcom’s Japan conquering Monster Hunter series, this isn’t the Monster Hunter for the West that many were expecting. Instead, Dragon’s Dogma delivers a hybrid, or ‘best of’ take on Western fantasy RPG design and development while managing to add an air of Japanese-inspired quality to the combat that is so often lacking in its peers.

Set in the mythic land of Gransys, a sprawling landscape reminiscent of both Skyrim and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dragon’s Dogma delivers a rich, varied and beautiful landscape for players to explore. It’s not as vast or as densely populated as Skyrim but, in its own right, it’s still an epic game world, full of beautiful scenery and well realised locations. It’s not the most technically stunning game you’ll come across this year, but thanks to the consistency of the ever reliable MT Framework engine and the imagination and keen eye for detail present within its uniformly impressive art design, Dragon’s Dogma manages to transcend its occasionally dated visuals.

While Dragon’s Dogma does borrow liberally from the best that the genre has to offer, almost to the point that little, if any, of the final product is what one might refer to as unique, it’s the underlying quality and smart design choices that make this first rate RPG stand out from the crowd…….well, that, and the combat of course.

With Hideaki Itsuno of Devil May Cry fame on board, Dragon’s Dogma is imbued with the kind of quality combat you wouldn’t usually associate with a game of this ilk. As great as Skyrim et al may be, one thing they have all struggled to nail is quality combat. Kingdom of Amalur did a pretty decent job of marrying epic adventuring to deep, satisfying combat earlier this year, but even 38 Studio’s solid attempt pales in comparison to the quality found in Capcom’s epic RPG.

Although only three classes are available from the start, Warrior, Ranger and Mage, each of these classes can be expanded upon as you progress with further advanced classes, and eventually, hybrid classes for those willing to hit the grind trail. Within these classes, each role allows for both primary and secondary weapons with additional skills that can also be upgraded and expanded as you progress. With this kind of depth combined with a core combat system that is both weighty and varied, Dragon’s Dogma effortlessly delivers best in class combat. With the chance to juggle enemies a la DMC or mount and attack the larger beasts in a style reminiscent of Shadow of The Colossus, Dragon’s Dogma delivers both quality and variety in equal measures.

That depth doesn’t just apply to your created hero or heroine either. Although a single player adventure at heart, from the very start, you also get to create a ‘pawn’ who will act as an AI companion for the entirety of the adventure. This pawn is created and equipped by you, giving you the option to suit up and stat up this additional character as you see fit. Further to this core pawn, you are also able to hire two other additional pawns at any one time. Although these cannot be levelled in the same way, they do present an interesting set of tactical options insomuch as they offer you the ability to recruit and build unique teams made up of pawns of specific classes, each with their own unique regional skills and knowledge. While the urge for online co-op does remain, the high quality of the AI (bar the occasional moment of stupidity) and addictive nature of building and equipping your party  does negate this somewhat.

Similar in style to the online messages that could be left by other players in From Software’s brilliantly brutal, Dark Souls, Dragon’s Dogma allows you to share and subsequently borrow player created pawns to aid in your quests. Once used, you can then return them safe and sound complete with a message, a review, or even a gift.

These pawns aren’t just a clever twist mind; they are downright essential. Although not quite as unforgiving as Dark Souls, Dragon’s Dogma is nonetheless an extremely challenging experience, one that punishes poor planning mercilessly. If you are to take down the game’s biggest beasts or simply survive the many brilliantly unscripted ambushes that will occur throughout your time in Gransys, you’re going to have to pick and equip your team wisely. The bigger baddies in particular take careful preparation and a clear tactical plan to take down. Capcom has always been the king of boss battles, and this game is essentially full of them.

Looking towards Greek mythology for inspiration, Dragon’s Dogma is a land filled with recognisable enemies, each one instilled with a pleasing sense of grandeur and ferocity by the Capcom art team.  Sure, there are smaller enemies to cut through, with the usual array of troublesome bandits and goblins to take down, but even these basic battles are all given a sense of pleasing urgency built of the knowledge that something a lot bigger and a hell of a lot stronger might crash the party at just about any moment.

Of course though, while giant snakes and chimeras are all welcome additions to the enemy appendix, it’s the dastardly dragon that inevitably steals the show. Rising from its slumber, the dragon glides into your previously peaceful town before rather unceremoniously tearing out your heart. Leaving you with a few nasty scars and a complete lack of a pulse, the dragon decides to reanimate you as one of the cursed Arisen, giving you the power to pass over to the spirit world of Everfall where you can recruit your team of pawns. Of course, slightly miffed by all this, you set of to find this dragon and to get some well deserved answers….and your heart too I guess.

It’s a pretty simple story, one that, on the surface at least, isn’t likely to have you on the edge of your seat. Luckily, while the core story itself might be a little on the ‘meh’ side, the quests throughout your adventure are of a consistently high standard.  With interesting characters to meet, extraordinary tales to hear and a truly brilliant collection of monsters to vanquish, Dragon’s Dogma should have no trouble at all keeping you entertained for its extremely ample running time.

There are a few chinks in the armour, including a slightly cumbersome menu and complete lack of fast travel (seriously Capcom, what’s that about?), but these issues are but a drop in an ocean of quality. It might not be as epic as Skyrim or as unique as Monster Hunter, but as a complete product, Capcom’s fantasy RPG stands as a monumental achievement and proof positive that Capcom, when fully committed, are capable of just about anything.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to press@4gn.co.uk.

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