Dragon's Dogma is a strange proposition. In a post-Skyrim world, it takes a brave developer to release a RPG. Poor old Big Huge Games, developers of the rather pleasant RPG-lite Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoninghave been all but erased by poor sales showing at the checkouts; and much like a plot thread from Game of Thrones, the death of one series begets the arrival of another. Guess it’s a good thing then that Dragon's Dogma is no ordinary RPG.
The emphasis for Dragon's Dogma rests squarely on the ‘Playing’ bit of the ‘Role Playing Game’ genre its thematically most akin to. It’s developers comprise some of Capcom’s favourite sons; Director Hideaki Itsuno of Devil May Cry3 fame, producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi who produced both Resident Evil 4 and Killer7; and Breath of Fire designer Makoto Ikehara. And as you’d suspect, such collaboration has resulted in an action-heavy openworld adventure speckled with clever ideas, and a curious blend of European Tolkien fanboy-fantasy as envisaged by Japanese developers. For a start, your hero (‘the Arisen’) starts off by getting his heart eaten by the titular dragon.
Missions are delivered by various characters across an expansive open world. Rewards can be then invested in character development along the usual routes. You rarely travel alone, as the game revolves around its ‘Pawns’ – a series of additional characters than can be purchased and upgraded, which travel to each battle and offer support and an extra pair of boots for the fight, or use them to fight the battle for you. Capcom are also keen for you to customise these to the hilt, and trade them via XBL and PSN, like a Pokemon in a bodkin. Pinching battle-hardened Pawns from friends instils a degree of care and pride in your support characters – and the social sharing option is nice (and sensible) addition – allowing you to chart your journey into the real(er) world.
And you’re going to need all the support you can, as Dragon's Dogma is a tough cookie – the taste of which will be familiar to Dark Souls fans. Battles are epic and often random occurrences, emphasising the wild nature of the landscape on a 24 hour rotation – and primary and secondary weaponry combat varies from striking button combos (familiar to Devil May Cry players) to clambering on the back of various mythical monsters and jabbing away till they shake you free. Again, development of your characters vocations guides your weapons and abilities, and proficiency with advanced spells, strikes and grabs. Combat is intensely action focused, with significant weight and power felt in each strike and parry.
The game does suffer from some awkward scripting and hokey voice acting. A huge new world with new characters doesn’t have the dense backstory of Skyrim or The Witcher 2 and feels vaguely detached when dwindling from the core narrative. Similarly, Capcom’s own MT Framework engine (used for Lost Planet 2 and Resident Evil 5) sometimes ebbs in quality, looking downright stunning at moments of high tension when tearing into a monstrous dragon, but lapsing into large monotonous stretches of land with unfortunate clipping.
But overall, Dragon's Dogma should be commended for trying something new – and succeeding. Much like Capcom’s Dead Rising games, it takes an action centric game and builds a whole haze of crisscrossing adventure elements that become so ubiquitous it feels adventurous. Similar to their Monster Hunter games, it emphasises the feral world of these creatures and gives you the tools and the incentive to stick with it, and importantly develop your Pawn characters along with your own. Dragon's Dogma is very much an action fans RPG, which sneaks in traditional elements. It might prove a little farcical at moments, but its a brave new adventure in a brave new world. Whether it becomes a lasting series will be depending on how willing the public are to accept such a bold crossover product.