Hearty and Heartless
A high fantasy RPG is a tough statue to shape, chisel, and smooth into a piece of art worthy of being called a masterpiece. It requires an amount of time, resources, and attention to detail unmatched in any other video game genre. Creating this magnum opus requires every element to be polished to a brilliant gleam, and blending them together to deliver a seamless experience to the player. Dragon’s Dogma unfortunately is not a flawless masterwork, but what it does well is infuse a gorgeous open world with an intoxicating illusion that masks the dangers lurking in every shadow, but grants you a diverse array of combat abilities to give at least a measure of security when venturing into the unknown.
In the fantastical world of Gransys, peace only lasts until the rebirth of an ancient dragon, a red-hued beast of gargantuan proportions who terrorizes the land in search of the Chosen One. As chance would have it, while trying to repel the wyrm’s assault on the fishing village of Cassardis, it is discovered that you are the one he seeks. For you, unfortunately, this means that your heart is ripped from its chest and devoured by the dragon. Though the eternal slumber seems apparent, some mystical force heals you and calls you back. You are now dubbed the Arisen, destined to seek the beast who stole your heart.
Your campaign is set, and while it uses many standard plot conventions, it still begins an exciting journey with a seemingly unattainable goal, but one that compels you to build your power, wealth, and knowledge to be as prepared as possible for the showdown. Yet while the ultimate goal remains palpable, performing the mundane fetch quests for the instantly annoying task givers (and most of the population for that matter), is a tedious process that needed a serious second draft in the development. It’s possible the poor scripting and grating voice acting stems from a faulty localization team, but nonetheless, the over-exaggerated conversations pull the story out of any realism the artwork tries desperately to convey.
When outside the villages, you will find solace, at least from the inane chatter of the townsfolk. The silence of the wilderness—and the untamed vibe it exudes—is like nothing I’ve seen in any other open world RPG. Consider it a mélange of Skyrim’s freedom of exploration, the precautious measures of Dark Souls, and classic beasts that could stand toe to toe with those from the Monster Hunter series. It’s a world full of interesting diversions and hidden riches, but also one that requires a cool head and steady pace, for a sprint will most certainly cause you to trip and do more than simply scrape your knee. If you failed to save recently, death means returning to the last checkpoint, which could very well mean hours of lost progress. Also, your health does not regenerate, and healing spells cannot bring you back to full, so a vigorous supply of poultices and tonics is a must before hitting the open road.
I was absolutely enthralled when I discovered how expansive the item collection and crafting system is, right from the start. Empty flasks and rocks may seem like junk upon first inspection, but when you discover a bucket of oil in the wilderness, those vacant containers quickly become fuel for you lantern, and those pebbles can be tossed to avert the attention of unsuspecting enemies. Nuts, herbs, fish, and plenty of other materials can be used as is, or combined with additional ingredients for a completely new item with stronger applications. If you’ve been looking for the RPG where even the most mundane items can be useful (as I certainly have been), Dragon’s Dogma will have you scouring every inch of the immense world looking for the soft highlight of a tangible item.
Once danger approaches, you’ll find yourself setting up an attack strategy to maximize damage and minimize your own health loss. Knowing your class skills and utilizing effective combinations are vital to staying on top of the pecking order. You’ll begin with a choice between three standard types, a sword-and-shield-bearing Fighter, a staff-wielding Mage, or the Strider, who favors daggers and bows. These are not concrete choices by any means, and you are free to change classes whenever you visit an inn. Each vocation has its own level, which grants you new skills as you gain ranks in that particular profession. Eventually you unlock advanced classes of the three basic ones, which are not necessarily an upgrade in strength, simply a variation. There are also three hybrid classes, which merge the abilities of two basic vocations, allowing blended powers like magical arrows, or element-infused shield strikes. As you accomplish goals, you can purchase new skills using Discipline Points, and with a lengthy list to choose from, there’s plenty of room to create a unique character.
The character design process actually begins right after the prologue, itself offering plenty of freedom but also a fair sense of believability. Shaping every facial feature to your exact specifications is part of the process, and it’s a nice blend of Japanese and Western templates—not over-the-top in the hairdo department but maintaining a softness in the overall structure. Your physical build actually factors into your in-game control. Rather than classes or statistics dictating your movements, choosing to make an eight-foot-tall, three hundred pound warrior will give you a longer reach with your weapon, but keep your pace sluggish. On the flipside, a lean and lithe choice means quicker actions, but at the cost of being more easily weighed down with a loaded backpack.
Stamina plays a critical role in combat, since every power in every class feeds off of this resource, and being overburdened requires skills to use up even more stamina. Your hero will show noticeable signs of fatigue as the energy bar decreases, and will be forced to stop and catch his or her breath when completely depleted, a significant vulnerability in a heated battle. It’s just another element in a robust and challenging combat system against some incredibly imposing monsters such as ogres, wyverns, griffons, and hydras, just to name a few. Each enemy uses its own specific tactics, and most are extremely aggressive, so finding the weaknesses and exploiting them requires a sharp eye and a quick mind, as well as weapons capable of causing meaningful damage, and armor able to hold up under heavy blows.
We finally come to the multiplayer aspect, which has been a highly advertized feature from developer Capcom. You can have three companions, called pawns, join your campaign. One is created by you and levels up like you do. The other two are chosen by travelling through the Rift, and are either computer-generated allies if playing offline, or crafted from other players if playing online. Each pawn is unique in that they are forthcoming with tips and knowledge from their conquests in that particular player’s world, creating a dynamic scenario no matter where you travel. However, they cannot be leveled, and thus you’ll never get to keep the perfect crew, forced to enlist new characters as you progress. It may be more than most RPGs of this scope accomplish in the multiplayer department, but you still are stripped of being able to actually play the campaign alongside a friend, which is a shame.
Dragon’s Dogma suffers most in the technical department. There are far too many texture pop-ins, and characters will fade in after you’ve approached due to slow loading. The character models are not as detailed as they could have been, nor do they have any semblance of believable lip-synching in their presentation. Listening to the multitude of various music styles, from lyrical rock tunes to soft synthesizers, certainly leaves an impression, but many times the music just feels out of place. And again we are presented with a mute hero, a trend in this genre that infuriates me.
Saying that Dragon’s Dogma takes elements from various other Capcom titles and fuses them into a Western RPG would be missing the point of what should be considered a unique action fantasy in its own right. The world is one of the first I’ve seen that truly implores you to give it the proper respect rather than brashly dive into the unknown and expect to emerge unblemished. The story and characters may not drive you to a sublime world of fiction, but the action more than makes up for it, with character and equipment customization that will keep you tweaking and enjoying yourself the entire time.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
The mammoth monsters are beautiful yet imposing, and the world full with the scale we were hoping for. The character models and animations needed some more polish though. 4.6 Control
Some of the smoothest and responsive controls in any RPG, but a plethora of inputs to study makes for a steep learning curve. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is nicely put together (if not diverse in styles), as are the sound effects. However, most of the voice acting is abysmal, and the rest only passable. 4.6 Play Value
Considering this game could take you well into the hundreds of hours, there’s more than enough content. The multiplayer aspect is interesting, but not as full-fledged as we’d have liked. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best