While your main character begins as a mage, fighter or strider, before long hybrid vocations are added that you can switch between at will. So you can start as a strider climbing up dragons, attacking with knives and bows, and upgrading class specific weapons and skills. Then, the next time you’re in a friendly town you can switch vocations to become an assassin, a mystic knight, or a sorcerer. The nine different vocations each have their class specific armour and weapons, and an entire new set of spells and skills to buy and learn.
Whatever vocation you choose, the battles are the highlight of the game. Targeting spells at weak points, reviving fallen pawns, climbing up dragons to hack away at their heads, it’s excellent real-time combat that’s both frantic and tactical. But, it is also dangerous. It takes a few hours of play, until you get around level fifteen, before you can go into a fight with confidence. You only get one save slot, so saving is essential before every battle. If you stray off the path, or even worse if you get caught in the wilderness at night, even a small group of bandits will kill you. So, if you happen on a golem or a dragon, then running away is your first and best option.
There are undoubtedly problems with Dragon’s Dogma. It suffers from a serious case of the pop-ups. When you look into a new area it’s empty, but enter it and all of a sudden there a people walking around, and treasure chests in every corner. While the amount of clothes, weapons, plants, and ore is impressive, your inventory will be overflowing quickly. So every time you start playing you’ll spend half an hour dropping off junk at inns or going through everything, one piece at a time trying to combine it with something else, or using it to upgrade your weapons or armour.
For every downside, there is an upside. The sunsets are nice, and can there ever be too many weapons, clothes, and armour. Even if the new thigh-high leather boots I put on my main guy Blazer automatically removed his cotton pants, so it looked like he was walking around in his undies for a good four hours of gameplay.
There are also plenty of nice little touches like your lamp not working if you get it wet, or strange boulders that end up being sleeping stone golems. And the sound design is excellent. Despite the rather limp soft-rock theme song, the rest of the soundtrack is very atmospheric, especially the ambient sounds that give clues about what’s going on in the corners of damp, dark caves.
In the end Dragon’s Dogma is a great take on an old standard. It has problems and will be difficult for those not willing to run away from dragons, at least until you’ve killed your share of wolves, bandits, lizards, and spiders. There are rare crystals that allow you to fast travel, so in the beginning you’ll be walking slowly from town to town. It’s a game that asks for a bit of effort at the beginning. But, that’s the kind of game it’s meant to be. It’s a big world to explore, and with plenty of downloads planned, it’s only going to get bigger.