2011 and 2012 has been a great time for western style role-playing games, with titles like Skyrim, Kingdoms of Amalur and The Witcher 2 all setting the bar high.
Not one to be left behind, Capcom has decided to enter the fray with its own western RPG, called Dragon's Dogma. A combination of western RPG sensibilities and Capcom's own Monster Hunter franchise, Dragon's Dogma will need to compete with the big boys.
The story revolves around the awakening of a dragon who attacks the village of Cassardis. Our hero, being the only one brave enough to attempt to fend off the dragon, is attacked by the said dragon who then proceeds to rip the hero's heart out of his chest.
Upon discovering that he hasn't died of this normally fatal wound, the dragon tells him that he has become the "Arisen". As the Arisen, his journey begins to recover his heart from the dragon who took it.
As storylines go, this is easily the weakest aspect of the game as there's not much to it compared to its peers. But, as you'll discover, Dragon's Dogma does a whole lot more much better.
Once the game starts proper, you're able to create your character using different features and sliders. Once this is done, you will be able to choose your class - initially consisting of Fighter, Strider and Mage – with each having its own strengths and weaknesses.
It's worth noting at this point that you're able to access other classes as you progress, basically mixing the basic classes to form other combinations such as Mystic Knight or Assassin.
As with other games in the genre you're able to explore your environment, speaking to NPCs and accepting side quests in addition to your main story quests. All typical RPG fare then, so what's different?
Dragon's Dogma's most unique feature is its Pawn system. Besides your main character, you also have NPCs that aid you in your quest. One of these Pawns is your main Pawn and can also be customised like you did with your main character.
So, for example, you can select your Pawn's class, equip it with different weapons and armour and so forth. As you venture into the game, you and your Pawn will gain experience which will allow you both to level up, unlocking different abilities unique to your class.
That's not all though. If you're playing with a permanent internet connection you're able to enlist Pawns created by other players to aid you in your quest. These Pawns also bring their experi-ence and knowledge of quests that they've already completed, which could prove quite valuable in your own quest.
Likewise, other players could also hire your Pawn (mine being the affectionately named Soya Sauce) to aid them in their quest. The advantage to this is that every time you sleepover at an inn, the game accesses the server and, if your Pawn has been used by someone else, will return with all knowledge of quests performed whilst away, as well as the occasional gift or the in-game Rift Crystal currency.
In addition to your main Pawn, you can also hire two additional Pawns by entering the Rift, which is the online hub to access other player's Pawns. It's clear that Capcom spent a lot of time on this feature as it works beautifully and really goes some way to make the game feel fresh, even at the 30 hour mark.
Another notable feature is the combat. Coming from the makers of Devil May Cry you'd expect the combat system to be awesome. Well guess what? It is.
There's one button for weak attacks and one for strong attacks are present as expected. You can also use the LB and RB buttons to modify your stance, which gives you access to special abilities. These special abilities do consume stamina though.
Besides the obvious class-based attacks such as Fighters using sword abilities and Mages using magic, some classes have some built-in advantages. For instance, the Mage has the ability to levitate and the Strider can use certain special abilities while mounting large enemies (something other classes can't do).
Speaking of mounting, this is where the Monster Hunter influence comes in, with your character able to mount the larger enemies, attacking their various weak-points.
With the story being this weak, it's the combat that will drive you to complete this game. It's visceral, entertaining and quite simply one of the best systems I have experienced in this type of game.
The game does have some issues though. Make no mistake, Dragon's Dogma e can be difficult, but for the wrong reasons.
If you venture off the path to explore the area, make sure that you manually save often as you'll encounter enemy types that will most likely destroy you in an instant if you haven't levelled up enough.
And if you didn't manually save, you can expect to be transported to the last checkpoint (wasting the last two hours you spent exploring since the last checkpoint – true story).
This becomes particularly annoying when you're on an escort mission, only to discover that the destination is on the other side of the map, with no harm to coming to the person you are escorting at all. Fast travel does exist, but in a limited form and it costs quite a bit.
The other minor problem I had was the lack of polish that was evident in the game. Don't get me wrong, the MT Framework engine (the same one that powers games like Resident Evil 5 and 6) performs admirably in this game, considering the open world environments this game has and is just as vast as something like Skyrim.
It's just the odd Cyclops head disappearing into the floor or clipping issues with objects going through walls etc. Nothing game breaking.
Besides the weak story, there is nothing really major I can say against Dragon's Dogma. If you like the genre I would say that it's open as Skyrim, with combat as good as The Witcher 2 and Kingdoms of Amalur and it's difficult, but not as difficult as Dark Souls. If you are new to the genre I'd recommend that you should still give it a try, as long as you stay on the path.
With its new ideas, catchy Dragonball Z style opening theme song and its olde English dialogue (there is aught here, my lord), Dragon's Dogma is an excellent first attempt for Capcom.
I can't wait to see where they'll go next with the franchise, and with about 30 to 50 hours of gameplay, excluding any replays, it's good value for money too.
Score: 8 out of 10