What’s it about? Stylistically Dragon’s Dogma is, appropriately enough, something of a chimera. While clearly influenced by Greek mythology in the main, it thinks nothing of unleashing Tolkien-esque goblins and dragons at your long-suffering virtual avatar. There are similarly mixed motifs when it comes to visuals and setting too, with the clear skies and waters of the Aegean mixed with villages straight out of Baldur’s Gate.
In fact, for a Capcom development team that counts the likes of Resident Evil 4 and Devil May Cry 4 amongst its past creations, it’s fair to say the RPG is something of a departure. That’s not to say there aren’t a few nods to the developer’s heritage – a sword stroke Dante would be proud of here, a monstrosity horrific enough to dwell in Resident’s Evil’s most infested mansion there – but in Dragon’s Dogma, Capcom have not only attempted to shake up their own studio, but the entire Japanese role-playing genre too.
Instead of action points gauges and stacked-up special moves we’re presented with real-time action in which your attacks, be they physical or magical, are governed solely by how much stamina your character possesses. Thankfully, as the newly “Arisen” – a human tainted by the touch of a dragon – you’re in possession of a constitution hardier than most.
You’re also not alone, for at your side stand your pawns, warriors who ‘dwell within the Rift’ – read on PSN and Xbox Live and across the hard drives of your friends. You can call on up to three AI-controlled pawns at once and swap them at your leisure by entering the Rift yourself and conducting what is ostensibly an interview with those which take your fancy.
The really clever thing here being that if you manage to snag a relatively experienced pawn, he or she might have already completed some of the quests awaiting you while at the command of another player and so will advise during such quests – pointing out secrets and new paths for example when the time comes for you to take the plunge.
As if to prove themselves still further they are a constant source of audible feedback during battles too, either telling you how to best attack a beast, that they’ve discovered a new technique or else are in a tight spot. While a bit much at times, such information at least lends them personality, a trait which can be shaped still further in your primary pawn who can be moulded in a series of chats throughout the game.
That all combatants, including your own character, have three classes to choose from complicates matters still further, with warrior, ranger and sorcerer types available to choose from. Finding the right mix is essential, particularly when the going gets tough, as Dragon’s Dogma’s clashes are often chaotic and brutal affairs whether fighting multiple hostiles or one giant one.
Take an early encounter in which the Arisen investigates rumours of monsters living at the bottom of a well. Having already felled a huge troll and numerous wolves and goblins I didn’t think twice about charging in head first to fight whatever might lurk below the surface – despite my pawns began mentioning a ‘foul stench’ and pointing out numerous bloody carcasses.
Even when spotting the source of such violence, and the smell – a group of lizardmen as it turned out – I charged straight in, blades glinting in the dim torchlight. Suffice it to say the subsequent encounter didn’t last long, my daggers failing to penetrate their scaly hides and so leaving me open to relentless counter attacks and, for a first time during my play through, death. We might not be talking Dark Souls’ levels of tough, but strong opponents and a lack of an auto lock-on means even minor tussles can prove fatal.
Undeterred I returned to the fray the next time around, though this time with a strategy all worked out: I’d take to the high ground and unleash arrows attacks, making particular use of my three-arrows-at-time special (holding down the shoulder buttons smartly opening up access to your full repertoire of moves) to whittle down my prey’s health from afar.
The resulting triumph however was only part down to strategy, for by now my pawns had found the lizardmen’s weakness (though you’ll have to work that out yourself), while the propensity for hostiles to go for the throats of your AI controlled allies – as assuredly as they do your own – at least allows you to get out of the firing line and recharge before returning to the breach.
Worth the wait? Within just a few hours of my time with Dragon’s Dogma, gigantic trolls, chimeras and hydras have all tasted the steel of my blade, the notion of ‘less is more’ clearly not on the agenda of Hideaki Itsuno and his team. While the quests I’ve played through thus far – escort this, kill them, capture that – are hardly the world’s most progressive, what’s more impressive is their novelty – escorting a hydras severed head while under attack from harpies anyone? Elsewhere, if the rapidly escalating size and strength of opponents continues at the same rate further into the game, we could be looking at something very special come 25th May.
For: PS3, Xbox 360
When? 25 May 2012