You have to hand it to Capcom: it's releasing Dragon's Dogma at just the right time. Six months after The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and ahead of the traditional summer drought, it has the PS3 adventure landscape all to itself. Thankfully it's got quality as well as good timing.
In development for three years with a supposedly enormous budget, Dragon's Dogma comes from some of Capcom's biggest talent — director Hideaki Itsuno worked on the Devil May Cry series and producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi has worked on the Resident Evil series since it started. You'll pick up on tiny touches of Capcom design throughout, with a glow to items you can pick up (including herbs), fast and fluid combat and preset nicknames to give your character from practically every Capcom game of note.
Early comparisons to Capcom's big action-adventure series Monster Hunter are only surface-deep. Yes, you slay giant monsters and use loot to upgrade your weapons and armour, but that is where the similarities end.
Gransys is an expansive world to explore right from the start; you don't unlock new areas, you simply walk into them. The only barrier to your progress across the map is the strength of your opponents — which is never indicated — so exploration becomes an intriguing balance of risk and reward. Do you choose to tackle the group of bandits ahead, not knowing if they'll wipe you out or crumble with ease? Death means reverting to your last save, potentially undoing important progress, and you soon learn never to rush into combat. It's easy to see where the Demon's Souls comparisons started.
Quests, too, carry no indication of their difficulty, but the ability to have multiple active quests means you can flit between them as you please. Some are persistent goals — kill 20 boars, find 45 seeker's tokens — while others fall into familiar territory of extermination, fetch quests, escorts and so on. The outcomes of some quests have repercussions later in the game: deciding which book to give Steffen, for instance, plays an important part in a later battle. We're not talking Bethesda or BioWare levels here, but that makes the occasional ripple all the more surprising.
One area you do have full governance over is character creation. The editing suite isn't quite bordering on sports game territory but you can customise facial features, stance, voice, musculature, stature and more, with Capcom claiming physical features can have a big influence on your character's capabilities. We did notice more muscular characters could carry more items without being weighed down, but that's about it.
Still, the ability to craft a character in such detail is welcome in an adventure game (Capcom claims it's not an RPG), doubly so when you add in the game's flagship Pawn system. Pawns are non-playable characters who support you in battle, and you can recruit up to three during your adventure, swapping them around at Riftstones. At the outset you create a main pawn using the same editor; this pawn will stay by your side for the entire game, and will gain experience, quest knowledge and skills as you do. It's interesting to be able to create a secondary character to complement your own tastes, and while it would have been great to quest with other players online — Dragon's Dogma is a solo adventure — the artificial intelligence is good enough.
That's not to say there aren't online options. Your main pawn can be hired by other players, and it'll bring back items, experience points and quest knowledge, along with an optional rating and message. It's quite a thrill to have your AI helper assisting players in all corners of the world, benefiting you with information on monster weak points and how to proceed in a quest. Best of all, the whole thing is automatic — simply sleep at an inn and you'll discover your pawn's distant progress. Social networking features mean you can brag about your pawn or ask for others via Twitter or Facebook, though only time will tell how useful that proves.
A team of skilled pawns keeps combat fresh and unpredictable. While a solo fighter could simply repeat the same moves to win, your comrades will grant buffs and debuffs, call out advice and hold monsters for you to attack. Nine available character classes keep the variety going, and you and your main pawn can change vocation during your adventure so you don't have to restart to switch from mage to warrior. Vocations are split into three categories — basic, advanced and hybrid — to open up plenty of options: blend support magic with strength and play a mystic knight, or use the assassin's poison, explosives and close-up attack prowess to win. Sticking with one class opens new skills and abilities, but these aren't lost if you change vocation, so you're free to chop and change how you see fit.
Fighting mobs is entertaining for a while, but dotted throughout the game and generally found at night are the real enemies: big mythical beasts. Ogres, cyclopes, griffins, chimeras, hydras and more all appear, each with unique attack patterns and weak spots to exploit, but the ability to climb up them freshens the familiar forms. Clinging onto a cyclops' head to stab its eye as it stumbles around a castle courtyard is later eclipsed by riding around on a griffin's wings, and you can target the chimera's goat and snake heads to reduce its attacking ability.
There aren't too many negatives to level against Dragon's Dogma. It's big, it's surprisingly addictive and it's wide open for you to explore. There is something missing though; whether it's the disappointingly generic visual design or so-so story — your soul has been stolen by a dragon, and there's something about a mysterious duke in there — it never quite finds top gear.
Dragon's Dogma is a real success for Capcom — consistently entertaining and compelling, it's a pleasure to explore its world. The pawn system and variety of skills and vocations keeps combat enjoyable even after dozens of hours, and while multiplayer would have been the icing on the cake, there's more than enough here to entertain a single player for weeks. A solid and worthwhile purchase.
