Dragon’s Dogma (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Release: Early 2012
I was impressed with Dragon Dogma’s character creation system. It’s incredibly full-featured and there are a number of surprising elements to tweak, though you can just as easily select a standard male or female avatar and jump right into playing the game if creating a personal avatar isn’t your thing.
For those that are interested, one interesting tidbit is that your character’s size actually has some impact on how the game is played. For example, bigger characters can wield heavier weapons more effectively and are less liable to get picked up and carried off my flying enemies, like harpies or the aforementioned gryphon.
The character creator gives you impressive control over just about every feature to your avatar’s body. Faces can be sunk inward to give the appearance of old age and a lot of different body parts can be individually scaled, though I didn’t come across any Saint’s Row: The Third sort of sex appeal slider. There are also some subtle details that can be adjusted, from scarring to makeup to choosing your character’s posture. The hard work you might put into character creation will be reflected in all of the game’s cutscenes as well.
Players can then choose between three different classes. The Strider is a more agile type of character that effectively uses crossbows and daggers, the Fighter is the more traditional offensive character, while Mages can, as expected, use magic. At that point, your character, who had his/her heart stolen by a dragon in the opening of the game but is inexplicably still living, then goes to craft their “main pawn” -- essentially your one persistent party member.
The main pawn can be detailed with the same character creator used for your personal avatar and it’s advisable to saddle them with a character class that augments your own character, as you’re stuck with them. Though appearing human, pawns are not human, and they’re wholly loyal to your character. There’s a bit of intrigue surrounding this, built into the mythos and the quest to find out why your character's heart was stolen and why you remain among the living.
You also answer a series of four questions that dictate your pawns personality; for example, if you’re creating a mage pawn you might want to answer them in a manner that encourages your pawn to be a more auxiliary, support character. You can also “train” your pawn and adjust their personality if you find them not working quite to your liking through discourse with them over the course of the game.
In the first town I saw demoed, the player’s character already had two other party members in addition to the main pawn, filling out the party’s numbers. There was also a pawn guild, from where you can search for a certain type of pawn -- a certain class, for example -- if you want to swap out one of the two other members. You can also hire pawns that are walking around towns directly by talking to them. While pawns at your level or below will freely join your party, pawns at a higher level than your own come with an increasing fee, preventing you from commissioning a pawn of too high a level to roll through the game.
The town was an idyllic, peaceful medieval village that felt like it had some life to it, due in part to the serene, fitting background music. NPCs are said to be on their own 24 hour cycles, following the game’s day and night cycle, meaning they have their own lives independent of you which will affect when someone is available to give out sidequests and similar. Some quests will even require it to be nighttime in order to be fulfilled.
Briefly on the topic of nighttime, the game world gets appropriately dark at nights, making it difficult to see, which I thought was a great touch. You characters can pin a lantern to their belts at night, but it still only illuminates a certain vicinity of your characters. The nighttime felt palpable, and it changed the overall atmosphere of the game, much like you would expect the curtain of darkness to do in a pre-electricity world.
Back in the town, the player’s character picked up a number of quests from a variety of villagers and then proceeded onto one. Thankfully, you can accept multiple quests at once and prioritize them however you like. While embarking on a quest in a mountainous region, the party stumbled upon a Rock Golem, which came to life and was immediately hostile. Defeating the Golem then became its own quest; though you can completely avoid the Golem when you play, the party decided to take the lumbering behemoth on, showcasing the game’s combat.
There is a heavy focus on the action in Dragon’s Dogma and the fight with the Golem was as lengthy as one might expect an encounter with a mythical rock creature to be. The player’s character, a Strider, mostly shot off an impressive array of magic arrows, occasionally climbing onto the beast and striking directly with a dagger, while the party did their own thing. You can give general commands to your party with the d-pad and any party member outside of your character can run out of HP and be revived without any impact on the game.
The combat was busy, but interesting enough. The HUD in Dragon’s Dogma is customizable and the demo had a lot of elements up on the screen, including party member dialogue and game controls, adding a bit to the clutter. Thankfully, some of those things can be turned off, especially the party dialogue, because all the characters seemed to utter the same quips or give the same strategies for fighting the Golem ad nauseum -- something that is still being tweaked, though the voice acting itself is finalized.
Staying true to the game’s aim in delivering an open world, any structure that can be seen in the game can be travelled to and explored. At one point a derelict castle off on the horizon, which might’ve proved a pretty piece of background art, was actually a fully rendered structure that could be traversed. There is also a fast travel system to accommodate the openness of the world. Players can leave markers in any place they wish and use an item to warp directly back to that specific stop, while multiple markers can be left deployed at any given time.
Unlike Skyrim, which can technically be beaten in roughly two hours in a speed run, I’m told that the main quest of Dragon’s Dogma will run roughly 40-50 hours and that players can expect at least a hundred hour commitment if they intend to do all of the sidequests and extras the game has to offer.
Dragon’s Dogma definitely has the potential to etch itself into the medieval fantasy scene. I mean, it already has dragons, so it’s halfway there, right? There are a number of different dragon species in the game, in fact, though the heart-stealer is one of a kind. (They always are!) With the success of the Western-flavored, Japanese-developed Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, Capcom’s Dragon’s Dogma could offer another piece successful, Japanese-developed medieval fantasy.
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