One of the biggest genres this generation has been the Western-style RPG, typified by games like Skyrim, the Souls games, and The Witcher series. with their gritty Game of Thrones aesthetics and more open-world structure. With Eastern-styled RPGs struggling this generation, Capcom chose a different approach and decided to create its own entry to the Western-style fantasy RPG, while still keeping Capcom’s sensibilities regarding action and combat. The result of this is Dragon’s Dogma, an open-world action-RPG from a team of designers whose members have worked on the PS2 Devil May Cry games, Monster Hunter, and the Eastern-RPG-styled Breath of Fire series.
In Dragon’s Dogma, you play a blank-slate main character of your own design who is attacked by a dragon during the intro sequence and has his/her heart torn out, informed by the dragon that they are now the Chosen One. Known thereafter as the Arisen, you then travel the world fighting the monsters that have suddenly plagued the countryside. The plot is paper-thin pulp fantasy that mainly serves as a backdrop for some great hack-and-slash action. In this way, Dragon’s Dogma is very much like Capcom’s hugely popular Monster Hunter series, only with an eye more towards international audiences.
One of the main features of Dragon’s Dogma is the pawn system. Pawns are player-created servants/battle companions of the main character. They are created using the same classes available to create the main character and are always at the side of the main character. However, in addition to creating your pawn, you can also download pawns created by other players via PSN or Xbox Live, and you can make your own pawn available for download by other players. The pawn system is a community feature. When you draft another player’s pawn into your party, you can rate his/her appearance and abilities as well as send the pawn with a gift for his/her original creator, and likewise other players can do the same with your pawn. You can also share your pawn via Facebook if your Facebook account is connected to your PSN/XBL account. Your companions are controlled by AI, although you do have the standard commands to change your companions’ behaviors as you see fit. The AI is reasonably competent. You generally won’t be frustrated as your pawns throw themselves headlong into an unwinnable situation or draw hordes of enemies upon you before you’re ready to take them on. The pawns will also constantly give you advice and/or warnings about enemies or other hazards in your party’s vicinity, which is helpful at times but can become an annoyance.
The combat is where Dragon’s Dogma really shines and reminds you of its Japanese heritage at Capcom. This is some of the best action RPG combat I’ve ever seen. Unlike so many other RPGs where it feels like you’re fighting paper dolls, the hits in Dragon’s Dogma feel rock solid, both on the giving end and the receiving end. Furthermore, Dragon’s Dogma allows you attacking options like climbing on the backs or heads of large enemies to deal damage, although you’ll have to do your best to hang on. These same large enemies are more than capable of crushing you underneath their feet. While the combat isn’t as fast as a dedicated hack-and-slash brawler, it’s still among the best in the RPG genre. More than a few long-time Capcom fans have compared the combat in Dragon’s Dogma to that of Capcom’s 90s Dungeons and Dragons arcade brawlers (Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara), and with Dragon’s Dogma’s huge array of melee attacks and magic, this is a fitting comparison.
In terms of visuals and sounds, Dragon’s Dogma is solid, if not spectacular. The world is suitably huge and panoramic, with sprawling cityscapes and endless mountains, valleys, and rivers. The character-creation modes are a cut above those of other games and allow you to customize your characters beyond the standard crew-cut males or helmet-haired females. The animations are done well enough, although slowdown rears its ugly head during crowded scenes. The sound features stock Western-style RPG background motifs and sound effects. As previously noted, your pawns will constantly chatter to you, which may annoy some players, although you do have the option of turning the game’s voices down or off.
All in all, if you like intense, frenetic combat and a huge world to explore and can overlook the paper-thin plot, Dragon’s Dogma is highly recommended. While it isn’t likely to give From Software any cause to worry, Capcom has made a good first foray into the world of gritty console action RPGs, and hopefully we will see more in the future from this promising franchise.