Review by aPHAT

"I saw a Dragon and it stole my heart at first sight!"

In an age plagued by generic shooters and RPGs, CAPCOM takes a bold step in introducing a completely new game that borrows elements from multiple genres and stitches it together to give us Dragon's Dogma. At first glance it may look like a western iteration of Monster Hunter, however the only similarities between the two games is the use of battles against gigantic monsters that fill up your screen and the unforgiving difficulty.

Dragon's Dogma takes place in the realm of Gransys, a fantasy world filled with swords and sorcery. After a short prologue and a very detailed character creation screen, we are transported to a small sleepy fishing village called Cassardis where the character we created lives. All is well until a dragon and a slew of harpies rip through a portal in the sky and begin to lay siege to our village. When a giant dragon attacks your home the only logical step is to pick up a rusty sword and fight right? Well that's exactly what our heroic protagonist does, and fails miserably. The battle, if you would call it that, ends with our hero (or heroine) getting his/her heart plucked out of their chest. This however does not kill our character. Instead the wound is closed up by some magic and turns our character into an “arisen”. After regaining consciousness we set off on a quest to kill the dragon and get our heart back.

The plot for Dragon's Dogma starts out interestingly enough, however it fails to continue the momentum with the lack of direction, originality, and extremely dull NPCs. The game fails to differentiate between sub plots and the main plot and becomes increasing difficult to understand what is going on and where you are in terms of progressing though the story. The NPCs that inhabit the world of Gransys feel, much like our main character's chest, hollow and lifeless. Instead of using NPC party members that progress and travel with you on your quest, the game uses a “Pawn” system. Pawns are like mercenaries that we must enlist to help us complete quests. The game allows us to have one main pawn that we are able to customize and level up alongside our main character. The remaining two slots in our party must be filled with rented pawns. These rented pawns are the main pawns of other players who allow them to be shared over Xbox Live. Likewise, our main pawn is also shareable over Xbox Live. When another player rents our pawn, it comes back to us with further knowledge of quests and monsters it encountered while under the control of another player. However, most of this knowledge ends up being useless as all we get out of it is annoying banter like “Attack its head!”

Gransys is a huge open world that boasts gorgeous vistas and well detailed and vicious looking beasts. However, it is also a world that is plagued with pop ins and screen tearing. Many times you will come across an empty valley only to find out that it is not so empty when rocks, crates, and sometimes hostiles, decide to pop into the scenery out of thin air. Character models also could have used a bit more polish as our main character and NPCs look like models that we would have seen last generation.

Combat and the class system is the meat of Dragon's Dogma. Where other aspects of the game may have had short comings, the gameplay aspect is where this game truly shines.

You start off by picking from a Fighter, Mage, or Strider to specialize in. As you progress through the game, you can choose to continue playing the chosen class or you may switch to one of nine classes. Each class has its own set of abilities and weapon specializations and plays a different role in combat situations. For example, Sorcerers have the heaviest damaging spells and plays a ranged damage dealing role during combat while the Fighter is outfitted in heavy armor and a shield which allows it to attract the attention of the enemy and absorb hits.

Combat is performed in real time and, in most cases, requires audaciousness and prudence when encountering a foe for the first time. All monsters have certain weakness that players must exploit in order to be successful in combat. This involves watching their behavior and movement patterns, listening for cues for when they perform their devastating abilities, and seizing opportunities to strike at weak points. This could involve scaling up the back of a Cyclops after its helm is shattered to stab at its eye or conserving stamina in order to rain down arrows on a Chimera's head when it is knocked down.

While exploring or heading towards a quest objective, you will occasionally run into a foe that you are not yet ready to face. With no indication of how difficult the beast is or what level is recommended to engage it, things can get very messy and frustrating even as you will find out the hard way when it tears your party to bit. It is usually easy to run away from such foes, but if you're anything like me, you will refuse to run and attempt to fight it anyway. While this is frustrating at times, it can also feel very rewarding when you finally manage to slay a beast that has troubled you for so long. Add in amazing animations that make the combat look very cinematic and you have a truly extraordinary monster slaying experience.

Dragon's Dogma has its obvious flaws. However the combat and gameplay is so rich that it is fairly easy to look past the bland plot and sometimes unpolished graphics. With such a huge world to explore and so many quests and monsters to slay, it is easy to sink many hours into this game and truly get lost in the world of Gransys.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 05/29/12

Game Release: Dragon's Dogma (US, 05/22/12)

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