What happens if you release a role playing game set in a mythical medieval land of swords, spell casting, and fire breathing dragons? Firstly, you’d get criticised for being unimaginative and generic. You’d be dismissed for hanging a game on one of the oldest and most frequently used premises in gaming history. And these days, while the whole jaded gaming community is getting over months of quick-travelling around the mountains of Skyrim, you’d also have to put up with being compared to one of the games of the year.
Not surprisingly, Capcom’s deliberately traditional action-RPG has copped plenty of criticism and comparisons. But, and there is a very big but here, what you find when you get past all the preconceived notions of sword and sorcery RPGs, is that Dragon’s Dogma is a pretty awesome game.
After a few hours getting out of first person shooter mode, and into role playing mode, you’ll be happily wandering in the wilderness. Grinding through packs of goblins, fighting tactical battles against chimeras, and running away from dragons as they hover above breathing waves of deadly fire.
Set in the land of Gransys, the sleepy fishing village of Casadeis is attacked by a dragon. Desperately trying to protect your town, you face the beast and are easily dispatched. The dragon rips out your heart, but that is not the end. You are magically restored and set out on your quest to find the dragon that dared to defile you.
So, in the first few minutes the game, the world, and your place in it, is quickly established. Gransys is a world of talking dragons, magic, peasants, and fortified castles.
You get full control of creating your character. Choosing from a nice selection of males or females, you can quickly choose from a few pre-sets or spend a time tweaking facial and physical features. Character generation is really well done and is enhanced by the enormous variety of clothes, weapons, and armour that you can find and buy throughout the game.
But it’s not just your character that you get to tinker with. You also get three pawns that follow you into battle. One of the pawns is yours; you create him or her using the same system you used for your own character. This main pawn stays with you throughout the game - the other two pawns you choose when you enter a magical rift. These other pawns are created by fellow gamers and are updated whenever you are online. And, just as you borrow other people’s pawns, they can borrow yours.
So, while there isn’t online co-op play as such, it is cool when you start a session and a little pop-up lets you know that someone somewhere has borrowed your main pawn and she’s returned with new magical items and knowledge of places you haven’t visited.
Unfortunately, not everything about the pawns is good. While the voice acting is okay, thankfully everyone doesn’t sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Antonio Banderas doing Puss in Boots, the dialogue is pretty bland and repetitive. The most difficult part of every battle is putting up with the continuous and unending cries from your pawns to ‘aim for the head’.
Added to the repetitive chatter, is the rather sparse narrative and lack of any real character development. Although the set-up, the first encounter with the dragon, is dramatic and interesting, in the end it feels more like a reason to wander around fighting cyclops (damn, what is the plural for cyclops – cyclopses, cyclopsi, cyclei?) and giant lizards. Add to this the lack of any memorable NPC’s, the way you’re encouraged to swap out secondary pawns whenever you get the chance, and a main character the does not speak, what you end up with is a fractured story that’s not really engaging.
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