Capcom is one of those companies that people like to shout about – usually in a fit of rage – but we'd be mad to forget about one of its best original properties in years: Dragon's Dogma. Released on the PlayStation 3, the title is a bit like a Japanese take on open world, Western role-playing games. It's got just about everything that you'd expect from something like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, including sprawling explorable countrysides and dark, dank dungeons – but it's all served up with an unmistakable Japanese charm.
Playing as your own custom character – who has the option of being a hulking giant or a tiny, tiny person – your heart is stolen by a huge dragon in one of the first cutscenes, and you've got to go and get it back. You're the Arisen, you see, who's sort of like a chosen saviour, and you have the ability to work with pawns – strange not-quite-human-but-they-look-it warriors that hail from an otherworldly realm. You even get to make your own constant companion pawn, who'll follow you to the ends of the Earth.
Much like a game such as Dark Souls, the story isn't laid out for you in its entirety. It's a subtle affair that you can slowly piece together as you progress, but that doesn't stop the title from throwing a bunch of cutscenes and characters into the mix, neither of which do much to actually enhance the tale. Narrative grievances aside, Dragon's Dogma is very much one of those releases where you'll be making your own stories, whether it be the time that you and your pawns got lost in a darkened forest as night fell, or when you got ambushed by a bloody big griffon as you peacefully marched back to town.
Indeed, Capcom's creation is full of brilliant moments like these, partly because enemies don't scale to your level. Instead, you may wander off the beaten trail and get your head smashed in by bandits ten levels above you, and it's all part of the experience. The game's got a perilous atmosphere to it, like you're always being watched, or there's something incredibly dangerous just waiting for you around the next corner. It can even be a relatively creepy adventure, as at night, the undead rise from the ground, while ghosts and wisps start appearing in the darkness. Capcom's talent for horror is alive and well here.
It's this atmosphere that keeps you engrossed in the experience, even if you're just escorting a merchant from one stronghold of safety to the next. The land of Gransys is a large location with somewhat safe roads and tracks that wind and weave through it, but the truly adventurous are rewarded, more often than not, with an eye-opening discovery or perhaps even a nice piece of new gear.
Speaking of which, being an RPG, there's plenty to do when it comes to levelling up and developing your protagonist. You can switch between numerous different character classes at the nearest inn, from typical bulky warriors to mages with devastating magic spells. One of the most popular choices, though, has to be the quick and rogue-like strider and its subsequent specialised classes. Making use of a bow and daggers, the brilliance of the release's combat really shines through with such a versatile class, as you let punchy arrows fly from a distance and then unleash a flurry of dagger blows at close range.
That's not to say that other classes aren't satisfying, though. A two-handed warrior can mow down foes with one swing of their oversized armament, and shake the ground with incredibly weighty attacks. Combat continually offers up different and interesting situations thanks to the variety of opponents, who each come with their own strengths and weaknesses, but things get especially interesting when giant monsters are plopped into the mix.
From gigantic cyclopes that make the Earth shudder as they walk to screeching griffons that love nothing more than to swoop down at you when you least expect it, hunting and felling these beasts feels fantastic, especially if you can exploit their weak points. For example, setting fire to a griffon's wings with fire arrows, flaming weapons, or a particularly hot spell will send it crashing to the ground in an attempt to smother the flames, and that's when you can grab onto the creature Shadow of the Colossus-style, usually just as it jumps back into the air and you're left soaring hundreds of feet above the Earth.
You don't need much more than an engrossing atmosphere and combat that keeps you engaged to spend hundreds of hours in a virtual world, and the game delivers superbly on both fronts. The pawn system ties into things well, too, as with an online connection, you can recruit other players' creations and have them journey with you, which basically means that you're always keeping your ragtag party fresh and ready for action.
All in all, Dragon's Dogma is a must-try for anyone looking for an atmospheric and often daunting fantasy adventure. You can sit down, play for an hour, and experience awe, fear, brutality, wonder, and extreme satisfaction all within that relatively short time span. And when you're finally finished with your journey, you can do it all again thanks to a thoughtful New Game Plus option, which carries over all of your character's progression. This time, though, you'll be adamant not to end up bedding the local blacksmith due to the title's rather misjudged romance system. You can't win them all, we suppose.
Are you already a fan of Dragon's Dogma, or has this convinced you to give the underrated Capcom release a go? Sidle into battle in the comments section below.