Under The Radar – Dragon’s Dogma Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Chances are you’re one of the many that let Capcom’s fantasy epic Dragon’s Dogma slip past you. There’s also a high chance that most of its day-one owners picked it up just for a shot at the Resident Evil 6 demo. This is a shame, though, as the actual game itself deserves a lot more attention than it received. What makes the title worthy of your games’ library? Well, stick around and you’ll find out.
Dragon’s Dogma (or DD for short) tells the tale of the Arisen, a player-created protagonist. You’re a member of a small fishing town, whose populace gets attacked by a fearsome dragon. Fearing for the safety of your kin and friends, you pick up a discarded sword and foolishly do battle with the Wyrm. Your efforts are all in vain, though, as the dragon knocks you down and – with an accurate slash which seemed impossible with its massive talons – rips your heart and devours it whole.
However, for reasons unknown you survive – though with a glowing scar on your chest. Shortly after waking, you’re visited by a Pawn named Rook, an immortal being from a different realm. He suggests travelling north to enlist in the Wyrm Hunt, a group of soldiers aiming to take down the dragon. For lack of a better choice you decide to make the journey. After a series of events (which I won’t spoil for you), you eventually gain the title of Arisen, and reach the capital of Gran Soren. This city serves as your base of operations and is also where you’ll find most of your quests.
The tale of DD is an interesting one to be sure, full of medieval fantasy and mystery, but it takes a bit of time to get going. At first the game is mostly linear, but then quickly changes into an open-world concept – and it’s hard at times to tell which of the quests you find are central to the plot. Most of the time you’re treated to several long missions – only one or two delve further into the story, or provide a full cutscene. While the majority of the game’s quests are fun and entertaining, often involving a small side-plot, those looking for a gripping, story-driven thrill-ride will be a bit disappointed. The interesting narrative is there – you just have to wait patiently for it to get to that point.
What will really grip players, though, is the deep and varied gameplay. For the most part, DD takes the form of an action/adventure game mixed with hack n’ slash elements, as well as expansive customization options. When starting a new character, gamers have several selections to choose from in terms of aesthetics and job classes. Everything from body size/shape, age, and height, to hair styles, makeup, and voice actors can be mixed and matched until you have created your own unique hero. Add in visually distinct equip-able armours, weapons, and clothing, and you’re almost guaranteed to never find another player with a character quite like yours. Each player also has access to his/her own Pawn, which can be customized in every way the main character can, and serves as their traveling companion. Gamers can also recruit up to two other Pawns for their party, either by finding them locally within the game or finding other players’ Pawns posted on Xbox Live.
As for classes, three are available at the start: Fighter, Strider, and Mage. You can probably guess their roles at first glance. The Fighter is a sword-and-shield melee tank, the Strider is a skilled wielder of daggers and bows, and the Mage is a staff-wielding master of offensive and defensive magic. However, as you progress further on you’ll unlock six new classes, three of which are advanced versions of the main classes: Warrior, Ranger, and Sorcerer. The other three are hybrids of two different classes: the Mystic Knight (Mage and Fighter), Assassin (Fighter and Strider), and Magick Archer (Strider and Mage). This brings the total of nine different classes that you can swap between as you like while in Gran Soren, and each has its own set of skills and equipable items, as well as passive and usable skills. This wide variety ensures that there is a class for everyone, and the ability to switch between them even tailors to more indecisive players.
Combat in-game is deep enough to keep battles assorted, yet still simple enough to be memorized fairly quickly. Players can utilize light and heavy attacks with their primary weapon via the X and Y buttons, while holding LB allows access to the class’s secondary one (such as shooting the Strider’s bow or the using the Fighter’s shield). LB and RB also serve to bring up the primary and secondary skill sets, allowing players to make use of their abilities. As well, the A button can be used to jump, should you need to scale and object or reach a tall/flying foe.
Speaking of tall enemies, massive monsters play a huge part in DD, as does the climbing mechanic. Giant monsters such as ogres, griffins, hydras and, of course, dragons are pretty commonplace within the game’s universe and can make for monumental challenges. To help take down these gigantic creatures, players can scale their larger foes with a pull of RT while next to them. This latches you onto the enemy, so you can find an ideal spot and go to town on it. This mechanic makes for amazingly intense battles, such as bringing a dragon to the ground before climbing up his back, and then striking him relentlessly as he takes off and flies ferociously across the battlefield. DD creates such an amazing atmosphere, full of incredible large scale battles you just can’t find anywhere else.
One of the few downfalls of DD, however, is its graphics, which are far from beautiful. While character animation is very fluid and realistic, the texture and skin detail are quite lackluster. Skins and environments are designed with less detail than one would expect from this year’s titles, appearing ridged, pixilated, and generally unappealing. Furthermore, the blood and gore are rather inconsistent in this title. In some cases, body parts on enemies may be severed in a spray of blood, such as tusks breaking off a Cyclops’ face or severing a lizardman’s tail; however, in other cases (especially in cinematics where it makes most sense) there is a strange absence of it. In a game already sporting some gore, one expects a character being mauled by a chimera in a cutscene to at least turn a shade of red – not leave a perfect corpse.
As for audio, it creates a generally pleasant experience. In terms of voice acting, the performers give a generally positive experience, sticking to a script with plenty of medieval-styled terms – which may take some players a minute to understand. Pawns can get a bit annoying from time to time, as they tend to spew long-winded lines of appropriate but useless sentences (sometimes even cutting themselves off before they finish their original thought). That being said, the quality of the performance isn’t in question, as the lines are delivered flawlessly.
Moving on to the soundtrack, we have a noticeable but unmemorable collection of medieval-styled music with light ambient travel tunes and brassy combat riffs. Each track is well-composed and fits right into each situation, but it’s just not something you’ll be singing or humming along to. The only song that stands out is the terribly out-of-place J-Rock title theme, which will have gamers rushing to get the game started.
In the end, Dragon’s Dogma delivers an amazing medieval action/adventure experience that is totally worth adding to your collection. While it may not be an AAA title (as evident by some lower visual quality, slower story, and overly talkative pawns), it’s still an entertaining and enjoyable game – one that will keep you busy for hours. If you’re into medieval action/adventure games, this is one you do not want to miss!
Final Score: 4.0/5.0 and a still-beating dragon heart!
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