A couple of negatives I had from playing the demo - which I was really looking forward to playing but was quickly deleted:
Lack of a lock-on. After all the criticism Capcom gets for MH not having a lock-on I thought they would put one in here. It almpst works in MH as you are mostly alone w/ your prey but in here with all of the NPC and other foes it was too chaotic.
Too much on screen babble. If this were a real online game then I could see the justification for all the on screen text chatting, but this is a solo game yet so much of the screen real estate is wasted on chat. I've played many a single player party game - going back to the original Kingdom Hearts on the PS2 - so it can work w/o all the chatter. I suppose for those who mostly play online multiplayer the screen looks normal, but after spending the past few months playing the Uncharted series and Binary Domain (another offline party) this screen is TMI.
@rjejr So a bit of info:
1 — Personally I don't mind the lack of lock-on: as a MH vet I'm used to it. One character has homing arrows but otherwise it's all about your skill and freedom of character movement. You get used to it, promise
2 — You can turn off subtitles or mute all voices if it bothers you. You can also turn off mini-map and button guides to free up some more of that space. Up to you!
Nice review James. I can see myself picking up this game sometime soon.
Sounds exactly like what I expected, so I'll probably pick it up sometime next year.
Thanks for the review James. I am still undecided if I will be getting it at launch. My concerns are the same as @rjejr, I had a lot of the same issues with the demo. In addition I had problems with the camera. It seemed to go all over the place and I had to keep readjusting it, which I found annoying. Also, how is the screen brightness settings? I played both the PS3 and Xbox 360 demos. I found that the PS3 demo was visually much darker and harder to see even when the brightness was turned all the way up, I could hardly see anything when it became night time while I was fighting the Griffin. However, the Xbox 360 demo I had no problems with this but I did find that the PS3 version had a much better frame-rate and no screen-tearing. Oh and could you share any info you have regarding DLC for this game. Thanks in advance.
this game is great !
Normally, I would avoid buying most Capcom games new, but this one has caught my interest. I might buy this.
Great review James. I am so looking forward to this game. This is the (non?) RPG I've been waiting for.I wanted to like MH Tri so much but was put off by the sluggish controls (imo) and the insane preparation that was seemingly needed before 'hunting'.
The combat in the DD demo was great and I like the fact that the game doesn't hold your hand by signposting difficult enemies,no lock on and fast travel etc. Seems to me like the absence of those things will make for a greater sense of adventure and danger, which is cool.And the lack of story/cutscenes to me is a plus. I just wanna slay giant beasties , I couldn't care less why I'm doing it
Can't wait for next week I'll be getting the 360 version (no PS3 yet ) but I can live with the screen tearing, TBH i don't notice stuff like that once I'm into the game anyway.
@WolfRamHeart I agree, the 360 version does seem brighter than the PS3 one and suffers less from tearing. I've played it a lot on 360 and PS3 and the PS3 version is slightly inferior; some slowdown during saving mostly.
As for DLC, looks like Capcom will release bundles of add-on quests, plus there'll be the usual new weapons, customisation options and the ability to buy Rift Crystals (the currency used to hire pawns). It's a massive game so even if you don't buy the DLC I think it's a good deal on its own.
@James: Thank you for your feedback. I was thinking about purchasing the PS3 version because I prefer the PS3 shoulder buttons and triggers to the 360 when it comes to this particular game. However, I think that I might just go with the 360 version this time around considering those technical issues that you mentioned. I appreciate the heads-up. As for the DLC, those types of additions aren't something that I am really interested in getting anyway so I guess I won't really miss them if I decide to pass on them. As long as the game has a substantial amount of content and it definitely sounds like it does, I am good to go. I'll be sure to pick this one up when I get the chance. Cheers mate.
I don't know what's worse. The fact that I cannot play thing game and really want to, or the fact that I get sent images of a certain someone playing this game.
Great review though James. I will definitely pick this up the moment I get the chance.
@Aviator That was one screenshot! Would you like some more?
@WolfRamHeart That's too bad, I was looking forward to sharing PS3 pawns with you!
@James: Well, I haven't bought it yet so we may be able to exchange pawns one day after all.
no wolf get it on ps3 xbox suffers from extreme problem (according to ign anyway) also james may i have your psn please so i can swap pawns i already got DD 2days early (thanks to the ever great shopto.net iv never been let down by them unlike zavvi lol)
@Tomboy25 My PSN ID is DaddyNewts
Must be honest and say the 360 version I've played didn't have the same problems IGN describes but I guess it's one of those "your mileage may vary" things.
reminds me so much of dark souls but not as hard lol
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