Dragon’s Dogma: review

  • Format: Xbox 360 (version reviewed), PS3
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Players: 1
  • Site: www.dragonsdogma.com

You know the RPG routine; talk to the man wearing the funny hat, accept his quest to kill the monster, and trundle off towards the waypoint. Along the way you’ll find the odd straggling enemy, but they pose no threat and can be skipped in favour of getting to the meaty quest location quicker. This is certainly not the case in Dragon’s Dogma, which seems fixated on sending you the biggest, nastiest of nasties when it’s least convenient. This was demonstrated to us on a simple ‘go here and talk to this person’ mission when a griffon swooped out of the sky, incapacitated most of our party and then left, like it was abandoning a used chew toy collection. It was brutally unfair.

But before you meet the big monsters, things start off in familiar territory. After a brief prologue you get to build your character. The customisation options only stretch to a dozen or so character models for each gender, but there is variety in body types and builds. You then get to choose your vocation from a set of three, ripped straight from the pages of ‘RPGs for Dummies’. You can be a fighter (sword ‘n’ board), strider (bow and arrows) or mage (magic and sticks). Later in the game you can choose to specialise these classes more to suit their abilities, or choose one of three hybrid classes to add variety. It’s a bit copy and paste, but heck, it’s a proven formula that works well.

Stab it hard in the eye! This beast gets no sympathy from us after our thrashing.

Soon after building your character you will be asked to design a pawn using the same restricted RPG Play-Doh set. Pawns are soulless peons that fight at your side and do as they are told, not shy of blurting advice every 30 seconds. This is where things get interesting. You can recruit a further two pawns to your side, but you do not design them. You reach into the ether of the Internet and pull through main pawns from other players to join your side. The genius thing is that any quest or enemy knowledge they have comes with them to your game. They might start pointing out weak spots on enemies, or charge off down the path to show you the way. It’s a brilliant system that really feels like you are borrowing chunks from another person’s game.

Gransys, the region Dragon’s Dogma is set, is full of things that want you dead. It is best to use the roads when travelling as straying into the brush will likely throw something big at you. Even the loading screens like to tell you how dangerous everywhere is, and that the unprepared will likely die. And this is just during the day. When the sun sets you ideally want to find an inn or camp to sleep the night away, because the horrors that come out when it’s dark make things more unpleasant.

Goblins don't like fire, or being stabbed, or seeing their friends murdered.

Whereas other RPGs depict night time as a dark blue hue that gracefully descends, Dragon’s Dogma just turns the lights off. Things go pitch black and you will be absolutely screwed if you don’t have your lantern and adequate fuel. It’s a really neat mechanic that completely changes the game at night, rather than just adjusting the colours on your screen. Different, more violent enemies prowl the darkness, making it inadvisable to start missions until morning. What you can’t see through the black you often hear. This isn’t a huge comfort when you’re unsure if those heavy footsteps belong to a chimera or Cyclops. It’s clear that Capcom’s Resi division had some input, as being caught in the wilderness at midnight feels very survival horror-like. It’s a pleasant change to genuinely feel afraid of the dark in an RPG.

Dragon’s Dogma does more to differentiate itself from other RPGs than just evenings devoid of light and safety. Exploration plays a huge part of the game as the map is only revealed as you explore it. There’s no way to tell whether your quest is up a mountain, down a valley or across a river until you actually get there. All areas are a complete surprise. It makes you feel like you are discovering the world, unlike a lot of games that have a detailed map laid out for you beforehand.

Combat also gets a liberal sprinkling of spice with a ‘grab’ command. For smaller, person shaped enemies it lets you pick them up for a comical throw, a bit like playing a hoop toss with sacks of angry meat. Grab a bigger foe however and you will mount the creature in a similar way to how you would battle the Colossi in Shadow of the Colossus, allowing you to climb to a weak point for a critical blow.

Imagine if elephants had no ears, no trunk, a single eye and could stand on two legs...

It’s not all sunshine and happiness though. It looks a bit rough in some areas, with Capcom seemingly sacrificing graphical content for larger scale. It doesn’t meet the prettiness of its direct competitors. Fighting the larger beasts also takes a long time initially, with some encounters lasting between 20 to 30 minutes. It’s very frustrating to get insta-killed in one of these scuffles, especially if you haven’t saved recently. Your pawns also refuse to shut up, constantly spouting awful dialogue about every fork in the road, or how old a bridge is, even when you’ve heard it 50 times before.

While Dragon’s Dogma does have its flaws they are relatively minor and easy to live with. There is so much to do and see made even greater by a blank map that only unravels as you travel it. Despite their awfully repetitive nature, the pawn system is genius and really helps build the community for the game. The sudden difficult spikes and giant monsters scream for a co-op mode which is sadly absent, but the game definitely stands on its own as a great singleplayer experience. Definitely one for hack and slash RPG fans and those who have a passing interest in the genre. Who wouldn’t want to climb a Cyclops?

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.


  1. I love this game! Great review! What’s your Gamertag? I’ll see you in the Rift! I’m OrganicNewt feel free to use my Pawn!

  2. KrazyFace /

    Nice review man, enjoyable read AND you’ve convinced me to put this game on my radar (trust me, that’s a big deal). I tried the demo and ended up playing it twice, I think I get to keep my character creations too! But just for the fact I played a demo more than once, and now reading this review, I’m gonna push this up my list of wants. Might even pass SSX…

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